What are the practicalities and consequences of time travel?

The discovery of the ability to successfully travel through time has drawn the imagination of many a science fiction writer and blockbuster film maker over the years. Visionaries like H.G. Wells and Steven Spielberg have imagined worlds where time is conquered and can be travelled in a way much like travelling to another country.

Aside from the fantastical qualities of discovering the ability to navigate a human being successfully from one period of time to another and back again, the practical implications of time travel are both astounding and frankly quite frightening.

The time travel discovery would undoubtedly begin with a scientist or mathematician adding a missing element or making a leap forward in an equation that either already exists or is in the process of being theorised. A prominent example of this in recent history would be Professor Stephen Hawking’s publication of A Brief History of Time, which used the pre-existing theories of Albert Einstein to augment Hawking’s hypothesis. This book, like Einstein’s earlier work was ahead of its time in terms of the theories proposed by its author.

This individual would then publish their equation in a scientific journal or independently, which would open it up to scrutiny by other scientists. As it’s just an equation at this stage, it still cannot be proven until the technology exists to prove it.

The possession of such knowledge would have to be tightly controlled.  Although the scientific community exists without borders, co-operation between individual scientists relies as it does currently on co-operation between governments.

Explanations would have to be made and a consensus established between the governments of the world to establish the practicalities to prove such a theory and to manage its eventual use.

It is there that you would most likely run into the first problem, how to ensure that this equation does not fall into the hands of a hostile government who would develop and then misuse the technology for its own ends.

A possible solution that presents itself in the co-operation between governments could be the dissolution of the various elements of the equation throughout the co-operating governments. This would mean that no government would possess the equation in its entirety and would have to co-operate with its international partners to facilitate its successful exploration.

This solution would in all likelihood work when the technology to undertake the journey was invented. Each government could possess part of the device required to travel through time and a consensus would be required to use the technology in any given sphere.

While the potential management of such a far reaching discovery presents us with unknown challenges, the perils of engaging in such an endeavour without sufficient preparation or groundwork speak for themselves. A single government, hostile or otherwise could use this discovery to change the history of itself and/or the other countries of the world.

Minor changes made, such as a change in budgetary direction or a change in employment law made in advance of a recession event could result in the changed country becoming stronger and more financially secure. This would have an ultimately beneficial effect on the country without causing the type of exposure of technology which did not exist in the period effected.

More obvious changes could be made, armies could be sent into battles which the changing country has lost to unduly influence the battles course. Advanced technology could be sent into the past to enhance the industry of the country being changed and so on. The examples of how this technology could be misused are numerous, all with staggering implications. The ultimate escalation of this would be the extermination of the first thing that crawled out of the sea, thus destroying all future generations of mankind.

The ethical dilemma that humanity will undoubtedly face is whether time-travel or temporal manipulation is contrary to the natural order of things. Will time be reduced to a child’s plaything? Or should we treat it with the same respect that we did before the discovery was made. Our decision in this respect will be the determining factor in how the technology is used and exploited for the benefit or detriment of humanity.

A backlash against this technological advance may follow, primarily motivated by religious groups, who have the most to lose from the exploitation of such a discovery. Indeed the discovery of time travel could be the nail in the coffin for many religions as they could now be disproved and shown for what they really are, sociological organisations of control.

Figureheads of religions could be scrutinised in the past, their miracles examined by science and their religious texts proved to be the work of sensationalist contemporaries, rather than their actual words. Religious opposition would be vehement in its desire to limit this discoveries use. However, this opposition will be overwhelmed in the face of humanities desire to explore the past, present and future.

Proceeding with the exploitation of time travel would have to be handled carefully from both a political and a diplomatic standpoint. New treaties governing initial co-operation between governments and ongoing relationships would have to be created.

To successfully limit time travel via diplomatic means, the greater definition of what time travel is and what is involved would have to be achieved. This may involve the creation of a scientific council on time travel, a body which could over time become a central governing body for the technology.

This body, independent of central government could effectively manage the use and abuse of time travel by humanity. Ideally it would be both created and staffed by scientists, but eventually as the technology grows so must the mechanisms to effectively govern it and people without a background in science may become involved. The agents, could administer the temporal treaties which are created in the various time periods in which they are abused.

This independence has a double usage, limiting who has access to time travel devices and could inspect countries to ensure that the technology is not being misused. They would have a similar job to the U.N weapon inspectors of today, albeit with probably greater funding and autonomy.

The recognition of the political rights of time periods is an inevitable consequence of the increase of usage in time travel technology. In concert with this increase would be an increase in black marketeering, which would have to be extremely well monitored.

