Opinions of a Time Traveller.
These are some of my thoughts, opinions, and conclusions on my experiences of time travel. I won’t bore the reader with mundane details such as how and why I came to possess tools that grant me this wonderful and unfortunate ability, but it suffices to say that it has both made the fabric of my life richer, while simultaneously isolating me further from the world.
I’ve never been the most social of people, and now I am often separated not only in an intellectual or cultural capacity, but also on a completely new level, and as such a word has not yet been created to describe my condition.
Perhaps bolder individuals may have more interesting stories to tell about their visits across time, while I have stayed very cautious in my use of this gift, and it may appear somewhat pedestrian. However, the risk of losing this ability currently outweighs the potential upside of attempting to visit some of the more exciting eras in our history.
The Fallacy of Hindsight
Traveled to a time I don’t know much about and made projections about their fate, and then traveled to that future to see how wrong I was. Turns out that present-based people are not any smarter than people back in the past, we just happen to know more than they did.
Going Back to Before Humans Existed
Whenever I need to think, I tend to travel back to before there were any civilizations and humanity. I find the isolation of not just being far away from others, but having the entire world to myself to be quite wonderful as if being the only truly conscious being on the whole planet somehow makes my thoughts more precious and important.
Of course, that’s most likely a fallacy, but an amusing enough one in that it has become a habit, but I’ve never stayed overnight due to the lack of available comfort, and perhaps due to a small fear of the unknown, the fear that something will come at me during the middle of the night.
The feeling of going back to a time before there were humans is much like standing on a rock jutting out of a cliff edge. While intellectually you are fully aware that you are safe, you still cannot stay there long for the fear of falling down, or really, if you admit it to yourself, of the possibility that you might just jump.
Of course, the primary issue in my case is a potential malfunction in the machinery that allowed me to make my travels in the first place and the fact that I would never see another human face again. The only comfort in this situation would be that I probably would not last longer than a handful of days before either being eaten by something or just passing away due to a lack of sustenance.
Seeing Important Monuments at Their Peak
One of my favorite pastimes is traveling in modern times, something that I always do by traveling in both time and space, but that’s for another time.
I take the usual tourist routes, take a guide, hear the various theories of why and how these monuments, now just ruins, came to exist, and how magnificent they must have once been, and how powerful the kingdoms in question once were.
I take tours of the National Museums of nations with university professors, who discuss in intricate detail the lives that the presented fragments of household items give insight to.
And then, I go back and see it for myself. I’ve seen with my own eyes Angkor Watt when it was covered in gold, gleaming out of the jungle. I stared in wonder at The Great Pyramid when it was covered in beautiful white marble, blindingly bright in the desert dunes. I’ve visited The Colosseum on game day, and soaked in, the noise, the dirt, the atmosphere.
Having seen these great monuments in ruins, allows me to appreciate them in their full splendor far more than their contemporaries ever did.
A Matter of Dress
This is perhaps the most odious and difficult issue that I encounter, and it is finding period-appropriate clothes so I don’t stand out too much when I go where I am traveling.
There are certain times and certain places where this is simply not an issue, especially in cosmopolitan cities in an economic and cultural upswing, where anything goes, and everyone is too busy working hard, playing hard, to care about a strange man walking the streets. People have been ignoring strangely dressed men for thousands of years, not only in New York and London in the last thirty years.
Wondering About Linear vs Dual Reality
In all my time travels, I’ve never made any serious disruptions that I am aware of. I’ve never killed anyone, I’ve never (yet) met anyone incredibly famous, preferring to spend my time observing everyday activities, which because of their rarity from my subjective viewpoint, take on an incredibly interesting appeal.
One thing that I have noticed, however, is that men selling vegetables, across times and continents, are essentially all the same. A bunch or a bag or a handful of a fruit or vegetable is always sold for a particularly round, easy to remember number, often in a short rhyming call, and I believe this is a technique that has been working for thousands of years, and will probably continue to work for thousands of years.
What I often wonder, is whether I am traveling in a linear universe or a multi-verse. Whether the reality that I come back to when I go home — and the meaning of home extends to both location and time—is the reality that I left a few minutes earlier.
