On Time Travel and Free Will

Since publication of Conviction of a Time Traveler in 2010 I have discovered an interesting and unexpected aspect of the time travel question that has gone (not surprisingly) undiscovered since the alleged Titor faxes of 1998.  
There appears to be a philosophical aspect to the time travel technology that is adhered to by the time travelers themselves. This larger philosophical underpinning of the employment of the time travel technology through human history has gone largely uncommented upon in the general conversation about the technology.  I hope to (partially) remedy this oversight with this essay.

   Many who read this sporadic column or read my old posts on sundry online forums (I no longer post on the forums) likely already understand that I perceive the John Titor posts as merely one example of the larger phenomenon of time travel.  In spite of the fact that the Titor posts nearly 14 years ago are the best known examples of time travelers visiting us, Titor was by no means the only one who has, or continues to, visit us now.  But because of the widespread popularity of the Titor posts, I find it useful to present many of my findings couched within the Titor context.  By doing this many who are familiar with the Titor posts can readily apprehend the basis of my theories or conclusions without necessarily requiring a full comprehension of the larger analytical work I have done.
As I said, this discovery of the philosophy attached to the time travel technology was wholly unexpected. It was after only careful study of the larger phenomena did this underpinning begin to show itself. If we are to limit our view to the John Titor posts only (as many do), we discover that this philosophy is only inferred or referred to in an oblique manner and the larger picture remains hidden to casual observance.  As we broaden our scope of inquiry, this philosophical underpinning comes into relief.  Nonetheless, it is very rarely (if ever) commented upon directly by the time traveler himself.  I hope that this essay lifts the veil (and the discourse) on this oft underrated aspect of the time travel program.
If we are to use only the Titor posts as a representative sample, the most direct reference to this philosophical undergirding might be demonstrated by Titor’s “three rules.”  
When John began posting back in 2000, he stated that he would endeavor to answer any questions posed to him with few exceptions.  In an effort to forestall the inevitable “who will win the Superbowl” calibre of questions he anticipated, he offered three general rules that would govern his responses.  As I have come to recognize, his rules were merely a reflection of less obvious rules that he himself as a time traveler must abide by.  Simply put, these rules (at both levels) appear to have been drawn from the desire to maintain the free will of those he was interacting with online.  Stated another way, he needed to effectively limit the affect he had on others while at the same time impart a message(s).  Quite a tightrope our friend was balancing on, and all completely unbeknownst to those at the time.  Incredible.
 
The first of Titor’s rules in 2000 was,
“I will not disclose any information that will cause someone to personally gain by its knowledge. This means no stock or sports tips.”
To the casual observer, this appears fairly straightforward.  And for the “coincidence theorists” out there, it appears to be an easy escape hatch for a hoaxer.  With his rules firmly in place, Titor can avoid making any direct or “concrete” predictions and thus avoid any contradictions and ultimately be able to perpetuate his hoax.  
Of course, this essay is not another attempt to convince the un-convinceable.  The argument that Titor was an actual time traveler was made in Conviction of a Time Traveler.  For those who are still on the fence, may I humbly advocate for availing yourself to the evidence provided therein.
But if we look at Titor’s rules beyond the superficial, we reveal a deeper philosophy which permeates nearly all other examples of actual time travelers I have analyzed thus far and represents an internal consistency that indicates veracity.  
 
Specifically speaking, the philosophical underpinning present in every time traveler’s interaction is his dedicated and careful avoidance of unduly influencing free will and the ability to choose for ourselves our own path in life.
In order to see this philosophy for yourself, consider the alternative to Titor’s first rule provided above.  What if he were to give you a stock tip?  
For example, what if John mentioned that General Motors’ stock price were to take a tumble after a de facto nationalization of the car company in the  (then) near future?  If his information were to even be believed, there are those in the world that could have taken any number of actions to hedge against this eventuality or even profit from it.  Those with stocks in General Motors would have sold short their shares immediately.  Others might quit a good job at GM to avoid the de facto nationalization of the company and others still might quit a different job in an effort to seek employment with a new “government” company or agency.
Taking the first possibility, the unexpected share sell off could cause an unexpected (and unwarranted) drop in GM’s stock price at the time.    What might result from such  sell off?  How many retirees are reliant upon their monthly/quarterly dividends for their pensions who now might see those dividends drop or dry up?  Further, if a retiree experiences a sudden drop or loss in their income, they may be forced to make up that shortfall elsewhere.  Perhaps selling off the family home and moving into a more economical apartment.  
Now, because of a time travelers’ careless comment about a silly stock pick, Grandma must move out and a new family will now take up residence in a house that ordinarily would not have happened.  How many other unintended second the third order consequences are there even further down the line?  When accounting for every person who reads John’s posts at the time he made them and forward into the infinite future, they are, in a word, incalculable.  And it is this very inability to calculate the results of an action or piece of information that forces a time travel program (a conscientious one at any rate) to not disclose information about our future.  His silence now takes on the character of a blessing rather than a frustration of people looking for a simple prediction as if the time traveler were some human Magic Eight Ball.  Of course, any number of subjectively positive results may come to pass as well.  But again, we are back to the inability to calculate or predict those second and third level events that stymies the time traveler from telling us about his past/our future.
Titor’s second rule is, at its core, related to the first.  Or more accurately stated, all three rules are all underpinned by the same philosophy.  Thou Shalt Not Interfere With Free Will.  
Titor’s second rule was,
 
