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Time Travel and Modern Devices: Science Fiction?
As a fan of assorted science fiction tales, I have long been fascinated by the concepts presented, and the possibility that any of those technologies might be translated into reality in our lifetimes. It turns out, many such things have indeed become commonplace items. Some are things we use daily; others are more the exclusive domain of the military organizations. Nevertheless, it is still fascinating to ponder the future, and what may lie in store.
The reader should be aware that the ideas I present are very over-simplified explanations or examples, as this is not intended as a scientific treatise. I am not a scientist of any discipline, nor am I a mathematician. I am merely a lay person with a great interest in these concepts.
The birth of science fiction as we know it has a long history, dating back probably to Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. At the time he wrote that book, (published in 1870), there was no such thing as a submarine vessel of this nature. This was pure fantasy and science fiction.
The very first trials of submarine vessels originated with the American Civil War, circa 1862 or 3, with the H.L. Hunley. Used by the Confederacy against the Union forces, it was strictly a weapon of war, and not a practical vessel in which to live for extended voyages. It was a failure, however, as none of the soldiers survived the experiment. If news of this fatal experiment reached Verne, it may have served as inspiration for his book.
As an interesting side-note, the original work was published in French, and the title was “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas” ..note the ‘seas’ in plural form. The plural “s” got lost in translation, so that folks have the idea that the distance refers to the depth at which Captain Nemo’s sub, the Nautilus, traveled.
This is not so. Twenty Thousand Leagues is a distance equal to a little over eight times the diameter of the Earth itself, so that is not possible as a depth. Rather, it refers to the total distance traveled while submerged at various depths. (See chart below.)
Easy Comparison of Jules Verne's Concept With Real Distances
Concept in Vernes' Book
Diameter of Earth
Deepest Part of Ocean
36,070 feet (6.831 miles)
10,994 meters (10.9941 km)
H.L. Hunley: First Military Attack Submarine
How many fans does the long-running science fiction show “Star Trek” have? They number in the millions, I’m sure. The original series began in 1966, and aired through 1969 in 79 total episodes. The show at that time got low ratings, and was cancelled. However, the studios misinterpreted the Nielsen figures, and dealt themselves a blow with this action.
Not only did the show run in syndication for many years afterwards, (and still does on some cable channels), but it also spawned numerous spin-offs and movies, not to mention umpteen toys, action figures and costumes. From there, it was re-issued onto DVDs for both the series and the movies. Star Trek conventions can be found all over the world, several times a year. There is a serious cult following of this fantasy into our possible future, and I believe that is a large part of its appeal.
What, though, is more ubiquitous and reminiscent of the original series than the communicator? Each of the crew members has such a device, and it is flipped open, and used to call the ship for a beam-out, or to alert or locate other crew on an away mission.
Look at the device again. Now, look at your own cell phone, especially if you had, or still have, the type that flips open to call or answer. The resemblance is undeniable, and probably not accidental.
This is the “biggie.” Theoretical physicists today are pondering the likelihood of this idea. There are a number of problems and paradoxes within. First of all,this author wonders:
- If you travel back to a time before you were born, will you actually still exist?
- If you are able to go backwards, and still exist, will the technology that was not yet invented then fail, leaving you stranded backwards in time?
- Assuming neither of the above were a problem, if you traveled back to prevent something, would you cause something worse?
- If you traveled forward in time, past the date you would have died, would you then actually die?
Those are all things I’ve wondered when thinking about time travel. What kind of machine or device would you need? What would be involved? Speed? Some kind of energy waves? How would it feel? We’ll probably never know any of these answers in our lifetimes.
WARNING: SPOILER ALERT!
Referring back to the Star Trek model, though, at the end of the Star Trek: Voyager series, there is a time-travel episode, in which Captain Katherine Janeway travels back to her ship, which has been stuck for years in the Delta Quadrant, trying to find the way back to the Alpha Quadrant and planet Earth. Her mission is to show them the way home, with a shortcut.
However, this episode begins with her back on Earth, as an older woman with gray hair. So, as the captain of the Voyager, she was out there with the crew as they sought their way home. Obviously, they made it, or she wouldn’t be back on Earth to try to go back and help them. As a crew, they were all travelers together.
So, the paradox is, since they all did eventually make it back, why and what purpose is served by her trying to go back to get them home? Naturally, they all aged on the journey back. Was the motive to get them home before they got old? That’s the only motivation I can imagine. But then, since she took a shuttle-craft and went on her own, all the crew that was home with her, was still on Earth. How would they also still be out in space?
Then, there is the already-established “grandfather paradox,” which states that should you travel back in time, and somehow cause the death of your grandfather, then you yourself would cease to exist as neither you nor your father (if you went back far enough) would have been born.
What Would You Like?
Given a choice of futuristic technology, which would you like best?
Other Futuristic Possibilities
Not only is time travel an interesting concept, but so is the idea of parallel universes. (In fact, I wrote a very non-professional spoof on the parallel universe theory myself.)
Below is a short video featuring famed theoretical physicist, Dr. Michio Kaku, expounding on both of these ideas.
Is Time Travel a New Literary Concept?
Star Trek notwithstanding, there is a much earlier story involving the concept of time travel, and that is, A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur’s Court.
Warning: spoilers and rampant speculation follow!
In this story, the man is transported back in time after a blow to the head, so I postulate that it is likely a type of dream sequence that unfolds while he is unconscious.
Nevertheless, the rest of the story plays out as if he has really gone backwards in time. He helps the realm to repel an enemy by threatening to take away the sun (because from his era, he knows the date an eclipse will occur). He also beats the court sorcerers at their own game, and is revered as a wise wizard; in effect, he becomes Merlin, making the real Merlin jealous.
He then returns to his own time by means of a blow to the head; I suspect it is his waking up, and then becoming aware of the original knock to the noggin that sent him 'back in time' in the first place.
This tale was penned by none other than Mark Twain back in 1889, and was intended as comedic satire. However, it does give one food for thought on the topic of time travel.
Is This The Original Time-Travel Story?
The original time-travel story? It was one of my favorites as a child, and I am still fascinated by this tale.
Read science fiction. You never know when it may become science fact. Look around you at now-familiar devices, and think about their origins. So many of the things we now take for granted started as the brain child of creative writers.
Who knows; one of my fellow authors here may yet become the next celebrated genius who was the inspiration for some new gadget we won’t be able to live without in the future!
Live long and prosper!
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© 2014 Liz Elias