Remembering the Future

Time travel is an endlessly fascinating theme in science fiction; there is no shortage of novels, movies and TV shows that explore it. But is time travel only science fiction, or is it really possible?

How Do I Time Travel? Let Me Count the Ways…
In fact, we are all time travelers – we move forward at the rate of one day per day. Of course, the dream is to accelerate this rate, or even better, go backwards. Various scientific theories suggest how this might be possible (I will tell you now that I have tried them all and none of them worked).

  • Black holes – Black holes are formed after a large star collapses at the end of its life and is crushed into a small point in space. Black holes have such a powerful gravitational pull that nothing, not even light, can escape from them. Now, if you could travel into a black hole and come out the other end (wherever that is), you could, in theory, come out at a different point in time. There is just one small problem – you would have been crushed into nothing before you even entered the black hole.
  • Wormholes – Wormholes are better candidates for time travel. Think of wormholes as shortcuts in the universe. To visualize this, spread out the fingers of your hand. Notice the distance from the tip of your forefinger to the tip of your thumb. Now fold your hand inward, so that your forefinger is only a few millimeters from your thumb. Then picture a small tube, like a straw, held between your thumb and forefinger.

    Your flat hand represents regular space. Your folded handed represents the idea of “folded” or “warped” space. The tube represents a wormhole – a tunnel that joins these two areas of folded space. If you could travel through this tunnel, you would end up in a different time and place. However, no one even knows whether wormholes exist.

  • Cosmic Strings – These are defects in the space-time continuum that may have been created many billions of years ago when the universe was formed. They are thinner than atoms and, like black holes, generate an enormous amount of gravitational pull, warping the space-time continuum. But, as with wormholes, no one is even sure they exist.

    So there you have it. Of the three possible ways to travel through time, one would turn you into spaghetti and other two may not even exist (and if they do, would probably also turn you into spaghetti or some other pasta). We are going to have to look outside of science if we really want to travel through time.

    Travelling through Documentation
    One solution may already be under our noses. It is something we work with every day and that millions of people use – documentation. Think about it – what is it that distinguishes technical documentation from literature? It is that literature, like time, is linear. People read novels from the beginning to the end, but they read documentation non-linearly. They usually go directly to the topic they need, read it, and then continue on. Later, they may return to a topic on a previous page, then skip directly to one later in the document. There is little concept of “before” and “after” within a document, except within a specific topic, which should be read from start to finish.

    This method of “traveling” through a document is even more apparent with online documentation, which contains hyperlinks. Hyperlinks are the wormholes in a document, or in any website. I can think of no other technology that allows you to so easily move from one location to another than a hyperlinked document or website. Imagining trying to describe this technology to people 50 years ago – they would have no idea what you were talking about.

    Time Travel on the Digital Express
    We live in a digital age. It is quite easy to take photos and videos of your life, dump them onto a computer and then browse through them with complete disregard for chronological order. Technology has enabled us to become virtual time travelers.

    At this point you may be thinking, “this is all well and good, but I still want to actually travel through time.” This raises the obvious question: why are we so fascinated with the idea of time travel, especially with traveling back?

    Back to the Future
    I think it is because deep down, many people wish they could go back in time and change some of the decisions they made. Maybe they would have chosen another profession, another place to live, another partner – the possibilities are endless. Our lives are the sum totals of the choices we have made. We try hard to make the right decisions, but it is only natural to regret some of them. We think “if only” – if only I had done this, if only I had not done that. If, if, if – as they say: “if” is the middle word in “life”.

    We may think that if we could go back in time, we could easily repair our lives. The problem is that every decision may trigger a new series of events, and new sets of decisions. Even the smallest change can have huge and unpredictable consequences. This theory is known as “The Butterfly Effect”, so named because of the idea that even the flapping of a butterfly’s wings can create a ripple effect which can ultimately change the weather. So before you go traveling back in time, be aware of the consequences.

    Paradoxes and Other Puzzles
    Another problem with traveling back in time is all the messy paradoxes it creates. If you go back in time and kill your parents (or, for the less violent among you, simply prevent them from meeting), how could you have been born in the first place? One solution to this problem is alternate universes, the idea that our universe is only one of an infinite series of universes, each containing a different history with different events. In such a scenario, you could prevent your parents from meeting and still be born. The universe would “split” into two – one in which you existed; the other in which you did not.

    Keeping all of this in mind, I will demonstrate that in fact, you can go back in time and change the choices you make. If you recall in an earlier column, I demonstrated that our perceptions ultimately determine what exists. That is, our perceptions are reality. So try perceiving this:

    Time Travel – The User Guide
    Close your eyes (not now, because then you will not be able to read the rest of this column) and imagine moving forward in time. You are drifting ahead through the years… 2010…2020…2030…You are now 85 years old. You are sitting alone peacefully in a comfortable chair in your home. You are looking back on your life and thinking, “if I could do it all again, what would I have done differently? What choices should I have made?” You close your eyes and actually begin moving back in time. 2040…2030…2020…2010…2006. You have been miraculously transported back to 2006.

    You have now been given a second chance. What will you do with it?

    Don’t Forget to Remember
    It is easy to remember the past – it has already happened and you cannot change it. We can, however, change the future and the present. In fact, we are living in the days of future past – something we call “the present”. We must remember that we have a future, and our decisions affect it. Do not forget your past, be aware of the present, but remember the future.