September 9, 2011 § Leave a comment
If I somehow had the good fortune to come into possession of a time machine, the first decision facing me would be whether to transport myself into the past or into the future. Though on the surface this seems to be a difficult issue to resolve, the answer soon became clear as I considered the potential repercussions of traveling into the future. I feel that such a voyage would engender a sense of fatalistic inevitability in me; I would see the development of my own life, and of human society in general, then return to the present (assuming that I still desired to) and traverse my pre-established path to my preconceived end and watch all humanity do likewise. I would observe personal and global struggles and disasters with a morbid fascination, riveted by the inevitable progression of foreseen tragedies, as humans always are.
So, it is decided: I would travel into the past. But, again, a dilemma presents itself: Would I transport myself back into earlier years in an effort to change certain happenings, thus altering and, theoretically, improving, the present status of myself and all humanity, or would I return as a mere observer, in an effort to satisfy certain desires or curiosities I might have? Somewhat surprisingly, even in my own eyes, I realized that I would opt for the latter, perhaps selfishly, perhaps thoughtfully; as has been effectively illustrated in countless books and stories, no one can judge the effects that his or her actions, however minor they might seem, would have on the progression of human existence. Thus, I would want to return to an earlier time as an observer only; I would, however, in order to achieve my desired aim (to be explained shortly), also require the ability to choose a very specific location to be transported to, and that I be invisible, perhaps not physically, but in the sense that my presence would not alter any other person’s choice of words or actions.
And here would be my aim: to return to various points in history at which critical decisions were made, and merely to observe how they came about; specifically, I would like to know whether the decision-makers were plagued with doubt and uncertainty, or whether they seriously considered other options, the choosing of which would have drastically altered the course of human history. Did the fingers of the killers of Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy, for example, hesitate for a fraction of a second before they made contact with the fatal trigger? Did they conceive of the effects their actions would have? Did Benedict Arnold spend countless nights in a tortured state of internal conflict over whether he should carry out his betrayal? Did the quills in the hands of the signers of the Declaration of Independence waver at all as they moved over that seminal document? Perhaps less significantly, or maybe more to some, did Shakespeare ever consider letting Romeo and Juliet live happily ever after, and did he experience any twinge of regret at his literary murder? Did Napoleon or Alexander the Great ever secretly weep for the fathers and sons they slaughtered, and did they at any point reconsider the need for conquest and empire? Specific individuals, and thus humanity in general, are continuously facing innumerable decisions, countless roads which we can choose to travel; in so choosing, we also choose countless roads that we shall not travel, and we are never permitted to go back and make a different decision under precisely the same circumstances. With a time machine, I would go back to these moments, not to change any of these decisions, but rather to ponder what might have been…not to change the present, but rather to see other possible “presents” that were considered and rejected, and, ultimately, to enjoy and be thankful for the present selected for me.