Should you change the past?

“What would you change in your past” is a common question, but often not much thought is given over to the morals of changing the past. This article explores whether we should change our past at all.

Turning the clock back to change history - is it a moral thing to do?

“A change in my past?”

I recently posted this link on the time2timetravel Facebook page. In that video the question is asked: What would you change in your past?

It’s an interesting question. Though I think I probably have a different angle on it – Do I want to change my past? or even, should I change my past?

I have two concerns. The first is fairly obvious (I think); if I change my past then my current no longer exists – a current which for the most part I’m pretty happy with. I had to go through some messy relationships, for example, so that I could become the person I am today who my wife loves. And have my children.

Evolutionary caution

Admittedly this the same argument that pro-evolutionists provide in response to the idea that life as we know it exists in a very small Goldilocks zone: we can live only within a very narrow window of environmental conditions – exactly the right temperature, atmospheric composition, gravity strength, etc..

The reason, they say, is that life evolved to fit into this environment, the same way that the shape of a puddle, for example, fits exactly with the ground on which it lies. Change the shape of the ground, and the shape of the puddle will adapt and change.

In a similar way then, it can be argued that my own evolution in time – how I changed and reacted to events in my history (read “temporal environment”) means that I’ve simply adapted to it and end up ‘placed’ in my present.

I met my wife because she’s the one who was at the same place at the same time that I was. If my history was different, I’d have been at another place at another time and met a different lady and I might have fallen in love with her instead.

My marital status, and with whom, has adapted in the same way as the puddle that’s sitting comfortably on the ground.

Changing my past then, means I’ll evolve into someone else who either won’t be loved by my wife (from now), or even won’t love her. Or simply that I wouldn’t have even met her. So no loss with a changed history as I’ll have some other woman (or let’s be conceited – let some other woman have me).

Even though my no wife may not mind (as the same applies to her temporal environment too) I find this an egocentric point of view, and unacceptable…which brings me onto my second issue – changing my history changes other people’s histories too – and I don’t think I have the right to do that.

Morality or mortality?

The movie “About Time” and a time travel novel I recently reviewed (Buckyball by Fabien Roy) both cover issues where children no longer exist thanks to a historical change. Not just different children, but actually not there. If I’ve removed their presence, isn’t that akin to murder?

The get-out clause is that these children never get to exist so who have I murdered? But…they already have existed (see why why time travel grammar gets tricky?!) so I still maintain that such a change in history would be unethical.

Am I being too strict here? If I change history then people die (or at least, never get to exist). It’s true that the other side of the coin is that other people get to exist who wouldn’t otherwise exist – but I think it’s pretty obvious that creating babies to justify murdering others has a very dodgy moral foundation.

Are we really in control?

Perhaps my issue is made clearer if we put the shoe on the other foot and rephrase the original question. Lets change it from “What would you (or we) change” to “How would you feel if the Government was able to change history?”

Or the military. Or your idiot next door neighbour?

Feel safe? I don’t. It’s a loss of control.

Whilst Buckyball is more to do with reliving history than changing or rewriting it, it does touch on the idea that your present can be taken away if someone else is in control. It’s a worrying thought.

So changing your past? Yeah, you can do that, but then a second later someone else might change theirs and that might affect yours. Better to go last then, I think. Better to wait and let all the chips fall and see where they lie before making any decisions.

Or maybe we should just wait indefinitely…

Of course, the above arguments assume that whoever is in control of the time travel technology is also in control of the changes and the effects of those changes. It’s easy to imagine a version of the present which we’re not happy with, whether it’s instigated by ourselves or by a third party. That’s been the subject of countless Hollywood time travel movies. We’ve been warned.

Personally, I think that generally we should take responsibility for our actions in the past, and leave the past well alone.

Living with the consequences…

But I also acknowledge that it’s true that sometimes we need to deal with the consequences that others have caused and I guess that this is where the grey area makes itself known. If some idiot politician orders an army to raid a town or village then why should the families of those innocent victims have to live with it? Then I think messing about with the past to harmlessly fix other people’s mistakes might be justified.

But that’s the time travel version of a first aid bandage. I like the Alex’s philosophy in Sherrie Cronin’s z2. Alex maintains that from now we have the capability of creating and shaping the future which lies ahead of us – and ahead of others. That makes now really important because it’s effects can ripple forwards in time indefinitely.

…or creating new ones?

I’ll finish with a quote from Churchill who saw history from a futuristic viewpoint:

“History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it”

Or to paraphrase: “I’ll write my present so that my future will be good to me.”

Shouldn’t we all just agree to leave the past alone, and concentrate on creating a new and better future?

What do you think? Are there morals involved when it comes to changing the past?

Paul

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Author: Paul Wandason

I love astronomy and science fiction, but I love my family more. So I love time travel too!

One thought on “Should you change the past?”

  1. I`m definitely going to be the last in line. Great article. Opens up a lot of thoughts for future conversations.

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