The fact is, that I am somewhat of a coward. I’ve got such a good thing going on here, and it is too risky to try and change the past and then mess up the future, my present, and give it all up.
For now, there is no evidence that I am traveling in the same or another time dimension because things are always the same when I get back home. However, I don’t actually know if that is true. All I know is that based on my knowledge of present-day matters, things appear to be the same.
I bump into someone in the street in Rome in 40AD, and entire families could no longer exist in 2018, I stand in line to buy bread in New York at some point in the 1830s, and entire lines of research may never have been undertaken, and I have a casual discussion in a coffee house in London at the turn of last century, and many books may have been written from that intellectual spark.
There is no way for me to know if there has been a change unless that change is large or obvious enough for me to detect it when I come back.
I have often thought about leaving myself an artifact or a message in the past, and then to travel back to my own present to see if I can find it. This is not something that I have done, because I don’t really want the answer to whether I am living in a single timeline, or in multiple different timelines. The latter would mean that when I first time traveled, I permanently left all the people I care about (only a few), and all my duties completely unattended, and I would have simply disappeared out of existence. It would also mean that I could do anything that I like in the past because if every time I travel I change the timeline, it would never affect my future.
But I doubt my ethical capacity in this manner, and I wonder if I would be up for this test. Rather like the story of the Ring of Gyges, a ring that grants invisibility to whoever wears it, and would presumably allow the person to indulge in whatever they wished without restraint. The moral person would act like he normally does, regardless of lack of consequences, but I wonder if I am that strong, or if I would end up indulging in petty hedonism, with the only answer to my actions being “because I can”.
Although I have been quite timid in my time travels, and have never traveled to the future, I do travel in a time when I already exist, under certain circumstances which I am about to explain.
Traveling in the Present Day via Time
I quickly realized that I would never need to take a commercial airline flight again after I did take one, and had to endure the long waits, the cramped seating, and the rather bland food.
My tactic now, terrifying the first time I did, in case I caused some type of paradox by introducing two versions of myself at the same time, is to travel back only one or two minutes, but to another part of the globe, where I will have no chance to communicate or otherwise interfere with myself, in case that I stop myself from leaving in the first place, and then cause some type of paradox. I wouldn’t know what would happen at that point.
The great thing about time travel is that one does not travel just in time, but also in space. I am able to pinpoint exactly where on Earth I would like to go, as well as when. This is extremely useful to travel in the present day because it effectively becomes a teleportation device.
Surprising friends and family by showing up unexpectedly have always been a favorite pastime of mine, and now it has been made even easier, and more enjoyable.
Keeping Track of my Age
One of the particular issues with being a time traveler is the difficulty in keeping my biological age synchronized with the time that I am actually living in. Which, by definition, is the time where I spend most of my time, where I tend to sleep most nights, and where my life approaches something that can be considered normal.
I haven’t actually reached the point where this is a problem yet, but if I continue my travels for the next few decades, then it will become an issue, and I am scared that it will either lead to the general discovery of what I am up to (unlikely), or that it will simply lead to my subjective life feeling shorter than it really is.
Imagine that I go back to a better time for a couple of weeks, almost as a type of holiday. I cannot simply then travel back to the present moment a few minutes after I l t, because I will be physically two weeks older. Multiply that by all my travels, and I will appear to have aged several years quite quickly.
In part, this has been the cause of my slow retirement away from the present moment, with less bother and questions about being “missing” for certain amounts of time.
I may, in due course, decide to completely renounce the present day as an anchor, and simply live across time, just as some people nowadays do not have a home, but are constantly traveling across nations and continents. However, my travels are deeper and more complex an undertaking than these types of trips, and perhaps change me in more fundamental ways.
I do, mostly, believe that the past was in many ways better, as long as you were born in one of the fortunate classes that enjoyed the benefits of the era in question. Nowadays, the comforts of technology have made life much more bearable in some ways, but have also ripped up much that was very valuable.
Prior to the invention of the telephone, especially portable handheld devices, life was far more interesting. A greater proportion of people were well-read, by necessity, and having dinner or coffee was a far more intellectually stimulating experience, as it feels that they had a more trained sense of deepness. People tended to really listen to what you were saying, instead of only being partially present.
