A Chinese team of scientists have recently come out claiming they can prove that time travel will never happen. I disagree, and can prove my theory with the help of a project to rewrite Mark Twain’s work (for ridiculous reasons).
The concept of forward time travel has fascinated man since the dawn of time. There were references to sleeping and waking up hundreds of years into the future in cultures across the globe (like the Talmud and the story of Urashima Tarō) and appearing as far back as 700 BC (in the Mahabharata). More familiar stories include Rip Van Winkle and the Ben Affleck movie Paycheck (based on a story by Philip K. Dick). A more recent (historically speaking) concept has been backward travel, or going back in history to witness past events first-hand (or, potentially, change them). Science fiction authors and movie producers alike have leveraged the concept with examples like: Ray Bradbury’s “A Sound Of Thunder” into movies, including Timecop, Timeline, Star Trek, Bablyon 5, Odessy 5, and Prince of Darkness (the list goes on). And who can forget the most obvious examples, Wells’ The Time Machine and Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. Or, for that matter, Dr. Who?
Where am I going with this? Simple: I recently became convinced that the ability to travel back in time already exists, that it’s been used in the past and is becoming more popular now.
How? By changing how we remember, represent, or retell past events. Now, I’ll grant that human memory is somewhat fluid. People tend to recall only what they choose to, and often color their memories for one reason or another. But, to take existing literature and rewrite it do reflect the tastes of people reading it now … how’s that any different from hopping in a TARDIS, popping back to Sam Clemens’ study, and encouraging Mr. Twain to “make some adjustments”?
The “Grandfather Paradox” posits a scenario where you travel back to your father’s father’s youth and kill him. If he’s dead, your father couldn’t be born, so you couldn’t be born, so you couldn’t go back and kill him, hence the paradox. Put simply, changing the past would cause changes in events going forward.
If you think about it, that’s what’s happening here. By taking existing literature and editing it, we’re changing our perception of the past. Take two people who’ve never read Twain before and give each one a different edition of the book. Have one read the Clemens version, the other the Gribben version. While both readers will have the same general perception of mid-19th-century life along the Mississippi, each will have subtle differences in their impressions because of the variations in vocabulary.
Each person’s past perception will be slightly different … which will affect their futures in different ways.
Remember: “Time” is really perception and, by extension, so are “past”, “now”, and “future”. If you perceive a particular past (based on the data you’re given), you expect time (really all successive events) to flow in a particular way. Change your the data on which you based the evolution of your reality, you change the flow of that reality … and end up (for all intents and purposes) changing the past. You’ve traveled back to when that data started, and altered it.