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.

1 comment:

  1. Hi
    YOur argument about the butterfly effect resulting from the death of Hitler is logically compelling, but a little depressing. After all, who wouldn't want to change history and stop Hitler's rise to power and the resultant atrocities he committed plus the death that necessarily follows from a world war. Incidentally I don't think you would wipe out 7 billion people but it would still be significant. The reason you wouldn't is that not everyone was involved or affected by the war. Think small tribes in Africa, PNG, and the Philipines who likely had no idea the war was going on. Also some countries were only peripherally affected - Australia and NZ come to mind. Yes I know, they did send a lot of troops over but no one actually invaded those countries - although there were a few atttempts. So there are still likely to be people who's lives were not affected significantly and they would still have the same children under either scenario. Still, if you are right then I guess going back in time is a no go option (though I'm not going to stop reading time travel books or books about mages, witches or dragons for that matter - leave me to my fantasy!!) My own preference though on what would happen if we went back in time is that we would end up developing an alternative reality. Of course the argument to this is that there could be millions of them if large numbers of people went back in time at different points. But hey, the universe is infinites and I have reason to believe it can't encompass multiple realities.