[W]hen I read this simple statement, it was like getting hit in the face with a shovel. It was so obvious and yet, it completely jarred me out of my general perspective on life.
I cannot begin to estimate how many time over the last 4 decades or so that I had that exact dream of going back in time and doing something different so that my future (current) self would be a better version than what it is.
Which is nonsense of course, and a complete waste of time. Unfortunately, time (as we currently understand it) only moves forward.
Ah, time! It’s a funny dimension. About like gravity: one way only, and no backsies. I nattered about this in Doors:
“Hm?” The sound of her name pulled her back from the edge of slumber. “What is it, sweetie?”
“Do you ever think about…time?”
She shook her head and looked at him. Their lovemaking, as boisterous as it had been, had tired her out. Apparently it hadn’t done the same to him.
He’d assumed a semi-reclined, semi-sitting position. She elbowed herself into the same posture. “What brought that on?”
He smiled faintly. “You.”
She started to reply, checked herself. She knew her still-new husband was more thoughtful than most. His question was unbounded, but there had to be specifics behind it that she could tease out.
“I was thinking,” he said, “how much different my life would have been if I’d known you in high school. I never even talked to a girl back then. Do you think, if you’d lived up here then, you would have talked to me?”
She took a breath and tried to unscramble the question.
“Are you asking,” she said, “if Carol as she was then would have approached you, or if Carol as she is now would have approached you?”
“Well,” he said, “given our ages the first case doesn’t work, ‘cause when I graduated high school you wouldn’t yet be old enough even to be a freshman. The second case would require time travel. So I guess it’s a silly question. But I couldn’t help thinking about it.”
She chuckled. “What makes it silly? Lots of writers have speculated about time travel, haven’t they?”
He scowled gently. “Time travel is a ridiculous notion. For travel into the past to make sense, everything that’s ever happened would have to be still going on now. But if that were the case, there’d be no possibility of changing anything. A time traveler wouldn’t even be able to enter the past in a meaningful way, because he’s not there already.”
“Well, then what about travel into the future?” she said.
“That’s just as silly if not sillier. Everything that ever will happen would have to have happened already!”
And so it is. But speculation about travel through time remains a common motif in science fiction. Even Isaac Asimov, who was surely bright enough to have realized what Paul told Carol above, wrote a novel about it.
We seldom reflect on what Mother Teresa of Calcutta is famed for saying:
Dio adds a few thoughts of his own:
As BOM states, getting older, you get to see the ‘regrets’ a little clearer and you begin to understand that, no matter how many they are, they are what brought you to this point, right here, right now, and there is no changing that. What CAN be changed is how those points will carry you forward. Do you let them weigh you down and hinder your progress, or do you learn from them and improve. (hopefully that last) And you never know if ‘that one’ that makes a huge impact on the world will have been inspired by something YOU said or did, in passing through their small sphere of reality. I would imagine there is some primary school teacher that takes great pride in having been the one that taught Elon Musk how to add numbers. He is ‘just a man’ as they say, but his life has intersected countless others, directly and indirectly, and somewhere in there, someone had some ‘sway’ in how that man moved forward. No one knows AT THE TIME, when they are making an impact of that magnitude: it’s the butterfly wings creating hurricanes half a globe away.
…which is another idea I’ve exploited in fiction:
My self-imposed exile wasn’t for any particular purpose. Maybe it served one even so.
—No maybes about it, Al. You are not who or what you were. You’re far more. Some of it is invisible to you yet, though it won’t be forever. Just one of the unacknowledged laws of human nature at work.
—At every moment of your life, you are everything you have ever been. It’s all there, from the instant of your birth onward to this very moment. And it all plays a part.
Even the pain?
—Especially the pain.
Would anyone care to argue the point?
Fictional speculations aside, I’m grateful that God designed time to work the way it does. A time dimension that permits forward and backward movement would be a terrible temptation to far too many people. We’d obsess over our past mistakes and travel backward to correct them…then when the consequences of the “corrections” became evident, we’d go back again to correct them. We’d also travel forward to determine the consequences of our present-day decisions and actions…but as all events are both causes and effects, and no way to tell exactly how they interact, we’d never get that right either. Such an existence would be intolerable.
But with one-way time and a sharply limited ability to foresee what will come of what we do, we have a chance: to understand, to regret and repent, and occasionally to “get it right.” Time’s one-way arrow makes our fallibility self-evident, while simultaneously enabling us to learn from what was and to do better with what is. We can improve. That’s the uber-purpose of temporal life.
Mother Teresa was spot-on: We have only today. But today is an asset of great power and flexibility. With it, we can change the future. With forethought, effort, and a modicum of luck, we can make that future better than it otherwise would have been.
Enough maundering about time. The snow is piling up in the driveway, so it’s time to tell my strapping young son to get out there and…wait a minute: I don’t have a son, do I? Yet another bad decision. Damn!