Time Travel: Wit vs Wisdom
Time travel. The stuff that dreams, legends, fantasies, science fiction and entertainment are made of. Perhaps, if we manage to outlast our more primal notions in the New Millennium and continuing Nuclear Age, Mankind will live to see the genuine advent of time travel.
Or maybe we already have.
Makes you wonder, doesn't it? Perhaps, as in The Terminator, someone from the future has already paid us a visit in our present (their distant past). Maybe they've changed a future outcome for the better. Or worse.
We won't even know when (or if) it happens, if it was meant to be as it is. Or as it was and now isn't. Let alone, if it now isn't, and someone else comes back to 'fix it' back the way it was intended. Kinda makes the head spin ala Congress and their hellthscare 'reform'.
Time travel, of course, could be a wonderful thing: travel back to see how things truly were, be it a historical event that's shrouded in the mystery of time (for instance, the siege of Troy from Homer's Iliad, as well as being able to photograph and preserve many of the historical and no-longer extant writings by the renowned philosophers of the time), or see the world at the time of it's birth, or during the heyday of the dinosaurs (without becoming the hay they dine upon). See the reality of the Last Supper; witness the death of Pompeii in 79AD; observe the reality of the Knights of the Round Table; be present at the signing of the Magna Carta; or the landing of the pilgrims at Plymouth Rock. Photograph the actual Colossus of Rhodes -- one of the Eight Wonders of the World -- before it was destroyed by an earthquake almost 2300 years ago. Be present at the signing of the Declaration of Independence, or see the West as Lewis and Clark saw it in the early 19th Century.
Or go ahead a few centuries, and see where we have evolved, if we found the wisdom to. Pretty heady, compelling stuff.
Of course, there's a caveat to it: being able to see the events as they occurred, and not affecting their outcome in the process. Being able to witness the events as they occur, without mixing with or changing them or the world they're a part of, would be mandatory.
Granted, Scottie and Dr. McCoy got away with it in Star Trek IV; so did Admiral (before and after Captain) Kirk, who had to get hisself a girl friend from the 1980s, since the ones in the 23rd Century already knew his schtick. What they did, didn't seem to have a negative impact on the immediate future beyond the 1980s.
Or maybe it did. More on that in a mo'.
Let's be honest: how many of you have farted in an eleva...er...oops, wrong subject. Who hasn't dreamt of going back in time to undo a misdeed, mistake or misstep? In Robert Heinlein's Door Into Summer, a taken-advantage-of inventor and his precocious cat get just that opportunity. He gets to go back, knowing (too late the first time) of the treachery of his trusted associate and spouse, and fix everything a second time around (before they can spring the treachery). He then gets to return to the future (via the frozen sleep method) with his cat, and even winds up getting to marry his cherished niece as a bonus.
Which could bring me to an aside about Arkansas and in-breeding, but I digress. So I'll stick to the real key issue that time travel would present, philosophically and practically: wit vs wisdom.
The wit comes from various TV, movie and novel stories of time travel and what can and does happen in the imaginary world. Dr. McCoy inadvertently affected history from 1935 onward in a Star Trek episode (The City on the Edge of Forever), wiping out the 'present' in the 23rd Century, by changing the past with the act of saving one life; an act that Captain-Admiral-Captain Kirk had to rectify, to the continual detriment of his acting/singing lessons and forever-frustrated love life (possibly fixed in the 1980s, as aforenoted). The Three Stooges inadvertently went back to Greek antiquity, but didn't start a millennium of eye pokes, slaps and nyuk nyuk nyuks until the 1930s. We think.
In the short-lived but memorable TV series The Time Tunnel (1966-1967, 30 episodes), Drs. Newman and Phillips started out by trying to alter the outcome aboard the RMS Titanic; they failed. Or did they? Was the RMS Titanic meant to sink, as a result of an iceberg collision, or did their attempt at intervention from the future cause the crew to be distracted, and not taking action they would have otherwise taken to avoid the disaster? In any event, what if Drs. Newman and Phillips hadn't failed? What might be different today?
What if the USS Nimitz in the late 1970s, had actually encountered a magnetic time storm, propelling them back to December 6, 1941, and they knew of the pending attack by the Japanese against Pearl Harbor (as theorized in a movie, The Final Countdown). What should they have done about it? And what affect would it have had on subsequent history? How different might today's world be, if such were the case?
What impact, millennia later, might one have if visiting the Jurassic Period, and inadvertently stepping on one bug that otherwise wasn't stepped on then? Would you return to the world as you left it, or something vastly different?
Marty McFly and Doc Brown got away (perhaps) with time meddling in a De Lorean; Dr. Sam Beckett got away with making changes for the better in the lives of ordinary individuals for 97 episodes of Quantum Leap; the Three Stooges perhaps pulled it off while dropping a BC-era Roman tyrant off in front of a charging Souix war party in the 1870s, without significant alteration of the status quo. At least, as far as we know (who's to say, since they did this in 1962, and we don't know if what followed was meant to have followed).
Far as I know, three technicians from the Bonco, UnInc Labs, that took out for a test spin my All About Time Accelerator/Decelerator & Travel Device by Bonco, haven't yet affected the future or the present...then again, I don't know if they've gotten there. They may be making a muck of the past. Or of the shed in your backyard, as they just flew through it, screaming all the way.
Is today the result of history as we know it, or the result of time travel and meddling -- for better or worse -- by Gary Seven and Miss Lincoln, which in turn may or may not have been affected by Kirk and Spock's intervention from a century two-three in the future from our own? How can we know? When can we know, if ever?
If time travel hasn't already come to a time period during or either side of you, perhaps it may, soon. How will it affect us, if or when it does? And if you get the opportunity...should you take it?
Like, for example...there's that ad floating around the Internet (Wanted: somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. PO Box 322, Oakland CA 93022. You'll get paid when we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before.). It's probably a scammer, like AlGore's AGW nonsense. Then again...what if the time travel in the ad actually works?
And, of course, there's the current debate about the Mayan Calendar, and it's "end" on December 21, 2012, and what it "means". Does the future here on Earth extend beyond then, or just elsewhere, in the vastness of space? Will it be "the End"...or just another Y2K and Al Capone's Vault?
On the edge of a new year -- unless one stands on the cusp of crossing the Rubicon into a time portal to other dimensions, and can behold a city that truly stands on the edge of forever -- should we live in our time, and leave the past and future to those whose time it was and will be?
On that note, I bid 2009, as twilight descends upon it, farewell. Or not, if time travel IS in the future. Or the past. Time will tell.