Sunday, 31 December 2017

Me, You And Timeline 2

Here (maybe) is a subtler alternative history. Call our history timeline 1, then imagine timeline 2 diverging from timeline 1 only at the moment of my conception. (Everyone substitute "your" for "my.") The two cosmic histories are identical until that moment. Genetically, I am the same individual. However, for some (possibly random) reason, as soon I begin to form as a psychophysical organism, different neural connections occur within my brain. My timeline 2 personality is the opposite of my timeline 1 personality. Here, everyone has to imagine a different scenario for themselves. In Indian philosophy, this would be explained as the inheritance of a different set of karmic consequences.

In timeline 2, I would be extroverted, confident, ambitious, focused, directed, successful and influential. My life and career would diverge completely although, at least initially, global history would proceed exactly as in timeline 1. In timeline 2, I might or might not, over time, have a global impact.

An additional fictional premise could be a mental transference between the two versions of me. The timeline 2 persona, maybe owning and directing an international corporation, seems to have a mental breakdown because suddenly he has acquired the memories and sense of personal identity from timeline 1.

I am aware that my life would have been different if I had been different even if everything else had been the same. A point of such fiction would be to reflect on that. Also, we cannot change our personalities by an act of will. A lifetime might be necessary just to understand the limitations and blind spots of whatever personality we happen to have. Also, a hypothetical being with control of our genes and neurons could have brought it about that we were completely different people from the beginning. By doing this, He would in no way interfere with any free choices or decisions that we were going to make as soon as we became able to do so but He could nevertheless have brought it about that we were the sorts of people who would never even consider any actions that were violent, uncompassionate, dishonest etc. Thus, the "free will" theodicy is inadequate. I did not set out to make this point but one philosophical concept always entails others.

Saturday, 30 December 2017

Alternative St Paul

Continued from St Paul.

Example (ii): St Paul converts Gentiles but also accepts that they must become Jews before they become Christians.

Result: A smaller Jewish Christian Church that would not be able to unify the Roman Empire unless it had a further split. Every alternative generates others and I cannot imagine the timeline beyond that point.

Example (iii): Paul believed that Jesus' return was imminent. How might this idea be used in fiction? A fantasy novel in which Jesus did return? That would be an alternative history and definitely not a time travel story.

Causality violation can transform time travel into alternative history, e.g., in two installments of Poul Anderson's Time Patrol series. However, many alternative histories are independent of time travel, especially those in which magic works or the supernatural exists, e.g., in Anderson's two Operation... volumes.

Friday, 29 December 2017

St. Paul

Thought experiment:

consider a pivotal historical figure;
imagine that he was not born, died young or lived differently;
then imagine how history would have diverged as a result;
this is the premise of an alternative history or time travel story and a potential case for Poul Anderson's Time Patrol. See Who Makes History?


no Saul of Tarsus;
Christianity remains a small Jewish sect based in Jerusalem, worshiping in the Temple and led by James the brother of Jesus as well as by Peter and other original disciples of Jesus;
this sect ceases when Jerusalem and the Temple are destroyed.

Petrine Christianity was a Jewish sect, worshiping in the Temple and expecting Jesus to return soon to rule the world as Messiah from Jerusalem but that did not happen. When Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed in 70 AD, most Petrine Christians reverted to orthodox Judaism. That could have been the end of the matter. However, meanwhile, Paul had founded Gentile Christianity.
-copied from here.

My sources on Paul are:

Karen Armstrong, The First Christian: St. Paul's Impact On Christianity (London, 1983);
E.P. Sanders, Paul: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 2001).

I will reread these works for any further suggestions towards alternative history.

Who Makes History?

Marx wrote that men make their own history but not in circumstances of their own choosing. See here. He meant men collectively, not individually.

Archimedes claimed that, from a fixed point, with a long enough lever, he would be able to move the earth. See here.

Both were correct. History is collective human activity and individuals, like cogs, can move masses. An individual can redirect a political party that can lead a class that can change a country that can transform international alliances and the world economy. Lenin succeeded so far but was knocked back.

This is relevant to the idea of time travel. See Individuals. I hope to post on the extent of the contribution of Saul/Paul. See Sacrifice And Resurrection In Faith And Fiction.

Monday, 31 July 2017

A Few More Details In The Time Machine

See A Few Details In The Time Machine.

One detail that I missed before was the detailed description of the model Time Machine:

"The thing the Time Traveller held in his hand was a glittering metallic framework, scarcely larger than a clock, and very delicately made. There was ivory in it, and some transparent crystalline substance."
-HG Wells, The Time Machine (London, 1973), Chapter 2, p. 13.

On closer inspection, that description is not very detailed but it gives that impression. It is appropriate that this hand-held Time Machine is compared to a clock, that it contains an exotic substance, ivory, and that the transparent crystalline substance remains unidentified. We know something of what the Time Machine looks like but not, of course, how it works.

