Journal: The Strange Case of Branching Time

I think of myself as a practical man, interpreting that “practicality” to mean that I need to learn what is under the surface in each situation. When I was a carpenter, I tried to learn all the tricks of the trade. When I got an opportunity to do electrical work, I asked questions of the other electrician on the project and I read any books that I could find. I learned how to repair the radio on the George S. Merton. I will not claim that I understood the deep underpinnings of these activities, but I’ve always tried to get some sense of the possibilities. And while there were always topics that I never had the time to fully understand, most of the topics made sense to me.

Time travel has been another matter altogether. The more questions that I asked about time travel, the more confused I became. The Arisa focused on what I would call “practical training” for Shepherds. “In this situation you take this action. In that situation, you should never take that action.” These were rules that had been worked out over the centuries. Most Shepherds simply memorized the rules, rehearsed them in various simulations, and allowed them to become second nature in their behavior. I was not comfortable with that. I wanted to know the why behind the rules and to understand the mechanisms of time travel.

I have over my years as a Shepherd talked with many people about time travel. With very few exceptions, people in Arisa are delighted to have anyone take an interest in this very convoluted subject. They will refer you to vast resources in the Archives. They will even setup simulations to help you understand the intricacies of traveling in time. These are people who are engaged in these activities because they have a passion for time travel. All that you have to do is be eager to learn. Well, it also helps to suspend disbelief. There is no way to think about time travel that does not involve treating one or more impossibilities as concrete realities. This journal entry is an attempt to get all the weirdness down in written form. I do not claim that I’ve understood all this material either fully or accurately, but, then again, I’m not even sure that it matters very much. I have traveled in time and I have been successful. Understanding the why is just the icing on the cake.

A Tremor in the Timeline

Let’s get paranoid! What is the worst thing that can happen because we have traveled to the past? The simple answer is that we make a change in the past that destroys or at least mangles the future beyond recognition. It could be a very simple change. We divert the path of a butterfly and it flaps its wings in a different part of the forest; that change ripples through the timeline and turns into a tsunami that sweeps away the world that we know. My implants kill infectious bacteria meant for someone else; a monster that should have died before he could affect anything, lives to destroy good men and women. We inadvertently block the path of a great woman; she walks a different way and misses a sight that would have otherwise inspired her to change the course of history.

Parts of the timeline are balanced on a knife’s edge where the mere passage of a time traveler might nudge the outcome one way or the other. This fragility is the source of endless fiction about time travel; the careless time traveler returns from the past only to find the present is profoundly different because of missteps in the past. The twists and turns to restore the situation to “the way that it should be” entertain us. But what is the reality? Is it really possible to change the past and affect the present? Is it possible to visit the past and not change the future?

And the answers are: Yes! No! Maybe! It depends!

What is Done is Done.

Before I became a Shepherd, I would have said that the past was immutable and could not be changed in any way. If this were true, there could be no such thing as time travel. Any entity (person or object) that travels in time must become part of the timeline to experience anything. Being a part of the timeline means that you can perceive the timeline and that the timeline can perceive you. You breathe the air. You eat the food. You excrete in many different ways. You exchange heat with the environment. Each of these and hundreds of other acts inevitably changes the past.

Since I have traveled in time and have changed the past, time travel trumps immutability. But if the time line is not immutable, what prevents a visit to the past from triggering changes that sweep forward to alter everything in the present? The “now” to which we return after a visit to the past appears to be the same as the “now” we left before the visit. Why do the ripples of change not reach into this “now”?

Imperceptible Differences

One of my early instructors answered this question, “Ah, such Hubris to think that the time line gives a shit about what changes our visits might trigger.” I remember this sentence because of the use of the word “Hubris” and the phrase “give a shit” in the same sentence. Having gotten my attention, my instructor went on to say that time travel into the past is possible because most of the changes that we time travelers might make to the past are of no consequence. If I, in the past, walked down a paved country lane with no witnesses other than the trees and the butterflies, five minutes later an inhabitant of the past could not tell whether I had been there or not.

