I enjoy writing these essays only as inspiration may spur me to set my thoughts to virtual paper. I do not write these essays to increase my ranking or revenue. The interludes between essays are testament! Rather, these essays act as an unlikely record and demonstration of my interest as well as possible insights. I am hopeful that these essays raise the quality of our discussion. And, by extension, its thoughtful inquiry.
The actual audience for these niched essays is decidedly small and very specialized and I recognize this reality. But I find value in a focused discussion to this small audience. Quality and depth thusly are obtained. On the other hand, unfocused or generalized “broadcasts” of information to undifferentiated masses might be of less utility. There may be value in this method under circumstances unknown to me. Surgical and subtle might be better.
But let’s get on with it…
My most recent essay entitled “On Free Will and Time Travel” garnered a bit more attention and comments (both published and unpublished) than previous essays that I have produced. I am encouraged by this. It is a sign to me that these essays are being read critically and digested with the hopeful end result of raising the level of discourse on the time travel topic. In my opinion this has, heretofore, gone largely unseen in other venues.
Working towards that end I have decided to respond directly and in depth to a comment I received to my most recent essay. I do this for a variety of reasons.
1) I wish to encourage thoughtful and insightful discussion on the topic.
2) The comment (quoted in full below) held a level of insight that merited more than a simplistic reply, and
3) If brevity is the soul of wit, I have demonstrated that I am a blithering idiot. I require a full essay to fully and faithfully respond to the commenter’s statement.
To recap my previous essay (which is still available on this blog roll), I essentially stated that we should stop treating time travelers as human Magic Eight Balls by asking them superficial questions about our future. Likewise, I feel we should stop getting all caught up with the specifics of any given time traveler’s story trying to predict our own future by looking for (what some comically term) “cryptic clues.” Doing this only invites biased speculation and further muddies the waters of true understanding.
When I wrote my last essay, I fully recognized that there was a very noticeable hole in my argument. Quite unexpectedly, I was called out for it (which I welcome) by a reader who correctly identified this gap and presented his response (quoted below). Namely, how can my theory of respect for free will through non-interference stand up when it is patently obvious that the statements of Titor (among others) appeared to have influenced our free will (in any number of ways)? His comment is below:
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.
I welcome the commenter’s question in that it allows me to delve yet deeper into the philosophical underpinnings of time travel missions as I currently (and imperfectly) understand them. Likewise, his comment also belies insight that can only add to the discussion. What is the sound of one hand clapping? I whole-heartedly welcome insightful input. Succinctly put, he asks how I can posit that a time traveler cannot/will not interfere with free will when all evidence points to the contrary? He correctly states that interference with free will is the very mechanism by which a time traveler changes history!
“So what now, TR?”
First, let me apologize at how long it has taken me to respond to his comment. When I first read it, I recognized that I must respond; not necessarily to “defend” my position, but rather to enrich and deepen the conversation. To that end, I selfishly required time to properly formulate my response.
My theory that a time traveler will not (or endeavor to not) reveal our specific or accurate futures is most assuredly intended to preserve our free will, but that is only part of the reason as I understand it. By providing accurate and specific information on our future(s), the time traveler will effect the choices we make. For example, if a time traveler makes the off-the-cuff statement with no analysis done beforehand that Denver is plunged into darkness by Y2K, there will undoubtedly be someone somewhere that decides to not live in Denver. As a result of this unplanned-for statement, how many changes are now introduced into history due to this person’s absence from Denver or continued presence in his original location? By recklessly providing this information, the time traveler introduces variability into the universe that had not been accounted for or foreseen by the time travel program when the mission itself was originally planned.
Understandably, this is a might more complex of a reason than the simplistic “thou shalt not affect free will” for some altruistic, “prime directive-inspired” purpose. Rather, the withholding of specific information about our futures is a more mechanical reason meant to facilitate a successful mission.
