Friday, September 21, 2018

My Thoughts on Time Travel

Article written by Christian R. Mills, 2018

One of the most exotic and amazing concepts ever used in science fiction is Time Travel. The ability to get into a machine, pull a lever, and travel into the distant future, or even the distant past, is enticing. Whole television shows, books, and films have all relied on Time Travel as a plot. Many of these culminated in all sorts of complex paradoxes, all for the sake of drama!

The ability to time travel would open up so many possibilities to learn and to observe, both the past and the future! However, with it comes a whole host of dangerous problems. Among these are some of the most popular and most discussed paradoxes, the grandfather paradox. "The name comes from the paradox's common description: a person travels to the past and kills their own grandfather before the conception of their father or mother, which prevents the time traveler's existence" (Wikipedia article of the same name).

"Similar to the Grandfather Paradox which paradoxically prevents your own birth, the Killing Hitler paradox erases your own reason for going back in time to kill him. Furthermore, while killing Grandpa might have a limited “butterfly effect”, killing Hitler would have far-reaching consequences for everyone in the world, even if only for the fact you studied him in school. The paradox itself arises from the idea that if you were successful, then there would be no reason to time travel in the first place. If you killed Hitler then none of his actions would trickle down through history and cause you to want to make the attempt. A Predestination Paradox occurs when the actions of a person traveling back in time becomes part of past events, and may ultimately causes the event he is trying to prevent to take place. This results in a ‘temporal causality loop’ in which Event 1 in the past influences Event 2 in the future (time travel to the past) which then causes Event 1 to occur, with this circular loop of events ensuring that history is not altered by the time traveler, and that any attempts to stop something from happening in the past will simply lead to the cause itself, instead of stopping it. This paradox suggests that things are always destined to turn out the same way, and that whatever has happened must happen." (See footnote 1)

These are only a few examples of popular paradoxes, but there are many more. So much more in fact that one might get a headache just from thinking about it! No matter what will be said about time travel, there will still be reputable Physicists who will dedicate their lives to the study of and (hopefully) the eventual discovery of time travel. Despite the fact that every one of us are currently traveling into the future at a rate of one second per second, I hope to show here that there will never be "time travel." And yes, like many other things in this blog, I will be using some theological reasons to support my claim as well...

To start off, I'd like to use a direct quote from Wikipedia. I know, I know, no respectful person uses Wikipedia as a source... But hey, Wikipedia is one of the more accurate places to gather information. It can be immediately updated with the most accurate information, the sheer number of contributors (including reputable ones) are very possessive of the information and tend to keep it as accurate as it can be, it is constantly under "peer review", and there is a growing number of citations on each page pointing to where the information is coming from. Now, I wouldn't use it to base an entire research paper on, but it is reputable enough to use for information... Which is exactly what I'll be doing here...

An article titled Conservation of Mass has this to say, "The law of conservation of mass or principle of mass conservation states that for any system closed to all transfers of matter and energy, the mass of the system must remain constant over time, as system's mass cannot change, so quantity cannot be added nor removed. Hence, the quantity of mass is conserved over time. The law implies that mass can neither be created nor destroyed, although it may be rearranged in space, or the entities associated with it may be changed in form." Now, let us consider the entire universe as a whole to be a closed system. If it were not a closed system, then the big bang becomes meaningless, and there was mass and/or energy existing outside the "universe" before it went"bang." Also, I like to use the quote from the book Doctrine and Covenants, which is a book of scripture used by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. In Section 93 of the same, we read (italics added)
29 Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be.
30 All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, as all intelligence also; otherwise there is no existence.
31 Behold, here is the agency of man, and here is the condemnation of man; because that which was from the beginning is plainly manifest unto them, and they receive not the light.
32 And every man whose spirit receiveth not the light is under condemnation.
33 For man is spirit. The elements are eternal, and spirit and element, inseparably connected, receive a fullness of joy;
34 And when separated, man cannot receive a fullness of joy.
35 The elements are the tabernacle of God; yea, man is the tabernacle of God, even temples; and whatsoever temple is defiled, God shall destroy that temple.
36 The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth.
I use this quote because it is very reminiscent of the Law of Conservation of Mass as well as the First Law of Thermodynamics. Thus, we are to understand that matter and energy cannot be created or destroyed, only changed from one form to another. Meaning, with Einstein's famous equation E = mc2 giving us the conversion factor between matter and energy, there must be a finite amount of the sum of all the matter and all the energy existent in the universe. The Biblical word used in Genesis is "create," but I like to think of it more like "organize." Thus God "organized" the earth and all that is on it, mostly out of matter that already existed somewhere, just in another form, or possibly void of any form. Simple matter or energy in open space that needed a bit of a kick to get going...

