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Author Topic: On the morals of time travel
Jenn
Layaway in a Manger


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quote:
Originally posted by Steve:
I'm afraid I don't understand why anyone wouldn't stop 9/11. The reasons against doing so are that some good has come of it, and that worse things might happen if it were stopped.

But neither reason, as far as I can tell, has anything to do with time travel.

If you found out about an impending terrorist attack and stopped it, you wouldn't be changing history. That's how time travel comes in. If you go back in time and stop something that already happened, the results may be unpredictable: Thousands of people who were dead in your own timeline will suddenly be alive again. People who were alive in your own timeline, including yourself, may cease to exist.

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Steve
Happy Holly Days


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What do you mean by "cease to exist"? Do you mean die? It's obviously possible that stopping 9/11 could cause unintended deaths, just as stopping tomorrow's terrorist attack could. I still don't see a distinction.

Or do you mean something else?

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Jenn
Layaway in a Manger


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Different people may die and others will never be born. Or it could set off a chain of events in which 3000+ people still die but in a different way. That's the point: what may happen if you go back in time to change events that have already happened is unpredictable. The distinction is in preventing what may come to pass versus changing what has already come to pass. Both are unpredictable, but one is changing the world as you came to know it.

Look at the example posted earlier from book about contaminating a well to prevent the birth of Hitler. Hitler doesn't exist, but the unpredicted and unintentional consequence was a different Nazi leader winning the war and using the contaminated water to stop all European Jews from breeding.

Or Back to the Future 2 when Marty goes back to 'his' time and finds it completely different because Biff stole the sports almanac, got rich, and married Marty's mom. You can't change just one thing about the past because that will have a cascade effect on everything else.

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ds_40
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quote:
Originally posted by Flowy Chloe:
Wouldn't it be better to call in bomb threats to the airport and airlines in question, rather than to the targets on the ground?

Unless you were very specific about who was doing what, and could somehow prove it (and given that none of them even used bombs how would you do that?), those same terrorists would probably just be on a plane later in the day - or the next day. And it would happen then, if it was later in the day the results would probably be worse.

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Doug4.7
Angels Wii Have Heard on High


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quote:
Originally posted by Flowy Chloe:
Wouldn't it be better to call in bomb threats to the airport and airlines in question, rather than to the targets on the ground?

I would think not. If "nothing happened" that day, we would still be ignorant of the terrorist threat (yea, I know, like we really aren't now...), and so the NEXT plot would unfold with us in our bliss, and maybe even MORE people would die.

Sad thing is, if it had not been so spectacular on 9/11, it would not have motivated the US/world into action.

My "compromise" was to let the planes hit the building so as to let the “shock” motivate the US into action, but try to save as many of those folks as possible. Of course, if I didn't die in the attack, how would the world do with TWO Dougs...

Oh yea, and to make sure the communication emergency in Congress the night before still happened so as to still save my BIL.

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Doug4.7
Angels Wii Have Heard on High


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quote:
Originally posted by Stoneage Dinosaur:
quote:
Originally posted by Doug4.7:
quote:
Originally posted by Jay Temple:
I'm with Doug.

I started writing the outline of a story where someone DID go back in time just to kill Hitler. It has been so many years, but the result was a short delay in the start of WW-II, but a "sane" guy was the leader of Germany (I need to go back to my notes, I actually forgot who I put in charge). He took the advice of his generals better than Adolf and subsequently THEY got the bomb. With the bomb AND a delivery system, "hilarity" ensued...
Sounds a bit like the novel Making History by Stephen Fry. Nobody actually travels back in time, but they do send a male contaceptive pill to a well which Hitler's father drinks from, thus preventing his eventual birth. Unfortunately, the Nazi party still come to power, and their alternative leader doesn't have Hitler's personality faults, so Germany wins WWII and engages in a cold war with the USA.

An interesting "don't mess with history" part of the book is that the Nazis discover the sterilising properties of the contaminated well water, and use it to wipe out the Jews of Europe.

BTW - great first post masterlegomom, welcome to the board.

Okay, one reason I didn't really go after the story was that I found so many other versions out there that were a heck of a lot better than anything I could have made...It just seemed a waste of time.

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Dog Friendly
Carol of the Bills


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vfwchick and Brad from Georgia: That was the point of the story I mentioned, "The Men Who Murdered Mohammed". At one point, the protagonist compares the infinite possible time-lines to a huge plate of spaghetti, and then says "We've become the sauce".

What the Ghost of Christmas Past said.

