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Sunday, 5 June 2011

Time Travel Part 3 (Ethics)

It’s interesting to note three other related terms here: teleportation, allohistories, and eugenicsSome people have asked: why would you need to travel at high speed if you can teleport in time and space? Of course, can is a relative term here. Probably most of you would like to be able to teleport at will. You’d be no different than any other human being on the planet. Saves time and money. In fact, I have a couple of characters in my new scifi book who can do that. And remember Henry from The Time Traveler’s Wife? His genetic anomaly (chrono-impairment) made him ‘travel’ in time by the means of teleportation. And he didn’t need a machine to do that.

There have been speculations that teleportation is basically being destroyed in one place to be built anew in another. Shudders anyone? Basically, if you try to teleport a whole system of elements, they may end up rearranging into something else. Like when someone Apparates in Harry Potter and they get splintered if they’re not good enough or if they do it Side-Alongwise. So there you have it, Harry Potter is not fantasy, it’s scifi. It has to be. (Just kidding.)

Another way to transmit particles from one location to another is called Quantum Teleportation, or entanglement-assisted teleportation. This is not the same as teleporting whole systems however (at least not yet), only basic units of quantum information. Wikipedia says that: “The longest distance yet claimed to be achieved for quantum teleportation is 16 km (10 miles) in May 2010 by Chinese scientists over free-space with an average of 89% accuracy.” (

Wow. Just… wow. So even though scientist have not yet teleported bigger things than photons, there is some progress being made. Now all those guys have to do is find a way to control this tendency of particles to rearrange themselves when being teleported. Piece of cake. :D

On the subject of Time Travel, what if one doesn’t only travel in time. What if one can travel between worlds as well? Which brings us to allohistories. Another name for those is ‘parallel worlds’. Quantum worlds. Places where you are not married, places where Michael Jackson was a nobody, where Germany had won World War I, where I am the author of the Harry Potter series, and where the future of our planet is mainly populated by zombies. Scary worlds.

I love this part. Being a fantasy/scifi writer, I enjoy picturing different worlds very much. What is more, allohistories, much like any other trope, can be presented in both fantasy and scifi genres. One very good example is presented in Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series ( If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend it. In Lyra’s story, worlds intercept via wormhole kind of windows from one world to another, all thanks to dust (a magical universal substance). It’s perfectly convoluted and imaginative. And there’s lots of other examples in literature as well.

However, this is mostly viewed as a fantasy trope, rather than a scifi one. Obviously, one cannot imagine those worlds being real. On the other hand, Quantum Physics has hinted at those parallel realities for a long time now (‘many worlds interpretation’). This theory postulates that reality is like “a many branched tree, wherein every possible quantum outcome is realised” (

Although those worlds could in theory only slightly differ from our own, consider the following example. 1.6 million years ago. Man discovers fire… almost. Then all of a sudden his ‘wife’ distracts him with a grunting limerick. The wisdom of fire is lost, for now. Will the caveman go back to it the same day or 10 000 years later? What effect would this have on the world, or human progress? Would this halt our development or lead to a butterfly-effect-like chain of events that will completely change the course of history forever? Will Einstein even be born? What about Elvis? Will America be discovered? All very real questions with major implications for life, time, and time travel, by extension.

And finally, let’s have a quick peek in the future. Eugenics is yet another trope I use in my creative process. Seriously, this one is truly brilliant. It makes so much sense for people to strive to be better, create stronger soldiers, program people to sleep less, work more, battle disease better, live longer, etc. This is the area of Transhumanism (‘beyond humanism’, meaning beyond basic evolution). Genetic engineering. Transhumanism is all about human enhancement.

Think about this: scientists are working on slowing down the aging process. Fact. They say that this is possible on a cellular level. However, if this becomes a common practice one day, who gets access to this information? Surely not the masses. I’d bet you anything it will involve loads of money. Yet another thing we can’t afford…

The term eugenics was coined by Francis Galton, Charles Darwin’s cousin. ‘Eu’ means good, ‘gen’ means race. Basically, if the future does hold some magical elixir of youth, and it is only taken selectively, NOT collectively, this would result in competitive selection, where those with the best genetic material will try to overpower their ‘lesser fellow planetarians’. Basically, you’re looking at the futuristic meaning of natural selection. While the fittest will preserve and pass forward their superior genetic material, this can barely be called natural. And of course, the human race is at fault. So what else is new…

OK, say this superior genetic make-up is supposed to be the future of human kind. Suppose it’s the next step we have to take. But let me ask this question first. What if this genetic engineering crap messes up our genetic make-up, huh? What if, God forbid, this not only leads to further prejudice and minority extermination, but also horrid things like mutations, exagerrated genetic anomalies, infertility, etc.? After all, who would want to travel to a future like that? It defeats the purpose really. I am not a scientist and I do not pretend to know everything there is to know about that. But I would just like to think that before acting scientists will consider the consequences.

We wouldn’t want to go from ‘enhanced’ to ‘monsters’ now, do we?

Next (Part 4, final): Time Travel in Literature and Film.
Question: Taking these issues into consideration, what do you imagine the future to be like? What would you want it to be like? And finally, do you use any of those tropes in your own books? 


Daniel Mihai Popescu said...

Very large topic to approach, :) All your "what if"s are not only genuine (no need to be a scientist indeed, it's common sense) but supported. Galton wanted the forced sterilisation of the 'unfit. Another pioneer was Thomas Robert Malthus, born in 1766. It was from him that the theory of the 'survival of the fittest' was passed on through Herbert Spencer to Charles Darwin.

"We are bound injustice and honour formally to disclaim the right of the poor to support. To this end, I should propose a regulation be made declaring that no child born...should ever be entitled to parish assistance...The [illegitimate] infant is comparatively speaking, of little value to society, as others will immediately supply its place...All children beyond what would be required to keep up the population to this [desired] level, must necessarily perish, unless room be made for them by the deaths of grown persons." - this is Malthus in An Essay On The Principle Of Population As It Affects The Future Improvement Of Society (Reeves and Turner, London, 1878 reprint)

Unfortunately, from such a mind did the idea of the 'survival of the fittest' emerge, and it has dominated 'science' ever since!

Lyn Midnight said...

Wow. That is very informative. Thank you, Daniel. :)

I have read similar accounts but this phrase 'of little value to society' astounds me. What kind of man would deem a child of little value? If such a world or future exists, even in one mind or several, some human beings are not human at all.. but that's also well-known.

That being said, I think that a society based on Eugenic principles is always a good idea for a sci-fi novel. After all, it's always a (sad) possibility for the future.

Thanks again for your input, it gave me something to think about. :)