A Short Theory of Time Travel Mechanics
Note: I am aware of the fact that this theory may or may not have any practical application in our space/time continuum. I am a science fiction author, not a scientist. There are plenty of scientists who think that the entire notion of time travel is a ludicrous fantasy, despite technological advances allowing for the altering of time, gravity and the speed of light or the entire idea behind Tachyon theory (particles moving against the flow of time, that is, backwards, as remnants of the end of the universe.) If time travel is in fact possible, and it follows logical rules, then what follows could very well be a candidate law of Temporal Mechanics. Only time will tell (pun intended.) But I digress; this theoretical paper is primarily focused on how time works in the stories I’ve written, and have yet to write, so please note that, while evidence supported suggestions and constructive criticism will be welcome (theories change) simple "you're wrong" comments will be deleted.
I. WHERE DO I EXIST?
While it may seem to be a rather trivial question, this is perhaps the most important one. In a natural setting, any given person is an individual tied to a specific time and timeline, alternate universes can and do exist, both as parallels and as non-parallels, but this is an entirely different story (and paper) altogether. Without the intervention of some naturally occurring phenomenon or, more probably, modern technology, specifically those that allow us to break free of our time and therefore our current timeline, a person will be born, live, and die in the same timeline, existing for a very specific amount of time. Take for example a man born in 1800, who dies in 1900; according to basic time theory, he therefore exists at any given point between the moment he is conceived in 1800 (or, perhaps 1799) until the nano-second where his brain ceases to function in 1900. (Technically, he could still exist for far longer, though only in the form of his earthly remains, and not alive.) Once a person chooses (or is forced) to alter their position in time, they inevitably change the timeline as well. Imagine, if you will, a series of train-tracks side by side that all begin and end at the same point. A train moving along one of these rails starts and stops on the same rail, but pick that train up with a crane and it can be moved to any number of rails, each of these representing a different time and therefore a different timeline. Because of this, (and for the sake of ease,) it is best to consider that we (as normal, non-timetraveling human beings) live in what I call the “Final Timeline” which is exactly as it says; all the changes that are to be made from here on out have been made. Not to say that new ones cannot be made, but rather that each time a change is made, we only see the final result, the final timeline, in which we live.
II. TRAVELING BACKWARDS IN TIME:
Let us say, for a moment, that a person wanted to move backwards in time. The purpose at this point is rather irrelevant; it could be anything from simply popping backwards for a half-second just to prove a point, to permanently taking up residence on a Precambrian beach. That person, therefore, would become removed- not from time completely, but from their original timeline, therefore changing their position in the “final timeline” (Assuming they were the only one time traveling, as the mechanics involved in multiple time travelers are complex and repetitive.)
Therefore, theoretically, a person could go back in time, perform any number of heinous acts (or good deeds,) and return to the future, knowing and noticing the differences from the previous timeline while everyone else around them sees no difference, having always lived in the “Final Timeline.”
Also theoretically speaking, a person could then go back in time, prevent their parents from producing any offspring, and yet still be completely unaffected by the change in the timeline. (However any siblings in the future of the new timeline would cease to exist, but then, so would the time traveler, technically speaking.) That is, the time traveler would return to his time (in the new timeline) only to find that he or she had never existed, that no-one knows who he or she is, and that any changes he or she made to the previous timeline would not exist in the “final timeline.” In a very real sense, that person would then be from an alternate universe or “dimension.”
Further, this could be extended to entire groups of people, to objects, and even concepts. (Though the informal theorem known candidly as the “Hundredth Monkey Rule” would ultimately prevail over any attempts to eradicate a concept except for a very limited amount of time.)
Also, consider for a moment, if a man were to travel back in time, with the intent of taking up permanent residence in another time; For example, our same man from the 1800's, deciding to move and stay in the twenty-first century. Say then, also for example, that a completely different time traveler were to go back in time with the intent of murdering his own parents before his birth, but also happened to murder the 1800's man’s parents by accident. Upon returning to the “Final Timeline,” the 1800's man would cease to exist, but the second time traveler would still be unaffected, though he would never have existed in the “Final Timeline.” By the same coin, say that a group of time travelers all travel together, back in time, and murder their progenitors, then return to their original time, either as a group of individually. All would be unaffected, since the event happened after the same jump, but none would have existed in the Final Timeline. That is, upon returning, all would know each other, all would be unaffected, and yet they would be isolated in that no one else would know who they are or where they had come from, because technically, they had never existed.
Lastly, consider a person who, for some reason, saw the need to travel back in time and murder themselves at an earlier age. It would have a similar effect to murdering one’s progenitors in the past, with the simple exception that upon returning to any time after the murder, people who knew that person would be convinced that he or she had already died. Theoretically then, our man from the 1800's could, in theory, go back in time any number of minutes or seconds, murder himself, then hide the body and resume his life as a replacement for the last “him.”
III. TRAVELING FORWARD IN TIME:
On the opposite end, what if a person were to travel forward in time with the intent of redirecting the future? Fortunately, the future is endlessly malleable, and far easier to change, requiring information instead of brute force in more circumstances than that for traveling back in time. A person who makes changes in the future, then returns to the present would only be affecting that which is to be. If, however, another person were to get wind of the situation, or if the original person were to have misgivings, a simple trip to the moment before the change (or into the past, to warn the person before the trip ever even began,) would avert the entire change and likely “save the future.” Therefore, a man who travels into the future, gives someone an object, then returns to the present could just as easily go back in time, to the moment before he had left for the future in the first place, and convince himself otherwise, therefore canceling the entire event that was originally going to happen in the future. Please note that this does not, however, mean that a person can travel into the future and interact with his future self, as traveling to the future has separated him from the original timeline, making it seem as if he simply ceased to exist after that moment. People, therefore, who knew him, would likely wonder just where he went, and he would not exist in the original timeline until he reasserted himself there.
IV. APPLIED TEMPORAL MECHANICS:
Considering everything that has been said thus far, one can then assume that it is quite possible to prevent a mistake in the past, then kill off your past self and take your place in the place of your past self, continuing life as if nothing had happened at all. Theoretically, that basic rule would allow a person to travel back in time at incredibly short intervals, and recruit an entire army of “Temporal Clones,” that is, perfect clones- indeed the very same individuals, all of roughly the same age. (Give or take a few seconds, minutes, hours, days, etc.) This also bars a past self from purposely wounding him or herself in an attempt to immediately wound a future self present at the same moment in the same timeline, as the future self, by traveling back, has altered the “Final Timeline,” and therefore has completely altered his or her place in that.
Then, also theoretically, a person could travel back in time, prevent his or her parents from producing a child, then travel back to the present, express misgivings, and return to the past to stop him or herself from preventing his or her parents from producing a child, therefore, in optimum circumstances, he or she would have effectively righted his or her wrong and effectively restored the original timeline. (Excepting any changes, and there are always some, that occurred while either self was in the past.) Likewise, that same person could then again have misgivings, and stop himself from stopping himself from preventing his or her parents from producing a child.
In truth, the possibilities are virtually endless, and some of those possibilities can get so twisted and convoluted that attempting to puzzle them out only achieves a nasty headache and a potent distaste for Temporal Mechanics, basic or otherwise.