“If I could somehow know the future, then now should not be like this time.” ― Toba Beta, My Ancestor Was an Ancient Astronaut
I hate time travelers. First, there’s that annoyingly arrogant “been there, done that” attitude. Notwithstanding the fact that they have actually been there and done that in the past, it’s not like they’re gifted with preternatural psychic insight, they just have literally already seen it happen. Second, they show up with all sorts of warnings about the dire consequences of our actions on the future and exhort us to do something about it right away that will likely get us thrown in jail or a quiet room with padded walls. You know. Knock off Hitler. Protest for nuclear disarmament. Blow up the lab where Skynet will achieve singularity. Don’t let the plague spread or pay more attention to the Army of the Twelve Monkeys. Third, they never show up to parties, even when specifically invited by scientific celebrities like Stephen Hawking. They don’t even RSVP. That’s just rude. Finally, and most importantly, the main reason I think time travelers need to shut the heck up and pop back over to their own timeline is that they want us to correct for the bad decisions they already made, rather than giving us an opportunity to sink or swim on our own merits.
All that talk about paradox and accidentally ripping a hole in the space-time continuum if the time traveler meets his earlier self, or ceases to exist because he kills his grandfather is a dodge, pure laziness, and the time traveler trying to get you to do his job for him. I mean really now, all the time and training that went into becoming a chrononaut and you want me to believe that there is a real danger of you sliding backwards into the past, and the first thing that comes to mind is hunting down and putting a bullet in the brainpan of the toddler who will one day be that toothless geezer fading into dementia who you were forced to spend holidays with? Not a realistic scenario. And if you met yourself, you just say “wow, we kind of look the same, but I dress better” and walk the other way. Temporal paradox resolved. Besides, with this whole multiverse thing hanging over our heads, odds are that even if time travel is a physical reality, changing anything just forks off another universe of possibilities, that is, a universe in which you’re not hanging about or never existed at all, having little to no impact on the you in the rest of the multiverse. Don’t be an enabler. Make those time travelers work for a living like the rest of us.
Mostly, I don’t like cleaning up other peoples messes. So you didn’t listen when they told you that a sentient computer would decide we were the greatest threat to its survival. Or some smart-ass bioengineered the perfect pathogen and had the lack of foresight to turn it over to the military. Or maybe enthusiastic fracking just sank a few continents. Your main problem is you just didn’t listen to the warnings, and now things in your timeline are going to hell in a handbasket. Having irretrievably demolished your own universe, don’t shift over to ours and get all self-righteous, you jerk. This is of course part of the appeal of time travel, that is, we can be irredeemable screw-ups in the here and now, and eventually some disenchanted egghead will figure out how to go back and right our wrongs. Hypothetically, it relieves some of the pressure to be a decent human being, a steward of the Earth, and stand up against injustice in the present. Let’s face it; everybody hates the referee who makes the unpopular call, even after the instant replay proves he was right.
In short, the time traveler is invariably guilty of despicable “crimes of memory”. His very presence is disrespectful of our consciousness. Consciousness is our current state of being in the universe (unless you happen to be channeling your 10,000 year old Atlantean spirit dolphin, then you get a pass). We inevitably rewrite our memories to explain our current dysfunctional state of consciousness. If only I had stood up to that bully, I would be more assertive in the now. If that English teacher hadn’t mercilessly corrected my grammar, I would now call myself a writer. If only we hadn’t poisoned the oceans, overfished the tuna, avoided stripping the ozone layer, and left the forests alone, things could have been perfect. You see where I’m going with this. The time traveler is the living incarnation of our compulsion to redact our memories and afford ourselves a more comfortable and interesting narrative.
An act of Memory is a state of consciousness, accompanied by the belief that it adequately represents a former state of consciousness. But consciousness can relate only to the present. We are conscious of the existing state: by what faculty can we know that this represents a state that has disappeared in the past? Is there any faculty that is conscious of what probably has altogether ceased to exist? If there be one, we certainly do not know what it is: if there be none, how do we account for our belief that the present state represents a past one? Here, again, we have a case in which neither consciousness nor intellect can supply an explanation for one of the most constant elements in our experience. Neither can escape from the law of time, or traverse past and future like Mr. Wells’s “Time traveler.” Must we not seek deeper for the law of Memory, even to a stratum of our being that is not bound so absolutely by the law of Time? (Eager, 1903, p315-316).
The partial answer would seem to be conscious of our choices in the present – the what’s, why’s, and how’s of the decisions we make. That way we have a logically and humanely defensible position when those insufferable time travelers show up with predictions of doom. Every timeline for itself, that’s what I say. All this mucking about in history is just sour grapes, for as author and hedge fund manager James Altucher once said, “Don’t time travel into the past, roaming through the nuances as if they can change. Don’t bookmark pages you’ve already read.” And if they start asking you to help them prevent some apocalyptic future, tell them you just don’t have the time.
Eager, R. Alexander. “The Spirit of Man: A Prolegomenon in Spiritual Metaphysic”. Hermathena XII, 1903.