Entire time periods would become off limits and free of manipulation, but obviously a few motivated individuals would slip through the net. New and dangerous words may enter the human vocabulary, temporal terrorism for example, maybe even a temporal war between opposing nations. The need for limits and checks to this power is never more needed at this point.

But maybe we are leaping forward in time when we talk about things like temporal war and terrorism. Let’s look at more of the practicalities.

A piercing of the time barrier is likely to be a very expensive and grand endeavour, both in financial cost and manpower used. That is also not to mention the likely huge amounts of energy utilised to produce the necessary conditions. The current, fuel inefficient society of the planet earth would not be able to sustain such energy usage for a long period of time.

But once the experiment succeeds, the danger commences.

Any incursion into another time period conducted in the strictest of scientific conditions is likely to leave a mark on the time period visited despite rigorous control methods.  Like ripples in a pond, the effect on the future could change the timeline significantly.  The only way to truly limit our effect on a time period is to create a force field that would keep us out of sync with the time period being visited. Then we could explore at our leisure, secure in the fact that there would be no trace of them when they explored.

Once the technology and our effect on the time periods visited can be fully controlled, the debate would begin about where to go in history.

The reflex action would be to go back in time and eliminate the evil individuals that have shaped history, like Hitler, Stalin and Napoleon. This would seem like the right thing to do, as it would save millions of lives and avert wars which cause humankind untold harm.  There is however no guarantee that this would work, eliminating one evil despot may create one that is even worse. The stopping of pre-existing wars may lead to more destructive conflicts. Evil individuals and horrific events that change history have to occur so that positive advances in humanities journey can occur. Without the Second World War, there would be no space program, no advanced technology no vaccines to stop diseases.  Despots need to exist to spring humanity into positive action.

Even the stopping of natural disasters would prove ultimately more costly, as disasters need to occur to increase our readiness to deal with them. Without greater knowledge of why these things occur the stopping of these occurrences is virtually meaningless.

If the stopping of world changing events is off limits to us another potential avenue of usage and one which may have less of a historical impact would be the stopping of manmade accidents. Accidents such as plane crashes, car accidents, and nuclear accidents would all be realistically stoppable in advance. Natural disasters would be harder to counter as we know so little about the causes of them, although an attempt could be made to curtail massive loss of life. The inevitable issue with this is how to decide what accidents to stop and in the case of disasters who to save. Is one life more valid than another because he/she dies in a plane crash rather than an automobile accident? By the same token, a person saved from a car accident could eventually become the worst dictator in human history or the other individual who was not saved may have cured cancer if they had lived.

 

If we want to greater anticipate the effects of changing history on a timeline we must have access to all the potential timelines. We must be able to view the multiverse as a whole. Only then would we be definitively sure that any intervention we make would not turn into something worse or better. But in our rush to understand time it could be suggested that we are attempting to play god and meddle in forces we have no business meddling in. Omnipotence gained too quickly could result in our destruction as we advance too fast before we are ready.

Not all areas of temporal incursion are off limits to humanity, but a non-interventionist ideology must prevail if we are to manage our timeline and prevent its contamination/change.

The greatest area of potential gain for humanity in its use of time exploration would be the expansion of knowledge of the past, present and future. We could travel back to the beginning of time and see the dawn of creation, prove evolution as a theory and gain knowledge about the formation of our planet. Exploration of human history alone could prove immensely valuable and complete the missing parts of our history. Myths and legends could be proven to be actual historical events, lost civilizations and continents such as Atlantis and the Mayans could finally be observed and understood. Combining the technologies of space travel with time travel, we could journey to neighbouring planets at different stages in their histories: We could see a fertile and green Mars, a thousand suns which have gone nova and the younger universe as a whole. We could also go forward in time and see how the story of the universe ends.

We could make contact with species in the past that existed on planets before our own was born and with knowledge of the end of our solar system and the universe, we could forestall the end of our own civilization. The temptation would be to save these species from extinction but again we are presented with the same ethical dilemmas’ which face us in the saving of our own species.  Why should they be saved and are we playing God?

Aside from knowledge gain, the industrial applications of time travel technology are limitless, trains could run better than on time, post could arrive before it is sent and diseases could be stopped in advance.

A humanity which becomes over dependent on this technology loses something, as there would be no place in this Swiss Clock universe for randomness and coincidence two of the great mysteries of life.

Following this through to its natural conclusion, greater understanding of time using the medium of time travel could result in us creating a world that exists outside of linear time. In such a world, would we become immortal? If time is not there to kill us, then we could truly live forever.

