Regarding the Responsible Use of Time Travel

September 9, 2011 § Leave a comment

I would like to think that, if I somehow came into possession of a time machine, I would use it responsibly. Not knowing what the potential consequences of changing the past might be for the people of the present, I would confine myself to using the machine to travel to the future. To avoid any unpleasant paradoxes stemming from meetings with myself, I would always return to the present a few minutes after I left it. So that my interference in the flow of time might have a concrete purpose other than satiating my own curiosity, I would use the knowledge I gained from the future to bring future scientific and technological advancements to the present.

On further reflection, though, none of these “responsible” methods of using time travel are really all that responsible. If I were to travel to the future and back, I might accidentally introduce into the present world a “superbug” from the future that cannot be thwarted by modern medical techniques. Accidental meetings with past versions of myself that thus potentially alter the “me” that is currently traveling through time is hardly the only paradox that might result from traveling into the future; what if I meet an older version of a fellow time-traveler in one future era and then a younger version in another future era, thus potentially altering the older version of the fellow time-traveler in question I had previously met and, therefore, myself–and the version of me that met the younger version of the fellow time-traveler–as well? Introducing scientific knowledge and technology from the future to the present would probably cause the future to change substantially–a consequence that, from an egalitarian point of view that grants the people of the future the same consideration as the people of the present, could be just as bad as altering the present by traveling to the past.

With all of these arguments brewing in my head, I might take any one of several courses of action. I might destroy the machine, for fear that someone else at some point in space or time might use it, with terrible consequences. Acknowledging the possibility that other machines might have already propagated throughout the timeline, I might attempt to use the machine itself to destroy the original machine and to convince its inventor to never build another one. Considering that this could conceivably break the universe by introducing an infinite loop of causality and the lack thereof, I might just try to use it to kill Hitler. If anything I may or may not do with the time machine might easily have similarly horrific results, why not try to make the best of it?

I would like to think that I’d use the machine responsibly. Ultimately, though, I doubt that I would.

Richard W.



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