The time traveler changes the past but the ripples caused by the visit diminish and dwindle to become imperceptible, just like the ripples on a pond fade away as they spread out from the epi-center. We came. We saw. We nudged reality. We left. And the timeline did not give a shit. This is not so good for our ego, but from the perspective of those who maintain the integrity of the timeline, this is a very good thing.

Obviously, a bigger “splash” creates ripples that travel a greater distance along the timeline before the effects die out. Some events are so significant that the time line itself is changed. But there is a problem. In the pond, I can easily distinguish between a big rock and a pebble: the big rock produces big ripples that travel a long distance and the pebble barely troubles the surface of the water. Simplicity itself. In time travel, it is much more complicated. Actions that we deem significant often have no lasting effect on the timeline, and actions that we barely notice cause big changes.

Who or what decides that one action is “more significant” than some other action? As we will see, this is not an easy question to answer. The answers are coming but there are other matters to attend to for the moment.

A Pride of Paradoxes

My instructors were very clear: any action that leads to a paradox is always significant. A man travels to the past to kill his grandfather before the grandfather fathers any children. Thus, after the crime, at least one of the parents of the time traveler never existed and, in turn, never spawned the time traveler. The time traveler could not travel in time, and could not kill his grandfather. The grandfather, unencumbered by death, fathered the progeny who traveled in time to kill, and so on. We have a classic paradox. This all presumes that the Arisa would be stupid enough to allow our time traveler to go back in time anywhere near where his grandfather was living. And if this particular paradox seems a little bit simplistic, we can also have a paradox of a time traveler triggering the war that destroys the very civilization that produced the time-travel technology used by the time traveler to go back in time to destroy the civilization that produced the time traveler, and so on. The appendix on paradoxes in the Protocols of Time Travel lists over 19,000 separate paradoxes that are to be avoided. You want paradoxes; we’ve got paradoxes.

The universe does not like paradoxes. The Arisa, respecting the wishes of the universe, also do not like paradoxes. But not to worry, the universe does permit time travel but does not permit paradoxes. You ask, how can that be? The Arisa believe in two possible answers, one unbelievable and the other weird and spooky.

The first option is that when faced with such a paradox, the universe tries to have it both ways by splitting into two separate universes. In fact, given just about any excuse imaginable, the universe splits. In the case of our grandfather story, there would be a time branch in which the grandfather lived, and a time branch in which the grandfather died. The time traveler would start out on the time branch where the grandfather lived, travel in time, kill the grandfather, and return to the present in the time branch where the traveler started. The time traveler would have the memory of killing his grandfather but the history of that time branch would show that the grandfather lived. The other time branch would record the death of the grandfather and there would be no one in that time branch to go back in time. There is no paradox. You cry out, unbelievable! But there is practical evidence that this indeed does happen on a regular basis. Feel free to ignore this but do not expect to be invited to social events in the time travel community.

The second option is that, in spite of the intentions of the time traveler, any actions that would lead to a paradox are somehow thwarted. The time traveler plans to go back in time to kill his grandfather but misses a critical train connection, uses the weapon only to have it misfire, or encounters any number of other mishaps that prevent the paradox. There are theoreticians that suggest that the closer the time traveler gets to the point where an action could create the paradox, the slower his forward progress is. The universe, the timeline, some unknown agency, impedes our progress toward committing the act that would create the paradox. Weird and spooky? Undoubtedly. But there is evidence that such things do indeed happen. The Arisa do not like to acknowledge this explanation but every Shepherd with more than a dozen visits to the past has a story about a visit where the “past fought back.” Experienced Shepherds subscribe to an intransigent past.

Let’s take a closer look at both of these options.

