Even if time travel is possible, would it be wise?

 

I would love to be a time traveler. In fact, time travel stories are my favorite type of science fiction.

Time travel car in the movie "Back To The Future"

Time travel car in the movie “Back To The Future”

But I don’t think I’ll ever get the chance to travel back to the past. Even if the laws of physics allowed it, the laws of prudence would forbid it.

Why the laws of prudence? Well, think how easy it would be for a time traveler to inadvertently cause some small but consequential change in history. For example, what if our traveler, intent upon sneaking a look at his own parents when they were his age, unintentionally did something that prevented his mother and father from ever getting together.

That was the plot of the original “Back To The Future” movie. The hero, Marty McFly (played by Michael J. Fox), went back in time to 1955 and met his own mom when she was a teenager, with the result that she fell for him rather than his father. That meant Marty’s parents would never marry, and he would never be born. In the movie that possibility was played for laughs. But if it ever really happened, what would be the result?

The paradox that would be set in motion by a time traveler changing things in the past to the extent that he was never born are unimaginable. I mean, if our traveler went back and did something that prevented him from ever being born, he wouldn’t exist to go back in time and change things. But if he didn’t go back in time and change things, he would be born and would go back in time and change things. But if he went back in time and changed things. . . Just thinking about that kind of unresolvable paradox makes your head spin.

But even if the Time Travel Bureau had strict rules about going anywhere near your ancestors on your excursions into the past, that still probably wouldn’t be enough to protect against inadvertent changes.

For example, you go back to 1899 and stop just a few seconds to pet a stray dog on the street. The boy who would have stopped to pet that dog if you hadn’t been there keeps walking and gets hit by a falling brick that would have missed him if he had been delayed by the dog. So, the world renowned physician who would have discovered the cure for cancer, instead dies at the age of eight.

That’s why I’m pretty sure I’ll never have the opportunity to go back in time. It would just be too dangerous.

On the other hand, that’s probably exactly what the Time Travel Bureau wants me to think.

 

Photo credit: J. D. Hancock at flickr


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