Today, whilst I travel through London's relatively empty streets, on this sombre, damp, public holiday, I find myself thinking somewhat speculatively about could-haves, what-ifs, buts and maybes. The world that is, the world that isn't and the world that probably never will be. The decisions I've made that led me here and the opportunities that have past me by. This train of thought, which is in no way, connected to my hangover, eventually arrives at the subject of time travel.
What would you do, if you could time travel? I mean, seriously? Aside from my own wandering thoughts, driven on this and other occasions by regret, I've asked many people this question as part of an audio podcast I was working on a few years ago. The question I would pose, is actually multi-part:
Would you go forwards or backwards in time?
Where and how far?
What would you do when you got there?
What would you take with you?
What would you bring back?
If you met a future or past version of yourself and gave him/her advice, what would it be and would they listen?
Unsurprisingly, the most common general answer is 'I'd travel back to last week with this weeks winning lottery numbers'. Aside from being extremely unimaginative, we've seen and read enough works of time travel fiction to see where the perils in this particular course of action may lie. From the classic movie Back to the Future to the more recent and darker sci-fi cult fave Primer and all the tales in between - time travel as a get rich quick scheme idea seldom turns out well, for anyone.
So lets put the lottery numbers (or horse race results or stock exchange history) aside. What would you do? While you think about that, let me tell you what I would do (other than going back to last Friday evening, surprising myself whilst I'm on my way to the bar at The Plough and giving myself a crisp slap round the face and a lecture on common sense).
Assuming I have multiple trips available I'd probably visit my younger self with some advice, ranging from simple, but cryptic things like 'don't step on the first cockroach' or 'don't visit a barber who has never cut afro hair and has chosen to name his salon the joke shop', to the more straight forward 'Don't let them talk you into taking that business loan' and 'It does matter if you don't spend Christmas together'.
Would I listen? Actually, I think I would. My younger self would probably reason that if older me is smart enough to figure out time travel, then I/he must know what I/he is talking about and wouldn't have made the effort without good reason. That, and, What the hell happened to my hair and waistline?
And then I'd go forward in time, far enough that I'd be dead. I don't want to know how things end for me. I want to know what happens after that, in general. What I'm going to miss. Are we heading in the right direction as a society? Is everything going to be OK? Or do I need to take action now?
Whilst time travel might not be a reality (at least not now), I do believe in the concept of parallel universes. Every time we decide on a course of action (or not) we don't just alter our path, we create a fracture, an alternate universe where we made the other decision. I think if time travel were possible, to go forward would be to visit the future of your current set of choices - the ones you are currently on a path to make - and because they haven't happened yet, you can effectively change them, with a little bit of fore-knowledge. I don't think this would break or damage anything that hasn't happened yet (unlike going back in time and trying to change the past).
Which brings me back to today. I wonder if there are other realities where I haven't got a hangover. Or do I have a hangover in all of them? Or none of them?
Yes, there may be realities similar to this one where we've all made different choices and regret different big things, but chances are the little regrets are still the same. The things that lead to those aren't strictly choices. They are just our nature and I don't believe we can change the fundamentals of who we are.