The Wonder of Many Worlds

The Archives are filled with theories of physics that seek to explain how the world in general and time travel in particular works. An oft-repeated notion in these theories is that the hard edges of our reality are really the soft curves of probability. The outcomes of events are only more or less probable until we observe them. An atom will decay radioactively in the next 10 minutes or it will not. An assassin will be successful in killing the tyrant or she will not. A battle will be won or it will not. Before the event happens, we might have a lot of information about the relative probabilities of each outcome. But our experience of the world suggests that once the event occurs, only one of the outcomes can actually happen. There is no ambiguity, no ambivalence, and no confusion, except in the minds of time-travel theoreticians.

The “many worlds” theories suggest that, contrary to common sense, all of the possible outcomes must happen. These theories say that when an event in the universe could go one way or the other, it must actually go both ways. If an organism could either live or die at a particular point, both events occur in some sense. The difficulty with this, of course, is that the organism must either be alive or must be dead for the universe to make any sense. The answer of course, quite obviously, is that we must have a separate universe for each of these possibilities.

Let’s take a look at this particular notion in extremis:

Somewhere in our universe is an atom of Cesium-137, with 55 protons and 82 neutrons that will, sooner or later via Beta Decay, transform itself into Barium-137 with 56 protons and 81 neutrons. Let’s designate the “before” atom as Celia and the “after” atom as Barry. We could say that a watched atom never decays, but if we wait long enough Celia will emit a Beta ray and become Barry. The timing is the issue. In the next second, Celia could transform or not. The same is true for the following second, and for all of the seconds from now until Celia finally becomes Barry. The “many worlds” theories, taken to the limit, say that for each of these possible either/or events, a whole new universe has be to be created to hold the two options. Celia burps and we get an entire new universe that is the same as the universe just before Celia burped except that Celia is now Barry. That is one small change for an atom, and one large change for the universe.

Obviously, this is an answer that comes from someone with no practical experience with engineering. One tiny atom burps and the entire universe salutes. I think not! And it is not just one tiny Cesium-137 atom. There are “billions and billions” of atoms just like Celia, ready to burp their way into fame and fortune. Burp and the world, scratch that, the universe is yours. This flat out does not make any sense. It cannot be true. But it must be true for time travel to work.

I can hear you out there, muttering to yourself, “Where do all of these universes come from? This sounds like deficit spending and we all know just how bad a practice that is!” The answer lies in three fun facts:

First, the universes do not actually come from anywhere. Each of these universes was here all along and it was only when Celia burped in our particular timeline that we were able to notice the “Celia burped” universe. What I want you to do is imagine a building with many windows. Each window represents a universe in a particular state. Window RJX-1456 represents the universe where Celia did not burp in the first second. Window RJX-1457 represents the universe where Celia did burp in the first second. We zoom back from the building to see “billions and billions” of windows, each of which represents a universe in a particular state. The “burp heard round the universe” in that first second causes us to shift our focus from Window RJX-1456 to Window RJX-1457. Because we humans are wired to see time flowing past, we see this shift as an act of creation. We only see a small part of a vastly greater whole. To the mega universe (the building that contains all of the windows, also known as “the greater whole”), the burp merely causes a bookkeeping entry to record the shift of focus.

Even so we are going to need a whole lot of atoms to fill up all of these universes. The second fun fact is that there is a whole lot of sharing going on in the mega universe. Take our two windows, RJX-1456 and RJX-1457. The universes in these two windows are the same except that RJX-1456 has Celia and RJX-1457 has Barry. It turns out that except for Celia and Barry, both windows are looking at the same underlying atoms. Each window provides a slightly different view of the underlying mega-universe. There are “billions and billions” windows, each of which is looking at a shared set of piece parts. The incredible savings from this fun fact lead to massive bonuses for mega-universe managers.

