I have always held the opinion that it is much harder to stop a bullet than to deflect a gun barrel before the bullet is fired. In other words, pre-planning works a hell of a lot better than post-planning. (Yes, yes, I know, neither is a valid word. But you get the idea.)
I have also come to the conclusion that damned near everything we are told is bullshit, designed to control thoughts and actions for some else’s agenda. This makes me very resistant to being told what I must do and must not do. Hell, I’ve been doing it my way a hell of a lot longer than any experiment and I can see the effects on my own body. It may well be that eating a single cheeseburger will cause a massive heart attack in some, but I have eaten them all my life and guess who is still here?
On the other hand, failure to prove that something does exist does not constitute proof that it does not exist.
All of this brings me to the reason why I am telling this story.
Anyone who has ever read a book or seen a movie about time travel knows the rules. Rule number 1 is that you must not change the past, so they all go to great lengths to avoid doing so. But tell me this; how in hell do they know exactly what they did previously, down to the level of detail that could conceivably cause a change in the future?
If they go further back, to a time before they were born, haven’t they ipso facto changed the past? How can they be certain no one saw them pop into existence and reported it as a miracle or Devil sighting or whatever it might take to cause massive changes to the society?
Then there is the group like me who believe in parallel alternate realities. I believe that every possible combination of every single action has/will occur in some reality, with whatever end result occurred due to the change. This is my concept of infinity. If there were only twenty different choices to be made, this alone would result in over a million alternate realities.
See what I mean? By the time you get to the breakfast table in the morning, you may have skipped through thousands of either/or decisions, although if you are like me then you weren’t aware of having made any decisions until you have had your coffee.
Which foot did you put on the floor first? Right or left? Did your foot get tangled in the covers this morning like it does sometimes? Did you turn on the light in the bathroom today, or simply leave it off and feel your way around to avoid waking your wife?
We humans and probably most birds go through life continuously making choices. If you don’t think so, then begin keeping a journal of every step you take. Even the act of keeping the journal is a decision you would not have made, had you not decided to read this story.
So, if we have alternate realities, what difference does it make what we do if we go back to the past? Would there not be a reality already in existence for each of the things we might have done? After all, if we do go back to the past, then it is history when we start, isn’t it?
This kind of makes my head hurt, but then I make my living dealing with things that make my head hurt, so what is the big deal?
Although my education is in pure science, my experience has all been in the practical application of pure science to problems in the real world, primarily those that can be dealt with through some combination of sensors, computers and actuators.
This experience is why my buddy Jake came by my office one day. He seemed to have something on his mind, but kept hawing and hemming until I could no longer wait.
“Come on, Jake. Spit it out. What has you so tongue-tied?”
“Oh, ok. I just didn’t know how to start.”
“Well, start anywhere and you can always back up if I get lost.”
“All right. You asked for it. Remember those discussions we have had about time travel?”
“Sure. One week we decide it can’t be done, then the next we we all agree that maybe it is possible, after all. Which side are you on today?”
“Uh, well, there’s this. It just showed up on my workbench. I have no idea where it came from or who might have put it there.”
I looked at the cover page of a fairly thin document. It said, “Report of the Committee to Investigate Temporal Translocation”. It appeared to be a few decades old, and sure enough, the date on the document was December 4, 1959.
“It just showed up?”
“Yep. I went out to pick up some beer and when I got back, it was on my bench.”
“I assume you read it?”
“I assume you want me to read it?”
So I read it. As I read, the hair began standing up on the back of my neck.
“You realize what you have here, don’t you?”
“It pretty much says that they worked out the theory and tested it on the fastest computer available and the theory appears to be sound, but requires that the calculations be performed much faster in order to become operational. Is that what you got out of it?”
Jake was from Montana. He drank coffee all day and whiskey all night, but wasn’t real big on chit-chat.
“Let’s check out the computational speeds they had back then. Ah, here it is. Wikipedia says the IBM 709 could multiply 5000 integers per second. My new $35 Raspberry Pi can perform 24 GFLOPS, or 24 billion floating point operations per second. This makes the RPi3 about five million times faster than what they had to work with in 1959. Would this be enough increase?”
“The report says that they needed a speedup of at least 100,000 times, which they regarded as inherently impossible. That’s why the project was abandoned.”
“But we can process numbers 50 times faster than that, so we should be good to go.”
“Yep. That’s what scares me.”
Since that was one of the longer sentences I ever heard Jake say, it sort of scared me, too. What did we have here and why? Where did it come from and who left it? How did they know we had discussed this?
“Yep, that’s what I thought, too.”
“I didn’t say anything.”
“I know, but you thought it. Where do we go from here?”
“Well, we have to build it, don’t we? Hell, I’ve got RPis lying around all over the place. What sort of peripherals do we need?”
