Back In Time

Chaos in Print

I had another weird dream last night. This time, I had a time machine. I, and two of my friends, were fighting zombies. It turns out we had to go back in time to 1980 to prevent the accident that created all these zombies. But, in our haste to get away (the zombies had overrun us), we accidentally went back in time to the turn of the century, shortly after women got the vote. I remember it was shortly after women got the vote because, shortly after we arrived, I overheard a beat cop and a hot dog vendor talking about it. So, after we had a meal from the hot dog vendor, I woke up. I still don’t know if I defeated the zombies or not. Actually, what I remember most is the time machine. It had to be one of the poorest designs for a time machine I ever imagined. First of all, it looked like a dustbuster. It was about as big as a dustbuster, too. In order to input your destination, it was like setting a watch. You know, you had to hit one button to select what you want to change, and then start hitting another button repeatedly to change that number. Oh, and this time machine had an automatic reset function, so if you stopped inputting the destination to, say, double check your data, the machine would shut down, so you had to turn it back on and start putting in your destination time all over again. I tell you, given how vivid my imagination is, I thought I could dream up a better design for a time machine!

See, having grown up with the Back To The Future movies, I’ve got this impression that a time machine has to be a big, bulky machine, like a car. When you stop and think about it, a car would be an ideal time machine, because as soon as you get to your destination time, you’d have a mode of transportation! So a car is a good time machine. I would outfit this car, though, with some kind of holographic cloaking device, so you could instantly disguise your time machine as a vehicle popular to the time you are visiting. And the Back To The Future movies also got right what kind of data you would need to know. As you may remember, there were three digital displays in the DeLorean: where you’re going, where you are, and where you came from. In short: destination, current location, and departure. That’s pretty much all you need to know to time travel, besides knowledge of the time you’re visiting.

Which raises another question. When time traveling, what tools would you need? Well, if those Star Trek time travel stories have taught us anything, we’ll need clothes common to the time we are visiting. You know, so we can blend in with the people of the time we are visiting. Of course, so the time-line isn’t contaminated, all modern technology should be kept in your home time. What always confused me about time travel, though, is how would you get money? I mean, I can’t go back to 1973 and start buying stuff with my 1999 $20 dollar bills. No one will have seen them yet, so that would be a time-line contaminant. So this is my plan: in your home time, buy some gold, jewels, or other such “hard currency.” When you go back in time, sell off this stuff for some quick cash. Gold and jewels have no characteristics saying what time they are from, so that should be pretty safe to cash in. So, I think that when the time comes, I am all prepared for time travel.

But what of these evil “time paradoxes?” Let me give you a common example. Say your grandfather died when you were very young, and you never got to meet him. So, you hop in your time machine and go back in time to meet him as a young man. While searching for you grandfather, you get caught up in a bar fight and kill a man in self-defense. You soon discover that the person you killed was your grandfather. Now, you have altered the time-line so your grandfather died young, and never played his part in conceiving your father. If your father never existed, then that means you never existed. If you never existed, then how could you have gone back in time and killed your grandfather? See the problem? Of course, there’s always the possibility that you were adopted, and you killed the man you believed was your grandfather, but for arguments’ sake, you’re not adopted.

There’s another time paradox that I kind of like. Let’s say that Shakespeare is your favorite author, so you go back in time to meet him. You bring along your book The Collected Works of Shakespeare, which contains all his plays. When you arrive, and meet Shakespeare, you talk, you laugh, you hit it off. But, when you read some of Shakespeare’s plays, you discover that he sucks. You show Shakespeare your book, and he marvels at how good they are. You return to your time, somewhat disappointed. But, you left your book behind. Shakespeare, then, copies these plays and says that he wrote them. He becomes the great author, and years later, he becomes your favorite author and you want to go back in time and meet him. We’ve got a nice little time-loop going on. But the question becomes, then, who really wrote Shakespeare’s plays? Was it someone who was forgotten in all this re-writing of history? Or some kind of divine gift?

This is the paradox that always got me, and it’s a common one in sci-fi. It’s quite simple: you go into the future and meet yourself 30 years older. Now, how could you meet yourself 30 years older? Wouldn’t you be altering history so you haven’t existed for the last 30 years? Or is meeting yourself 30 years older conclusive proof that you will get back to your home time safe and unharmed? With my little bit of knowledge, I’ve come up with a theory that should resolve all these paradoxes.

We always talks about a “time-line,” suggesting that time is one-dimensional. But, as we all know, there are many possible futures. So, then, that means that our present was just one of many alternate futures, suggesting then that there might be alternate presents. This means, then, that time is not the one-dimensional line we imagine, but multi-dimensional, with many, many, branches coming off and converging all over the place. Time travel, then, is not about jumping forwards and backwards on a line, but from one time-line to another. If you kill your grandfather, there is no paradox, just the creation of more time-lines. Shakespeare’s plays, then, would have somehow found there way from one time-line to ours. And, if you go 30 years into the future, you are just seeing one possible future you from the infinite possibilities that there are. As always, this is just a theory. First, we’ve got to build that time machine.

Probably, the most idealized time machine would be the Phoenix Gate from the cartoon Gargoyles. All you have to do is hold the Phoenix Gate close (it’s about as big as a saucer), say the magic words (Deflegrate muri tempe et intervalia), and you are instantly teleported to whichever time and place you are thinking about. Quick, simple, and efficient. Oh, and in case you are curious, those magic words are just in Latin. In English, the magic words are “Burn down the walls of time and space.” But, until that day, time travel is only the stuff that dreams are made of. I wonder if I’ll continue the fight against zombies tomorrow night. I hope I can dream of some improvements to the dustbuster design. All I ask is a simpler interface! If I ever dream up the person who invented it, I’ll have to have words with her.