Time Travel discussion

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General Time Travel Discussion > Time travel ethics: would you, or wouldn't you?

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message 1: by Gertie (last edited Feb 26, 2016 11:02PM) (new)

Gertie (gertiebird) | 131 comments This is something I think about every time with time travel plots.

There are two types of time travel I am thinking of:
• affect a big change in history,
e.g. kill Hitler
• change your own past,
e.g. call off the wedding, don't eat quite so many pancakes for breakfast

Mainly I am thinking of the ethics of changing the past.

Let's say you go back to stop the sinking of the Titanic.
a) what if it actually led to a worse disaster? You don't actually know what the new history would be like. Perhaos saving passenger X means he later cause a disaster of greater impact.
b) What about all of the people you erase, those who existed before you traveled, who would no longer exist after you changed history?

Interested to get your thoughts.


message 2: by Randy (new)

Randy Harmelink | 1074 comments What are the ethics of taking actions in ANY situation? For example, in "real time", should you pull back the guy that is about to step off the curb in front of a bus? For all you know, he's a serial killer. All you can do is what you think best based on the information you have.

However, there are those that say we absolutely should NOT kill Hitler. Someone more stable and more competent might have won the war.

But -- how do you judge if the consequences are good or bad? Do you base that judgement on how things are 2 minutes later? 2 years later? 10 years later? 1000 years later? Further out? Suppose it creates a utopia for 500 years and then mankind becomes extinct versus thousands of years of strife and turmoil? Which is better?

For (a), there was a "New Twilight Zone" episode where a descendant of JFK goes back and prevents the assassination. Within two days, WW3 has started and the missiles are launched.

For (b), there should also be new people that exist because you changed history. Unless it ends like (a). :(

And, if you subscribe to the theory that all you did was create a new branch, you haven't changed anything except which branch you exist in.


message 3: by Gertie (last edited Feb 26, 2016 11:18PM) (new)

Gertie (gertiebird) | 131 comments I might be willing to change my own past, but the further back in time the greater impact you can have, and personally I am not ok with the idea of making people no longer exist because of a changed timeline. For example, when a character in a book, say a parent, goes back and then does something unintentional that causes them to not have that child, I can't help but think they have killed that person.

Then you start thinking big picture and the ethics of it all makes my brain melt. Over 60 million people (3% world population) died in World War II. I would really really want to go back and wipe Hitler off the face of the planet but currently over 130 million people are born each year. 60 million people saved would mean a vastly different population - how many people born today wouldn't exist at all if those 60 mil had lived?

So in the end for me, I think I would base it on how big the ripples would be. I could gladly stop a major tragedy if it was recent enough that going back wouldn't "erase" too many people. However, if it was a long time ago, I would choose not to.


message 4: by Gertie (new)

Gertie (gertiebird) | 131 comments Randy wrote: " - how do you judge if the consequences are good or bad? Do you base that judgement on how things are 2 minutes later? 2 years later? 10 years later? 1000 years later? Further out? Suppose it creates a utopi ..."

I'm looking at it from the perspective of the time that you as the time traveler have experienced (the time between the "event" and the time you depart to time travel) not all possible timelines beyond your own lifetime.


message 5: by P.R. (new)

P.R. (columbyne) My take on this allows many outcomes. If a time traveller changes something - and his or her very act of time travelling makes this inevitable - then he or she crosses into a new timeline, but this does not necessarily cancel out the previous one which may simply continue, independently, in perpetuity.


message 6: by Michel (new)

Michel Poulin | 90 comments I believe that the concept of multiple/parallel timelines goes hand in hand with changes caused by time travel, as it allows a nearly infinite number of 'what ifs?' situations to be raised by authors of time travel novels, which makes things even more interesting for the readers.


message 7: by P.R. (new)

P.R. (columbyne) Gertie wrote: "Randy wrote: " - how do you judge if the consequences are good or bad? Do you base that judgement on how things are 2 minutes later? 2 years later? 10 years later? 1000 years later? Further out? Su..."
Looking more carefully at what you are saying, I don't think ethics would enter into it. In a different time, every single step that one took, every word spoken, might be deemed to make a change either tiny or epic. In my own writing, people make mistakes too - all the time. I don't think it's possible not to make changes, and therefore I would not wish to try to right 'wrongs' or deliberately attempt to adjust a timeline. It may well simply be a case of 'go with the flow' if you found yourself in another time!


message 8: by Tej (last edited Feb 27, 2016 06:42AM) (new)

Tej (theycallmemrglass) | 1725 comments Mod
I recall, Randy and I had quite a heated discussion over this some time ago which led to some intervention by...I think was Howard!