“It looks like all we need is some sort of coil, sort of like a metal detector. We can use a terminal emulator for the control panel. I’ll do the MMI design.”
We read through the report again very carefully and agreed that we had to do it, but with extreme caution and double checking all the way down the line. Jake insisted that we video everything we did and save the files to several different media, including a cloud server we used a lot.
It took a little over a week, but then it seemed to be complete. We went over and over the report and our design, searching feverishly for any departure from the original intent, but could find none.
“How are gonna test it, Jake?”
“Why don’t you put the helmet on and I’ll throw the switch?”, volunteered my ex-good buddy.
“Bullshit! Is that the best plan you have?”, I asked, backing away and putting my back to the wall so he couldn’t sneak up on me when I wasn’t looking. Nothing in the report said anything about the likely effects of having done anything wrong. Suppose there was a bug in the code, somewhere? Suppose it turned you into a frog, or something?
“Maybe we can start with some kind of lab rat.”
“Maybe, but how could we monitor what happened?”
“Hmmmh. I don’t know. Could we rig up some kind of video recorder and send it back one week?”
“Do you think it will actually send the thing back or simply send some sort of clone?”
“We won’t know until we try.”
So, we rigged up another RPi with a video camera and set the controls for five minutes back. I pushed the button and nothing happened. I was getting a bit disappointed until I thought to check the file contents.
“Ohhhh, shit! Jake, look. The file has something in it.”
“No shit? Play it back and let’s see what we have.”
Well, screw me sideways, but there was a very clear video in the file, showing Jake and I preparing to push the button, then debating with each other whether or not something had happened.
What do you do when something you are pretty sure is impossible is staring you in the face?
“Damn, Jake! What do we do now?”
“Damned if I know, but it sure looks like it worked. Let’s do another test.”
“Ok. What do you suggest?”
“I want to try it with some kind of animal, but can’t think of anything we could get without spending a whole lot of money we don’t have.”
“When we show this to others, there should be a bunch of money available.”
“Ok, but what?”
“Why don’t we use Goldfish?”
“Hey! That’s a great idea. I’ll run down to the mall and pick up a few. We can just put them in baggies.”
While Jake was gone, I straightened things up and set up the controls again for five minutes previous time (PT). When he returned, we put one of the suckers in the loop and pushed the button.
Nothing happened. At least nothing we could see happened. Did it work or not? We needed a better test. We could send Freddie (the fish) back with a camera and film it swimming around in the PT, but I had what I thought was a better idea. At least it was easier to do.
“How long does a Goldfish live?”, I asked.
“How the hell should I know?”
“Look it up while I get Freddie ready to ride.”
“Sure, why not?”
“Just asking ... Oh, here it is. The life span of a Goldfish is 5-10 years in captivity, but perhaps 25 years in the wild. Damn! I love the Internet.”
“So what should we set it for?”
“Let’s put him back a year. Assuming that we successfully sent him back before, the process did not appear to be harmful to him. If it still looks to be that way with a one year PT setting, we can go back further.”
“Him? How do you know it’s a him?”
“He didn’t complain about equal treatment, did he?”
“You have reason, my friend. Ok. Here we go. One year PT. Go!”
Nothing seemed to change.
“Do you think it worked?”
“Shit! I don’t know.”
“Take another look.”
“Where did you put him?”
“I didn’t touch him.”
“Well, if you didn’t touch him and I didn’t touch him, then ... Oh shit. It worked, but something happened to him and he no longer exists in this reality. Is that what you think, too?”
“Looks like. Now what?”
“Let’s look at this another way. Have we sent Freddie back to his death so that he no longer exists, or did we simply switch our own reality to one where we never built the machine nor tried to send a Goldfish to the past.”
“That’s heavy, Dude. How are we going to work that out?”
“Stick your head out the door.”
“Uh, Dude. I think you want to check this out.”
I walked over to the door where he was looking at about a foot of snow in the driveway.
“Guess that answers that question. Did we move physically or in time or is this a different reality that has a foot of snow in September in Phoenix?”
“I’m not real sure I want to know, but there may not be another option. Is Christi home?”
“She was when we started, but it scares the shit out of me to think of checking to see if she is ok.”
“Sooner or later, it has to be done. Want me to do it?”
“No, she’s my wife. I’ll go first. Come on, let’s check it out.”
I led the way from the garage into the kitchen. There stood the cutest little cook I’ve ever seen, wearing nothing but a frilly apron and a big smile.
“Hi, Honey. Are you boys finished playing with your silly little machine? Supper is almost ready. Better get washed up.” She batted her big brown eyes at me and shook her long auburn tresses.
My wife, Christi, is just as cute as a Bessy Bug, but the problem is, Christi has short, blonde hair, is about 20 years older than this cute little thing and wouldn’t be caught dead wearing nothing but an apron in the kitchen.
Oops! BIIIIG OOPS!