Saturday, 25 February 2012

More Time Travel - Killing Hitler.

Hi guys,

Well it's been another week, and truth to tell I haven't written a heck of a lot. Partly it's just that I'm still fatigued from completing Pawn, and partly it's that I simply can't decide which book to work on. There are about five in the nearly complete stage at the moment.

So I thought I'd return to my time travel posts, and this time look at one of those old movie scripts and ethics questions that keep coming up. If you had a time machine and so had the power to go into the past and change things - would you? Should you?

I'll deal with this topic in two instalments since it's somewhat complex. In this one I'll only look at the ethics of the act. Or put another way, if you had a time machine and could go back and kill Hitler, or if you're squeemish, prevent him in some other way from rising to power, would that be the right thing to do?

On the face of it, it would seem ethically sound to stop a madman from rising to power starting a world war and murdering millions of innocent people. And if you knew now that someone, say your next door neighbour, was set on this course, you would probably feel the need to intervene in some way. But that's not the situation we face in this situation.

Here we are talking about undoing something that has already been done, in the hope that we would create a better world. I will leave the question of whether this would actually create a better world for my next post. For this one, it's only about the ethics of the act and its forseeable consequences.

Now my money on this is that to change the past in such a way would be morally wrong. Not because of some poetic idea of the sanctity of time etc, but purely because the act itself, would be murder. Even if you used a non-violent system to prevent Hitler from rising to power, it would still be mass murder.

My reason for saying this is essentially a take on the butterfly effect, that is one small change in the past, can make a huge change in the future. In this case, even though Hitler did terrible things which could presumably be undone, he changed the entire world, and more importantly, the people that make it up.

Here I'm not speaking of attitudes, or the rise of fascism, or anything like that. I'm speaking simply of the consequences of what he did, having been fashioned into the essence of probably nearly every man and woman alive today.

Consider this. I would not exist today had Hitler not risen to power. No more would my sister. The reason for this is simply that our parents met after the war,and had the war not happened, they would never have met. Now you may say that I have a vested interest in this, and you would be right, I do. But so does almost every single person on Earth.

The war changed things on a global scale. It caused people in their tens of millions and more to travel around the world, some fighting, some fleeing. It created uncertainty in nearly everyone else, and worried people are likely to have sex at different times and in different places, and with different partners then they would were they not worried. To put it more bluntly, there's - I'm worried sex, and I'm too worried to have sex, sex. There's I'm leaving to join the army sex, and you're here and he's away in the army sex. I think you can get the picture.

As I've previously said, to make even the tiniest change in the world of someone potentially about to procreate, is to essentially alter the course of that procreation, and essentially change the person born. In short, if the wrong sperm fertilises the wrong egg, which could happen for almost any reason, a different person is conceived. When you have world wide changes happening that effectively completely transform procreation by altering times, dates, and even partners, then you have to expect that those changes will transform the world.

The conclusion from this is apparent. Had Hitler not risen to power and started world war two, then nearly everyone on the planet under the age of say eighty, would not exist. Assuming though, that things progressed similarly, those say six billion people like you and me who would not exist, would have been replaced by a different six billion people. So in terms of total loss of life, assuming no major changes, there would be seven billion people alive today. They just wouldn't be us.

So given this situation, what are the ethics? For me it's fairly obvious. Take time out of the equation and ask yourself this question. If there were a machine in existence today, that would kill one person, but create another person for everyone that died, would it be right to put someone you don't like into that machine? The answer of course is generally no. You can't commit murder to create a life. Adding in the mechanism of time travel doesn't change this.

Now some will say in the new world that is created there would have been no murder. And that's actually correct. For those people on the alternate time line, we would never have existed. We would have been undone. But that doesn't alter the fact that at some point, someone went back in time and essentially murdered six or seven billion people.

Anyway, there's my take on the thorny question of changing the past and killing off even an evil mass murderer like Hitler. In a nutshell because it kills the innocent as well, it's wrong. And the fact that you can create an entirely new time line where the undone never existed, doesn't change the fact of what was done.

Next post, assuming something else doesn't come up, forgetting about the deaths, would killing Hitler actually create a better world?

Have a good day.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

What's in a name? - Trouble!

Hi guys,

As you may know I published Pawn (Not Porn you naughty people) a little over a week ago. And funnily enough I've already struck trouble.

*Spoiler alert ahead* Now I should advise that there are spoilers ahead, so if you haven't read the book and are planning to, please don't read any further as some of the plot will be given away.

My dilemma began when I introduced a character into the book, Agent Dike of Interpol. I knew at the time that her name would upset some people. Unfortunately I also knew that her name was the one I had to use. Because agent Dike of Interpol is also the ancient Greek Goddess of Justice - Dike. I didn't make the name up.

When I realised that I had a problem with the name, I went through all my possible options in detail, and none of them seemed perfect.

My first option was to make a name up as I do with many characters. Unfortunately when the book revolves around characters from Greek mythology, introducing a fake god would have been a cheat at the least - and I can imagine that many readers who are far more into their mythology than I, would have complained.

My second option was to use another god or goddess, and there were a couple that I could have tried. The first was Themis, the goddess of divine or spiritual justice. The problem was that she was the wrong woman for the job, since the crime being investigated was strictly a mortal one. I could also have used Justitia, the Roman goddess based on Dike, but there were two problems. The first being that she was Roman not Greek, the second that her name would have given much of the plot away.