My provocative view was mainly on point a) (from Gertie's first post).

It goes back to the the origins of our Universe (what do you mean "oh boy"?!, hmppph). Without the currently theorised Big Bang we would not have the universe. Without the violent collision of Earth and Eris, we would not have the moon and our seasons (caused by Earth perfect 23deg tilt). Without (possibly) comet impacts or Moon (at the time very close distance tidal pull) we would not have the mixing up of the primordial soup for life. Without the global catastrophes (from volcanic to meteor impacts) that wiped out 99% of the species (long before the dinosaur era) and then again and again and once more time, finally wiping out the dinosaurs, stopping that asteroid and we would not have evolved and dinosaurs would still be ruling the planet. Without the Titanic disaster (to pick one historical example man made disaster), another disaster would happen because humanity would continue to be complacent and still have too few lifeboats and lack of progression on safety standards, until a disaster occurs as it is the collective nature of mankind to react rather than prevent.

Every disaster, be it natural or man made, evolves our understanding and preparedness or prevention of future events...well, potentially...I have to admit, the state of the world we live in now, does not seem to help my argument, does it?!

Nevertheless, on that basis, my ethic is the past is the past, no matter how tragic past events were, potential lessons can never be learnt without them. Our existence is not about how much lives are lost, its about how much we learn from the past and evolve.

If time travel existed (which I dont think will ever happen because last I heard, Hitler still unleashed the Nazis, Titanic still sunk and the Transformer movies still got made), I dont expect we would be able to change anything, we would simply be creating new time lines, new iterations. The past of our own timeline would always remain.

On the other hand, maybe time travel does exist and perhaps we ARE living in a new iteration. A time traveller probably backfired big time causing Hitler to rise to power leading to the atrocity as we know it, which is worse than what occured in a previous timeline that the Time Traveller tried to fix. OR maybe the previous timeline was even worse than atrocities we know of in our timeline, and our gallant time traveller was able to change things to something of a lesser but still horrifying evil,

Perhaps one of you good authors, could write a story with such a premise, where time tampering an original timeline with good intentions inadvertantly caused the atrocity of WWII and a new timeline of which we are familiar with.

I am throwing haphazard thoughts out there. But I guess the ultimate question posed on this excellent thread is, if I had the power to go back in time and kill Hitler with the purpose of stopping a horrific genocide, would I do it? My answer is no, if I do not know what the consequences will be. If I knew what the consequences will be, and the consequences are favourable to the long term evolution of our species, then perhaps I will.

But frankly, Hitler wasnt the worst. He is the most popular. Mao Ze Dong killed around 50 million people, probably more, Stalin was just as bad, maybe worse, Augusto Pinochet, Leopold the II, Sadam Hussein, Idi Amin...the list is endless, why not go back in time and kill them too?

Regards to point b) of Gertie's first post. Well absolutely. Changing the past will wipe out the existence of a number of lives that would only be born as a result of the timeline in which the events canididates for change happened. So changing the past will eradicate lives we know today. In my ethic, it would be unfair on those lives to be robbed of their existence.

Its all a grey area though, for sure...just like the whole damn world of politics, religion, race, nationality, philosophy and society's social stigma of right and wrong.

