Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Time travel, the fourth dimension - and the big question

When Einstein showed that time travel was, in theory, possible, I doubt he thought much about it in practical terms. Those who came after him examined the problem from every angle, the how and if, the use of wormholes and the paradoxes of such a phenomenon.
Time paradoxes. While scientists puzzle over the possibility of changing the present by altering the past with billiard imagery and examples (the billiard balls being the events, one triggering the next), fiction writers tackled the issue in thousands of ways.

For instance, Ray Bradbury's famous short story "A sound of Thunder", a classic from 1952, plays with the idea that even tiny changes in the past can result in great changes in the present. When a company offers trips to the distant past to hunt dinosaurs (the ones known to have died of natural causes), the protagonists unwittingly changes the present by stepping on a butterfly. But the only changes we see are a different spelling of English and a different president.
But, simply by traveling to the past, the past and present are changed. Breathing, making a sound, taking a step - how much does it take to change history in unimaginable ways? How about a germ taken to the past by mistake, killing an insect before its time or just appearing there, frightening someone. Isn't that enough?
Or is it only major events that count, major changes? Maybe killing not one butterfly but one dinosaur, or a hundred, will make no difference whatsoever in the present?
Time travel is a paradox in itself - a dimension we barely understand. While scientists struggle to understand how it works, authors try out all possible outcomes and effects. Sometimes, the authors get it right before the proof is found.
And sometimes they just have fun.


  1. I look forward to you merging the fascinating concept of time travel with fallen ones, Jay.
    Keep writing!

  2. Have to say, I absotively adore the Terminator, but it gives me a headache thinking about the paradox. If the terminator had succeeded and killed Sarah Connor before John was born, then no one would have survived judgement day, Skynet would have won. And thus, there would be no need to send the terminator back. In which case, Sarah Connor wouldn't have died and John would have arrived on schedule. Aaarrrgh!

  3. Yes! Such paradoxes - the time traveller becoming his own father, for instance - boggle the mind. I wonder if they are possible. See for instance http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grandfather_paradox for the paradox of killing your ancestors before you are born - what happens next?
    Weird. And yet I love these concepts.

  4. Wasn't it Heinlein that did one where the main character became his own father? One of the Methuselah's Children/Cat Who Walks Through Walls series, I think.

  5. I'm into time travel stories for the pure fun! Thinking about it too hard just give me a headache! In my time travel romance, Erin's Rebel, I used reincarnation as the catalyst that takes my heroine back to the American Civil War to visit a time she actually lived before in a past life.

  6. It's difficult stuff to think about too hard, lol. But a lot of theorists today believe that it is impossible to change the flow of time, that everything that will happen, has already happened.

    Unless we take the onion skin view of the universe, and then an infinite number of things could/will/are happening in parallel time continuums - every possible outcome, every possible variable.

    Now I have a headache....

  7. I think the Back to the Future franchise showed the boggledom that time travel can bring. As each new movie came out the "tracks" through time doubled back over themselves repeatedly...until you had scenes where Marty McFly encounters himself doing things he did during an earlier journey back in time, and all before he was ever born. *boggle*

  8. Time travel can make your brain spin.

    But I grew up on Doctor Who and the love of it buried itself under my skin. I play with time changing stories every so often...usually when all other work has been cleared and I have a huge piece of paper to work out all the permutations.

    Oh and time stories usually mean you can kill the heroine and hero at least once. Which is always fun :D

  9. Kim said, "...and time stories usually mean you can kill the heroine and hero at least once."

    Man, that's evil. I LOVE it.

    I usually think about the onion, if you mess with the past, your original timeline still exists, but you get to take one giant step sideways into an alternated path. :-) Only because thinking that keeps my brain from exploding.

    great post.

  10. Gotta love time travel!

    Parallel time continuum is a favorite venue of mine to use when I write time travel stories. I also love the minimal contact, minimal effect ideas as well. So base your TT on these ideas and then let your imagination go.

    It can boggle the mind however! But I've also found that you can lose your reader if you get too techy in romance and SFR as well. They want to read about characters inside a plot that centers lightly around technology, not a text book!

    Good post, Jay. It got us Brigaders thinking!


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