A Study on Technological Change
This topic of mobile phones brings me to one of my very favorite and most subjective studies, and that is the study of technological change throughout the ages.
Of course, traveling across the ages still only allows me a glimpse at the era. Remember that I am not an omnipresent force looking into every room, hearing all the important conversations, and understanding all the context.
And so, this study will always be a subjective and partial understanding of how humans embrace technological change, and how we may be able to improve our ability to adopt technology for more positive matters.
It is clear to me that there are several drivers for technological improvements, and that little of it has to do with planning.
Planning, usually done by large groups of men (yes, it is normally men), does not create new technology on the whole. The changes that this produces are normally quantitive in nature, adding more, and making things faster, but they have rarely produced those Eureka moments that shape the world in unanticipated and mysterious ways.
Those types of inventions, the ones that really change things, are often disregarded and misunderstood by everyone at the time. I’ve gone back and had casual conversations with members of the public on newly announced inventions, sometimes already commercialized, and I’ve been lucky to have sometimes been able to speak to subject matter experts, and each time, every single person completely underestimates the depth and breadth of change that is about to happen.
I believe that this has something to do with the inability of the human mind to understand the exponential. This may well be because in our natural habitat, the savannah in Africa, everything worked on a linear scale, and so evolution never had a need to ensure that we were wired to understand exponential matters, as there was no benefit to this that would help us survive. If you spend twice as much time gathering nuts, you’re likely to have around twice as many nuts as someone who spends only half the time you do.
In fact, the same can be said of the present-day person, they don’t need to understand exponentially. Generally speaking, a linear understanding of the world is good enough for the everyday person.
However, I believe that exponential results should be at the very core definition of technology. It allows humanity to accomplish things that before would have been considered magic, and over time these things become so banal that they are almost despised, very much like my aversion to the modern smartphone, a device that would have been deemed a supercomputer only a few decades before (you don’t need time travel for that!), and I can fit several into one of my pockets.
So, point one, we have consistently underestimated the impact of new technologies in the last few thousand years, and, in my opinion, we are perhaps several hundred, perhaps a thousand years, behind where we should be.
Visiting Rome or Alexandria at their peak, and then visiting the rest of Europe in the Middle Ages, you get the sense of how backward that entire continent went, not over a single lifespan, but over dozens and dozens of lifetimes. The East fared much better during that period, but they did not have a correct societal structure to deal with innovation at a large scale, and neither did Europe before many people, behind closed doors, started to whisper about the non-existence of God and the piracy of the Catholic Church. This was happening in intellectual circles in Europe many hundreds of years before there were any books or manuscripts written down on these topics, as they used to essentially be a death sentence if they were discussed with the wrong person.
One of the primary uses, and one of the key ways that technological advancement came to be, is through warfare. I’ll be honest with the reader, I have never visited an actual battle, or been anywhere near a siege or war, because of the large distrust that I imagine people of that time would have of anyone appearing strange to them in speaking or dress, and I greatly fear for my freedom. Being stuck in prison is one thing, being stuck in prison in 1660 is another.
In fact, this opportunity that I have been afforded with the ability to time travel has, in some ways, seeped into my enjoyment of life, because I have the opportunity to see so much, that dying or being seriously injured would cause be a much greater loss than a normal person, and so I am more afraid than necessary. I’ve often thought that a being that would be immortal or immune to old age, but could never less die from an incident or accident, would be terrified to cross the street, because they have, essentially, an infinite amount to lose.
This would be the tragedy of immortality.
I’m not quite at that point yet, but I do take precautions to ensure that I minimize the possibility of untoward things happening to me.
So, while I have no doubt about human ingenuity, I do wonder if we manage to be both the most intelligent, on an individual basis, and most stupid, at a species level, animal on the planet. We have the means to produce more than enough for every single person alive on the planet, and yet we fail to organize ourselves and distribute things in a correct manner. We create fictitious systems, and I can testify that the way that capitalism is spoken about in the present time is similar to how, across the ages, men have spoken of their other various false beliefs.