Anyway, great thread, Gertie, very thought provoking :)


message 9: by Becca (new)

Becca Bates PR and Michel, that's actually that concept I'm using in mine. One character gains the ability to time travel in the first book. The next couple books take place in the original time line, which continues on even though she's caused a change in the past which branched her off into another timeline. Then another book focuses on her, where at first she doesn't realize every time she makes a change, she's actually creating a new timeline. One character is basically a demigod, and ends up crossing between the various timelines, so we get to explore the various outcomes of the changes the time traveler made.
However, while I don't have a realistic answer to the original question, in my story, fate basically keeps bloodlines parallel, meaning if you save someone's life, they'll end up dying within a day anyway, and everyone is born by the same patents at the same time, even if the events leading up to their birth is different. This means no one is erased, but no one can truly be saved either. It becomes a matter of trying to improve living conditions in general.


message 10: by Becca (new)

Becca Bates Tej, I like your ideas :) You should write that book!


message 11: by Nancy (new)

Nancy (paper_addict) | 1003 comments Mod
Interesting...No I would not change the past. One little change could have a huge impact. You don't know if it would be good or very bad. Even if you could go and just observe you would have to be very careful no to be seen and not talk to people or interact with people. Anything you say could be remembered, your presence could have an affect on one person and change their future. Which could have no impact on the greater scheme or it could have a huge impact.

If there are an infinite number of timelines all existing simultaneously then going back in time and making changes won't change the timeline you came from but just add another timeline. Or maybe you couldn't change the past because it already happened in another timeline. You wouldn't be able to have two time lines that are the same. So maybe the concept of the past not allowing itself to be changed would make sense if this were the case.

Then there is that whole temporal paradox of traveling back in time to stop an event but now the event never happens so how could you travel back in time to stop it?

I like time travel stories that explore the different paradoxes. It is annoying when they just travel back and time and romp around doing all sorts of things but there isn't any affect on future events. Then they get back to their own time and everything is just like they never left. Ugh


message 12: by Randy (new)

Randy Harmelink | 1074 comments I'll throw a wrench in here -- suppose you go back in time, change something, and come back to a world you didn't like.

How would you know it was your change? There might be other time travelers out there as well. What you see when you come home might be the result of 3 or 4 changes made by different time travelers...

So, even if you could undo your specific change, it may not restore the timeline.

Now multiply that complication out, with thousands of people being able to go back in time. Or tens of thousands. Chaos!

Janeway headache.


Cheryl is busier irl atm. (cherylllr) | 881 comments How would you necessarily know of the change? Some authors have postulated that when the traveller comes back to her 'present' she doesn't remember that Hitler wasn't assassinated....

But anyway, I think the original question is worth talking about at face value and should not be dismissed as irrelevant, as a few of ppl above have done.

So, my take on it is, go ahead and try. If the timeline is resilient, if bloodlines are parallel (neat idea, Becca), then what you do won't much matter anyway. In the long run, even the millions killed by Hitler and Stalin don't matter, and an 'even worse' would also become relatively less significant.

Two things I'd try harder to do than just save millions is 1. to save key individuals who would have worked more successfully for good had they lived longer, and 2. to go back to the dawn, to mitochondrial Eve or whomever, and messed around with the genes or the bloodline to reduce our propensity to misogyny and aggression.


message 14: by Randy (new)

Randy Harmelink | 1074 comments Cheryl wrote: "2. to go back to the dawn, to mitochondrial Eve or whomever, and messed around with the genes or the bloodline to reduce our propensity to misogyny and aggression. "

Or, use time travel to do a type of surgery, removing any growing cancer of aggression before they can further infect the body human.

Aggressively attack aggression? :)


Cheryl is busier irl atm. (cherylllr) | 881 comments Heh. There's a term for that logical fallacy of using two meanings of a word to imply the author/speaker meant something other than what she said....


message 16: by Tej (last edited Feb 27, 2016 09:51AM) (new)

Tej (theycallmemrglass) | 1725 comments Mod
Just want to post an example of why I think changing any destructive event in the past is anti-productive to the world going forward from that point. Some of you argue that you can never know the consequences of changing the past without doing it...I am not so sure about that, because we can be sure of one of consequence and that the world would be one step behind in ignorance.

This example is of how Titanic change the world shows how seafaring has become very safe ever since.

http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content...

I tried to find something similar for how world war II changed the world but could not find any proper article but this Quora has some good answers from ordinary folks. Some negative and some positive

https://www.quora.com/How-did-the-eve...

We may not know what will be the consequences of changing an important event but I think its clear that the whatever it may be, it will be drastic, affecting everyone for good or bad.

So step away from the Tardis...I said step away....:)


message 17: by Zippergirl (new)

Zippergirl And what if?

