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Saturday, 21 May 2011

Time Travel, Part 1 (History)

When you think about the future, what do you imagine? I know I do that often enough to be called a science fiction nerd. If you think about it, science fiction is not just about space and aliens. Sure, I’m as excited as the next person to find life, more so intelligent one, outside of our planet. Like it is said in Carl Sagan’s classic Contact (1985), ‘It would be a terrible waste of space otherwise.’ But science fiction is about so much more than space travel and alien life! It’s about things that could be, and maybe even will be one day.

Are we going to live high in the sky and fly around like in The Jetsons? Is the future going to be a fatalistic kind of Dystopia? Or are we going to discover that reality is actually an illusion like the Matrix? And for the big one:

Are we EVER going to be able to travel in time? Seriously. I want to know!

To answer these questions, let’s take a look at what’s been done so far.

First, let’s talk about time. Since the classic book The Time Machine (1895) came out, people have been wondering what the logistics of Time Travel are. The main idea for many years has been that tampering with time leads to dire consequences. For example, if you get yourself killed, would you even be born? Or if you altered something, big or small, in the course of history, would that change anything? Remember Dumbledore explaining that ‘awful things happen to wizards who tamper with time’?

On the other hand, the alternative is the actual INABILITY to ifluence anything that happens in a different time than our own. For a modern day example, think The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Neiffenegger (2003). Sappy but good book (and film, 2009) where Time can be bent due to the specific genetic anomaly of the time traveler, Henry (smartly called ‘chrono-impairment’). However, the central premise of the story was that, however hard he tried, Henry could not save his mother from the terrible car crash in the past, so he had to watch her die a hundred times.

But more importantly, as we can see in this progression, at first time travel was ‘done’ by machines (from small watch-like time devices to big ass time-machine bunkers), and now man has evolved enough to believe that ‘the key’ to this mystery may be in fact hidden within himself. Whether it’s genetics (modern science), or brain-power (modern spirituality), or supernatural forces (modern mumbo-jumbo), man is looking within more than without. Isn’t this why movies like Inception (2010), Limitless (2011), Source Code (2011), etc. have been filing one after another lately?

It’s all in ourselves now. It used to be in the stars. In mathematics. In machines and universal forces. What we see is a gradual but steady internalization of circumstance. We are more in control now than we had been millennia, centuries, and even decades ago. In other words, it is the New Age of Possibilities. Impossibility reined in the past, but that’s over now. We won’t be having a ‘flat-world moment’ any time soon, because we are already branching out of our comfort zone.

Doesn’t that make you all warm inside? Knowing that people would actually be more willing to believe ‘your version’ of the future than they were centuries ago? There is so much scientific progress nowadays that anything is possible. Indeed, we live in  the Golden Age of knowledge (and Social Media, ha).

Oh, and don’t forget the perks of New Age mentality. Whether you agree with it or not, it’s spreading like an Ebola virus in a hospital during outbreak… like SNAKES ON A PLANE! And it brings amazing powers with it: the power of the mind. As John Milton said, smartly so, in Paradise Lost:

‘The mind is its own place. It can make Hell out of Heaven and a Heaven out of Hell.’

Next (Part 2): The Physics of Time Travel.

Question: If you had to pick a time, ANY time -back or forth- where would YOU like to go?