Is there such a thing as time travel, especially into the past?
I guess we will never really know it, but there is certainly no shortage of books and movies around this theme. A recent show that I know having this element is the TV series Heroes, where the character Hiro Nakamura (Masi Oka) travels through time anytime at will. The show that has the deepest impression on me on this theme is Back to the Future, the first film in the trilogy. The title of the show is quite a misnomer at first because you would think of “back” as related to the “past”, but yet this was about the “future”. Of course if you are familiar with this show, you would understand the correctness of the title as the whole show is about the character Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) trying to get back to 1985 from 1955. The interesting point on all such shows is that there is always an intriguing plot that blows your mind about time travel.
In Back to the Future, it was at the end of the show when Marty returned to 1985 successfully and repeated his last 10 minutes in 1985 where his scientist friend Doc Brown was being gunned down by terrorists. The surprising part is Doc didn’t die from the gunshots as Marty had written him a note in 1955 to warn him about the murder, and he had already prepared himself. The intriguing point to ponder in this last scene is whether the Doc knew about this murder in the beginning of the show (because the Doc in 1985 should have been visited by Marty in 1955 already, strictly speaking) or the end of the show is a different reality from the first, so Marty is returning to a different future where he came from. Don’t understand? Well, I did say it was ‘mind-blowing’.
Another popular show with this theme around the same time as Back to the Future was Terminator in 1984. At the end of this show, the intriguing part was Sarah Conner’s (Linda Hamilton) son, who was the future resistance fighter leader, was actually fathered by the resistance fighter, Kyle Reese, that was sent from the future by her son. So, the immediate thought is how can it be? Her son, John Conner, was already present and alive when he sent back Reese. So, before Reese had a relationship with Sarah, John had already been born!
I had never really given much thoughts to such time puzzles as they always seem inconsistent until I read the book The Time Traveller’s Wife (by Audrey Niffenegger) recently. The book is a love story about a boy (later a man) that has a genetic disorder that causes him to time travel unpredictably. After finishing the book, I gave some thoughts about time traveling to see if the author was consistent throughout the book. To my surprise, my conclusion was time travel can be logical if we maintain that everything in time is already fixed, and the author did spin a good story in the book by maintaining this belief.
So, going back to Back to the Future story, to be logical, in the beginning of the show, the scientist should have already known that the boy Marty had visited him in 1955, just as he did at the end of the show. In other words, you can’t have two realities, just because somebody has travelled back in time. Otherwise, there would be chaos if so many people travel back in time to change the ‘timescape’.
Back to the Future Part 2 did try to address this ‘logic’ by making the future to fluctuate depending on conditions in the past. In this way, you still maintain one ‘timescape’ or timeline, but one that is not constant but keeps changing when the past is changed. There are some flaws in this ‘belief’ so I tend to believe the one where everything in time is already fixed, which has so far appeared very logical to me. And you don’t get paradoxes like travelling to the past and accidentally killing yourself. In this ‘fixed timescape’ logic, say if you go to the future and see yourself alive at 80 years old, you can come back to the present and safely assume that nothing fatal will ever happen to you since you have seen yourself living to a ripe old age in the future. Likewise you can’t go to the past and accidentally cause your own death, because if you had already done that, you wouldn’t have been alive in the first place to travel back in time.
Does all this sound like nonsense to you? Well don’t be too sure. Even though we may not be able to do time-travel, that doesn’t mean it is impossible. I am actually quite sure that it is possible based on one simple reasoning …… but only if you believe in God. Because we know that God can do everything we can imagine, and supposedly even things that we can’t imagine. So if time travel is something we can imagine and God can’t even do it, he wouldn’t be God. So, if you believe in God, then you have to believe that time travel is possible. Very plausible, right?