The Zen of Time Travel

By Zeitgeist

Complied and Republished by Zeitgeist Institute, Vienna, Austria. Copyright 1982.

(The following is taken from "Spirit of Our Times," a compilation of essays from the late superhero, Zeitgeist. Here, Zeitgeist explains the relativity of time and parallel universes in the language of the layman.)

One of the questions I'm most commonly asked is if I can travel through time, why can't I just go back and ensure "x event" never happened or succeeded? The answer to this question is long winded, and fairly unintelligible to someone without a background in quantum mechanics (and even then it still takes a bit of explaining). So, I'll give you the quick and easy version.

First, when I change history, it's not "our" history. Let's say, for instance, I go back in time and assassinate Hitler before he can come to power (and believe me, I've done so). Let's assume our time-line is "A." In Timeline A, Hitler and World War II happened as normal. Now, when I go back and assassinate Hitler, a new timeline is created, Timeline B. Let's assume I leave from the year 1952 to assassinate Hitler. After that, I travel back to 1928 to give Hitler a quick shove in front of a speeding train. This creates Timeline B as mentioned above. However, when I travel to the 1952 of Timeline B, I find World War II as we know it didn't happen, but the Great Red War against Soviet aggression did. So, I decide to nip the Soviet Union in the bud, and decide to dispatch Lenin and the Bolshevik revolutionaries. So, I travel back to 1918, and with a few well-placed bombings, the communist revolution in Russia is halted. This creates a new Timeline, C. Now, I return to the 1952 of Timeline C, and I find that neo-Imperial Russia now controls continental Europe.

For whatever reason, I decide to really push it. I head back to the formation of Imperial Russia itself, and bump off Ivan the Terrible with a poison dagger. This creates Timeline D. However, since I failed to properly keep my germs to myself, I learn a lesson in unintended consequences. I find the 1952 flu, which was a minor bug I just got over, swept through Europe and made the Black Death look like a walk in the park. I return to 1952 of Timeline D, and I find the world is completely different, since Islamic and Buddhist missionaries converted Europe after the Great Flu wiped out most of the population. As a result, the New World was discovered by a completely different set of explorers from a completely different set of nations. The one thing that does remain constant is the near-extermination of the natives by metal-clad, gun-toting foreigners who bring strange germs with them.

(As an aside, I've seen time-lines where the American Indians colonize Europe and Asia, so don't be too quick to point that finger at other ethnic groups and nationalities. Racist hatred is what lead into WWII and got us into this whole time traveling situation in the first place.)

However, I assume you might want to know why I'm not stranded in some alternative timeline (such as B, C, or D). Due to the nature of my powers, I can create what I refer to as a "temporal anchor." My anchor is normally the place, year, and time-line I start out from. The anchor is not a device nor location, but merely a memory I call on in case of failure. For obvious reasons, I normally have this reality as my temporal anchor. So, in the case of the previous example, Timeline A in the year 1952 is my temporal anchor. So, after killing Hitler, the Bolsheviks, and most of medieval Europe, I can return home like nothing ever happened. Now, this is where a key idea comes across. The further back you create a divergent timeline, the more bizarre the "present" will be.

There are a number of subtle dangers with time travel. The first one is something known as orbital displacement. Essentially, as time goes on, the planet Earth rotates and orbits around the sun. So, you must also calculate the location on Earth relative to where it will be in the era you want to travel to. Unless you'd like to end up in the void of space or in the crust of the Earth, it's always a good idea to plan for orbital displacement.

Another key fact is something we know thanks to Einstein. Perhaps unsurprisingly, time travel is an effective way to show the true relativity of time. Time often flows differently in parallel universes relative to ours. For instance, a year might pass in a different timeline, but upon returning to the temporal anchor I started from, I find only a second has passed. There are times when the reverse is true, but such phenomena has been too erratic (and mercifully rare) for me to comment extensively on it. After all, nothing stinks more than stepping out of time for a quick look into the past, then returning to find out a year's passed in your absence.

In conclusion, time travel is a lot more complicated than hopping into a machine and twisting the dial for the era I desire. Because of relativity and the creation of different timelines, I cannot change history as we know it. The closest I can come is to change history relative to the way someone else knows it. So, before you become judgmental on abilities you do not understand, please look deeper into the issue. Plenty of unpleasant things in life can be avoided by reading the fine print. What is true in time traveling is true in other pursuits, as well.