We are still “kicking the can down the road.” While we do not need multiple instances of Celia and Barry, we still have those “billions and billions” of windows looking into the mega universe. We can do better! Here comes the third fun fact. Think about this. Suppose that Celia burps right away or five seconds later. We need to have two windows to represent the differences between these two universes. Now, think about the situation ten seconds later (assuming no other events occur). The two windows are showing the same universe: Celia is nowhere to be seen and Barry is flashing a brilliant smile. There is no difference. We can collapse the two windows back into one window. More savings and bonuses for the mega-universe team.

Exceptions and Complications

If all of the above wasn’t strange enough, there are additional complications and exceptions that add to the weirdness.

Let’s take a look at the rule for merging universes. In simple terms the rule states that two universes that are identical at some time after the split merge back together to become a single universe. But there is a small discrepancy: the bookkeeping says that the two universes we just merged are the same but, at least for a short while, the two universes were actually just a tiny bit different. If this were just isolated to the two windows in our example, this would not be much of a problem. But this splitting and merging is happening “billions and billions” of times each second. Over an extended duration of time, adjusting to these minor differences can require some serious effort, in terms of computing and in moving the time traveler, to cut through this fuzziness to ensure that the Shepherd shows up at the right place and in the condition necessary to carry out the visit. Go back far enough into the past and the “noise” generated by this fuzziness drowns out the underlying time branch altogether. The time-travel machinery fails and the time traveler suffers an unspeakable demise. Thus, there is a limit on how far one can travel in time.

There is another wrinkle in how the mega universe decides what should be merged and what should be left separate. Obviously, as in our example, universes that end up in the exact same place are the same, even if the path to that sameness is different. But the mega universe is much more aggressive about merging separate universes that are essentially rather exactly the same. For example, if we have a collection of 100 Cesium-137 atoms, does it really matter which of those atoms burps first? Statistically, the answer is no. Apparently the mega universe agrees. Another set of universes bites the dust. Viewed through the lens of history, it appears that a lot of the minutia of history does not matter. In the end, all of the time branches are “essentially the same.” The more cynical among you might think the managers of the mega-universe are fudging the books to get even bigger bonuses but the mega universe is doing what it needs to do.

How do we decide what “essentially the same” means? That is a very good question that many generations of thinkers have worked to answer. The explanations, strange, bizarre and unloved, keep coming back to the need for humans to be observers. It seems to boil down to “if we, as humans, cannot see a difference, then there is no difference.” If there is no difference, then the two universes are the same universe. There are several more additional terms in the “fuzziness” equations, but that is a bookkeeping detail.

Irreconcilable Differences

But in spite of all of the efforts of the mega universe to suppress changes, “significant” events do cause the time line to split into multiple “time branches” that cannot ultimately be merged back together. These events have some fairly specific characteristics, in that the change has to consist of a “single trigger event” that either happens or does not happen. Let me give you two examples to show how this works.

In our first example, there is a small laboratory located in a large metropolitan area that has developed a virulent strain of plague. If the containment protocols for the plague are breached, either intentionally or inadvertently, a great number of people will die and the course of civilization will be changed. The actions of a visitor to the time branch could easily affect whether or not the breach takes place or does not take place. The (possibility of a) breach is a single event causes the time branch to split into two separate time branches. Glossing over a wealth of details, in one time branch a lot of people die, and in the other time branch they do not. Because it is a trigger event, the two time branches never merge back together. The split is permanent.

In our second example, we have two groups that oppose each other. The groups might be armies or they might be mobs of people. There is a history of anger and frustration and outrage on both sides. The recorded history shows that a particular person in one of the groups at a particular time and place used a weapon against the other group, triggering retaliatory actions that led to widespread death and destruction. On the surface this appears to be a single trigger event that a careful application of time-travel manipulation could prevent. In reality, the emotions of the day dictate that somebody, anybody, will use the weapons at hand. There might be 100 or more individuals ready to take the triggering action and the only question is which one will actually be listed as the initiator. Stopping one person from using a weapon would leave all the others prepared to step up and take the designated place in history. There is no trigger event. In a hundred years, the name of first individual to act will not matter. For a while there will be multiple time branches, one for each possible initiator, but the specific differences will diminish and the mega universe will collapse everything down to a single universe. Waste not, want not.

