I just found your note in my guestbook, on my Temporal Anomalies in Popular Time Travel Movies site, and am browsing through your web page while I write this. (My modem is slow, and your pages seem to take a long time to load--but they look great!) I've been reading it, and have a few thoughts....
The first thing I noticed was the bit about using only 5% of your brain. This was popularly believed in the 60's, but has since been disproven. Much like your computer, you use about 95% of your processing power--but some of it is dedicated to video, some to audio, some to I/O, some to memory and storage, and to each aspect of human existence. You only use about 5% of your brain for reasoning; but you use most of the rest of it for many other things. I'm aware that many people believe your statement to be true, and it still gets passed around; but it's a mistake which has been given credence by repetition.
Your test is interesting. I think you, having read my page, would perceive that I come out differently on this. Although in the construction of the multiverse I used in the Multiverser game, I would agree that there is a division of universes into several at this point, I disagree even with what your "YOU" would find.
Here's my analysis:
YOU live from August 8 (interestingly, you signed my web page 4 days ago) until August 12; for my purposes, a segment of a timeline which we will define as segment AB, based on point A representing the 8th and point B the 12th. On the 12th, you pick up the newspaper for the 10th, in which are the winning numbers from the lottery on the 9th (there being no lottery on Sunday the 8th--and besides, you want Version-2 to have time to buy the lottery tickets), and go back in time to the 8th.
BUT--and I cannot emphasize this point enough--your presence on the 8th alone destroys the original history. Every breath, every movement, every drop of sweat, every released pheromone, every thud of your heart changes the material and energy present at that moment. We are fools if we think that we have not changed the past merely because no one is aware of it--it is the essence of time travel that we change the past. And since we have changed the past, we have an alternate timeline, and must redefine that moment as point C. We are now in a new segment which runs from point C to point D, which is temporally identical to point A in the linear dimension of time, but is divergent from it.
I have allowed myself to refer to it as "parallel", but it is clearly not--it is "divergent". If you imagine time as two dimensions, one of which is "forward and backward" (the other "sideways", as in "Sliders"), the new timeline continues to move at the same rate along that dimension, but is at an angle to the original AB segment, becoming more different, more removed, as it progresses across the plane. And, as I have said in Multiverser, time is "multidimensional in ways which go far beyond our limited concepts of forward, backward, and sideways". (More on Multiverser at this site.) YOU give Version-2 the lottery numbers, and he agrees to your plan. YOU now move forward to the future YOU left behind--the exact moment YOU left. But it is not the moment YOU left--YOU have destroyed the history of that moment, and therefore the timeline ends with the instant YOU went back. Besides, since YOU created the CD segment when YOU came back to point C, YOU are caught within it, and can only go forward to point D--the only future which exists within that segment (as Doc Brown correctly points out in Back to the Future Part 2). You intrinsically admit this when you suggest that YOU could go back in time again to get the money out of the cabinet--something YOU could only do if the history leading to YOU includes your trip back to Version-2. (Note that YOU cannot escape this history by going back farther in time, because this will only create a longer alternate segment which contains the other trip within it. In order to escape, you would need to move "sideways" in time, as with a sliding machine.)
Thus, when YOU return to August 12th, YOU must end up at point D. Also, since YOU've destroyed the timeline of the AB segment, there is no future past the moment YOU left B--no future for which the AB segment is history. The logical conclusion of this is that the metal box and the money will be waiting for YOU in the cabinet when YOU check at point D. However, I believe YOU will never check that box--not that YOU. I believe YOU created a sawtooth snap, what Tim Fox has called a "cycling causality". Version-2 will live through the timeline from point C to point D; he will indeed put the money in the metal box, and place the box in the cabinet. But as point D approaches, we have a very important and significant problem: he must also decide whether to take the numbers for the lottery back to himself--Version-3. But for Version-2, this is a very different matter. He knows that he--as YOU--did this before, and he knows that it works. For him, it is no longer an experiment; it's a fait accompli. So even if he does exactly what YOU did, the experience for him will be different--and, as you observe, he may decide to do something different with it. Why limit himself to the local lottery? There are lotteries in states nearby; there may be more than one set of winning numbers in this state. If there were multiple winners of that lottery, he'll win a bigger share if he buys multiple tickets with the same number. There are also winning horses, winning sports teams, winning fighters--and he has four days to decide on the best way to maximize his time and his bets. But it is not the nervous hopeful expectant YOU who talks to Version-3; it's the confident assured Version-2 who knows this will work. And so when Version-2 goes back, it's a different person who reaches point C, and he creates a different history; and point C becomes point E, beginning of the EF segment. And the experience is different for Version-3, who perhaps has spent so much time running around placing bets that he's had little time to consider his options; will he also go back in time, and will he be the same person as Version-2 when he does, or someone else entirely? Someone else, I think--for although he knows the experiment works, the choice of bets is not his well reasoned selection, but information conveyed to him by another version of himself (remember, Version 2 spent four days thinking about what bets he should have placed, while Version 3 spent much of that time placing those bets). He has a different demeanor, a different attitude, a different level of excitement than Version-2 did. This is a different person who goes back, creating a different history. (YOU might have done better to go back and tell your wife the numbers--that runs the risk that you might not do it on the next line, but at least the message doesn't change the messenger--or maybe it does, since Version-2's wife in this case will have won the lottery, and he won't think to go back to give her the number unless she tells him--in which case the message will have changed the messenger; the only chance he has is if he tells his wife not to tell him the results until Thursday, the day after he goes back in time.)
