Hop On A Time Machine...Ticket To Tunnel Vision?
The Concept of Time Travel Is Fascinating, But....
Imagine being offered a ticket on a device that could travel through time. Would you take it? if your answer is "yes," imagine that the ticket has a few conditions:
- You may choose only one time period, either a specific time in the past or in the future.
- There is a slight possibility that you will not be able to return to the present.
- If you choose to return to the past, you may not change anything even one iota; otherwise, the entire course of history will be altered.
Do you still want to take the trip? Before you answer that question, let's consider each of the conditions. First, you need to choose: past or future? It might be more interesting to check into the future, since you already know what happened in the past, but consider this: what if you travel too far into the future and find.... nothing. Hopefully, you'd be able to get back to the present. If not, it wouldn't be too interesting to be floating around the (non-) universe in a Time Machine. Of course, chances are you would end up somewhere. You might just find yourself, like H.G. Wells' Time Traveller, in the land of the Eloi and the Morlocks.
If you read Wells's The Time Machine, you might recall that enticing as The Traveler's destination seemed at first, he quickly learned that you can't judge a book by its cover just as, in this case, by its lush, green fields and sweet, simplistic (i.e.: not too bright) inhabitants, the Eloi. At first glance, it seemed to The Traveler that the Eloi lived an idyllic, carefree life. It became clear that this was not the case when the planet's other species, the cannibalistic Morlocks, arrived and snatched a few Eloi to take back for dinner to their underground habitat of darkness and machines. "Of course," you may be thinking, " As soon as I'd see the Morlocks approaching I'd head for my time machine and zoom back to 2017." Sure you would... if condition #2 didn't kick in, that is.
If you still hope to take a trip to the future, you might want to consider the picture that Aldous Huxley painted (in 1931) of the dystopian world of 2540 AD in Brave New World. You might be awed by the idea of a Hatchery where human embryos are created/ engineered at a factory complete with conveyor belts in order to provide the five castes of human beings that inhabit the World State. Your awe might quickly turn to horror, however, as you learn that the five castes (alpha, beta, delta, gamma and epsilon) are programmed in different ways to ensure that the Alphas will become the intellectuals/leaders of society and the Epsilons the mindless laborers... with all else in between in descending order of abilities. An added bonus (for the World State, that is): strong emotions, human relationships, the arts, religion and science have been sacrificed in order to ensure the State's own brand of "happiness" in a State-sanctoned state (forgive the pun) of stability.
Fast Forward to... the Past
If you decide that a visit to the future might be a bit risky, you might want to consider a trip back to the past. After all, we do know what happened back then. You can only choose one destination, though, and you must bear in mind condition #3: you cannot change anything, even minutely. Ancient Rome or Egypt might be an interesting choice. There were some good times to be had back then. Of course, there also was a lot of bloodshed. If you choose Rome, you'd better become fast friends with the emperor. Oh, right... he was murdered. Forget Rome. Egypt would be an interesting place to go, with the pyramid and the Sphinx and the crypts et al. You might not want to get stuck there reading nothing but hieroglyphics on stone tablets for eternity, though, if condition # 2 kicked in.
If you'd like to stick around home, the time period for you might be during our very own Revolutionary War. You could head up to Boston or down to Philadelphia and meet some well-known forefathers like Sam Adams, Ben Franklin or George Washington. You might even be able to convince John Hancock to sign something for you. On the other hand, you could go not quite so far back, to 1861 or thereabouts, and check out the Civil War first-hand. On second thought, you might just want to hand around New York and read about it in the newspapers. Speaking of newspapers, perhaps you could snag a job as a journalist and interview General Grant or General McCleallan. It would be really exciting to get Robert E. Lee's and Jefferson Davis's take on the situation, too... but then again, I think I'd stay away from the South. Things weren't too stable down there, if you recall. Abraham Lincoln would be the epitome of a dream interview, but he was awfully busy back then. Not only that... you might be tempted to warn him to stay away from Ford's Theater. ( According to condition # 3 on your ticket, you can't change anything, remember?)
Condition #3 does cast a shadow on quite a few trips, as a matter of fact. It certainly would cancel heading back to the World War I era, for example. It would be amazing to meet some the the writers from the 1920s, though, like Fitzgerald, Hemingway and Gertrude Stein, to name just a few, but you'd probably get so enmeshed in their dialogue that you might let something slip. World War II might also prove to be a poor choice. How could anyone go back there and not attempt to change a few things?
SO... WHERE MIGHT YOU GO?
Author Jack Finney actually took a look at time travel into the past in his novel Time and Again and, twenty-five years later, From Time To Time. His traveler, Simon Morley, faced a dilemma of- literally- historic proportions when he travelled back to the past in an attempt to find an answer to a situation that troubled him. After traveling to the past and back to the present several times, Morley ended up making a life-changing decision that affected not only himself, but...no spoilers here. Suffice it to say that Jack Finney had some interesting ideas about time travel.
Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's wife is also a good read, but it definitely has the potential to dissuade one from taking a trip through time. Thanks to a rare genetic disorder, Niffenegger's traveler, Henry DeTamble, got stuck in an uncontrollable time warp. Not only did DeTamble have no control over where or when he would end up when he traveled through time; he would always arrive at the destination naked. This certainly would make the concept of time travel far more of a challenge than many of us would be willing to face.
So.... have you decided whether time travel is for you? It certainly would be a difficult decision to make, particularly with those three conditions attached. Becoming a part of history definitely would be an amazing experience, but accepting the position of detached observer would be almost impossible. Perhaps it might be a better idea to stay right where you are and play a role in creating history. Think about it........