Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Grandfather Paradox

That's the absurd little story where you invent a time machine, go back in time and pop a cap into your own grandfather, so he ceases to exist, so you cease to exist, so you never invent a time machine, so you never go back in time, so your grandfather never ceased to exist, so you were born after all, so you invent a time machine, then go back in time... But! Nobody ever explains why the old boy needed to be bumped off. OMG, maybe you were trying to commit suicide, kill your family, and erase every trace of yourself from the entire universe? Whoa, is that panther pink or what!?

The paradox story fails epically because it never takes into account those things we already KNOW about the nature of Time:
  • One, the Present is always changing.
  • Two, therefore, the Future is always changing.
  • But Zero, the Past is intimately connected to the Present, so the Past is always changing.
If the Past is not always changing, then when you step out of your Time Machine to look up your expendable ancestor, you find yourself moving ghostlike through an immutable Past in which your old Granddad is sitting on an insubstantial porcelain throne behind a door of gauzy oak that might as well be fog for all that you can induce it to open. Your bullets might as well be neutrinos for all the notice anyone takes of them. In fact, aren't you up to your knees by now, in your slow descent to the Earth's core?

When you realize that Time is a narrative fallacy, scenarios multiply, and if you are honest, in most of those scenarios you've left your omnipotence in your Sunday pajamas. For example, maybe the past is sticky, and you're stuck like a fly in amber.



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