As a result of this personal insight, I no longer attempt to read the Titor tea leaves in an attempt to tease out some tenuous prediction for our future. Though I admit it can be fun to do nonetheless! It simply doesn’t move the ball down the field towards true understanding. What we can infer from this theory though is that the information that Titor provided in 2000 (e.g. No olympics beyond 2005, etc) was likely adjudged beforehand to not cause any impactful changes; that is, if we are to assume the Titor mission was successful.
I readily admit that a time traveler’s goals appear to be, in part at least, actually meant to influence our own free will so as to “change” history in support of our progeny’s goals. This appears to be at odds with my statement that free will is inviolate. Rightly, the commenter pointed this out and it is this apparent contradiction that warrants further discussion.
I posited in my previous essay that, while “change” may be the name of the time travel game, indiscriminate change (careless injections of information) would likely be avoided to the extent possible. It appears I was not completely clear on this point. For this, I apologize.
I state that any influence on a particular person’s free will would have to be measured and focused and whose outcomes could be reasonably predicted and in support of the larger mission. This means that subsequent effects would already have been estimated through careful analysis. If a time traveler were tasked with changing “X” in their/our history, only the information or inspiration that would lead to those required results would be provided to the target. This means no sports scores or lotto results. This also speaks to the commenters assertion that the question resides in TO WHAT EXTENT such interference will go.
To answer the commenter, I did not mean to state that free will is kept clean of all undue influence. Rather, I meant that it would not be done without careful analytical work beforehand. Only then, could the influence take place with all likely outcomes properly mapped out with signposts of success identified and noted. Otherwise a brick wall of unpredictable outcomes arises.
But this is not necessarily the end of my answer!
The use of time travel technology to carefully and surgically influence free will is likely not done in a vacuum (so to speak). Rather, it is likely done within the context of the individual person who is the target of the influence operation.
My own analysis of the time travel question demonstrates evidence that history, and our own roles within it, cannot be created or cancelled out of whole cloth. I touched on this in my previous essay.
As I mentioned, it would be pointless to kill Adolf Hitler in 1938 in an attempt to stave off World War II. Why? Because Hitler was merely one man in a very large military and political machine. Granted, he was an important cog in that machine, but a cog nonetheless. If Hitler had been assassinated by some time traveling assassin, there likely would have been any number of political or military leaders who would have readily stepped in to take his place and ensure the continued existence of the National Socialist Party and its goals. National Socialism did not begin with Hitler and, as history has borne out, it did not die with him either.
I am fairly certain that the time travel program likely learned this lesson (or it was possibly taught to them) at some point. They likely learned that “large” world events cannot simply be changed or cancelled with the death of one (seemingly) key individual. So, if a time traveler cannot change history, cancel the holocaust or, with the vagaries of divergence, even win the lottery, what possible use can time travel be?
Surely, and the commenter makes the statement that, cultural anthropology would be a very good use of the technology. Perhaps acting as a personal witness to world events free of the biases and filters built up and put in place over time might be a suitable use for the time travel technology; in fact I would say, this is most assuredly so.
But what if….
What if we want to chart our future history? What would be needed to accomplish that? Undoubtedly, we would need to plant the seeds of our future endeavors and with a ‘time machine,’ we can plant those seeds in the past. But how do we do this? The answer is the subtle influence (not invention) of key individuals’ free will through influence missions.
Of course, the decisions that plot humanity’s future history are decidedly subjective ones and the commenter raises this point. How can we/they determine what is the “right” course for humanity and what is the “wrong” one? How can competing national imperatives be reconciled and accounted for? I have no answer for this at this time. My only response is that the use of time travel technology, with its attendant and unavoidable expanded world view implies a distinctly different order for the world than what we may envision today. Is it Utopian or Dystopian? One wonders… Does the existence (and open acknowledgement) of a time travel program infer a united humanity?
