The end of time(scape)

October 14, 2015 § Leave a comment

Benford’s Timescape ends on a bit of a dreary note–the characters who have so valiantly striven to save their world are doomed to suffer the rest of their lives in Benford’s bleak version of 1998. Yet at the same time, the characters have managed to save another world–formerly known as their world–created by the paradox initiated by the foiling of the assassination of JFK.

So does Timescape really end on a dreary note? Or does it end on a hopeful one?

To investigate this issue, we must consider the intent of Renfrew when he decided to send tachyons to the past. Nominally, it was to save humankind. But this answer is lacking–for which humankind did Renfrew mean to save?

Surely self-interest drove Renfrew in his pursuit of an answer. Yes, Renfrew wanted to save himself, but self-interest takes on a new meaning when applied to world with parallel universes–it means that Renfrew most likely wanted to save his universe. It might have been that Renfrew sent tachyons for the good of humankind, but it was for the good of his humankind–his family, his colleagues, his England, his friends, his credit.

It is hard to imagine that survival of the species would matter to an individual if he had no personal connections to the surviving population.

And perhaps that’s why Renfrew’s contemporaries ended up in the situation they were in in the first place. Motivating people to sacrifice things in the present to benefit three generations in the future is difficult: just like Renfrew will never come into contact with or meet the parallel universe his intervention created, we will never come into contact with our great-great-grandchildren. These grandchildren theoretically exist in our universes, but practically, they could exist in an entirely different timeline. By the time they arrive on this planet, even the memory of us will be warped, a blurry image of the humans we once were, distorted by a century of storytelling, dusty with the imperfections of recollection.

Consider another stipulation:

Suppose, in the world spawned from the 1964 section of the book, a scientist got the same idea as Renfrew: to use tachyons to communicate with the past. This creates another parallel universe, where another scientist uses tachyons–so on, and so forth. Theoretically, this allows for an infinite amount of timelines–and if there are an infinite amount instances of humankind surviving and of humankind dying. Given this scope, who are we to assume that our timeline has any sort of importance? To assume that it is uniquely malleable? Do we accept our timeline as a failed one? Resign ourselves to our fate? Give up?

The answer to the above hypotheticals are different for every person, and I’m not going to attempt to speak for everyone. But it is worth mentioning that there is something noble–perhaps foolish, but nonetheless noble–about Renfrew’s tachyons and your grandma’s recycling. Someone out there that they’ll never meet will reap the benefits of their actions. Their personal timelines won’t be bettered as a result–Renfrew is going to die in a wasteland, and your grandma has to carry an extra bin to the curb every Sunday. But if they gave up–narrowed their scopes to their own timeline–the seed for change would go unplanted. Maybe there already existed an infinite amount of timelines. But with his actions, Renfrew saved at least one.

And doesn’t that matter, even if it might not have mattered to him?

The possibility of us to be able to cause change–even if it gets drowned out in the noise of the universe, even if it was unintended, even if it doesn’t serve ourselves–is a cause for hope. Renfrew made ripples by casting out his tachyons, just like your grandma makes ripples by casting out her soda cans.

Celeste Graves



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