This will continue until the anomaly resolves in one of two ways. Either Version-N's experience will be exactly duplicated by Version-N+1, and time will continue into the future in an "N-jump"; or Version-N will fail to go back to give himself the necessary information, there will be no visit to the past giving the number, so that Version N+1 will be identical to YOU, following the original history, deciding that you've got a way to go back in time to give yourself the lottery numbers--the AB segment restored. So if the sequence stabilizes (N=N+1), our sawtooth snap ends with a continuation into the future in which Version-N+1 will find the box in which the money has been stashed; but if Version-N never makes his trip back to tell Version-N+1 the lottery numbers, then the box will be in the cabinet in most of those time segments (not the first and last, which are the same), but time will end at the time represented by points B, D, F, H, and so forth--so the moment at which any version of YOU would have looked for that box will never arrive.
I am not happy with the notion so often suggested as related to quantum physics--that there are an infinite number of "parallel" (actually divergent) universes created by so many multiple combinations of possibilities. I would first argue that the number of such universes is both greater than imagined and less than stated. Understand on the one hand that at every instant there are a very great number of possible events; every instant of my life, I might have died in any of many ways, some of which would have little to do with anyone's choice. On that basis alone, I've created over one billion universes myself, just by continuing to live from second to second for 43 years. The choices I have made--and not made--in that time increase those numbers exponentially. I am one of billions of people--and the number of universes is not the sum but the product of those choices (not precisely--the death or change of location of any one person changes the choices available to others who interact with him; however, if I may do one of three things, and you may do one of four things, and neither of us will affect the other's choice, then the total number of combinations is 3x4=12, since each of the three universes I create will be split into four by your choice). Whether or not there are life forms of any type elsewhere in this universe (or in any other--and given the notion that all things that could happen do happen, there must be innumerable life forms out there in some world), there will be events which could happen or not happen, which also exponentially increase the number of variant universes. The number is truly vast; yet it is not infinite, and I tire of people claiming that it is. The universe is known to be finite--expanding, indeed, but with a limited amount of matter and energy within it. Therefore, the total number of possibilities, as vast as it is, is finite. Regardless of the size or the number of multipliers, the product of finite multipliers is always finite. We make the mistake of confusing incomprensibly vast with infinite--an easy mistake to make, but a mistake nontheless. (Even Dr. Who made it once, and I am indebted to him, for had he not said, "An infinite number of choices, an infinite number of parallel universes", I might not have realized the two mistakes in that myself.)
But I'm nit-picking. (Again to quote the Doctor, "Always do what your best at, that's what I say.") Even though in theory such a diversity of universes is plausible, I find it both improbable and repugnant. Consider this: I could leave my computer right now, go into town, stop in the convenience store, and rob it. I could murder one of my neighbors, for cause or no cause. There are long lists of heinous crimes I could be committing at this moment, which I could in theory choose to commit at this moment. I would like to believe that the universes in which I do those things don't exist; and I have good reason to believe this--I have certain moral convictions (not to mention a healthy respect for the abilities of law enforcement officers to catch me) which will restrain me from doing these things. But I am more than moral convictions. I have a psychological makeup which causes me to react in certain ways to certain events--and even if my reaction is to "flip a coin" or otherwise perform in a random fashion, such "random" events themselves, while not predictable in a standard sense, follow non-random rules. When I throw a six-sided die, the result is to me random, in the sense that I have no control nor foreknowledge of which face will appear; but in fact, the side that lands down is determined by the position of the die in my hand, the force and angle at which I throw it, and the structure of the die itself. Were those things known, Newtonian mechanics is adequate to predict the result. The roll is only considered "random" because I cannot control it or know it. An excellent example of this "illusion of randomness" is the random number generation in your computer. The standard means of producing a random number is by storing a sequence of digits in the computer. When a random number is requested, the computer returns the next number in the sequence. To you, the number appears random, because there is no way you can know the next number in the sequence--however, if you give it the same information in the beginning (the same "priming" number), you will get the same results, because the numbers are not in fact random. (I have often recommended that programmers should use a clock-based random number, as was possible with the Commodore 64, but I have not been able to determine how to do this with an IBM, especially in BASIC, which is the limit of my meager programming abilities.) I am persuaded that if you could wind the clock back such that the same events could repeat, everyone would make the same choices at the same time, and the same consequences would result.