But if I were to make the assumption that actions in my own past could create a different future, then I run into a paradox Heinlein describes in "Time Enough for Love". If Hypothetical Fred goes back in time to un-create, say, the 9/11 disaster, then Hypothetical Fred would have no memory of the event he just uncreated. So it wouldn't have occurred to him to go back to September 10th in the first place. The fact that the intervening agent knows what he wants to change indicates that it has already happened in that one person's memory.

Kilgore ("Wish I didn't know now what I didn't know then") Trout

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Midgard_Dragon
Markdown, the Herald Angels Sing


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quote:
Originally posted by Steve:
I'm afraid I don't understand why anyone wouldn't stop 9/11. The reasons against doing so are that some good has come of it, and that worse things might happen if it were stopped.

But neither reason, as far as I can tell, has anything to do with time travel. That is, if today I heard of an impending terrorist attack, should I do anything to stop it? I'd be stopping the possible good that could arise, and worse things could happen. But I don't think anyone would agree with my decision to not report it.

This has already been covered in other responses, but let me try to elaborate. First, as far as I'm concerned the future is not pre-determined and we all have Free Will. Changing the past takes away the Free Will of others, because they have no say in it. Ms. Estranged Daughter that was reunited with her Father after 9/11 is all of a sudden once again estranged, perhaps in bad shape financially, emotionally, physically, or all of the above. Whereas before you changed the past, she was happy, healthy, and mentally stable. While I'm sure she didn't want anyone to die on 9/11, she would have no say in the matter of wether or not you should change it. And even if you asked her, you could never ask everyone on the face of the planet for their opinion before doing it.

Whereas if you had knowledge of 9/11 prior to it happening, and reported it, you wouldn't be changing anything (assuming that knowledge came from present sources, and not the future or anything.)

My other point wasn't just the good that might come of it, though, but the fact that you probably wouldn't be believed in the first place, and would end up locked away in an institute.

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Silas Sparkhammer
I Saw V-Chips Come Sailing In


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quote:
Originally posted by Steve:
What do you mean by "cease to exist"? Do you mean die? It's obviously possible that stopping 9/11 could cause unintended deaths, just as stopping tomorrow's terrorist attack could. I still don't see a distinction.

By "cease to exist," we mean, roughly, never having been born at all. For instance, if WWII never happened, then a lot of kids who were fathered by American soldiers and British, French, German, Japanese (etc.) mothers -- would not be born.

In fact, without WWII, the entire postwar "Baby Boom" might not have happened.

That's one side of the argument: a lot of good people would be "erased" from existence, even more profoundly as if they were murdered.

The other side of the argument: we cannot know the consequences of changing only one thing.

Without WWII...who would eventually have developed the atomic bomb? Who would have been first to develop jet aircraft, the computer, long range rocketry, etc.? The war that was fought next, instead of WWII as we know it, might have involved poison gas, radioactive dust, or other horrors even *worse* than what we saw in '39-'45.

We can't know. And that, to me, is the fatal objection. It is the moral lesson taught in Anthony Boucher's "The Other Inauguration."

Silas ("I, a stranger and afraid...in a world I damned well made.")

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Dropbear
Angels from the Realms so Glurgy


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Doesn't it depend though on whether there is a single time line or multiple time lines?

It would seem to me that if we can change the past then there must be multiple time streams and the only thing you are doing in changing the past is making it so the future you 'return' to is not the one you left. Accordingly the decision to try to prevent, or ameliorate, the impact of the WTC attack or some other event would be about whether you would be able to go home or not.

Terry Pratchett deals with this in 'Night Watch'.
SPOILER WARNING,SPOILER WARNING, SPOILER WARNING :

Vimes knows the future and knows what to do to ensure that it will happen but decides that even at risk of losing everything he loves he can't act differently to his own beliefs - he has to act.

I tend to think that I would be like Vimes. Yes i can see all the good that came out, yes i want to preserve the future so that i can return but I have to deal with what's in front of me as well. I have to deal with the now and live rightly according to the now - even if the now is then.

[Hijack]I think the best novel dealing with the issue of change and time travel is Connie Willis' "To Say Nothing of the Dog". Because of causality issues time travel simply won't work for people who go back to try and change it - either the machine simply won't work, or it sends you to a different time and place or you change things and it turns out something else caused the problem in a different way. [/Hijack]

Dropbear

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Steve
Happy Holly Days


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quote:
Originally posted by Silas Sparkhammer:
Without WWII...who would eventually have developed the atomic bomb? Who would have been first to develop jet aircraft, the computer, long range rocketry, etc.? The war that was fought next, instead of WWII as we know it, might have involved poison gas, radioactive dust, or other horrors even *worse* than what we saw in '39-'45.


