From our non-time traveling perspective, we are constantly fretting about the future in nearly every aspect of our daily existence. This happens so often and without pause that we barely perceive it. Nearly every question, every concern we have, is based on our inability to know what the future holds for us. Whether we wonder about tomorrow’s weather or the latest election, we are invariably fixated on, and fearful of, the future. It is the great mystery and (some might say) handicap of being Human. There is no obscured message here, this is simply a personal observation.
I challenge you to observe this for yourself. All that is required is simply turn on the television and wait 5 minutes. You will see any number of examples of local or national news programs commenting on what they think will happen for any given circumstance. The ever-present drum beat at the core of all their blathering can always ever be boiled down to:
“What will happen tomorrow and
why you should be worried about it.”
These are merely commercial attempts to prey upon a very human concern: what does the future hold and how does it affect me?
Alternatively, you can look within during a quiet moment and attempt to identify the sources of your own worries and concerns in your daily life. If you can remain intellectually honest with yourself, how many of those concerns revolve around the ignorance of what the future will be? A good way to identify these concerns is to take note of how many questions that begin with the words, “what if…”
But there are other questions that may be asked beyond mere predictions of earthquakes and flying cars. We need to be asking bigger questions.
What effect does simple human interaction with the time traveler’s forebears have on his own opinions and outlook? Could it act to remove a historical character from the pedestal upon which history has placed him? Quite possibly. I do not mean this to say that simple human interaction with a historical (or otherwise noteworthy) figure would diminish that figure. Rather it would act to demystify and actually humanize the personality.
The root of my question then is: If the time traveler is consistently faced with the humanization of history and historical figures, how does this affect his opinion of Humanity in general?
Further still, and this is where I am really going with this, what effect does this expanded perspective have on him personally? Surely with the ability to interact with different eras of humanity nearly side-by-side, the time traveler must feel some effect upon his psyche and general outlook and demeanor, no? Quite literally in one day a time traveler might be able to see the grand arc of human history from the Industrial Revolution in the morning to the Information Age in the afternoon. How can this not affect a normal person’s core?
Is it likely that the expanded perspective that time travel offers provides an expanded sense of compassion and understanding?
From my own observations, I am inclined to believe that the larger effect on the time traveler may be that the “halo” or “horns” that history placed around historical figures and peoples from our past(s) have been replaced with actual understanding and compassion, considering their broadened perspective. These peoples are no longer characters in a story called “History.” They are real people attempting to make the “best” decisions they can with the information and capabilities given to them.
If we can reasonably assume that a time traveler is human and comes from the planet Earth, then he must share all the aspects that being human entails. Both Virtue and Vice will be a part of his character.
But in spite of his ‘human-ness,’ a time traveler’s broadened perspective allows him to rise above, in some measure, the normal fears of the future that we all deal with on a daily basis (while he is in the past). Because of this ability to separate himself from these daily fears, he is able to maintain a somewhat emotional separateness from those he interacts with. It is this separation and ability to observe from afar that I am indicating must be inherent to a time traveler’s experience.
I do not mean to imply that this separation places the time traveler on any pedestal in any holistic sense. He is just as much a victim of fate as anyone is, but the stage upon which he plays is merely different. I posit however that his ability of dispassionate observation, this separateness, actually imparts a greater appreciation and compassion for Humanity than might otherwise be experienced.
In researching this essay, I was (not so) surprised to find that there exists an analog available to us here/now regarding this acquired compassion. This effect, called the Overview Effect, has been documented in numerous astronauts from many nations who have returned to Earth from short and long stays in orbit.
If an expanded understanding of Humanity and love and compassion for one’s fellow man can be had by merely traveling a couple hundred miles straight up, is it so hard to believe that a man who traveled a couple hundred years straight back might experience a similar outlook?
“Intellectually, I knew what to expect. I have probably looked at as many pictures from space as anybody…so I knew exactly what I was going to see…. But there is no way you can be prepared for the emotional impact… It brought tears to my eyes.”
Astronaut Don L. Lind
Astronaut Edward Gibson
“The actual experience exceeds all expectations and is something that’s hard to put to words… It sort of reduces things to a size that you think everything is manageable…. All these things that may seem big and impossible … We can do this. Peace on Earth – No problem. It gives people that type of energy … that type of power, and I have experienced that.”
“Something about the unexpectedness of this sight, its incompatibility with anything we have ever experienced on earth elicits a deep emotional response… Suddenly, you get a feeling you’ve never had before… That you’re an inhabitant… of the Earth.”
Cosmonaut Oleg Makarov
For more information on the Overview Effect, go here.