By killing Hitler, or brought Beethoven a hearing aid, you uninvented the time machine?


message 18: by Randy (new)

Randy Harmelink | 1074 comments Hmmm. Can we apply that to "real time" Tej?

Earlier, I mentioned a guy walking out in front of a bus. Do I let that happen, as a dire example to others of what happens if you keep your nose in your smart phone while out walking?

Or, suppose I see a flaw in the way the TSA operates. Should I be obligated to exploit it, for the long term betterment of us all? Just alerting them of the flaw may accomplish nothing (as in your citation, if someone had pointed out that the Titanic had too few lifeboats, they would have been ignored).


message 19: by Morena (new)

Morena | 1 comments Randy wrote: "....Now multiply that complication out, with thousands of people being able to go back in time. Or tens of thousands. Chaos!..."

What if we are already living in chaos? You cannot judge this objectively. If I could, I would kill Genghis Khan and many others because why stop at one if we are fantasizing. There are infinite realities that could rise out of this so worrying that only negative one could arise is meaningless.

Lately because of the actions of USA, in our own time, we can observe that by killing someone that few people consider the "bad guy" or "bad group" even worse entity takes its place. So maybe someone in future would try to stop the freedom fighters from what they have done to stop the chaos that we live in:)


message 20: by Michel (new)

Michel Poulin | 90 comments Becca wrote: "PR and Michel, that's actually that concept I'm using in mine. One character gains the ability to time travel in the first book. The next couple books take place in the original time line, which co..."

Becca, I wrote a series of seven books about time travel (unintentional) to WW2 and the (unintentional again) creation of parallel timelines, with what I call 'timeline twins' featuring prominently as main characters. So, this subject strikes deep interest in me indeed.


message 21: by Nancy (new)

Nancy (paper_addict) | 1003 comments Mod
Randy wrote: "Hmmm. Can we apply that to "real time" Tej?

Earlier, I mentioned a guy walking out in front of a bus. Do I let that happen, as a dire example to others of what happens if you keep your nose in you..."


I don't think going back in time to prevent someone from walking in front of a bus (maybe because you felt guilty for not stopping it the first time) is the same thing as stopping someone from walking in from of a bus in the present.

What would be the point of not being a Good Samaritan and stopping a stranger standing next to you at an intersection, in the present, from walking in front of an oncoming bus? If your logic is that you might be saving a potential serial killer then that is silly because by not saving them you could be letting the next Nobel Peace Prize winner get killed.


message 22: by Randy (new)

Randy Harmelink | 1074 comments Nancy wrote: "If your logic is that you might be saving a potential serial killer then that is silly because by not saving them you could be letting the next Nobel Peace Prize winner get killed."

My very point. It was meant as a response to Gertie's question "what if [changing the past] led to something worse". Whether you're interfering with something that will happen "real time" or in the past, the end result can be good or nasty. But you still should do what is expected to have good results.

One big difference is that in hindsight we might know whether he is a serial killer or a Pulitzer Prize winner. Either by looking at the future as it unfolds, or simply by having the knowledge of who the stranger is.

Nancy wrote: "What would be the point of not being a Good Samaritan and stopping a stranger standing next to you at an intersection, in the present, from walking in front of an oncoming bus?"

What would be the point of not being a Good Samaritan and undoing a stranger getting hit by a bus?

I don't see the difference between going back in time to save someone from getting hit by a bus and doing it in "real time". Why would one be the ethical thing to do and the other not?

The only issue I can see is there would be SOOOOO many such little things that could be undone. Well, little to us, but a big thing to the dead pedestrian and his family and friends. But even a master of time wouldn't have enough time to "fix" everything.


message 23: by P.R. (new)

P.R. (columbyne) Randy wrote: "Nancy wrote: "If your logic is that you might be saving a potential serial killer then that is silly because by not saving them you could be letting the next Nobel Peace Prize winner get killed."

..."

You've just said everything I would have said, so I completely agree and will leave it there, LOL :)


message 24: by Chester Hendrix (new)

Chester Hendrix | 17 comments An interesting discussion. I may have missed it, but I don't think anybody commented on another possibility - what if time travel results in no changes at all? What if the timeline protects its cohesion by not allowing you to change it?

For example, if you go back to kill Hitler, or Genghis Kahn, or anybody else and you wind up getting caught by his guards because time won't allow it?