I agree with your point about possibly wiping out a good number of bab boomers. Fair enough.

But the point above is the kind of objection I disagree with. A thought experiment--imagine a politician in the late 1930s who was able to stop World War II somehow. Obviously he wouldn't have known the exact amount of carnage, and the exact sort of technology, that the war would bring. But wouldn't it have been immoral of him not to to stop the war, even if he worried that his actions might merely push off the war to a future date when war would be even more destructive?

I'm not sure why we should apply reasoning to a time traveler that we wouldn't apply to, er, whatever the opposite of a time traveler is.

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Mistletoey Chloe
Ding Dong! Merrily on High Definition TV


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I'm with Steve. If it is right to behave in a certain way on one's own life, why is it wrong to do the same thing while time traveling? The argument that it might make things worse in some way is always true, of everything we do.

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Doug4.7
Angels Wii Have Heard on High


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quote:
Originally posted by Dropbear:
Doesn't it depend though on whether there is a single time line or multiple time lines?

I think the multiple (actually infinite) time lines idea solves just about every time travel problem. The "problem" becomes can your time machine "navigate" the timelines, or are you at the whim of the splitting? If you can't navigate, then if you go back in time and change nothing, you still might not end up in the "present" you started in.

Of course, you might also bump into the "other" yous coming from other, but very similar timelines.

Okay, maybe it doesn't solve all of the problems...

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Joe Bentley
Ding Dong! Merrily on High Definition TV


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I think Chloe and Steve are right. We don't demand that people don't make decisions in our normal time line because they "might make things worse" so why would we demand they do it in alternative time lines?

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Midgard_Dragon
Markdown, the Herald Angels Sing


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Because you're changing history, not just making a decision about something that hasn't already happened?

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Silas Sparkhammer
I Saw V-Chips Come Sailing In


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quote:
Originally posted by Steve:
quote:
Originally posted by Silas Sparkhammer:
Without WWII...who would eventually have developed the atomic bomb? Who would have been first to develop jet aircraft, the computer, long range rocketry, etc.? The war that was fought next, instead of WWII as we know it, might have involved poison gas, radioactive dust, or other horrors even *worse* than what we saw in '39-'45.


I agree with your point about possibly wiping out a good number of bab boomers. Fair enough.

But the point above is the kind of objection I disagree with. A thought experiment--imagine a politician in the late 1930s who was able to stop World War II somehow. Obviously he wouldn't have known the exact amount of carnage, and the exact sort of technology, that the war would bring. But wouldn't it have been immoral of him not to to stop the war, even if he worried that his actions might merely push off the war to a future date when war would be even more destructive?

I'm not sure why we should apply reasoning to a time traveler that we wouldn't apply to, er, whatever the opposite of a time traveler is.

It's partly a variant on "the devil you know." As bad as WWII was, you can't know that the alternative wouldn't be worse. For instance, without WWII, it is entirely possible that the first nuclear showdown (paralleling the Cuban Missile Crisis) might lead to total global nuclear disaster.

You can't know. At very least, we know that our world is livable today.

It's partly the "would you bet the farm?" argument. You could mortage yourself and borrow heavily, and go to Las Vegas and put it all down on one turn of the cards. But...would you actually do such a thing?

And, yes, in fact I *do* apply the same reasoning in real life. For instance, I'm not happy in my job. But I'm not ready to quit and seek a new one...not yet, anyway. I don't know for sure that my situation would improve, and so I'm not prepared to throw it all away in a major change.

WWII was bad...but it is not hard to imagine ways that it might all turn out *worse*, and, without proof of that, I think that changing the past would be immoral.

I have some respect for the theological argument that it takes away people's free will; but WWII also took away people's free will.

As a humanist, I would argue that it is hugely undemocratic...except, of course, that WWII was also hugely undemocratic.

There is also the issue of whether or not *other* people have access to time-altering technology. Suppose Hitler had a time machine and went back and prevented Churchill and Roosevelt from being born! Can you be certain, for always and for ever, that a bad person won't get control of the time machine and alter history for his benefit?

Silas

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ComicBookGeek
I'll Be Home for After Christmas Sales


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quote:
Originally posted by Steve:
I'm afraid I don't understand why anyone wouldn't stop 9/11. The reasons against doing so are that some good has come of it, and that worse things might happen if it were stopped.