Such knowledge of the past, present and future would in due time enable us to usurp God.  Would we evolve from our new omnipotence, or would we remain the same flawed humankind which emerged from the trees those many millennia ago.  As with everything, only time will tell.

 

© R Simmons. All Rights Reserved.

What are the political and sociological consequences of extended space travel on mankind?

The exploration of space represents an investment in the future of mankind, the likely course of which will determine whether we survive as a species and our place in the cosmos.

But aside from speculating about the grand destiny that scientists often lay out for us amongst the stars, what are the practicalities of its pursuit? What do we have to do to become the interstellar species that we undoubtedly have to be?

I’m not talking in the limited terms of space probes and manned missions, I’m talking about humanity as a whole reaching into other galaxies.

The grandness of the future is matched by the scope of the question, but let’s keep it simple restricting those ideas to earthly concerns.

Extended space travel is likely to be an extremely expensive endeavour, if the current cost of the manned missions and unmanned probes is anything to go by. The budget of the US space agency NASA from 1958 to 2011 amounts to $526.18 billion, an average of $9,928 billion per year. While the budgets of other international space agencies are not as large they are substantial, it is a substantial expenditure which is only likely to increase if the extension of space travel extends.

Economies are likely to be stretched, with new sources of revenue required and governments are going to find it a struggle. The desire to explore other worlds will in its initial stages most likely be financed by the mining and exploitation of newly discovered planets. This is by no means a certain pursuit as we cannot definitively prove that these resources exist on other planets. Colonisation may become a short term experiment until these resources can be found and sustained.

As we do contact other species in the universe, there is the possibility of long term trade agreements with these species which would have the effect of enhancing the economies of the effected countries. There may be another side effect to this as the alien species may treat humanity as a whole and could struggle with the concept of nationhood. Trade between alien species and individual governments may result in disagreements and boycotts.

Additionally with space travel becoming such an expensive pursuit, there is the danger that space travel will become the domain of the rich exclusively. The poor may not be able to leave Earth due to financial restrictions. The possibility of the poor remaining on earth could reduce the base economy of the earth exponentially, but inversely it could create a more stable economy with everyone on an even keel.

As our colonisation of the galaxy increases, new methods of calculating time need to be devised to cope. We cannot afford to remain restricted to a 24 hour day, a 7 day week or a 365 day year. A standardised method of keeping time will need to be devised in the same way as it was devised to deal with the rise of the railways on earth.

Different nations may meet this in different ways, or an international effort could be mounted to meet this problem. New ways of mapping space would need to be devised in the wake of this change to ensure that travel methods adhere to the new time method.

As travel to other stars currently would take centuries rather than realistic numbers of years, the need to speed space travel up becomes more obvious. Longer term missions are far less cost effective than shorter term ones, but technology takes time to develop and longer term missions may be the only immediate way to proceed.

The chief sacrifice in our pursuit of extended space exploration maybe the nation state. The economics of space travel will necessitate greater financial co-operation between the nations of Earth and it is possible over time that the relevance of the nation state may decline to the point where it becomes unnecessary. Space agencies from different nations may amalgamate to deal with this co-operation and increased financial expenditure.

International institutions will be created to deal with this, with one particular organisation being ideally suited to deal with international co-operation in space exploration. The United Nations, largely toothless at present, could enjoy a political resurgence.

Contact with other species, central to the future of extended human space exploration would ideally be conducted by this centralised organisation. Individual nations can make mistakes, diplomatic negotiations can be mishandled opening the way for interstellar incidents. The UN could employ its existing arms to first contact scenarios with alien species.

Non centralisation of this authority could lead to diplomatic issues between nation states as they colonise space individually. Diplomatic issues could potentially lead to military conflicts in space across colonised worlds, with nation fighting nation over claims to other worlds. Vicariously, the growth in colonies increases the likelihood of those colonies seeking independence from central government. There would be a political question of representation for these colonies in the respective parliaments of the colonising power and this would most likely lead to a colonial government. The building blocks of the centralised authority could encompass independent colonies, in the same way that it encompasses individual countries on earth.

With the probable slow progress of space travel in its initial phases, it is likely that we will have to deal with problem of political change during extended travel in space. For example, a group of people travelling in a cryogenically induced sleep would not experience the political change of its mother country. They would arrive at their destination likely unaware that their previous regime had changed, which could cause a political schism and in all likelihood could result in a similar war of independence from the mother country.

The traversing of interstellar space also prompts speculation about what would happen those political and sociological institutions which remained on planet Earth. Diminished populations mean more abundant resources on Earth, although the pressure to export these resources to the burgeoning colonies in space could result in shortages on Earth. This could result in a socio-political backlash against the demands of the colonies.

