Journal: The Teleological Aspects of Time Travel

The Arisa were not what you would call religious in a significant way. There were religions practiced in the world outside of Arisa but the Arisa themselves liked to think of themselves as very rational beings grounded in an objective reality. And nowhere was this truer than with the theories of time travel. Nothing would have made them happier than to have deterministic formulas that defined precise outcomes. There were just five inconvenient little facts that got in the way. Even after a millennia of trying to figure out ways to fold these five inconvenient facts into some nice rational deterministic theory, the Arisa kept coming back to what I referred to as the “God problem”.

A Thread of Consciousness?

The inconvenient fact about time threads is that they behave as if they are conscious of the intent of the time traveler. There is strong experimental evidence that suggests that the time thread is conscious and is aware of all messages that have been or ever will be sent. The mathematics of this phenomenon generate an infinite set of paradoxes. Machines that operate with an awareness of this “all messages are available” phenomenon go insane almost instantly. Machines that are designed to ignore this phenomenon and pretend that messages are only received after they are sent do not go insane.

Several time theorists have devoted lengthily parts of their careers to creating complex and elaborate theories to explain this phenomenon without invoking the paradoxes or the notion that the time threads have consciousness. None of these elaborate theories are as successful as the ones that simply assume that the time threads are in some sense alive and are making conscious decisions to protect time travelers from going insane. These latter theories have a significant “subjective” component that flies in the face of Arisan rationality.

Many Worlds

As I noted in a couple places in these journal entries, the Arisa subscribe to what is referred to as the “many worlds” theory. What this means is that when there is an event that could occur one of several different ways, the prevailing equations that describe the universe strongly suggest that all of the possibilities must be realized. In other words, the universe splits into multiple universes each of them realizing one of the possible outcomes. There is concrete proof that the splits do take place. The difficulty is that the formulas and the data collected by the Arisa would suggest that there should be many, many times more time branches than the Arisa have discovered.

I have mentioned the fact that time branches seem to merge back into each other. And indeed that seems to happen the overwhelming majority of the time. That merging would explain at least in part why there are so many fewer time branches than the formulas would suggest should exist. The difficulty is that no one has a nice rational deterministic theory grounded in objective reality that explains why some time branches merge back in and others do not. There are some empirical rules of thumb about what is likely to be a significant event causing a time branch and what is not, but none of the time travel theorists are very happy with the “explanations” that they have.

And you cannot get there from here

After a millennia, the mechanics of time travel are very well understood. Given a particular place and time on a given time branch, the machines can calculate in dizzying precision the exact settings for hundreds of parameters and the amount of power to move people and materials back and forth in time. There are things that can go wrong, of course, but the Arisa are cautious and have built in ample safety margins. If the rules are followed, then things should just work. Except when they do not. There are two ways in which the visits can fail.

The first is that everything is set up, the people and material are in the time travel portal, the “go to the past” button is pushed, and nothing happens. The power is consumed but there is no effective result. The people file out of the portal with puzzled looks on their faces. Subsequent measurements show that the time travel energy has been transmitted to the target location and time, oftentimes saturating the time branch to such an extent that no further travel to that point is possible. As with all things Arisan, everything about the attempt to travel in time has been recorded. That record is analyzed and then re-analyzed but no cause for the failure can be found. The best anybody can say is it just didn’t work.

The second is very similar to the first except that the people and material in the time portal disappear from the present but do not appear at the target time and location. In the millennia since the first use of time travel, nine trips have ended up with the people and material to be transported disappearing forever. No traces ever been found of any of these nine trips.

During the past 550 years, it has been standard practice to have observer probes in place in the target time branch to record the arrival of the people and materials. Five of the “disappearing” visits have been recorded in this fashion. The record in each case shows that nothing happened in the past. An immense amount of time and energy has been put into trying to analyze these recordings. An equal amount of time has been put into trying to come up with theories of what happened that would fit into the rational world of the Arisan. The problem with all these theories is that no one has figured out a way to test these theories to prove that they are true or false.