My third option (grief there are far too many numbers in this post) was to use a phonetic spelling.Though her name is written as Dike in English, it's mostly pronounced Daikee (though I have seen other phonetic versions). This is the option I chose, after receiving my first bit of feedback about the book, and I went with Dikē. (I hope that this symbol survives the blogging process - but if it doesn't it's an e with a flat line across the top.)

My hope with this is that the name will now no longer be read as having the connotation of a woman in authority having a nontraditional sexual orientation, but that it will still be close enough to the correct name that those who study Greek mythology will not be upset by it.

So there is my problem in a nutshell. And to my readers I do hope that you realise that the name used is not any form of attack upon women in positions of authority or women with nontraditional sexual orientations. It's simply the correct name for the character.

Cheers, Greg.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Time Travel and Free Will.

Hi Guys,

Just finished off Pawn (finally) and put it out on to the kindle thingie, and so since I had a little time on my hands (no pun intended), thought I'd return to my time travel theme.

This one is not a paradox so much as a simple logical incompatibility between two ideas. Time travel and true free will.

First, to set the scene a little, a short definition of true (or libertarian) free will. In essence this view of free will says that our decisions, what we choose to do are completely free, and that if we were somehow to rewind the universe a little bit and face the same choice again, we could legitimately make a different choice. In order to do this, libertarian free will requires that that part of our minds that makes some choices, exists outside of the bounds of the normal universe. (No I'm not talking about a drug induced state!) But in essence, it says that our decisions have to be based on something other then the chemicals in our brains, the atoms and molecules of the universe and all of those other physical things that we know exist. Because if our free will, our decision to choose was based in a part of our brain that was completely predicted by these things, then if we rewound and reran the universe all over again, we could only ever make the same choices. Thus our actions would be completely deterministic.

There is a model of free will that is compatible with a deterministic universe - oddly enough it's called compatibilism. And it says yes, our every decision, choice etc is based completely on physical things like brain chemistry and atoms and fields etc, but we still believe we can make free choices. The fact that if someone could somehow know the position and movement of every atom etc in the universe, they could predict with one hundred percent certainty our every choice, is irrelevant. (I tend to think of this as the illusion of free will. It's free in as much as we think it is.)

Anyway enough said about free will, and sorry for the lecture. Now to time travel and why it completely opposes true free will.

So let's say that a time traveller from the year three thousand goes back in time to three thousand BC, a short six thousand year romp. Sounds good doesn't it? But what our time traveller has done in taking this journey, is fixed every single possible action for the entire six thousand years. Absolutely everything that occurs during that time must be fixed exactly so that by the time the year three thousand AD arrives and we're at the point where he's ready to jump back in time, he must be at that point. Every change he made in the past, must have been made for him to be there.

Sounds confusing I know. But let's look at it in another way. Our time traveller goes back to three thousand BC. At that point we know that everything at three thousand AD must be as it was when he left. So if he makes a change in the past, it must already have been part of the universe that led to him being able to jump back in time.

So now he's back in three thousand BC, and as luck would have it, he stubs his toe on a rock. It hurts and he yells out, and a couple of people see him, and maybe laugh. That's the entirity of the change he makes. Sounds like nothing. But it's not. That tiny change would have profound consequences up the line. So say one of those people who laughs is a girl, and when she goes home that night she tells her hubby of it. He laughs too. Then they make love and start the baby factory rolling. Now because of that laugh, that one minute of story telling, they make love one minute later than they would have if he hadn't stubbed his toe. One minute, seems like nothing doesn't it? But this is the butterfly effect in action. One minute and one sperm out of fifty million swimming merrily away as it hunts down the egg. So what are the chances that the same sperm that fertilised that egg in the time line before the man arrived to stub his toe is the same one that arrived in the next version? One in fifty million more or less. Different sperm - different person being born. And of course that new baby grows up in the past to do different things to what the original person would do, and the changes multiply, until finally when the year three thousand AD arrives, the time traveller doesn't exist. That can't happen.

So the only way around this problem is to have the order of past events between the year three thousand BC and the year three thousand AD absolutely fixed. Not a single iota of variation can occur. This in turn means that every change the time traveller thought he made in the past wasn't a change at all. It always had to happen in order for the time traveller to be there at the right time ready to jump back six thousand years.

So stubbing his toe wasn't a change. It had to happen. The girl laughing wasn't a change. She had to laugh. The baby being concieved a minute later, actually had to be conceived at exactly that time after all. And the wrong sperm fertilising that egg was in fact the right one after all.

And as for the rest of us and the belief that we have true free will. If a time traveller could actually leave from our future and arrive in our past, then we simply can't have such a thing. Because every action we take, every choice we make, has to be the exact one necessary for that time traveller be there in the year three thousand ready to jump back. Even if we have no direct connection tothe time traveller.

Now imagine that someone from the very end of time, say forty billion years or so in the future, goes back to the very beginning. Now the entire span of the universe is fixed.

Anyway I think that covers the basic idea. Time travel does not allow for the possibility of true libertarian free will.

Feel free to ask questions or tell me I'm wrong.

Cheers, Greg.