Is this to say that man has no free will? I don't think so. I've reconciled the concept of free will with the type of determinism that my view reflects. When an event occurs in which a choice is possible, the individuals involved may choose freely between the options. They are each predisposed toward certain options and against others; they each will apply their own values and experiences to the present situation, leading each to specific valuations and evaluations of the choices; each will consider the situation for the period of time each feels is appropriate, and each will come to his conclusions and take actions based on his own beliefs, values, and choices. We know this to be true; we expect it--should the fact that I would be disinclined to rape the woman across the street be considered a limitation on my free will? But were we able to fully understand every aspect of each person in minute detail, we would be able to predict the outcomes of these events, choices, and interactions. The fact that we cannot have so complete a knowledge even of ourselves, and so cannot predict even our own actions, does not alter the fact that the choices are fixed.
I regret that my belief is indefensible precisely because of its nature: there is no way to test it, to prove it, to disprove it. You might say that of course people tend to do that to which they are disposed, based on their background, but they don't always do so--but why would someone take a course that is other than the course he chooses to take? Yes indeed, sometimes people specifically act in ways which are contrary to their upbringing, their reasoning, their natures--but why? The fact that we can ask that question demonstrates that we believe people do things for causes and/or reasons. You can choose to attempt to disprove this by doing something "opposite" to that which you would normally do for "no reason"--but that the reason then is to disprove the theory! The influences which lead to our actions and choices are complex and unfathomable, but were time to repeat itself, they would be repeated identically. Of course, someone who goes back in time may change the influences on some people, and the extent to which he does so will affect their choices in the future; but those who are not affected by him will continue to act as they had before, at least until the ripples of his presence in the past reaches them (such as when YOU appear on the news as the lottery winner). Were I to go back to Sunday and give myself the winning lottery numbers, I don't think it would change the fact that yesterday the bungee jump ride at Steel Pier in Atlantic City broke, nor have any effect on today's events in Washington. However, it might eventually affect the people involved in those things.
Thus I don't find it repugnant to my sense of free will to imagine that the future could be as fixed as the past; when Hawkings asked "Why do we remember the past and not the future?", he was suggesting this himself: that the future already exists in its fixed form as much as the past, but we don't know it yet. The fact that that future is built in part on decisions I have not yet made does not to my mind make it less fixed, any more than the fact that I won a particular chess game negates the fact that I had to think about it to reach that victory--that is, there were a series of decisions which led to the present, which will continue into the future, and the fact that I know the sequence which leads to now but not the sequence which continues from here does not make the one any less real or fixed than the other--in much the same way as the fact that I do not know what is at the end of a road does not mean that there is nothing there or that no one else knows, either.
Multiverser, using the multiple universe conception, suggests that indeed if someone goes back in time his choice and attempt to do so results in multiple universes being created. Although I wrote that material for the purpose of the game, I don't accept it as a plausible reality. I am convinced that there is only one time line; but if time travel become possible by any means, it will create non-linear divergencies of the type I have postulated, each of which is connected sequentially from another, as my illustration shows here.
Let me commend you for your very sound and thoughtful approach to the problem; I have been over much of the same ground on my way to my current theories, and see that you have recognized most of the questions and at least some of the answers.
I'd like to connect to your site; I have ample space on my "GeoCities Tour", and would be pleased to include you on that (with your permission), and equally pleased if you would give me the same consideration; however, I recognize that we have handled the Internet very differently. I have created many sites scattered about, each on a different subject (one eclectic site on many subjects from law to Bible to music to games, with a substantial index of everything at this site), so it's an easy matter for me to connect to sites which relate to a specific aspect, whereas you appear to have collected a vast amount of material on many related and unrelated subjects into one site. Thus I imagine that you may have many sites on your GeoCities tour already, with time travel being a small part of it. However, if this is an option, let me know.
I hope this is helpful, and look forward to your response.
--M. J. Young
|Return to the Open Letters index page.|
|Read the next of the Buckley Time Travel postings.|