The Complexities and Exuberances of Time Travel
By Johnny Apocalypse
Several years ago, I wrote an article which made reference to the fact that I was building a time machine. This has not changed. I then mentioned that, so far, my time machine is composed of a lawn mower with a watch attached to it. This hasn't changed either. Regardless of how much research I do on building time machines, my only requirement is that it has to be based off of the design of a lawn mower. Attaching a watch seems like a good place to start, but I don't know where to go from there.
Time travel has fascinated me from a young age. It probably started with watching "Back to the Future", where a young man goes back in time and accidentally wins his own mother's heart, preventing her from hooking up with his dad and therefore ending his existence.
Why the hell am I summing up "Back to the Future"? Everyone's seen that movie.
The fact that traveling back in time could create such odd paradoxes intrigued me. Everyone has heard the "Grandfather Paradox" a thousand times by now, which involves traveling back in time and killing your own grandfather. Since it's constant repetition has bored the crap out of me, here's a more interesting paradox: Let's say that by studying the works of an influential physicist (who worked and died some time ago), you develop yourself a time machine. You want to go back in time and meet this inventor while he's a teenager, to give him some ideas and lead him on the right path, with the dual purpose of making sure he becomes interested in the field of physics, and the self-satisfaction that you've essentially laid the unaccredited groundwork for your own time machine.
So you set your time machine for the past, but when you arrive you land right in front of a speeding bus. You figure that this is some weird twist of fate the universe has in stall for those who want to tinker with the past, but before you get mowed down a nearby bystander shoves you out of the way, taking a greyhound bus to the face that was meant for you.
You rush to the poor man who gave his life for yours, only to discover that it was the physicist in question, long before he pondered gravitational orbits and extra dimensions. Since he's dead, whose work did you study to build your time machine? Your use of his work killed him before he worked on it, so how in the hell did you manage to travel through time?
Time travel fiction is full of interesting ideas and questions like these, as well as exploring possibilities. You could travel back to World War II and convince Hitler to invade Russia, to ensure that he lost the war. If you'd rather take the direct approach, you could just shank Hitler as a teenager ensuring the Holocaust never happened in the first place. You could travel forward in time to find out who wins the next Super Bowl to place some safe bets, or travel back in time to tell your bookie that you think Buster Douglas will beat Mike Tyson. You can create chaos, avert chaos, or just observe.
Some time after I wrote the article where I mentioned my non-working time-lawn mower-machine, someone took it upon themselves to e-mail me and complain that I was over-looking the fact that if I traveled back in time and explained or demonstrated modern technology to the less civilized people of certain eras, I would be burned at the stake for being a witch. His outrage was probably provoked at my saying that I would snag some nude pics of Marie Antoinette or some such nonsense.
But I would like to point out that I overlooked nothing. I know full well how technology was viewed in ye olden days, and that many a peasant would want me burned or strung up for my magical practices. But Mr. Angry E-mail is the one overlooking one very crucial fact. Guns.
If I was going to travel back in time to wreak havoc with a CD player, blasting the best of Duran Duran, I would be doing so armed to the teeth. If I end up in a city where the only weapons are swords and knives, then good Sir Knight will be meeting the wrath of good Sir .45 if he tries to chop me. Not only will the villagers be driven mad by listening to "Hungry Like the Wolf" on endless repeat, but my "magical" firearms will ensure my safety. They want to chop me up for carrying a digital camera? That's what shotguns are made for.
So how does one build a time machine? A surprising number of physicists have given this at least some thought, including Einstein, Bohr, and lately David Deutch. They all pretty much come to the same conclusion: it may be possible, but it's not going to be easy.
One option is to travel faster then the speed of light. But aside from the fact that the speed of light is considered the "universal speed limit", and is considered to be impossible to surpass, it's also believed that reaching light speed itself is impossible. The reasoning goes like this? as you gain speed and momentum, you gain mass. The more mass you gain, the more energy it takes to maintain and gain the rate of travel. But if you hit light speed, you gain "infinite mass", which would require infinite energy to maintain. Long story short, all the brainiacs and physicists believe that infinite energy is impossible.
Another proposed method would be tearing a wormhole in the fabric of space and time. This is why I think my time machine should be based upon the lawn mower. It can cut a blade of grass, I should be able to get it to cut me a wormhole. But since we're not sure how to cut a wormhole, we wouldn't be able to control where the other end of the wormhole opens up. And what would be the point of traveling in time if we couldn't control where we landed? You want to see dinosaurs, but end up in the year 3000 instead. You want to travel to Chicago in the year 1928, but you could land on the opposite side of the universe in god knows what year.
Since the best physicists and scientists can't pull off time travel, I really have much hope for myself. But that doesn't mean I'm giving up. Time travel fascinates me far too much to simply drop the cause. And maybe someday I'll come to the conclusion that I can't use a lawn mower to reach the past, and I'll try using a hedge trimmer instead.