In my own novel, I take this approach. I put a Roman centurion [who winds up going into the distant future], a WWI English soldier [who goes back only a little over a 100 years] and drop them into Napoleonic France [where they interact with Nappy himself].

Nothing happens that changes the timeline at all. At the end of the day, everything that happens was supposed to. If you want to carry this thread to a functional conclusion, might I suggest categorizing outcomes? For example:

- Past is changed and future is changed
- Past is changed but time sorts itself out, resulting in no changes
- Past is not changed at all, time travellers adventures become part of history

etc, etc. An interesting idea.

Your Buddy, Chester


message 25: by Cheryl is busier irl atm. (last edited Feb 28, 2016 08:15AM) (new)

Cheryl is busier irl atm. (cherylllr) | 881 comments Well, Chester, that's why I mentioned resilient timelines. It's been a preferred approach by lots of authors.


message 26: by Becca (new)

Becca Bates Chester wrote: "An interesting discussion. I may have missed it, but I don't think anybody commented on another possibility - what if time travel results in no changes at all? What if the timeline protects its coh..."

That's one thing I always loved about Twelve Monkeys. By going into the past, they in turn caused the events that led to them going to the past. There was never any chance of altering anything, because it was a continuous loop that was destined to happen. I do like that theory a lot, though find it less interesting to work with when developing my own time travel stories.


message 27: by Randy (new)

Randy Harmelink | 1074 comments But the continuous loop doesn't get rid of paradoxes. It creates one of its own. There is no initial cause of the effect. They each rely on the other.

In some time travel stories, the past can't be changed, but they can travel into the future to see how things might be and then change the present. That never made sense to me, because the present would be the future's past, so you're still changing the past. Just in a different way.


message 28: by Becca (new)

Becca Bates Randy wrote: "But the continuous loop doesn't get rid of paradoxes. It creates one of its own. There is no initial cause of the effect. They each rely on the other."

In those cases, I assumed there was something of fate involved, with time developing in such a way that the time travel was inevitable.


message 29: by David (new)

David Haws | 102 comments Kant claimed that you have a moral obligation to refrain from suicide (you would be immorally using your body to escape the suffering of life without respect to your own moral agency). He also believed that it was morally wrong to deny a murder’s moral agency by failing to execute him for his murderous behavior. So imagine Hitler in his Bunker in 1945. An aide rushes in, “Mein Fuhrer, here is a time-travel device, but it will only return you to the Beerhall Putsch in 1923.” Would he then have a moral obligation slip poison into his bier?

If you accept the premise of necessary reciprocity (Kant) you can’t have a moral obligation to someone who doesn’t exist. If you time-travel far enough, any moral obligations you might have would be toward a whole new set of moral agents (creating paradox wouldn’t be a problem).

The problem with situational ethics is that you have no good (deductive) reason to believe that a given action would result in a given outcome (Hume’s Problem of Induction). If you can’t act except from a position of certainty, then you’re just guessing at the situation and your deliberations need to account for the possibility that you might be guessing wrong.

In accordance with the Ethics of Care, you should exercise your best efforts to meet the needs of those who count on your nurturance. Unless no one counts on you, your traveling in time should be brief and discreet. If you plunk down in another time, who would be looking to you for immediate nurturance? Of course over time you would develop relationships and those new relationship would create binding moral obligations (maybe creating the moral obligation for you to stay).


message 30: by Randy (new)

Randy Harmelink | 1074 comments So, what would they say is my moral obligation if the complete stranger on the curb is about to accidentally step in front of a bus?


message 31: by David (new)

David Haws | 102 comments When someone is stepping in front of a speeding bus, deliberation is not an issue (the stepee is dead or not dead depending on reflexes). Moral deliberation is a cognitive activity. Response to danger is limbic. We all at least want to assume we'd react to stop a messy, traumatic death. I'm afraid more than a few of us (including the guy stepping off the curb) might be reverberating on the famous last words, "Oh, shit."


message 32: by Randy (new)

Randy Harmelink | 1074 comments But those reflexes and "limbic" responses will be based on whatever moral obligations have been taught and practiced. Muscle memory, if you will.

In any case, your response relates to what it MIGHT be. I'm asking what it SHOULD be. Morally.

