Monday, 4 June 2018

The Butterfly Effect

Welcome to the next post in the series about the end of the world – this time concentrating on another silly thing that people believe. This one involves time travel.

Time travel is a concept that fascinates me and has done ever since I was a young boy reading yet another H.G.Wells novel – “The Time Machine”.

I have read several novels and watched a lot of movies that involve time travel and, of course, my favourite science fiction series is Dr Who, where the main protagonist has a machine that can travel back and forth through the ages.

Sadly, as much as I love the concept, there are usually gaping holes in the stories and plot lines. I can forgive most of them but sometimes struggle. Even the simplest ideas can be burdened with anomaly, paradox and contradiction.

I have written down three ideas for time travel novels and each one would be difficult to write, If I were to suddenly become a brilliant novelist overnight I would still struggle with the convoluted plot in each one of the three and would be constantly on the lookout for the inevitable gaping plot holes that would almost certainly occur frequently throughout the storyline.

One day I will have a go but it will be a scary undertaking.

So what has time travel got to do with the end of the world?

If you have ever seen a movie called “The Butterfly Effect” you will know what I am talking about. There are people living on the same planet as you and I who actually believe that the world could end because of the Butterfly Effect.

If you don’t know what I am talking about, let me explain. The Butterfly Effect basically relies on the existence of time travel as a real technology and phenomenon.

Imagine if time travel were possible. If I were to travel back in time and I accidentally stepped on a butterfly, killing it instantly, the effects of that one careless act could theoretically cause a massive chain reaction building up over the intervening years that would ultimately cause a chaotic event that could wipe out humanity and/or the entire planet.

It’s difficult to imagine the death of a butterfly causing such a catastrophe but if you think about it in bigger terms the possibilities are endless, particularly if a human being’s life was accidentally taken instead.

The reason most people dismiss the Butterfly Effect is that it really does rely on the existence of time travel. As much as I love science and the concept of time travel I know that this is impossible. If time travel were possible, surely history would be full of time travelling tourists heading back in time to witness history as it happened. If I could get my hands on the means to travel through time I would almost certainly head forwards in time to see what was going on in the coming centuries rather than going over old ground.

And what would happen if, say, a time traveller with a conscience decided to go back and kill Hitler for example?

The chances are that the resulting turbulence on the time line could prove fatal for the traveller. If World War II never happened, his grand-parents may not have actually met and he would immediately cease to exist as he extinguished Hitler’s life. Or the death of Hitler may end up resulting in the death of a brilliant scientist who ultimately produces the cure for a terrible contagion that wipes out humanity before he has found  the cure.

Brain-bending stuff, eh?

And what if the time traveller had met a younger version of himself? Surely he would have remembered such a momentous occasion in his past life. And would meeting a past version of yourself cause the entire timeline to explode in a paradoxical explosion like the ending of the movie Timecop?

These days,  time travel paradoxes are explained by alternative realities, so that if you were to go back in time and change history, then history as we know it would be preserved while the alternative history caused by you stepping on a butterfly would in fact just be an alternative reality that we would never experience. This was explained in Back to the Future Part II and it blew a lot of people's minds.

Thinking about this makes my brain hurt!

Anyway, enough of this nonsense – and that is what the Butterfly Effect is. The world will not end because of time travel because time travel is impossible.

Even Stephen Hawking agreed with me. He famously held a cocktail party for time travellers from the future, the theory being that in future if time travel becomes possible then any future traveller would accept the invitation, step back in time and attend the party.

Nobody turned up.

If I am wrong and there is a budding Dr Who out there, please feel free to come and visit me any time – assuming this blog stands the test of time and future time travellers are able to read it.

It would make a great story if it happens.

I'll write a post about it.


River said...

I imagine if Hitler got killed either back then or now by a time traveller, my family might never have left Germany and I would now be a fat, frumpy, dumpling eating HausFrau with many children. Yikes!

Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi River,

Not all Germans are fat frumpy housewives. :o)

It's a wonderful country and I can't wait to go back there and enjoy their fine Bier!




Dr B said...

The term, coined by Edward Lorenz, is derived from the metaphorical example of the details of a tornado (the exact time of formation, the exact path taken) being influenced by minor perturbations such as the flapping of the wings of a distant butterfly several weeks earlier. Lorenz discovered the effect when he observed that runs of his weather model with initial condition data that was rounded in a seemingly inconsequential manner would fail to reproduce the results of runs with the unrounded initial condition data. A very small change in initial conditions had created a significantly different outcome.

Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi Dr B,

Wow - I didn't know that. That explains a lot.