But neither reason, as far as I can tell, has anything to do with time travel. That is, if today I heard of an impending terrorist attack, should I do anything to stop it? I'd be stopping the possible good that could arise, and worse things could happen. But I don't think anyone would agree with my decision to not report it.

I'm confused...are you saying you would not report an impending terrorist attack because some good could come out of the attack? Ouch, please don't ever go into law enforcment.

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Salamander
Happy Xmas (Warranty Is Over)


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Many have suggested that a time traveller would be unable to alter the past.

Okay, so you want to go back in time to prevent the 9/11 attacks. Imagine for a moment you succeed and the 9/11 attacks never happened, how would you then know to go back and make the change?

The current you (Z) goes back to a point in your own timeline... a timeline that the younger you (A) is still actively experiencing. Z knows something bad happens on 9/11 because A experienced it. If the attack is defeated, A will not experience that event... without the knowledge A obtained, Z would be unable to act upon it.

Alternatively, my other theory is that it is possible to change history but only in ways that do not directly impact upon either creation of time travel or your own motivation for travelling into the past (I could kill a random person, so long as that person does not influence the creation of the time device or have an impact upon the process of me choosing to go back into time).

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Jenn
Layaway in a Manger


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quote:
Originally posted by ComicBookGeek:
I'm confused...are you saying you would not report an impending terrorist attack because some good could come out of the attack? Ouch, please don't ever go into law enforcment.

No, he's saying the opposite. Since reporting the impending the terrorist attack is the right thing to do in the current timeline, he believes that it would also be the right thing to do if he traveled back in time.

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Bill Door
I Saw Three Shipments


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quote:
Originally posted by ComicBookGeek:
I'm confused...are you saying you would not report an impending terrorist attack because some good could come out of the attack? Ouch, please don't ever go into law enforcment.

Or...

I'm confused...are you saying you would not report an impending sneak attack on the American Fleet because some good could come out of the attack? Ouch, please don't ever go into wartime politics.

- Bill Door

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Midgard_Dragon
Markdown, the Herald Angels Sing


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quote:
Originally posted by ComicBookGeek:
quote:
Originally posted by Steve:
I'm afraid I don't understand why anyone wouldn't stop 9/11. The reasons against doing so are that some good has come of it, and that worse things might happen if it were stopped.

But neither reason, as far as I can tell, has anything to do with time travel. That is, if today I heard of an impending terrorist attack, should I do anything to stop it? I'd be stopping the possible good that could arise, and worse things could happen. But I don't think anyone would agree with my decision to not report it.

I'm confused...are you saying you would not report an impending terrorist attack because some good could come out of the attack? Ouch, please don't ever go into law enforcment.
As already stated, he's saying the opposite. I, however, am saying I *would* report an attack if I had prior knowledge before it happened. I would not, however, travel back in time, because I would be undoing whatever good might have come out of the tragedy, and I don't believe that should be mine (or any one man or woman's) decision to make.

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Logoboros
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But you're only "undoing" it from your perspective as the time traveller. The rest of the world will see what happens as "fated to be" just as much as you saw your original timeline as already determined.

In a way, the population of the new timeline has the better claim on judging reality. From their point of view, what you remember as the original timeline is merely another "what might have been."

--Logoboros

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Midgard_Dragon
Markdown, the Herald Angels Sing


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Well, we have a few options about what happens after the change, really. One possibility is that the original timeline just goes *poof* and ceases to exist. With this option, even though there is no one around left to feel the effects, you are still passing judgement and taking something away from those that resided in the original timeline.

Another option is that by changing something, you create a tangent Universe. In this case, of course, both timelines exist in and of themselves, but which one would you end up going back to? If you go back to the one where 9/11 has happened, then what good did you do? If you go back to the other one, how will you have ever known to go back if it never happened? Or will there be two you's there? Having two selves would in and of itself be a problem. If we go with the infinite timeline's theory, then there is likely already another timline where 9/11 was prevented. So all you can do is either: wipe one set of circumstances from existance without giving those that reside on the original timeline a choice, or create a separate timeline, which does no good for your original timeline in the first place, and is quite possibly already in existance.

quote:
In a way, the population of the new timeline has the better claim on judging reality.
Shouldn't the population of the original timeline get to make that choice, and not just one person, though? Even if the new population sees things as fated to be, you've taken away a whole universe of people (I very much believe that our choices make us who we are, as well as our experiences, change the experiences that a person had, and they will be a different person, in a sense.)