The Romance of Time Travel

There is none. At least, there is no romance that I can see. I have read quite a number of fictional books that focused on time travel. In those books, time travel is almost casual. There is some machine in the garage that is no bigger than a 20th century automobile. Or the protagonist wears some gadget that moves you through time. There are even a few books that where the protagonist merely has to think about moving in time and it happens. People are bouncing around from one time period to another with wild abandon. I suppose that each of these literary devices makes the author’s job easier.

In Arisa, time travel is anything but casual. First, time travel takes an enormous amount of energy to pull off. There are generators tucked away in the “backroom” that would dwarf the George S. Merton. Second, the actual “portal” which performs the movement in time is typically the size of several houses. Third, there are hundreds of machines taking care of controlling several thousand different factors that affect how you travel in time. Fourth, there are hundreds if not thousands of people who are performing research and constructing artifacts in preparation for the visit; the Shepherd does not go into the past unprepared. Fifth, there are a bunch of people who spend a great deal of time worrying about whether all of the above mechanisms are working properly.

Alas, lots of engineering, but no romance.

The Same But Different

The one known time branch with the capability to travel in time is home to the Arisa and is designated as the “mother time branch.” It is understandably, at least from the point of view of the Arisa, the center of the mega universe. All other time branches are derived from this single path into the past.

Travel from the “mother” time branch to a different time branch is more complicated than travel into the past on the mother time branch. The computations have to account for several hundred additional factors. And it takes substantially more energy to bridge the gap between the mother time branch and the target time branch. The effort required increases proportionally to the length of time that the two time branches have been separated.

Travel to these other time branches is attractive for two reasons. First, because these time branches have evolved in a different way from the mother time branch, there are interesting developments in technology and in art that can be harvested by the Arisa. Second, because these are different time branches, it is safer to visit these time branches than it is to visit the past of the mother time branch. Any mistakes that are made will ripple forward in that other time branch rather than the mother time branch. When in doubt, always play with a time branch other than the “mother” time branch.

Symmetric Reachability

The Arisa have cataloged billions of different time branches. They divide these time branches into two categories: first, all of the time branches that can be reached using the time travel technology available to the Arisans; second, all of the other time branches that are out of reach. The overwhelming majority of time branches known to the Arisa are out of reach and, thus, are only of limited academic interest. The Arisa cannot affect those time branches and those time branches cannot affect the Arisa, assuming that nobody has a better time travel technology than the Arisans.

There is a second subdivision of the time branches that are reachable from the “mother” time branch: those that have or might develop time travel and everything else. None of reachable time branches known to the Arisa have time travel. Most time branches do not have the technical infrastructure that would allow time travel to be developed. These time branches might be a source of art or technology that could be retrieved, but they do not represent a threat to the mother time branch. Then there are the few time branches that possess major elements of the technical infrastructure needed for time travel. These are the closely-watched time branches that worry the Arisa.

As if this were not enough, there are other things to worry the Arisa.

What would happen if the Arisan survey of the time branches simply missed a time branch that has time travel? There are billions of time branches that are known to the Arisa but there are not enough resources to be able examine each of these time branches in detail. Maybe, just maybe, there is an anti-Arisa plotting the demise of everything that is good about the Arisa. Add to that, the time branches that the Arisa have not yet detected. You cannot account for what you have never counted.

And what if there was a radically different time-travel technology that could not be detected by the Arisa? What if this new unknown technology could allow another time branch to reach into the mother time branch but the Arisa could not, in turn, reach back? It is difficult to see how any of the possible scenarios would be good for the Arisa.

The Arisa are seriously paranoid about some other time branch changing the mother time branch. The fragility of time means that a surprise attack in the form of a major change to the past would be devastating. The Arisa have visions of the reality shifting under their very feet without anyone even knowing that is happening: Today we live in soaring palaces, tomorrow we live in dank caves without even the memory of what we once were.