Getting back to the point though, it appears that these influence operations are not conducted to change history altogether, but simply probably just to “bend it” a little. Keeping in mind the likelihood that “large” historical events cannot be cancelled altogether, there is evidence that their timing can be effected to coincide with other, strategically important, events.
For example: Consider that “originally,” the United States began the Apollo missions in 1979 and only landed a man on the moon in 1989. At some point it is decided that it is important to reach the moon earlier than we/they originally did.
Further, consider that a certain person, at some point in his life, invented/will invent a new type of widget that later becomes strategically important to the space program specifically and human history generally. Specifically, this person invents a new type of gear whose design is new, novel and non-obvious and becomes useful in the development of rocketry. He is awarded a patent for his design and he goes on with his life, commercializing his idea as he may.
Only later does his invention play an “unexpected” part in the country’s Apollo program of the 1980’s. His novel and non-obvious redesign of a toothed gear (for example) actually facilitates the ability to direct the thrust nozzles on rockets thus further facilitating his country’s space missions. This novel use for his design was unexpected by him, but perhaps not by those looking back from the future who are blessed with 20/20 hindsight. They correctly identify his design as important enough to need it to appear in time for the space program.
Now, admittedly, his small invention does not land a man on the moon, but it definitely contributed to the effort. Without our inventor friend’s new gear design, the space program would have been delayed an unknown amount of time. Congratulations, Mr. Inventor on a job well done.
As you might have already guessed, had Mr. Inventor thought of his invention “on time,” so to speak, it is possible or even doubtful that the design would have been ready for the space program which was moved from the 1980’s to the 1960’s. The invention of the gear was never in doubt, but its availability in time was. If other influence operations are going on to speed up the space program so as to land a man on the moon by 1969 (instead of much later in the “original” time line for example), this lynchpin technology would have to be ready and available in time so as to be recognized and utilized by the engineers at Apollo.
All that to say this: You cannot affect one part of history and not cause or require other events elsewhere to support those changes that your time travelers made. You can’t envision an airfoil without knowledge of the Bernoulli effect.
With this in mind then, we can now see that the time travel program, its goals and the means to accomplish them becomes an order of magnitude more complex than any current John Titor fan likely gives it credit for. A time machine is merely a tool in a very complex operation; I call it “Temporal Effects Management.”
Within the context of the above example, if information is provided to the “same and original” inventor but he is only inspired to the idea earlier than it normally would have been invented, can we say that the individual’s free will been unduly tampered with? Or at the very least, has his free will been tampered with to an extent that would lead to a wildly different outcome than the “original” history?
Our inventor was going to invent it anyway, he is simply inventing it earlier than he normally would have.
Have we changed history so dramatically? No. We’ve simply accelerated the inevitable. Perhaps this is how the time travel program managers justify their “T.E.M.?”
Now, even with this above example, we still have a very large question hanging in our mind which I am sure the author of the comment above most assuredly has noticed: I have still not explained why Titor and others provided the information that they did to such a large and undifferentiated audience.
Without a doubt, John Titor provided information which possibly effected some choices of some people somewhere. My only humble defense of this imbalanced equation is that my theory (articulated above) can only provide why and how a time traveler surgically provides information to a specific individual for a specific purpose. It decidedly does not provide a reason for the (seemingly) unfocused “broadcast” of information to the general population via the online posts. As I mentioned, his actions undoubtedly caused some actions by people somewhere. I can personally attest that Conviction of a Time Traveler would never have been written without the posts of John Titor to inspire my original interest in this topic.
How do I explain their indiscriminate broadcast of information? I cannot. Perhaps it was determined that any outcome or action resultant of the posts other than the intended ones were deemed “of no impact?” Can I then infer that Conviction of a Time Traveler was deemed of no impact to our future history? Chuckling to myself, I can only take solace that its’ publication impacted me personally.
I can hope that those idly reading these essays use them as a spring board to further questions, and not definitive answers. As I have said many times before, I learn new things that invalidate yesterday’s conclusions everyday.
And I welcome it…