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Logoboros
We Three Blings


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But have you really "taken them away?" From where? There's a difference between "killing" something and making it "not come into being." The not-existing is only akin to killing if there is some grand outside perspective in which both timelines can be compared beside each other. If both do, in fact, continue to exist in parallel, then, as you say, it doesn't really matter if you do it or not, since both outcomes still exist (in fact, you could argue that your are more obligated to change the timeline, because then you are "creating" a whole new universe of lives, which otherwise wouldn't exist, and if not-existing is as bad as being killed, then your moral obligation is to allow them to exist, rather than lingering forever in non-existence).

But if there are no parallel timelines, then that outside perspective only ever exists in the time-traveler's mind. And how much value does that have? If you're the resident of the new reality, and the time traveler comes up to you and says, "No, you must die now, because you did so in the time I'm from and I'm trying to correct the damage I've done and bring that time back into existence," then you (and the billions of others on the planet) would reply, "Screw you and the future that only exists in your head! I prefer the known quanity of my existence now!" WHich is, of course, the same logic the time traveler is trying to use, only he's prefering the remembered reality of the old timeline. And which has the better claim? The known reality of the new timeline, or this timeline that only exists now in the traveler's memory?

--Logoboros

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"If Men were Wise, the Most arbitrary Princes could not hurt them. If they are not wise, the Freest Government is compelld to be a Tyranny."

--William Blake

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Mad Jay
Let There Be PCs on Earth


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Slight hijack.

To people who wouldn't go back in time:- If you had a machine that would let you look forward in time, and you had an opportunity to make a decision that might affect the future, would you use the machine to find out what the correct course of action should be?

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Nico Sasha
In between my father's fields;And the citadels of the rule; Lies a no-man's land which I must cross; To find my stolen jewel.

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Don Enrico
Happy Xmas (Warranty Is Over)


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About several (indefinetly many) timelines:

If you assume this scenario, you're not changing history at all. The timeline you came from (with Hitler living and becoming the leader of Fashist Germany) would still be there. The one you "create" (with Hitler dead before 1933) did exist before you traveled back "your" timeline.

All you are doing is switching yourself from one timeline to another - and all your responsible for is you (will you be born/happier/better of in the timeline your switching to?) As a consequence, you can't save anybody - the victims of WWII will still die (in your old timeline), only you won't be there to see it.

In this concept only the "small" timetravels make sense - like the ones FrogFeathers suggested: Go back a few days, weeks or months (years might be pushing it already) to chance a bad decision you made. That would be like turning around when you missed your exit on the highway - you can't do to much damage by that.

Don Enrico

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My spelling is Wobbly. It's good spelling, but it Wobbles, and the letters get in the wrong places. - Pooh Bear

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Richard W
Ding Dong! Merrily on High Definition TV


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quote:
James G said:
You will travel back to the new future, people you know would be different. What is jumping back into the future would result in you shifting to the 'new you.' You could improve your life, but if that made you a different person would you want to.

You could improve your future life indirectly, by (say) buying stock in a company that you know will be successful and putting the certificates in a safety deposit box so you can collect them when you get back to the future. That would be a "small change" in the sense that it could easily have already been the case and gone undetected in your future timeline - so it could work even if you were unable to "change" anything.

It doesn't work in a chaotic many-timelines system though; just one in which there's one timeline and what has happened has happened regardless of your intervention. (The sort of universe where you try to kill Hitler but get arrested and sent to an internment camp on your way to carry out the plot, and end up as an un-remarked footnote in history.)

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rodh
Deck the Malls


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What a great thread but I've already been spanked.

I agree with Doug4.7 on the killing Hitler issue. It would be a very bad thing and the world today would be much different.

I'm reading a book right now called "What If" that analyses the outcome if certain military scenarios of the past had turned out differently.

I also got spanked by vfwchick on the time-traveller-as-an-observer-only theory.

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Open Mike Night
Little Sales Drummer Boy


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With my luck, I would go back in time, decide to change things, and end up with an endless loop in time.

I would go back in time, manage to stop the 9/11 attacks. The news of the thwarted attacks would convince a manger in the trade towers to leave it all behind, and become a buffalo wrangler in Kiddermeister. He would stop the potential buffalo trampling, which would allow me to go on my Wumpus hunting trip and skip the trip to my friend with the time machine's house, thus ensuring 9/11 happened, killing the future buffalo wrangler making me skip my Wumpus.......