The Arisa know that traveling in time is dangerous. But allowing other time travelers to roam through time without the knowledge of the Arisa is even more dangerous. The fact that the only known way to detect other time travelers is to travel in time drives most of the efforts of the Arisa. It drives the technology. It drives the processes and policies. It is the reason why I and all the other Shepherds are alive. It transforms what could have been paralyzing fear into focused action.

Wiggle Room

The two metaphors that are used to educate new Shepherds about time travel are of a tree branching multiple times and of the branches of a river. Of the two, the tree metaphor is more accurate with the river metaphor being the more romantic. Each fork of the tree represents an event significant enough to cause new branches in the timeline. But each time branch is fairly wide. Consider a beetle crawling up one of the branches of the tree. As long as the beetle makes progress along the branch, it could wander from side to side and still end up at the same spot. Or consider the path that the current takes through a branch of the river. The actual location of the current within the river might change repeatedly over the course of months or years as sandbars and similar things shift positions within the river. This wiggle room gives each time branch a fair amount of elasticity that makes it possible for a time traveler to visit a time branch and not cause irrevocable changes. It is also this elasticity that eventually allows the time branch to merge back into the time branch that spawned it.

It is this elasticity that also allows the “active management” of a time branch. We make a change to the time branch. This change will either trigger a splitting of the time branch into multiple child time branches or the change will be swallowed up by the time branch as the ripples diminish. There is a possible side effect of the damped change. The change may prevent a trigger event altogether or modify it to be “less harmful.”

The Arisa cannot see into the future. They cannot see into the future on the “mother” time branch and they cannot see into the future of other time branches. It is possible that the mapping of the other time branch might reveal that some triggering event might occur in the future. In general, the Arisa don’t like creating new time branches. Experience shows that the split sometimes does not go as planned and that causes the Arisa, wedded to the need for certainty as they are, to avoid the triggering action. Just too much unpredictability for their tastes. Thus it is possible that the Arisa might anticipate for a time branch that the future holds certain possibilities, many of which are undesirable. The Arisa might introduce changes much earlier in the other time branch that would ultimately damp out yet at the same time rearrange the timeline so that the potential trigger event would no longer occur. It is a tricky business and one that is only used when there is a significant danger that this other time branch might develop time travel.

The Machinery of Time Travel

One of the things that the machinery of time travel does is to ensure that the energy and matter profile of the past remains consistent within certain limits. For every bit of matter and energy that is inserted into the time branch, an equal amount of matter and energy must be extracted and brought forward to the present time. When the time traveler returns to the present time, the exchange is reversed. The same is true when something is removed from the past; something must be exchanged from the present to “keep the books in balance.”

Resistance is Fertile

Did I mention that the Arisa are afraid of time travel? Their paranoia about being controlled by other time travelers demands that they have to travel in time. This need did not change their basic personality. If the Arisa could control an aspect of time travel, there was no question that the Arisa would do just that. Before any visit to the past, the Arisa want to have a detailed plan that covers every conceivable aspect of the visit. For every conceivable failure, there must be a planned response. A visit that lasts 15 minutes in the past might well trigger months of planning effort. Within limits, you can see every detail of the past. How could there be any surprises? There are centuries of data available on past visits. There are checklists that go on for page after page.

And yet, the flow of the visit doesn’t always follow the plan. Observational visits almost always follow the plan. Retrieval visits deviate from the plan with a little bit higher frequency. Manipulation visits, where the intent is to change the past, are even more likely to “jump the tracks.” The deviations from the plan are small things. The plan of the visit requires you to access areas behind a locked door. You have fabricated a duplicate key. The key should readily open the locked door but it does not. The plan has the guard 50 feet away and safely out of view when you entered a particular room. You never were in sight of the guard but he turns out to be only 10 feet away. These subtle differences are never enough to say that the mission was a disaster, but enough to cause the primary mission of the visit to be unrealized.

