Thoughts on Selfish Time Travelers, Consequences, and Change

Think of any movie, book or story of any kind that is centered around time travel. Make sure it is one in which the world can change through time travel (not one in which time is like a puzzle, and you can’t make the world any different by going back in time and messing something up). What is the plot about?

Chances are that the story is about a novice time traveler. He goes back in time, but changes the world in ways he or she didn’t intend to. Next, he goes back in time again to prevent himself from changing the world in the first place. At the end of the story, the world is back to normal, in the present, or possibly in better shape than it was in the beginning to the story. Basically, every time travel story of this sort are based off of the movie, Back to the Future. Maybe they aren’t- I don’t know everything- but this is what I want to post about today.

In Back to the Future, the majority of the movie is about Marty trying to make things right after ruining is parents’ future (or present? Actually, the movie was made in 1985, so one could argue it was in the past.) marriage, while trying to avoid fading away. No offense to Marty, but I don’t think his life was important enough to rip the time-space continuum for. Yeah, I maybe I am cynical. I don’t know, I may prove myself wrong by the end of this post.

Maybe, instead of preventing the bombing of Pearl Harbor, you could prevent a propaganda poster artist from coming up with this pun.

Maybe, instead of preventing the bombing of Pearl Harbor, you could prevent a propaganda poster artist from coming up with this pun.

What would you do if you could travel back in time? Prevent Japan from bombing Pearl Harbor? That may be a legitimate cause. But if you did, Japan would probably attack later, possibly crippling American forces more effectively. Even if your plan worked and the Japanese canceled all assault on the USA, you would only be helping the USA. Japan would probably bomb another country in the Alliance.

Okay, maybe something so important wouldn’t be the best to meddle with. Maybe you go back in time and anonymously send a letter to your past self, with advise and useful information about the future. It may seem like a good idea at first, but your past self might go insane with the knowledge of the future and try to track down the sender of the letter. that can only end badly.

One more example. Say you have said something discouraging to a youngster in the past and you go back to prevent yourself from saying it. It seems like a totally selfless act, but you may have totally changed little Timmy’s life! He could have grown up to be a great philosopher or inventor, or author, but now, without the drive to prove your discouraging self wrong, he has no reason to achieve greatness.

My point is that everything affects everything. However, “good” outcomes are relative. Even if you start World War 3 through time travel, the world may grow further afterwards and become all the wiser for it. And if you don’t start World War 3, Someone else probably will, anyway. And you can’t help everyone. If one party is happy, chances are that there are tons of other people who aren’t.

But why do we even want things to stay the same? Maybe people will not be born because of your trip back in time, but other people will take their places. Maybe a company won’t be founded, but another will be instead, possibly with a better cause. Sure everything effects everything, but why can’t that be a good thing? The only reason Marty wanted to change the future was because he wanted to exist. Fair enough. Maybe he didn’t account for his actions, but the world was just as well off without him as it was with him.

Don’t get me wrong, big things do happen. But in the long run everything changes, time travel or not. We don’t need time travel to make the world different.

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