Once the endless loop started, I'm sure everyone would blame me for screwing up the universe.

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On the crusade to eliminate Moral Asshattery wherever it exists
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James G.
Xboxing Day


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The problem I have with the 'one timeline' theory is that it makes some situations seem far too contrived. Imagine this simple experiment.

1. In the room with the time machine write 'Travel back in time' on the blackboard.
2. Leave the room for two hours.
3. Enter the room. If the writing is still on the whiteboard then travel back in time an hour anf rub it out. Either hide in a cupboard for an hour or travel back to your own time.

Now if we are to assume 1 time like then the paradox of this experiment is clear. Yet to assume that you 'won't be able to rub it out' just seems daft. Sure there's lots of things that could happen, You could accidently use permenant marker, you could trip and break your leg, your flux capacitor could malfunction sending you to 1985. But none of these factors are inherant in the experiment, and would instead demand some force driving them to occur. (Or some other force to wipe the writing off the board without needing you to.)

As far as I can tell this experiment suggests one of three things, 1. We have mythical protectors of the timestream. 2. We should reject the single timestream model, or 3. Time Travel is impossible (And there may or may not be a single timestream).

ETA: In the case of my simple experiment it would appear that the 'protectors of the timestream' have me writing on the blackboard but wiping stuff off the whiteboard.

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gnome
Deck the Malls


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quote:
Originally posted by Open Mike Night:

Once the endless loop started, I'm sure everyone would blame me for screwing up the universe.

Especially those big guys in the Andromeda galaxy who until you came along were happily minding their own business instead of vaporizing our cities out of revenge for your selfish paradoxes.

One of my favorite sci-fi story themes is that of the unlucky time-traveler who keeps returning to the crapshoot, desperate to return the timeline to anything even resembling the one he came from.

Seems rather like trying to fix a soft clay sculpture with your thumbs--you'd just keep making it worse the more you messed with it.

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Hubert Cumberdale
We Wish You a Merry Giftmas


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quote:
Originally posted by Doug4.7:
The way I "really" think it goes on is the Many Worlds Theory. At each decision point (do I go with red tie or blue?, etc.) the world splits.

Now think of time as a splitting river (like at a delta). In time travel, you go back "upstream" along the stream you came down on. Now in the past, if you do something different, you now are going down some other stream (one that does NOT lead to the world you left). So your original world has not changed, but now as you time travel back towards the future (downstream), when you arrive, things are “different”. You can never get back to the “original” world you started in (you don't or can't find the correct stream).

Now because of quantum symmetry rules, these streams both divide and recombine as time progresses. So somehow, you can have the SAME present with two DIFFERENT pasts. No, I am not sure how to think that.

I love quantum mechanics.... Thanks Dr. Morrison!

I came up with a similar theory. My difference is that the only point of splitting is the beginning of time. And once time started, it just kept restarting every nano second.
By this logic there would be an inifinite amount of alternate worlds that would all be identical except for being at a different point in time. You could only go as far into the future as the first split has gone and you could go back to the beginning of time whenever you wanted since it would always be generating.
You wouldn't actually be travelling in time, you'd just be stepping sideways into another reality that was at a different point in time. This would also mean that if you went into a universe that was still in a year you weren't conceived and killed your parents it would make no difference to your time at all and providing you knew how to get back you would see no changes. The only way to see the changes you caused would be to stay in that exact universe and wait. Even if you went back a few minutes you would be in the default world.
Of course, this could get very confusing. It already makes less sense to me than it did several years ago when I thought of it.

But in a time travel situation where my actions would affect my present I wouldn't kill Hitler. As evil as the Holocaust was, it was also responsible for many people meeting, getting married, and having kids. I know I don't have any direct Holocaust survivors in my family tree but I could have people who met through them or because of them. Actually, if I did go back in time in a way that could affect the future I would be too scared to even breathe out of fear that I would get germs that were meant for someone else and ruin my present.

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Silas Sparkhammer
I Saw V-Chips Come Sailing In


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quote:
Originally posted by Mad Jay:
Slight hijack.

To people who wouldn't go back in time:- If you had a machine that would let you look forward in time, and you had an opportunity to make a decision that might affect the future, would you use the machine to find out what the correct course of action should be?

Doesn't this imply that no one but you has free will?