And fade to gray

As I noted earlier, the Arisa can detect billions of time branches. For those time branches that are reachable using the time travel technology that the Arisa possessed, the Arisa can know a great deal about each of these time branches. For those time branches that are not reachable, the Arisa can know only the most rudimentary of information. The sensors can estimate how long ago the split the created time branch occurred, but they cannot determine the event that caused the time branch to split. The sensors can tell whether or not the time branch was involved in time travel, and whether the time branch originated the visits or was the target of the visits. The final bit of data that the sensors can detect that is relevant to our discussion here is whether or not the time branch is still “alive.”

The sensors can detect changes in a time branch as it ages. This is true for reachable time branches as well as unreachable time branches. The ability to detect “aging” in a time branch diminishes in rough proportion to the distance back in time when the split occurred from the main time branch. There are some time branches that are so separated from the “mother” time branch as to produce no visible “aging” signals. In the rare instances where these time branches might be represented on a graphical display, they are always represented in a neutral shade of gray. Here is the third significant problem. There are time branches which are near enough to the “mother” time branch that aging should be readily visible. The time branch appears to age up until a certain point in its history and then it stops aging. It is as if people were living in a residence, turning on and off the lights, and then just turned off the lights and left. The residence is still there but there is no life in it.

There are perhaps a half a dozen time branches that are reachable, at least prior to the point where the lights are turned off, that exhibit this behavior. The Arisa have sent probes into these time branches. If the probes are retrieved from the time branch before it goes gray, everything appears to be normal. If the probes are allowed to continue in the time branch up to the point where the time branch goes gray, there does not seem to be any way to retrieve them. They go gray along with everything else in the time branch. The worrisome aspect of this is that all of the time branches (with the notable exception of the “mother” time branch”) that exhibit signs of originating time travel have all “gone gray”.

Where are all of the time travelers?

The final puzzle piece that doesn’t seem to fit into the worldview of the Arisan is the question of “where are the time travelers from the future?” The problem is that there is no indication of time travel from the future of the “mother” time branch. Despite a sensor history that stretches back well over a millennium, there is no indication that any kind of time travel from a future time has taken place. The explanation is that for some reason the Arisans in the future have given up time travel doesn’t hold up. To understand why consider the following: the sensor technology of 200 years ago is pretty much the same as it is right now. The Arisan have made dozens of visits in the last 200 years that should have registered on those sensors, but the sensor logs from 200 years ago have no record of those trips.

The “simplest” explanation is that somehow the universe understands that knowing that a trip was made in the future might cause some form of paradox and the universe decides not to confuse us. How does the universe know that we might be confused? Over the millennium, there have been hundreds of theoreticians of all stripes tying themselves in knots trying to answer that question and still hold fast to their belief in a rational, objective, universe.

And maybe the answer is that the universe is alive

The standard response to all of this is something along lines of, “well, we don’t fully understand the universe but if we just make our equations more sophisticated and perform more experiments, it eventually will all make sense.” There are two schools of thought that hold a contrary view of things.

The “mystics” believe that the universe is imbued with a consciousness that is directed toward some goal that is not well understood by human beings and perhaps never can be. The time threads are in aspect of this consciousness that leaks through into the human perceived world. The Mystics believe that the various time branches are experiments directed by this consciousness. The biggest problem with this explanation is that there doesn’t seem to be any way to test the explanation in any kind of scientific way.

The “preservationists” say that it is a mystery to be studied but that we should only travel in time if it is absolutely necessary. The preservationists look at the correlation between time travel and the death of a time branch and argue that any time travel is dangerous and should be avoided. The more extreme of the preservationists argue that time travel should be banned altogether. As a group, they are a bit vague about how you can study time travel without actually traveling in time. As with the mystics, there doesn’t seem to be any scientific way to test whether this is a valid approach or not.

There is an adage in Arisa that goes something like this: the mystics say the word God without thinking very much about it, and the preservationists think about God but are uncomfortable about saying the word. Neither group has a much in the way of credibility or traction. And yet there are mysteries that are not explained by the prevailing theories of time travel. The theoreticians hope and largely assume that some rational explanation will emerge, but there is that nagging fear that they have overlooked something that will ultimately destroy the Arisa.

Previous Journal Entry: Time Threads: Explaining the Inexplicable Next Journal Entry: Hermes Grossman: The Invisible Giant

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