Just looking at this information, if a person were to invent time travel some time in the future (distant or near, doesn't matter), just sending something or someone forward or backward in time would lead to dire and disastrous consequences. Imagine, if you will, a man sitting in his time machine and setting the dial to take him back to, say, the year 1985 (I wonder where I got that year, lol). The machine with the time traveler dissolves from our time only to appear in 1985. Seems like it would be awesome, right? Now, the material with which the time machine and the time traveler are made of, every particle - electron, proton, neutron, quark, or vibrating strand of energy (for those who subscribe to string theory) - already exists in 1985. Hopefully I don't need to give a heavy discourse on the "circle of life" (thank you Disney and Elton John). I will say that we should already know that every particle with which everything around us is made already existed before it took the form it is currently in. Every tree is made of carbon, oxygen, and water. That water came from the soil. That soil contains nutrients that came from dead and decayed biomatter, such as animals and other plants. Other animals come along and eat those plants, and in many cases, something else comes along and eats those animals and so on. So, this time traveler and his machine are both composed of particles and elements that have existed somewhere and will continue to exist somewhere for the rest of time and for all eternity. Therefore, the instant the time traveler and the time machine materialize in 1985, the elements with which the pair are made instantly annihilate, vaporize, or disappear because those materials automatically recognize that they already exist somewhere else!

Now, if they don't automatically vaporize, then the material that would have existed in the location where the machine and traveler materialize would have to go somewhere. If you read about the "butterfly effect," you'll know that even the slightest tremor in the space-time continuum would cause rippling effects throughout all of the known universe. I'm exaggerating, of course, but you get the idea. However, in all reality, either the matter with which the traveler and machine are made cannot be duplicated in any other time or place, or the matter that the traveler and machine are composed of would cease to exist wherever it was located before the traveler and machine materialized. If this were not the case, then it would be possible to steal matter from either the future or the past and bring it to the present to do whatever we wanted to do with it. That opens up a whole other issue of potentially doubling the amount of matter or energy in the universe which would cause it to collapse in on itself...

The next thing I would like to add to the discussion deals with "cause and effect." When the paradoxes were listed above, many of them dealt with the results of cause and effect. However, what we sometimes fail to realize is the magnitude of the issue. In the 1996 film "The Time Machine," with Guy Pearce as Alexander Hartdegen, the protagonist loses his fiance to an accident, and thus builds the time machine to go back and save her. He succeeds at first, only to find out that she dies another way. The viewer is left wondering at some point how many times Professor Hartdegen travels back in time to try and save her only to watch her death over and over again in as many different ways. It's not until later on in the film that Hartdegen has a conversation with a person in the future and we learn that the only reason he built the time machine was because Emma (his fiance) dies. If she doesn't die, he doesn't build the machine. If he doesn't build the time machine, he never goes back to save her. Thus, the paradox.

In most cases I can think of, the future invention of the first time machine would be followed by the use of said machine by the first time traveler to go back to a specific time period for the sake of doing something specific. Whether it's to witness the destruction of the dinosaurs, to watch the parting of the Red Sea, be present at the birth of Jesus Christ, attend the signing of the Declaration of Independence, or to find out who actually shot President Kennedy, there is always a reason for the time travel. In some cases, a person might travel back into one's own past in order to inspire greatness (as in the case of Back to the Future II, where Marty McFly takes a copy of a sports almanac from 2015 back to himself in 1985, but accidentally loses it to Biff in 1955), or to correct a big mistake that led to a regret. In cases such as these, once the deed has been done and the source of regret taken care of, the person no longer has the reason to travel into the past to begin with. Not to mention the moral and ethical implications of never having learned from the action at all!

The 1999 film Galaxy Quest contains a plot device called the Omega 13. At the end of the film we discover that the device travels the entire universe backwards 13 seconds. The character Tawny Madison (played by Sigourney Weaver) asks, "What good would it do to only travel back 13 seconds?" Commander Peter Quincy Taggart (played by Tim Allen) responds, "It would be just enough time to redeem a single mistake." Sure, the Omega 13 plot device plays heavily into the finale of the film, but redeeming a mistake equates to never getting a chance to learn from it.

Part of who we are as a people, and individually as a person, is the sum total of every experience, decision, sight, sound, touch, feeling, emotion, and memory that we have ever had. If we travel back into time to change an event on purpose, then we never have the opportunity to experience that event (whether for good or for bad) and we change the very essence of who we are, or were, or used to be, or could have become (temporal mechanics gives me a headache). The result being, we never give ourselves a chance to actually learn the difference between good and evil, or experience joy and pain, or any of the other things that bring us closer to becoming who we should ultimately be becoming. Even more disastrous would be the time traveler's desire to not change something from their own past but to actually change the past for someone else. In this case, they would not only be affecting their own free will or moral agency, but also affecting the agency of others... And agency is a universal law of existence! Not to get overly religious here, but agency is not free, it was paid for by the blood and body of the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ. We may not be able to control the world around us, but it will always be in our power to control how we react to it. Traveling through time to change a decision, or to "redeem a single mistake," removes that power.

In conclusion, time travel may be a wonderful plot device for science fiction films and stories, but it will never be possible, and cannot be possible! As fantastic as it would be to witness some of the world's greatest events, we will be stuck reading about them in our history books, and left to make history ourselves.

- Christian R. Mills


Image Credits:
1. The Time Machine (1996), with Alexander Hartdegen played by Guy Pearce, in the Time Machine.
2. Back to the Future II (1989) with Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd.
3. Doctor Who (2011) with Matt Smith as The Doctor, posing with the TARDIS.
4. Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989), with Alex Winter & Keanu Reeves, movie scene.
5. Galaxy Quest (1999), the intrepid crew of the N.S.E.A. Protector.