Because in the case of a time traveler, moral deliberation would be all there is. The danger is past. The result has occurred.


message 33: by David (new)

David Haws | 102 comments Kant felt that the habitual act had no moral value. If you're asking what one should do "all things considered," why would time travel change the consideration?


message 34: by Randy (new)

Randy Harmelink | 1074 comments David wrote: "why would time travel change the consideration?"

Ummm. My question from the start.

It shouldn't for each individual situation, but the time traveler has an infinite number of situations where they could intervene and "do the right thing". So that does somewhat change the considerations.

PS: IMO, the habitual acts display the moral values. Since we are a slave to our habits, they should be chosen wisely.


message 35: by David (new)

David Haws | 102 comments I think you have to assume that after 13+ billion years the universe is in some kind of dynamic equilibrium. If I kill someone to relieve suffering here and now, suffering will just resurface somewhere else (whack-a-mole). Kant felt that only our acts in responce to duty had positive moral value. The habitually moral act is indicative of a good will (the habit had to be formed).


message 36: by David (new)

David Haws | 102 comments With alternate history the timeline changes on its own. Without change you don't have a story, but the more interesting changes with time travel seem internal to the characters.


message 37: by Randy (new)

Randy Harmelink | 1074 comments I can't accept the concept of the universe in a dynamic equilibrium, except in a very macro perspective. If that were the case in a micro perspective, why do anything?

Besides, how much of the universe can FEEL suffering?

Duty is a tricky one. Performing a duty may be a moral value for the individual doing it, while the duty itself is immoral. It all depends on the underlying cause of the duty. For example, a suicide bomber. The bomber is a hero in one sense, because he's sacrificing his life for a cause. But if that cause is immoral, the immorality of the act should be put upon the teacher, not the student. The bomber is as much a victim as anyone else.


message 38: by David (new)

David Haws | 102 comments Duty is a moral obligation. You cant have a moral obligation to do an immoral thing. If you feel the need to do something considered immoral,then you're operating from a teleological rather than deontological paradigm.


message 39: by Randy (new)

Randy Harmelink | 1074 comments I get the feeling you and I don't agree on much... :)

Morality always depends on context. There is no action that is always moral and there is no action that is always immoral.

Duty can be a moral OR a legal obligation. They sometimes conflict with each other.


message 40: by Chester Hendrix (new)

Chester Hendrix | 17 comments Morality always depends on context?

When is rape/child sexploitation/[fill in blank here] an action that is ever moral?

This makes absolutely no sense to me.

I'm probably coming in on a thread where this has been discussed - a quick answer or link will do.


message 41: by Jaime (new)

Jaime Batista | 44 comments Have been following this thread for a bit now...In my own story I spent considerable time dealing with the "grandfather paradox" and how I would deal with it...My own belief is that we will never know time travel as H.G. Wells portrayed it ( I might be wrong). ..However if a time traveler were to make it back in time I don't think he would be able to make any changes at all...He would be witness to what is happening but "like an actor watching himself in a moving picture show, he would be unable to change his or the performance of any other actor." Took me a while to figure it all out but it works..."EPILOGUE TIME MACHINE CHRONICLES"


message 42: by Chester Hendrix (new)

Chester Hendrix | 17 comments Jaime-
Did the grandfather paradox as well. Main character worries he'll do something that kills his great-great grandfather, then worries what'll happen to himself if he does. It becomes a fun discussion between the WWI Englishman, the Roman centurion and the Napoleonic officer. Three different points of view discussing it was fun to write.


message 43: by Tej (last edited Feb 29, 2016 11:51AM) (new)

Tej (theycallmemrglass) | 1725 comments Mod
We had this circle of argument in another thread sometime last year or two. Its not an argument that can be won, its a debate of opinions that is just that, personal opinions on ethics.

Btw, lets not lose track on Gertie's original philosphical prose on the ethics of changing an event in the past in the first post of this thread.

To make this argument or rather sharing of our choices and opinions clearer, we must assume that we have the power to time travel and succeed in in changing a particular instance of the past (eg, kill Hitler, stop the asteroid from killing those cool dinosaurs, prevent Michael Bay's father from ever buying him a movie camera to spare the torture of unsuspecting audiences, etc).

