Monday, October 03, 2011

Rules for Time Travel(lers), by Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll, Theoretical Astrophysicist and Time Lord, has this to say about the possibility of time travel. In this article, he puts forth 10+1 (or 1+10) rules that prospective time travellers, guitar players with boyish faces, mad scientists with dogs named after mad scientists, and madmen with bitey boxes must follow. I quote his Zeroth Law here.

0. There are no paradoxes.

This is the overarching rule, to which all other rules are subservient. It’s not a statement about physics; it’s simply a statement about logic. In the actual world, true paradoxes — events requiring decidable propositions to be simultaneously true and false — do not occur. Anything that looks like it would be a paradox if it happened indicates either that it won’t happen, or our understanding of the laws of nature is incomplete. Whatever laws of nature the builder of fictional worlds decides to abide by, they must not allow for true paradoxes.

In this context, might also be worthwhile to take a peek into this article, as referred to by Sean Carroll in above blogpost. The bit about the botched suicide is pretty good.

1. A Botched Suicide

You are very depressed. You are suicidally depressed. You have a gun. But you do not quite have the courage to point the gun at yourself and kill yourself in this way. If only someone else would kill you, that would be a good thing. But you can't really ask someone to kill you. That wouldn't be fair. You decide that if you remain this depressed and you find a time machine, you will travel back in time to just about now, and kill your earlier self. That would be good. In that way you even would get rid of the depressing time you will spend between now and when you would get into that time machine. You start to muse about the coherence of this idea, when something amazing happens. Out of nowhere you suddenly see someone coming towards you with a gun pointed at you. In fact he looks very much like you, except that he is bleeding badly from his left eye, and can barely stand up straight. You are at peace. You look straight at him, calmly. He shoots. You feel a searing pain in your left eye. Your mind is in chaos, you stagger around and accidentally enter a strange looking cubicle. You drift off into unconsciousness. After a while, you can not tell how long, you drift back into consciousness and stagger out of the cubicle. You see someone in the distance looking at you calmly and fixedly. You realize that it is your younger self. He looks straight at you. You are in terrible pain. You have to end this, you have to kill him, really kill him once and for all. You shoot him, but your eyesight is so bad that your aim is off. You do not kill him, you merely damage his left eye. He staggers off. You fall to the ground in agony, and decide to study the paradoxes of time travel more seriously.

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