Greater space exploration could result in a paradigm shift in opinion about the whole subject of exploration of space. The Earth could turn inward upon itself and become isolationist, shunning contact with other races. This isolationism could naturally progress into a form of fascism, predicated on the belief that humanity is superior to inferior alien races.

The implementation of a human first ideology could manifest itself in the terraforming process used to colonise other planets. It could be used harmfully where life exists in a different form, with the intention of exterminating the inferior species to make way for man.

Space exploration brings with it contact with other species and increased knowledge about the universe. Our knowledge of the Earth and the universe as a whole could become so changeable, so fluid that it becomes impossible to teach this to any human. Systems of learning could be devised, augmented with technological advances which would make it possible for a human to have a base level working knowledge of the universe from birth. This would aid humans as they colonise other planets, with potential applications in contacting and conversing with other species. There will always be knowledge gaps and areas where cultures across space do not understand each other, but the use of diplomatic and political institutions can support humanity to overcome these obstacles and build bridges.

If it is possible that this new knowledge could subjugate existing knowledge, then no area will more keenly feel this than the area of Religion. Most organised religions rely on us being born in the image of God, which is a concept wholly negated by the existence of other races in the universe.

The knowledge of this variety would undoubtedly reduce the relevance of humanity in its dealings with God. Encountering other species with religions similar to ours would relegate our religions to provincial belief systems and if those belief systems we encounter are more advanced and more readily provable, ours could be seen as arcane even primordial in its outlook.

On the other hand, exploration and encounters with other species could magnify the role of religion as those humans travelling to other galaxies look to anchor themselves to something earthbound.

Other species, whose form does not conform to the classical ideas of what alien species could be present ethical and legal concerns. Human law is written to preserve the rights of humans, it does not encompass alien species and their various cultures and customs. The human law can be easily applied to human colonies but it stops at alien worlds.

Likewise, the infringement of the rights of other species by humans in their desire to colonize space could increase to the point where we brazenly explore the stars with no moral compass to guide us.

An example of this ethical conflict could be a human terraforming project on a colonised world which encounters an indigenous species. Whereas on Earth, exploring countries have ignored the human rights of indigenous peoples, the indigenous species rights could be preserved in the laws of other races. The humans, unknowing of these laws would undoubtedly encounter conflict when trying to remove the indigenous species. Not knowing they were there is no defence in such an incident.

The moral and ethical virtues of travelling in space for an extended time could be supplanted by the physical and psychological effects of extended space travel. By physical, I mean the effects of travelling in zero gravity for years rather than months. This would have a detrimental effect on human bone structure and muscle tone, which is why you do not currently see obese astronauts. Long term travellers in space may not be able to return to their mother planet as gravity would not allow them to do so.

The psychological effects of space travel could be more difficult to spot. Space travel currently is a very dangerous occupation, which can provoke emotional responses which trigger psychological upheaval. Also there is the effect of longer term space travel on those individuals undertaking the mission. A long time in an enclosed space with the same people often leads to friction and outright manifestations of anger. Likewise the absence of people, coupled with no changes in scenery or environment could breed severe psychological problems which could manifest themselves during the mission or after. Extended time in suspended animation could lead to psychological disorders upon re-entry into the physical world. The current space programmes of earth ensure that their prospective astronauts undergo rigorous psychological and physiological testing before they can go into space. These programmes could continue with longer term space exploration but would need to adapt to suit colonisation as astronauts are not made of the same stuff as colonists.

Considering these issues, we have to also consider the other side of the coin. What if we get out there and there’s nothing? No species to interact with, just an empty universe with no species in it other than our own. This could have a highly detrimental effect on the psychological state of the human race or it could lead to us placing a higher value on human life than we do currently.

The effect this absence would have a hugely influential effect on the continuance of earth bound religions as it would add weight to the belief that we are the chosen of God and we should go forth into the universe.

Also the prospect of endless habitable worlds with no indigenous species would allow us to spread out into the cosmos, potentially just as nation states rather than a centralised power. Population expansion would not be such an issue as there would be any number of potential planets where the surplus population could be housed.

The human race is by its very nature adaptable and we have used that adaptation to become masters of Earth. It is likely that this adaptability will allow us to spread further and further into the cosmos as we grow. The practicalities of this long term travel would be a challenge, but it would be a necessary challenge as the human race cannot afford not to escape its Earthly confines.

Overpopulation, food shortages, the problem of war all will only get worse if we do not do this. To survive as a species, we must explore the stars.

 

© R Simmons. All Rights Reserved.