I will not disclose any detailed information that would allow someone to avoid death by probability. This means no earthquake or bombing information.”
I discussed Rule Number Two in Conviction of a Time Traveler. What I did not necessarily realize at the time was the underlying philosophy employed by Titor and the others. This understanding would only come later and with further study of the topic.  In an effort to economize for length, I will not revisit the evidence and discussion I devoted to this in Conviction.  Again, if you would like to understand better my particular take on this and the evidence I provided, I recommend finding a copy of Conviction and digging in.
Nonetheless, I will comment that rule number two is also in accordance with the philosophy that time travelers will minimize, or eliminate to the extent possible, any influence over free will or our right to choose our own path in life. 
As with Rule Number One, we can see the philosophy that  underpins it by postulating the contrary position and speculate on possible outcomes.  
What if Titor provided that “concrete” prediction that so many less sophisticated investigators look for?  What if Titor had stated in January 2000, “avoid downtown New York City next September?”  
If we can assume that there will be people out there who take this hypothetical prediction at face value, these same people may very well take actions in response to this statement.  As an example, some might quit their job and move to New Jersey. Others may quit the country entirely and retire to an island existence in the South Pacific.  
Taking this from the hypothetical and into the concrete, what if a man who wanted to be a fire fighter all his life realized, surmised or assumed that Titor’s statement was a prediction of ultimate doom and gloom in NYC and decided to never join the fire department just as some avoid joining the military when war is on the horizon?
 
Given this potential scenario, what might be the potential outcomes and results of the careless time traveler’s comment?  In the case of the once and future fire fighter that wasn’t, can we calculate how many people might die in fires (or the events of September 11, 2001) that normally would not have died had he continued on his path and dream of being a fire fighter and subsequently saved them?  As a second order effect, how many children would grow up deprived of a parent normally saved by the firefighter who then turns to a life of delinquency which otherwise would have been a normal and prosperous life leading to healthy and well-adjusted grandchildren of the original man saved by the firefighter two generations earlier?
Again, as with the first rule, it is the inability to calculate all the second and third order effects of carelessly injecting information into a time line that normally would not have been there which might/likely effect our free will.
I should also make plain here that I am not stating that a time traveler will never inject information into a time line as if there’s some sort of temporal “Prime Directive” a la “Star Trek.”  As a matter of fact, a surgical, precise and focused injection of information into a time line is likely the very purpose of a majority of a time traveler’s missions and the means by which they meet the larger aims of the time travel program itself!  
No, what I am positing in this essay is that information will not be injected into the time line without first calculating the likely outcomes of such an action.  Further to this, no specific and accurate information will be provided to such a large and general cross section of the population that might inhibit any calculation of potential outcomes by the analysts back home in the time traveler’s “home time” or “era of origin.”
Finally, Titor’s third and last rule was, 
“I will not disclose any information that may compromise any future actions by individual people or threaten their family and well being.”
I had considered writing a separate essay on this particular rule and its implications for our own actions here and now, but it appears that its implications mesh quite well with my larger point above.
In a larger sense, this rule also indirectly speaks to a time traveler’s inability to effect the universe in which he finds himself.  Yes, I understand that many believe that with knowledge of the future comes the ability to change it.  This is not entirely true in a ‘rubber-meets-the-road’ sense and the effort to bend history is a bit more complicated of an endeavor than simply killing Hitler, investigating an unexplained explosion in your past or killing your own grandfather.  
Consider for a moment if Titor had appeared in the 1920’s and described Hitler’s domination before he implemented his Final Solution?
What if Titor had made himself known to German Jews in the 1920’s or  the Poles, or Serbs or the French and indicated to them (assuming they believed John) that the then-current Chancellor of Germany would increase in popularity and power only to eventually exterminate millions of their countrymen and attempt a take over of all of Europe and Russia? Assuming John could make himself believed, do you think someone might take action to avert such a thing?  It is quite possible to envision that an assassination would be attempted on Hitler before he is able to implement his plans.
Klara and Alois Hitler
Going one step further, what if John provided the same information about Adolf in 1885, four years before Adolf’s birth to Alois and Klara Hitler?  Given this information, are Klara and Alois’ lives “now” in danger because, through no fault of their own, their son becomes a genocidal dictator bent on the domination of Europe?  Has Titor just indirectly doomed Klara and Alois to assassination with his thoughtless comments?
But of course, this example is incredibly simplistic and would just as likely be simplistically remedied by well-intentioned people attempting to avert a world-encompassing war.  But it (likely) wouldn’t matter a whit.  Why?  Well, simply put, our historical friend, Adolf had help in his work.  
 