Also just to be clear, I think its fair to say that everyone here on this thread, would try, if possible, to stop that careless fella from walking in front of a bus (as long as doing so, doesnt endanger our own life), I am sure you would agree, right? Because I am sure you dont think myself and anyone else here would just stand and look on gleefully at the horror that would unfold? Of course not because only good folks like to be part of this time travel group. That's my arrogant declaration of the day :)

So Randy, if I may pick you out as an example due to your passionate posts and stance, my interpretation of your opinion is that not using our ability travel in the past and save lives is the same as doing nothing to stop that fella from walking in front of the bus, right? Great point and view.

Not a view/point I agree with but this is down to our perceived ethic and choices. I dont agree because changing any instance in the past (whether to save lives or to win a bet on a horse race etc) will endanger the existence or quality of at least one or maybe millions or maybe billions of lives. My reason, is that each of our existence is defined by the specific moment of conception by a specific sperm that made it to the egg and sounding uncannily like Bruce Willis. So what right do we have as powerful time travellers, to risk the existence of those lives in the present who set out their life long goals, achievements, and bringing up their families? I believe we have no right and that would be my number one reason for never changing any instances in the past. So if we did have the power to time travel then I would work at the UNDPTT (United Nations Department of Prevention of Time Travel). My choice, my unwavering belief and opinion. If preventing an historical atrocity from ever happening, makes me looked upon as some kind of passive murderer then so be it, my reasoning is clear. I would see myself as a murderer if I did change an instance in the past because I know for sure I will be wiping out the existence of at least one life in the present. And even if somehow, changing the past does not eliminate the existence of any present souls, I would for sure be changing the past path of at least one life and I did not have the right to do so. You could argue but our lives are controlled by others any way. True, but at least we have the conscientiousness of either accepting, voting or battling those external influences. But if you know that time travellers have the power to just change your past life's path or even existence, what the hell would be the point in living your life knowing that it all you achieved could just be all wiped away from ever happening? So that furthers my ethical stance in choosing never to change an instance of the past, regardless of how many lives were lost/tortured historically.

BUT what if we add a new assumption. Lets narrow down this ethical conundrum and say that changing an instance in the past WONT affect the existing lives today...its a stretch in my opinion but lets assume it for the sake of simplifying the ethical choice we have as time travellers. (not that assuming time travel is any less of a stretch!)

OK, so if current lives and their past are guaranteed to be untouched. Would I now choose to save those lives lost in the past? I have had to think harder about that. I sure would like to...but ultimately, I still wouldnt and the reason is what I gave in posts #8 and #16 regarding evolution and progression based on lessons carried on from events of the past. I dont want to repeat all that again (especially given my clearly poor ability to make my points concise!)

On an aside, it is for all those reasons that I believe the ability to time travel will never exist because the universe would be just too damn chaotic! Whether you are scientific or believer in the divine, in both cases, time travel as far as I can tell is a no go barrier but a bloody entertaining concept! :)


message 44: by Chester Hendrix (new)

Chester Hendrix | 17 comments OK - that helps. So -opinions based on the concept that we have the ability to time travel.

My philosophical take is that if we travel to the past we cannot help but change the future every time if we interact with anybody. History is filled with little anecdotal stories of chance encounters that change the course of history. It seems reasonable to assume it would be impossible to avoid one of these scenarios.

e.g. Buying a sandwich and tipping the waiter gives him hope and prevents him from committing suicide. You think, how could eating lunch change the future? Then you get back to your present and find out that guy saves the life of Eisenhower during a raid. Speculations on this theme are endless.

Going back a few pages on this thread shows that everybody pretty much has a different take - major or minor. It seems to me that everyone's ethics [real ethics that exist in the real world that we live by] applied to a hypothetical will inevitably put us at odds with each other.

More interesting to me is the approach each of us takes [the reasoning that leads to handling the issue and the resolution we come to] in incorporating the mechanic of time travel into our writing.

For me the demarcation line comes down to a simple question.

Is the time paradox [however we define it] the plot itself which requires resolution, or is it just a vehicle to tell a story?

For example, I consider Heinlein's BY HIS BOOTSTRAPS the ultimate expression of the former while Well's THE TIME MACHINE is a vehicle to tell a story of the future.