The outcome of even the simplest decision should spread out in a probability wave, leading to all sorts of different situations. The machine would have to know exactly what would happen, and exactly how everyone else would decide to live their lives.

e.g., I want to go on a cruise, but will the ship sink? I look, and, sure enough, it does. So...I decide not to go. Now, the taxi driver who would have taken me has to take someone else. This causes traffic congestion. The captain of the cruise ship is late arriving. The ship sails 20 minutes later than scheduled...and thus doesn't hit the iceberg. *BECAUSE* I didn't take it!

To make this work, the taxi driver would have to go through the motions, like a robot, coming to my door, opening the cab, acting as if he is putting in my luggage...

(Fritz Leiber dealt with that kind of robotic lack of free will in his haunting novel "The Sinful Ones.")

So, with respect, I think your future-revealing machine raises more difficulties than the mere moral question of right and wrong.

(But, to answer your real question, if I had a crystal ball that would tell, say, the winner of the next Belmont Stakes, then, yes, I would take advantage of the knowledge and bet heavily on the outcome of that race. And yet, I would *not* invest on such "inside information" in the stock market. Go figure!)

Silas

(Afterthought: perhaps this is because I consider gambling on horse-racing to be "amoral" already, whereas investment is intended to be mutually beneficial to both parties. The stock market is *not* a roulette wheel, even if some people act as if it were.)

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Mad Jay
Let There Be PCs on Earth


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quote:
Originally posted by Silas Sparkhammer:
quote:
Originally posted by Mad Jay:
Slight hijack.

To people who wouldn't go back in time:- If you had a machine that would let you look forward in time, and you had an opportunity to make a decision that might affect the future, would you use the machine to find out what the correct course of action should be?

Doesn't this imply that no one but you has free will?

Yes, and no. I was thinking more on the lines of big decisions, where the decision you make/influence is big enough that it overrides the collective free will of everyone else; or decisions that affect the immediate future. For example:- you are in the same room as the president of a country with nuclear buttons, and the president has his hand waving above the nuclear button; or a scientist is on the verge of a major discovery and you have an opporutnity to sabotage the experiment.
quote:


The outcome of even the simplest decision should spread out in a probability wave, leading to all sorts of different situations. The machine would have to know exactly what would happen, and exactly how everyone else would decide to live their lives.

Yes, you are right. I was imagining something similar to the machine in Asimov's Foundation series that displayed possible timelines as a tree, and would highlight the probability of each path. (I forget the name of the device). You could input all the possible choices that you have and it will tell you which choice has the most likelihood of the desired outcome.
quote:


So, with respect, I think your future-revealing machine raises more difficulties than the mere moral question of right and wrong.

(But, to answer your real question, if I had a crystal ball that would tell, say, the winner of the next Belmont Stakes, then, yes, I would take advantage of the knowledge and bet heavily on the outcome of that race. And yet, I would *not* invest on such "inside information" in the stock market. Go figure!)

Silas

(Afterthought: perhaps this is because I consider gambling on horse-racing to be "amoral" already, whereas investment is intended to be mutually beneficial to both parties. The stock market is *not* a roulette wheel, even if some people act as if it were.)

But, don't you use your own intellect to make choices that would change the future to be more like what you would want to be? Does it matter if you use a machine to make the choices for you? or a crystal ball?.

Say, you want to go on a cruise, and you have to report at the pier by 10AM. You get up late, and you have 4 choices a) skip breakfast, take a bath and reach the pier on time b)skip bath, eat breakfast and reach the pier on time c)bathe and have breakfast and hope that you can drive fast or they will hold the ship for you d)miss the cruise and sleep a bit more. Each choice has differrent probabilities of you going on a cruise, and some choices have differrent secondary outcomes. It's a bit like looking in a crystal ball. The crystal ball just happens to be powered by your own intellect.

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Nico Sasha
In between my father's fields;And the citadels of the rule; Lies a no-man's land which I must cross; To find my stolen jewel.

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educatedindian
I Saw Three Shipments


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So many of these arguments seem just like elaborate excuses for inaction, or worse, being apologists for all the wrongs there are today in evidence all around us.

I've read and seen more than my share of SF, including time travel stories. And like much of older SF with its emphasis on intergalactics empires, etc, there always seemed a lot of underlying thought in the stories that seemed, if not reactionary, certainly containing a lot of tortured reasoning for accepting the worst of the status quo. And for a genre that prides itself on being forward thinking, that's unforgivable.

To me, having a time machine and failing to use to the best of your ability would be plain old moral cowardice, akin to driving by the scene of an accident where the poor guy is clearly in danger of dying, but multiplied by a factor of literally millions. The only question is NOT whether to do anything, but how to do it best.