Adolf as an infant
Hitler didn’t exterminate millions of Jews, gypsies, gays or other similar undesirables all by himself.  Even if we let the lowly soldier off the hook who was “just following orders,“ Hitler still had generals, admirals, colonels, politicians and a willing population that actually thought just like him and actively supported his actions; he was an elected official after all.  Had Hitler been assassinated earlier in his career, it’s just as likely that Hermann Goehring or some other notable Nazi would have implemented the plans that they devised together.  So, if that’s the case, did Klara and Alois just die for nothing?
I have a feeling that the rule of unintended consequences is painfully clear to the time travel program, and likely so due to hard and painful experience in “the early years” of the program (if there is such a thing).
But returning back to the original thesis of this essay, we must recognize that a time traveler will not, cannot or should not inject information into a world line whose likely outcomes have not already been calculated and accounted for.  
What is the road to Hell paved with?  
Good Intentions.
By adhering to this philosophy, the time traveler also maintains his respect for the individual, and free will can be preserved.  As a result, we, as individuals, remain in charge of our own lives and choices, even if the environment in which we make those choices is decidedly out of our control.  
 
Similarly, this is a win-win for the time traveler as well. Unintended consequences through unanticipated action can be avoided, thus a more precise and accurate mission can be planned and accomplished.  Through proper analysis, all our grandfathers survive to see their children and grandchildren grow up to be nobel laureates or hegemonic tyrants and all is well with the world.
 
 
As Ever
Temporal Recon
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4 thoughts on “On Time Travel and Free Will

  1. Think about it John Titor is a spiritual man and therefore cannot do something that is against his spiritual beliefs.

    Example there are people in this world that would that would use such knowledge for nefarious purposes and for that reason alone he was compelled to remain silent concerning certain events.

    The reason John Titor couldn't say certain things on the net is simple if he did it may violate the will of God and his only begotten Son Goku.

    Even in the Dragonball Z anime series Future Trunks aka John Titor did not want to tell anyone not even his own mother about his mission and why he was there. The only one who he trusted to reveal that knowledge to was Son Goku aka Christ and the only way the other heroes found out was when one of them overheard the conversation then relayed part of the message to his friends.

  2. I know this may sound a little hard to swallow but even so we cannot conclude that all time travelers are good people and to prove this point all you haft to do is look at how mankind has behaved throughout history which i might add isn't too flattering to say the least.

    Like i said above i do not believe that all time travelers are good in fact there is a very strong possibility that a very evil one codenamed Perfect Cell made it to our timeline back in 1995? This demonic genetically engineered creature allegedly stole a time machine from John Titor and then proceeded to travel backwards in time?

  3. Isn't it the very nature of a time traveler, other than for the purpose of being a temporal anthropologist with the prime directive “ala Star Trek”, interfering with the “free will” of an individual?

    So the question is not only one of “calculated interference” from the perspective of a “butterfly effect”, but minimal interference from an individual perspective? Even with a surgical approach- isn't the PURPOSE of this interference a cause & effect objective on a large scale? One would never engage in the effort and inherent risk of TT to surgically cause me to choose oatmeal for breakfast instead of a scone. So even from a “calculated and surgical perspective the effect must measure up to a cost/benefit analysis.

    With that in mind, altering the free will of a subject target IS the directive in order to shape some future event to the will of the future populous. Therefore – interfering with free will is the goal but the limitation exists in WHO and to WHAT EXTENT. So isn't then the underlying philosophy one of the “needs of the many out weigh the needs of the few” or the one, even with a truly surgical perspective?

    The difficulty, from a truly moral perspective, is how do you maintain a minimalistic effect and avoid a means vs ends slipper slope? Doesn't it then boil down to an egocentric perspective of “my view of the future is best”? Do we go back and influence influential people, as cost/benefit would dictate, to do OUR will- what we see as best- or do we truly allow events to unravel as free will dictates?

    If truth be told, and that's who I am – a truth seeker- the whole scenario leads to one single deduction…a paradox if you will: TT created its own alterations upon free will that has caused the need for TT to correct the errors, or perhaps malice, of others who have failed to maintain the truly temporal anthropological purpose of TT.

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