My own book uses the latter approach. How about yours?

Your Buddy, Chester


message 45: by David (new)

David Haws | 102 comments Randy wrote: "Morality always depends on context."

Only when your ethical system imbues outcomes with moral value (e.g., the optimization of pleasure, liberty, or the cultivation of a good will). This was Bill Clinton’s argument (“Whom did I hurt”) as compared with the argument of those wanting him removed from office (“Using your dick on an intern was inherently wrong”). People will think they are absolutely right because they can’t see the other paradigm, or they will think they are right in a particular instance because their paradigm seems more valid.

Tej wrote: "....what right do we have as powerful time travelers..."

This is an interesting question. If you consider the traveler outside society (e.g., Dana in Butler’s Kindred where the protagonist relies on nothing from her society to travel) then he/she has a Natural Right to do anything (kill her great-great-grandfather, or allow him to rape one of his slaves). If the traveler remains inside society (say, she has a time machine to which she would not have access except as a member of society) then she has only those Civil Rights which the society has agreed to give the traveler (being held morally accountable to some Temporal Directive). If your society sends you back to kill Hitler as a baby, then you have a Civil Right to kill him (in fact, a civil obligation) although you might remain morally squeamish. Of course, if you try to kill Hitler as a baby the people of Vienna have a Civil Right/moral obligation to exert reasonable effort in stopping you(which may or may not include killing you).


message 46: by Jaime (new)

Jaime Batista | 44 comments Chester wrote: "OK - that helps. So -opinions based on the concept that we have the ability to time travel.

My philosophical take is that if we travel to the past we cannot help but change the future every time ..."


In my story the Time Traveler finds it impossible to change the past but his ultimate goal was to change the future (which he had the power to participate in)..His goal was to help the Eloi against the Morlocks. Remember--"nature arbors a paradox".....Sorry, maybe I'm missing the whole essence of the conversations on this thread--I'll be quiet.....


message 47: by Tej (last edited Feb 29, 2016 12:07PM) (new)

Tej (theycallmemrglass) | 1725 comments Mod
Gentle reminder of Gertie's initial post and purpose of this thread's discussion:

There are two types of time travel I am thinking of:
• affect a big change in history, e.g. kill Hitler
• change your own past, e.g. call off the wedding, don't eat quite so many pancakes for breakfast

Mainly I am thinking of the ethics of changing the past.

Let's say you go back to stop the sinking of the Titanic.
a) what if it actually led to a worse disaster? You don't actually know what the new history would be like. Perhaos saving passenger X means he later cause a disaster of greater impact.
b) What about all of the people you erase, those who existed before you traveled, who would no longer exist after you changed history?

Interested to get your thoughts.



message 48: by Jaime (new)

Jaime Batista | 44 comments Tej wrote: "Gentle reminder of Gertie's initial post and purpose of this thread's discussion:

There are two types of time travel I am thinking of:
• affect a big change in history, e.g. kill Hitler
• change y..."


Sorry--I'll be quiet....


message 49: by Randy (new)

Randy Harmelink | 1074 comments Tej wrote: "I dont agree because changing any instance in the past (whether to save lives or to win a bet on a horse race etc) will endanger the existence or quality of at least one or maybe millions or maybe billions of lives."

As it does in the present. Think of all the descendants that will exist because of the lives Oskar Schindler saved. In his present.


message 50: by Randy (new)

Randy Harmelink | 1074 comments Chester wrote: "Morality always depends on context?

When is rape/child sexploitation/[fill in blank here] an action that is ever moral?

This makes absolutely no sense to me."


All you need is a worse alternative. This is the stuff of horror -- what will it take to make a good person commit a horrible deed? Can evil be done in the name of a greater good? Do the ends justify the means?

Suppose someone tells you that they will kill one random person a night until you rape a particular person. How many people will you let die? You may not believe them at first. But after the first person dies? Then the second?

How many?

Are you responsible, if you have the power to make the killings stop?

In terms of the time travel question at hand, does the power to make changes make you responsible for not using that power?

Go a step further and you're into theology -- if God has the power to stop evil things from happening, why doesn't he/she?

Or, as Stan Lee puts it: "With great power comes great responsibility."


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