One of the ways I teach my students history is by using a lot of alternate history scenarios, and I encounter my share of students who have the kneejerk response, "Would it even matter? Wouldn't things turn out the same anyway?"

No, emphatically, NO. And I say that to scenarios like claiming killing Hitler would not make any difference, or more bizarrely, worsen things. (For starters, Hitler's possible successors like Roehm or Goering didn't have his ambition or his abilities in either public speaking or shrewd diplomacy. The worst case is not a Cold War but a Germany settling for a restoration of its 1914 borders.)

If studying history has taught me anything it's that nothing is "inevitable." Even tiny factors like one influential person's perceived physical shortcomings can play a pivotal part (eg Napoleon's height.)

When people argue an event in history was "inevitable" my experience has been they want to make excuses for why things are the way they are. The most common example I see with my students is Anglo kids insisting it's "inevitable" that American Indians would get wiped out and whites take over the continent.

Naturally this bothers me as much as a German arguing the "inevitability" of the Holocaust wiping out six million Jews. In both cases their guilt is clouding their judgement and making them come awfully close to excusing away genocide. It's also striking to me that I've never heard a nonwhite student making these arguments, and that the arguments generally come from the more sheltered students, those younger, still living at home, never having held a job, etc.

My nonwhite students and the older students of all backgrounds, by contrast, find thinking about changing the past liberating. It's nothing like flights of fancy. I think it's more a case of knowing how the world could be different and then thinking about how they might apply that now.

And I don't mean by going out and killing a public figure. Sometimes all that would have been necessary to change the world for the better is to convince a pivotal figure to act differently. Here's the alt history scenarios I give my classes for their exams. (For my students they're spread out over six exams during two semesters.) As you can see, I also give them scenarios where things could have turned out far worse as well:

What If…?
1. De Las Casas or Montesinos commands the first Spanish expedition to the Americas.

2. Cortez is defeated by the Aztecs. Aztecs acquire firearms and better ship technology from captured Spaniards.

3. The French win the French and Indian War, taking over the American colonies.

4. American colonists opposing British rule lose.

5. The new United States accepts the Delaware Nation’s suggestion and grants American Indians their own state or states within the US system.

6. Napoleon decides against selling the Louisiana Territory to the US.

7. The Whigs win the vote against Pres. Jackson, halting forced removal of the Five Tribes.

8. Congressman James Polk decides against running for president on a new idea called Manifest Destiny. There is no war with Mexico or civil war over slavery. Instead, there is an attempted class-based revolution in the US in the 1860s.

9. The US decides to annex all of Mexico (and its population, almost equal to the US at the time) after the Mexican War.

11. Lincoln accepts the Confederate offer, guaranteeing protection for slavery in the South (but barring its expansion further west) to avoid civil war.

12. Lincoln survives assassination and follows Gen. Sherman’s advice, granting land taken from plantation slaveowners to all 300,000 Black Union veterans.

13. Two groups of anarchists carry out the Plan of San Diego, taking over and declaring south Texas and Baja California independent nations run on anarchist principles.

14. The Anti-Imperialist League convinces Pres. McKinley to give up US control of Cuba, the Philippines, & Puerto Rico after the Spanish-American War.

15. Pres. Wilson sends US troops to stop the Mexican Revolution.

16. The American Liberty League tries to overthrow Franklin Roosevelt using a private army of ex-soldiers, declaring the US a fascist state.

17. Huey Long survives assassination and challenges FDR for the presidency in 1936.

18. Hitler decides against declaring war against the US after Pearl Harbor.

19. FDR decides against replacing Henry Wallace with Harry Truman as Vice President. Wallace becomes President when FDR dies in 1945.

20. Gen. MacArthur defies Pres. Truman and bombs Communist China in 1951.

21. Martin Luther King survives the assassination.

22. Reagan dies from assassination by John Hinckley. Bush Sr. becomes president and likely wins reelection in 1984.

23. The CIA decides in the 1950s on a policy of not giving training, money, or intelligence to Arab nationalists or Muslim fundamentalists, including two men named Saddam Hussein & Osama Bin Laden.

24. Congress defies Bush Sr. & votes against going to war with Iraq in 1990.

25. Bush Sr. decides to invade Iraq itself during the Gulf War & overthrow Hussein.

26. GW Bush dies as a young man from either drunk driving or a cocaine overdose. Who becomes president in 2000, and how do they respond to 9-11?

27. US authorities stop Al Qaeda before they carry out their plans for 9-11.

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