Discussion with Richard Ong and Don Webb
Part 1 appeared in issue 412.
[Richard] Regarding Bewildering Stories’ discussion on time travel, I’m a firm supporter of the Many Worlds theory. This is why I liked the movie, Back to the Future. When Emmett Brown draws the skewing of the timeline on the blackboard, it reminds me of the multi-dimensional universe that Stephen Hawking and his contemporaries have been proposing. Moreover, it fully supports and complements the Paradox theory, which simply forbids linear changes in the same timeline.
I’ll add to this another idea I’ve been percolating for sometime. If you believe in Extrasensory Perception as a form of disturbance in space-time, then imagine this: ESP by its very nature may be a form of time travel communication.
Some people may be quite attuned to such frequencies, except they have very little control over what they cannot understand. What may be happening is that they’re receiving transmissions across time about something that will have already taken place on their current path. Mystics will call this phenomenon “fate.” This linear thread of space-time will remain the true path — or our fate — for as long as we proceed on our current course of action.
Suppose a psychic warns the police of an impending crime and they choose to heed the warning. A new future may open up, and the psychic’s position in space-time will change so that he or she will be able to perceive a different outcome for the would-be victim.
In the original future, for example, a victim was murdered, and that’s unalterable. But the Many Worlds theory suggests an altered future, where the victim lives to see another day.
This causality thread in space-time that psychics detect may be akin to the theoretical particle called tachyons. But tachyons are nothing more than another wrinkle in space-time behaviour. After all, Einstein said that matter is nothing more than a concentration of energy or a knot in the fabric of space-time. So which time line is valid? All of them, of course.
[Don] Thank you for the concise and colorful explanations, Richard! They’re quite thought-provoking and bring up interesting questions.
First, though, a chuckle: I think I’ve enjoyed as much as anyone the Back to the Future films, especially for the performances of Michael J. Fox (as Marty McFly) and Christopher Lloyd (as Dr. Emmett Brown). However, I did not take any inspiration from those films; they could hardly have been farther from my mind.
The omission may raise eyebrows among science-fiction purists, especially those who dote on rivets and sheet metal as though science fiction were a kind of futuristic Popular Mechanics. After all, Dr. Brown fuels his flying time-travel automobile with banana peels and other assorted compost. At least his contraption’s power source seems ecologically correct, though playfully ironic.
The time machine in my time travel stories is taken for granted precisely because it is not a gadget; it is “real” only as a narrative device. In fact, one can ask only one important question about it: does it function consistently? My main concern is that it be logical.
The Many Worlds theory has practical problems. At an extreme, there are as many possible timelines — or universes — as there are atoms in our own. And then multiply them by the effects of free will, random molecular collisions and so forth, far into the night.
A cosmologist might grumble that the Many Worlds notion seems to squander universes prodigiously. A theologian might say, “God created the world and said it was good. The Many Worlds idea is too much of a good thing; it suggests He’s been hedging His bets bigtime.”
I would add one of Bewildering Stories’ mottoes: “Something that can mean anything means nothing.” And although I think that applies to multiple universes, I cheerfully adopt the Many Worlds theory — within strict limits — for the sake of a story.
Now, what about the psychics you mention? If I understand correctly, a psychic might perceive the future and act to change it. Does that scenario differ in any significant way from mine? I think they’re basically the same thing.
The reason is that the “psychic” scenario remains within the bounds of another Bewildering Stories motto: “Everything we perceive comes to us from the past; everything we do goes into the future.” It’s not only a way of saying that cause precedes effect; it defines the individual’s present moment as the link between past and future.
In your scenario, Richard, the psychic perceives a “future,” which is unalterable. If the psychic intervenes, she creates a new cause and a new “future.” However, as you say, she does not create a cause-effect paradox, because the new future is in a new timeline.
What to conclude? The perception of time depends on your point of view. Alternate timelines may be parallel but not synchronous; that is, timelines will be identical up to the branching point, but the “past” in one timeline will be equivalent to the “future” in the other.
For example, suppose Matt, in “Taking Notice,” goes back to the 18th century B.C. and teaches the ancient Britons the use of the wheel. Now, the ancient Britons don’t have a modern education, but they’re obviously no dummies. We can just hear them now:
“Wheels aren’t practical for shlepping those big stones around, but what if we link several wheels with our braided-vine ropes? That makes a — what do you call it? — block and tackle. We can build a derrick and hoist the lintels into place without digging earthworks. Hey, we’ll have Stonehenge up in two shakes of a lamb’s tail ! Good show, Matt, old chap.”
Matt may not have much time to preen, especially if he has to confer with the earthworkers’ unions about the technological unemployment he’s inadvertently created. However, he will have served as a “psychic” who has envisioned a time when wheels are commonplace. For the ancient Britons, the wheel comes from the future, but for Matt that “future” is in the past.
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