There’s always the question of “Did we do enough planning?” With time travel, there is always time for more planning. There is always time to look at everything, twice, trice. And if there is massive planning before the visit, there is even more analysis done after the visit to understand how the reality differed from the plan. If there were no significant differences, there is no celebration; this is the expected outcome of the visit. But if there are deviations, there is no end to the stream of people wanting to know why. Why did the key not work? Why was that guard out of position? Why was one of the hundred other deviations that compromised the mission not detected during planning?

And for each of these missions that failed, there is always some kind of explanation.

The lock on the door failed because of some previously undetected bit of debris lodged in the tumblers. It was only after the visit had started that the debris could be detected. Looking for that level of detail would have saturated the time branch and made the visit as a whole impossible.

The guard was out of place because he saw movement in a mirror that had been noted but not analyzed in the pre-visit planning. A slight noise made by the visitors caused the guard to shift his position just enough to be able to see the mirror and become aware of movement made by the visitors.

In all of these cases, there was always some explanation about why the visits failed. Try as they might, the Arisa could not anticipate everything. They tried to learn from these failures, but there were always random factors that could not be controlled. But in some of us, particularly in the Shepherds, there is a sense that the past is actively resisting our attempts to change the past.

Meditations on Eternity

As a final note on time branches, I offer this conversation that I had with one scholar, Ramashray. He was exploring the origins of the Bhakti movement within Hinduism. The histories were incomplete and he had convinced the Temporal Review Board to support a research project that consisted of a series of machine-only probes into the past that I, as a Shepherd, coordinated. The process was cyclic: because the records were fragmentary, Ramashray and his team would propose data collection over a likely period of time and geographical region. I would plan and execute the visit, ensuring that all of the protocols were followed. Ramashray and his team would spend days, weeks, or months analyzing the data and identifying the next target for a visit. The cycle would repeat. All of this meant that my involvement was sporadic, punctuated by the inevitable conversations where I would say that the data collection request of the moment was not consistent with the protocols, largely because the proposed visit overlapped a previous visit, risking a paradox, the resolution of which would cause the past to split. The Temporal Review Board would never allow that.

Ramashray was quite the philosopher, “You realize, of course, that we cannot ever change the past.”

I liked Ramashray and knew that he liked to be provocative. I replied, “That is not the story that they’ve been telling me all these years. The Temporal Review Board is quite concerned that we might change the past inadvertently. And since they are the ones who control the means of time travel, I have to at least pretend to believe them.”

“Ah, what the Temporal Review Board is concerned with is the perception of time, not time itself.”

Continuing to play the game, I asked, “I’m sure that there is some meaningful philosophical distinction to be made here, but I will be honest with you, it has eluded me completely.”

Ramashray responded, “What I mean to say is, everything that could happen in the past has happened in the past. There is nothing there to change and thus, there is nothing that we can do to cause or prevent a change to the past. But we human beings are limited in our abilities to perceive the fullness of the past. We can only focus on one particular path at a time. When we talk about changing the past, what we are really saying is that we have changed our focus from one path to another path. All of your rules and process simply ensure that the path that we follow out of all the paths that are possible stays the same. This is an anemic view of a reality that is so much richer.”

I replied, “Ramashray, this is a distinction that I’m sure you philosophers find meaningful, but it does not really change what I am obliged to do. The Temporal Review Board tells me that I have to comply with the protocols to avoid changing the past. I’m just doing what I have been told and trained to do. And as long as whatever you propose to do is consistent with these protocols, you are free to think about the past in any way that you want.”

The advice that I follow is to not think about the details of time travel very often. Time travel is confusing and prolonged contemplation leads to headaches.

Previous Journal Entry: Do You Know Who I Am? Next Journal Entry: The Mapping of the Time Line

One thought on “Journal: The Strange Case of Branching Time

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s