Back to the Future? (Time Travel)

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Back to the Future? (Time Travel)

Post by rogerwimmer » Sun May 23, 2010 3:56 am

Hi, Doc: I was watching a documentary about the paradoxes of going back to the past. They said that, maybe in the future, someone would find the way to go back in time through a "worm hole" or some other method. But if that quest could be achieved, would it be known by now or not? I mean, if someone in the future could find a way to go back to the past, wouldn't that would be something so extraordinary that we should already know about it? Do you know any response to this? - Anonymous

Anon: Hi to you too. A paradox? Oh, my. Before I get to your time travel question, I need to first discuss a little bit about paradoxes so that all readers are on the same level. I'm going to try very hard to keep this short.

What is a paradox? If you check dictionary definitions, you find that a paradox is defined as: (1) a tenet (law, rule, guideline) that is contrary to received opinion; (2) a statement that is seemingly contradictory or opposed to common sense and yet is perhaps true; and (3) a self-contradictory statement that at first seems true; and so on. There are many famous paradoxes you can read about if you click here.

OK, if we eliminate all the esoteric language in the definitions of the word paradox, it comes down to this . . . A paradox is something that falls in the area called a "thought experiment" because there is no hard evidence to support either side of the argument, and regardless of what one person may say, another person will always come up with an answer something like, "Well, sure, that could be true, but what if . . ." In other words, there is always another "what if" scenario tacked on and no one ever gets to a real answer. Again, a paradox is a "thought experiment" or a series of "what if" statements that never lead to a conclusion because there is never a verifiable answer, only additional speculations.

I equate paradoxes to walking or running on a treadmill. Regardless of how long a person walks or runs on a treadmill, the person never gets anywhere—the person stops in the same place he/she started. Likewise, regardless of how long people discuss a paradox, they will never get anywhere. But some people like to argue, some people like to speculate, and some people just don't have a whole lot to do and focus on questions that don't have verifiable answers.

A good example is the "Grandfather/Grandmother Paradox," which poses this question: Suppose a man traveled back in time and killed his biological grandfather before the latter met the traveler's grandmother? Oh, please. My answer to that question is: "If I traveled back in time and killed someone, I would kill the grandfather of the person who asked me that question, which means that I would never be asked the question." OK, so there are my thoughts about paradoxes. Let's go to your time travel question.

You asked, "If that quest [time travel] could be achieved, would it be known by now or not? I mean, if someone in the future could find a way to go back to the past, wouldn't that would be something so extraordinary that we should already know about it?"

Your question has two possibilities: (1) A person from the future has figured out a way to travel back in time; or (2) A person from the present time has figured out a way to travel back in time.

Person from the Future
If someone from the future has figured out a way to go back to the past and is visiting us right now, in the year 2010, that means we are now living in the past. In other words, I'm not really typing the answer to your question at this moment because the activity has already happened. Hmm. I have a problem with that because I can't find documentation anywhere verifying that the present has already happened. What IS is actually what WAS? I need proof.

In addition, I would think that if the present time is actually the past and someone from the future figured out how to travel back in time, that the person or would make himself/herself known, or at least leave some evidence of his/her presence. But I could be wrong.

Person from the Present
If someone from our present time has figured out how to travel back in time, there are two possibilities: (1) The person does not want to discuss the event; or (2) The person is stuck in some previous year in history and can't get back. Neither of these two possibilities is likely.

It's unlikely because there is only speculation about how time travel could occur and the speculation involves some very "out of this world" theories involving things such as traveling faster than the speed of light, black holes, worm holes, parallel universes, and cosmic strings. Speculation on top of speculation isn't very productive.

Now, I'm not saying that paradoxes (mind experiments) aren't worthwhile. Thinking about things is a very valuable approach to solving questions and problems. However, in my case, I think it's more productive to think about things that have plausible answers. For example, I don't think it's important for me to think about things like: (1) What if I could fly? (2) What if I were a billionaire? Or (3) What if I could predict the future? I can't do any of those things now, and I will never be able to do any of those things, so I would rather spend my time thinking about things I can actually do, like: What is the best way to answer your question?

Finally, it's fine if you want to think about time travel, but if such a thing does exist, currently or in the future, I would think that there would be evidence to verify it. Right now, I'm not aware of any such evidence.


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Re: Back to the Future? (Time Travel)

Post by rogerwimmer » Wed Jul 21, 2010 3:43 am

Loved your response to this question. My question to you is: Can we just put this behind us? Where would it end up - in the future or the past if we did that? - NL

NL: I'm glad you enjoyed the answer. Thanks and on to your new question . . .

I apologize, but I don’t know what you're asking. "Can we just put this behind us?" I'm not sure what you mean by that. Put what behind us? If you will explain that, I'll try to answer your question. Thanks.
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Re: Back to the Future? (Time Travel)

Post by rogerwimmer » Sat Jul 24, 2010 3:22 am

Doc: Great thoughts regarding time travel. But one seemingly glaring (to me) possibility is something like a Time Traveler's Prime Directive. The idea comes from Star Trek's "Prime Directive." The Starfleet peeps in the shows make vows not to interfere in foreign/alien cultures.

So, why wouldn't a person from the future who possibly came to visit 2010, or any other year, be possibly held to a similar standard? And if they were to violate it, there are authorities perhaps in place who could travel to whatever time frame was damaged to repair the mistake.

Just adding to your "mind experiment" line of thought. - Mike in Denver


Mike: I have only seen one or two episodes of Star Trek, so I never heard of the "Prime Directive." But I did find a good explanation of the topic in this article. I had to read the article a few times to figure out what was being explained. All that from a TV show? Wow.

Anyway, since time travel exists only in fiction, there are probably an infinite number of questions and propositions that can be asked about the concept. Your comment is one of them and it's a good stepping stone for someone else to say, "Well, what about . . . ?" or "Yes, but what if . . .?" Great questions for people who like to use their imagination.
Roger Wimmer is owner of Wimmer Research and senior author of Mass Media Research: An Introduction, 10th Edition.

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