But every description in The Time Machine is appropriate:

the substantial-seeming full-size Time Machine is unstable, swaying like a branch in the wind;
the model looks "'...singularly askew...'" (p. 14) and one part of it seems unreal;
the ruddy sunset sets the Time Traveller's mind on the sunset of mankind. (Chapter 6, p. 37)

Another detail is the eclipse in Chapter 14, "The Further Vision." The day darkens as a concavity grows across the curve of the large red sun which is now motionless on the horizon:

"'Either the moon or the planet Mercury was passing across the sun's disk. Naturally, at first I took it to be the moon, but there is much to incline me to believe that what I really saw was an inner planet passing very near to the earth.'" (p. 94)

But Mercury would have to pass very close to cover the entire swollen solar disk as it proceeds to do. And what inclines the Time Traveller to believe that this was not the moon? Earth now has one face to the sun so maybe that is enough to indicate that the moon is not there any more? Here, the experience of Poul Anderson's Martin Saunders closely parallels that of Wells' Time Traveller:

"Saunders looked out on a bare mountain scene, grim as the Moon - but the Moon had long ago fallen back toward its parent world and exploded into a meteoric rain. Earth faced its primary now; its day was as long as its year. Saunders saw part of the sun's huge blood-red disc shining wanly."
-Poul Anderson, "Flight to Forever" IN Anderson, Past Times (New York, 1984), pp. 207-288 AT p. 284.

Wells wrote about the Time Traveller and his Time Machine. Wells' successors, including Anderson, write about time travellers and their time machines. Heinlein wrote the Future History. Heinlein's successors, including Anderson, write future histories. (Of course, Wells and Stapledon also wrote future histories but on a different model.)

One more detail:

the Time Traveller fancies that he sees a black object flopping about on the beach of the salt Dead Sea;
rereading, we remember that there was such a flopping object;
then he judges that the object is motionless and is a mere rock;
we think that we were mistaken to remember a moving object;
then, after a while, he sees that it is indeed moving, like a tentacled football;
it is the last thing that he sees before he returns home.

Did Wells deliberately write that passage in such a way that anyone reading the text for a second time would think that he had been mistaken but would then rediscover the fitfully hopping object, " against the weltering blood-red water..."? (p. 95) Probably not.

Interminable Voyage

The text in this image is an abridgement of lines in HG Wells, The Time Machine (London, 1973), Chapter 2, pp. 13-14.

" was the Psychologist himself who sent forth the model Time Machine on its interminable voyage." (p. 14)

When Time Patrolman Keith Denison is captured by some locals in ancient Persia, he kicks his "brazen horse"/timecycle into time-drive and later explains to his Patrol rescuer:

"'That's why the search party didn't find the thing. It was only a few hours in this century, then it probably went clear back to the Beginning.'"
-Poul Anderson, "Brave To Be A King" IN Anderson, Time Patrol (Riverdale, NY, 2006), pp. 55-112 AT p. 83.

Thus, both the model Time Machine and one Time Patrol timecycle are launched on an "interminable voyage." Neither can return because neither has a passenger able to control it. However, when the Time Machine travels from one Thursday in 1895 to a day in 802,701, it passes through every intervening time whereas a timecycle disappears at one set of spatiotemporal coordinates and appears at another so I think that Denison would have had to punch in a specific destination although he might not have noticed what it was.

On p. 14, the Time Traveller points out that "'...this lever...'" sends the model machine into the future whereas "'...this other...'" lever reverses its motion. He says that he will send the model into the future, then guides the Psychologist's hand to press the appropriate lever. However, on p. 15, he is not sure whether the model has gone into the past or the future.

The model Time Machine resembles the Time Patrol message shuttles which can be sent to specific coordinates.

The model:

"'...looks singularly askew...'" (p. 14);
has an oddly twinkling bar that seems somehow unreal.

Somehow unreal because it is not fully present in the here and now or because the notion of time travel is unrealistic? One of James Blish's names for an FTL drive is "the Imaginary Drive."

Round Trips II

See Round Trips.

The Time Machine is an inexhaustible text. See recent posts on this blog and on Poul Anderson Appreciation.

If I travel from Lancaster to York and back, then that is a "round trip" and its distance has to be exactly twice the length of the one way trip in either direction, whereas, if I travel from Lancaster to Lancaster around the circumference of the Earth, is that also a "round trip"? It is both round and a trip but not a "round trip" in the sense of to another destination and back again. In fact, it is considerably longer. And a round trip from Lancaster to Lancaster and back again would be twice the circumference of the Earth.

I ask this because time travel fiction presents both kinds of "trip." The Time Traveller visits the far future and returns to the late nineteenth century whereas Poul Anderson's Martin Saunders in "Flight to Forever" travels from 1973 to 1973 around the circle of time. Anderson goes further than Wells: not only to the transformation of the sun into a red giant and to the end of all life on Earth but also to the end of the universe and even beyond that. "Flight to Forever" and other time travel works by Anderson should be read after The Time Machine.