I’ve long held a particular theory about the world we live in, on the subject of time travel, that I’ve rehashed in my mind over the years. I’m not going to dig into the topics of parallel universes, alternate realities, or fate. But I will state this:
Time travel* never will be made possible, at any time in the future**.
* Useful time travel, that is. I’m sure we will do (and are already doing) astoundingly bizarre things with minute particles, frozen to near absolution, isolated in a vacuum, or measured in different time scales to those in which we live.
** Important point: In the future of humanity.
If it ever did exist, it will have opened up the flow of information backwards in time, inevitably leading to the technology landing in the hands of those of us in the present. At some point in the future, some misguided soul would have passed it back as far as our own generation and earlier.
Therefore, if time travel technology ever exists in the future, it would exist right now.
Let’s think to a time when all of this tinkering with physics over at the likes of CERN might actually turn into something. So far, we’ve zipped a few neutrinos through an isolated chamber at speeds faster than light.
That’s pretty damn cool.
But it’s not really going to change anything that’s applicable to our daily lives.
However, if the past has anything to teach us, it’s that we get better with these experiments with time, and eventually, once-’useless’ experimentation starts turning into great inventions. Electricity, light, microchips, etc… all started off as interesting but at their present time, mostly useless experiments that did little to shape how we lived at that time.
So I suppose we could say that if we were on to something with breaking the speed of light and defying the known laws of space/time, we’d be on the right track to make something of it. Over time, it’s conceivable to see that perhaps we’ll figure out how to multiply the effect of travelling faster than light, and perform the trick in much more favourable conditions. Eventually, I can see how we’d figure out a trick to sending collections of neutrinos or other particles to pre-determined ‘places’ in space-time, all programmed with bits of information. Over time, we’d surely be sending ever growing packets of information back in time in greater and greater leaps.
Now we’re getting somewhere. If this were to happen, what would happen next?
Inevitably, the latest and greatest military would find some compelling use case here, and fund the project until it provided some tangible benefit in warfare. Of course, at some point, the world’s largest conglomerates would want in on the action, realising the ROI on sending information backwards far surpasses paying overpriced strategic consultants to try to predict the future.
Naturally, the City boys would find a way to conjure up some financial structures, creating products out of events that haven’t happened yet. Scratch that, this is already happening…. There’d be a demand for this technology, and where there’d be money, there’d be a steadily growing supply.
At some point, as the future presses on, these technologies will become more affordable, within reach of less regulated companies and the world’s hot-shot billionaires. Some genius, probably at Apple, will figure out how to get BackTime™ Technologies in the hands of consumers, at a tidy profit.
Not long after, of course, the burgeoning startup scene of the 2470′s dips into the cloud services of BackTime™, applying it to age-old problems like porn, dating, and photo sharing, all with interesting results (There’s a whole post that needs to be dedicated to exploring the possibilities here…) – given away for free, undoubtedly, clamouring for a piece of the market: 32 billion strong population of the GEA.
Kids of the future will wake up on XMas morning (having long forgotten that the ‘X’ in XMas did not originally stand for the international currency, Xeneps, although Hallmark Conglomerate Industries doesn’t do much to help that matter) to open BackTime™ Barbie and BackTime™ Laser Nerf toys. These sound dangerous, but really just lend themselves to a winter break of fun and games, playing dolls with yourself from a week in the past, and sneaking up to pop the kid in the neighbouring moon sector in the head with a foam ball before the shooter even pulls the trigger.
So yes, ridiculous as this all is, I’m making the assumption that if we get our current tinkering up to shape, it’ll be a short fall (time is relative, you see) into a world where everyone has their hands on the technology.
So what happens next in this theoretical future? Well, knowing humanity, it’ll get out of hand. Whether with good intentions or bad, someone, somewhere, will have the means to send information on how to develop such technologies back to themselves (or an ancestor), giving way for the chance of creating the technology earlier.
Rinse, and repeat. In no time (again, it’s relative), you will find that the technology itself was created long before it was… originally created. The arrow of time ceases to matter.
What does it all come to?
Our technology is evolving faster than our ability to cope with the implications. At the rate we’re going, we stand to build time travel technology faster than we learn to deal with it as a global society.
It’s based on the fact that we’re not seeing these implications in our present day (and in the past), that I’m hypothesising that it will never exist in the future.
This theory of mine is something I distinctly remember thinking through when I was about 11, probably after watching too much The Outer Limits. Over the years, I’ve reflected on this original stream of thought and come up with a number of explanations and alternatives:
- Technology roadblocks. Perhaps I’m right, and for all our efforts, we just never crack this one. Time goes forward, and we can’t change that with even the ever advancing tools we create to meddle with physics.
- Time runs out for humanity. Along the path to creating such advanced technology, something terrible happens, and we just don’t get the chance to live out our full potential as a species. Perhaps this climate change is our last blow, or a rogue asteroid, or global war, or zombie apocalypse. I’ve grown more cynical with age, and this one is rising my list of likely explanations.
- We screw it up. Similar to the point above, except directly pointing at the time travel technology itself. Somewhere along the line, passing back the BackTime technology, our society collapses from the implications. Economies would crumble, religion and cultures and everything we know would take a blow, societies would panic and rebel, wars would be won without ever being started. What could possibly go wrong? Everything. The technology exists in the future, but the moment it gets out of hand, humanity basically ceases to function to the point of being able to send back tangible information about what went wrong.
- We do learn how to cope. There is, of course, the remote possibility that by the time we figure out useful time travel technologies, we’re a more organised and responsible species. Perhaps, through self-control, tactful governance, and foresight, we’ll know better than to meddle with the past, even given the technology. However, I’ve not got my money on this one: We’re tens of thousands of years on as a species, and we’re still practically curious chimps, plagued by (for better or for worse) incessant inquisitiveness, a competitive nature, and hair loss. Our technology is moving in leaps and bounds, but we’re not showing much movement on the same scale. Increasingly powerful technologies will likely spell trouble.
Perhaps I’m wrong, and I’m missing a vital piece of the equation. I’m not claiming to have put anything vaguely resembling scientific thought into this.
… I don’t think I’d want to be proven wrong, however. Time. Forever destined to move forwards, or at least I would like to think for the time being…