Saturday, 31 March 2012

Time Travel - Movies - The Time Machine.

Hi Guys,

Sorry it's been so long since my last post. Life intrudes as it so often does.

This time I'd like to turn my attention to movies and some of the ways in which writers and directors have looked at time travel, both the paradoxes it creates and the ingenious ways in which they try to get around them.

In this post I'll look at the movie The Time Machine, based on the book by HG Wells. It's important to note that I'm talking about the movie since it takes a departure from the book in several important aspects. In the case of this post, it's in the way that the hero is prevented from changing the past.

As those of you who've seen the movie will know, the hero is prevented from saving his fiancee by the intervention of time. Every time he goes back in to the past to save her, he is prevented by the machine never arriving at the right time. The reason given is that since he invented the time machine purely to be able to go back in time to save her, if he then saved her he would negate his reason for inventing the machine in the first place. In short he would create a paradox.

On the face of it this seems like a cunning plan to prevent a paradox from occuring, but it leaves us with two problems. The first is of course, how does the machine know? Or failing that, how does time know? Conceivably he could be going back in time to do any number of things such as investing in a company who's stocks he knows are sure to rise. So how does the machine know that he is going back in time to save his fiancee? The fact that it does know implies that the machine or time is both sentient and probably telepathic. It knows his plans, knows it will create a paradox, and actually works to prevent them.

The second problem is much more difficult to get around. There were multiple ways in which he could have saved his fiancee. His plan which was very simple, was to go back to that point in time and rescue her from the gunman. But he could have done a great many other things to prevent her murder. He could have gone back a little further,perhaps to that morning and rearranged her day so that she would not be walking along soon to become crime scene later on. He could have gone further back and arranged for her to be perhaps overseas on a holiday at the time of her impending murder. Assuming the gunman was later identified he could have gone still further back, and had him arrested, prevented him from getting hold of a gun, or even stopped him from being born.

All of these actions would of course have created the same paradox, and so presumably the time machine or time itself would have had to have stopped him. But how? The machine would have had to have known at every step what his plans were. Or it could have simply prevented him from ever going backwards in time at all. In the end to completely prevent paradoxes from occuring it could only have done it one way, it would have become a one way time machine - it could only go forwards.

I'm sure you'd agree, that's not the sort of time machine we want to imagine.

Cheers, Greg.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Time Travel - Killing Hitler (part two). He had it coming!

Hi guys,

In my last post I looked at the ethical implications of killing someone (Hitler) through the use of time travel. In this one I intend to focus on the practical.

Clearly the thought behind going back in time and killing Hitler before he rose to power, is that by preventing a great evil, you could make the world a better place. (Unless of course the time traveller has some other nefarious purpose in mind!). My question for today, is would this in fact, make the world a better place?

It's plain that Hitler's rise to power led to both the holocaust and world war two. A great many lives were lost, many more were damaged through the horrors of war. There can be no arguing this. However looking back from 2012, it can also be seen that a great many global and social changes were wrought because of both the war and the holocaust. Some of these have been positive, some negative, and some are yet to show their full impact. Here I'll list just a few.

i) The United Nations. In 1946 the old League of Nations was dissolved and the United Nations formed, with the intent of bringing the entire world together in one body and preventing forther wars. It clearly hasn't succeeded completely, the advent of the cold war effectively stymied things for nearly fifty years as the world was divided into two sides, but since 1991, this has not been the case, and the UN has started flexing some muscle in peacekeeping. Hopefully this role will grow as the twenty first century unfolds.

ii) The World Bank and the IMF. Both of these have arisen from the UN and out of the ashes of WWII, and both have a goal of promoting economic stability and aiding in the development of the poorer nations. Again their work is far from done, we have recently experienced one of the worst crashes in eighty years, but they have both shown that they can be a positive economic force.

iii) Israel. Obviously the impetus for the creation of the state of Israel came from the holocaust.

iv) Women's liberation. The emancipation of women began long before WWII, and as a kiwi I am proud that the suffragette movement succeeded in bringing the right of women to vote to New Zealand first. However, WWII brought a huge boost to the movement as women were asked to work in factories and on farms etc while the soldiers were away fighting. In doing so, women showed that they could work in the same industries as men, and that they could be just as productive.

v) Nuclear power. The Manhatten project may have created the nuclear bomb, but the advent of nuclear technology has brought many more applications than just weaponry. This includes the nuclear power that provides energy to many countries around the world, nuclear medicine where radionucleotides can be used to aid in scanning bodies for illness, radiology and of course radiotherapy to fight cancer.

vi) Rocketry. At first flush this might seem a small thing. We discovered how to launch missiles and send men into space. But consider the huge benefit that the development of satellite technology has given us. Everything from the GPS in your car,and satellite tv, to whole new advances in our understanding of not just space, but the Earth itself. For example, would we even know that there was a greenhouse gas problem and global warming if satellite technology had not been used to show global temperature and ice flow trends?

These are only a few of the things that have arisen from the ashes of WWII. There are of course many more, such as the reunification of Europe and the adbent of the jet engine which boosts international travel and tourism.

Some of these things would have come about by themselves in time. The emancipation of women for example was a movement that had begun long before WWII and which would have surely continued without women being forced into the workforce during the war. But how much longer would it have been before this became accepted?

Others might or might not have come about at all. Would Europe have reunified without WWII? Would the United Nations have formed, or would the far more limited League of Nations continued?

And then of course there is the other question that we cannot even begin to answer. If WWII had not happened, what would have been the world's path. The answer is that we simply don't know.

My point in discussing these things is simply to show that even out of the worst events in human history, good things can come. In killing Hitler and preventing WWII we place the good as well as the bad at risk. So the usual claim that killing Hitler and preventing a great evil would make the world a better place, can't just be accepted at face value. The truth is that we do know that good has come from this evil, and we have no idea at all what might have come to pass had WWII not happened. And we have even less idea of what may still be coming in the future as a result of it.

In conclusion, if we had the power, going back in time to change the past with the view of making a better world, would in essence be gambling.

Cheers, Greg.