Humans are different than other animals because we live in an inter-subjective reality, a mixture of objective reality, such as oceans, rivers, and trees, and subjective reality, which is the feeling of anger inside of you, your thoughts, and so on. We manage to create fictional entities that strongly affect the real world. The Pyramids were built by the Egyptian gods, or, more accurately, by the mass belief in Egyptian gods at that time in Egypt.
And so, this results in our complete ineptitude in handling technological change, like a child handling a firearm.
What Gives Life Meaning?
I’ve asked this question throughout the ages, and I have started to spot a pattern of consistency.
While many have cited God, that then became out of vogue, and the general consensus and points that I have discovered have been the following:
A life of meaning is one where you apply yourself diligently towards a goal or task that—you believe—is of great importance and impact to those around you, or the world at large.
This could be something as natural and simple as a young woman wanting to bring a child into this world, arguably the most important task there is, to a baker waking up early to provide great bread for his community, to the soldier willing to die in battle to safeguard what he holds dear.
Meaning is created by a mixture of both quality and quantity, and when both come into play, such as the building of great monuments or the prolific output of a fine artist, it suddenly becomes meaningful.
The importance of faith, or belief, in meaning is very important. I’m not talking about the feverish religious type of faith, which is thankfully being discarded as the scientific mindset keeps conquering young minds but of faith in what you are doing.
The belief is that even if right now, nobody cares or knows what you are doing, that one day they will. This is because to hold your life’s meaning in the hands of other people via their opinions is a wretched position to be in, and so what is more important is your opinion on what you do. The objective impact of your work has little relevance to the meaning it gives to you and your life.
Think about it, there have been entire schools and scholars that have worked tirelessly at understanding now forgotten texts about gods, or creating bogus scientific theories to explain natural phenomena.
Have their lives and effort been a waste of time? Perhaps, but at the minimum, they eliminated one potential path for humanity, and credit must be given where it is due. However, for themselves, their work during their life gave them much meaning, and I’ve seen with my own eyes the dedication of ancient monks and scholars who labored from the moment the sun rose to late into the night until the last candle was extinguished.
So, that’s the advice that I can give, find something that you believe is important, have faith in your belief, and then work deeply at your chosen task. With my benefit of limitless hindsight, a rather useless gift at the best of times, I can also add that it is best to be very self-critical and often examine your own views for flaws, much like you would do to someone else, and be ready to abandon your current views in favor of better logically constructed arguments as soon as they come around.
With that, if you’re lucky, you may avoid the fate of the unscientific monk.
Traveling to the Future
While I believe this is practically quite possible, I have, after all, returned back to my present from the past without difficulty, I have never traveled to the future per se.
This is perhaps linked to a discussion we will have later on determinism and fate, but now that I have the entire past at my disposal for relatively easy discovery, I wish to leave at least one element in my life unknown, and that is the future.
I also don’t know if there is anything particularly special about my subjective present moment, or perhaps timeline we could call it. I wonder if time is just purely another dimension, and humans live a little bit like little ants on a completely flat surface, unaware that there is another dimension to life. Does that mean that the pasts where I travel to are just as real as where I am right now, or is only the now actually in existence? There are perhaps tests I can run to understand this more thoroughly, but it is not something that I am prepared to do yet.
On a more negative note, I fear that the coming future may not be so positive. Yes, there have been a great many strides towards eradicating some of the worst in humanity, and yet in some ways, I cannot help to feel that right now the world has a similar type of optimism that I have previously experienced prior to the breakout of major wars and catastrophes, the type that nobody ever predicts, but look so obvious in hindsight.
Because the world is now so connected, I feel that it may be less fragile than it used to be. While a small village in the Roman times was quite fragile to many things, from food shortages to an invading army or a band of robbers, the entire system was actually stronger and more robust than now, because there were lots of islands of separation. No matter what happened in Rome, Beijing would be unaffected.
Nowadays, while we have far more security in our day-to-day lives, we also have people and government— who is but a collection of people, let’s not forget— who have the power to wipe us all out at the push of a button. Are we the turkey that has been fed for a thousand days, and has never felt more secure the day until prior to Thanksgiving?