September 1998
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Time Travel: Fact or Fiction?

or how I misplaced my flux capacitor

By Jason Morrison

Recently I was eating lunch with my friend Ben when another person walked up.

"Hi Ben," Ben said.

"Oh, hi Ben," the new person replied.

The funny thing was, this other Ben looked just like the original Ben, only taller and older. When I remarked about this, Ben joked, "Oh, that was me, from the future. I like to ask him about things that will happen to me that already happened to me (him)."

That got me to thinking about how funny, but surprisingly scientific, some movies like Back to the Future and Time Cop are, and about the time machine I used to have. The thing about these kinds of movies is, though they are entertaining, fast-paced and heart warming like most action films, they also hit pretty close to the mark when it comes to the facts about time travel.

For instance, in Time Cop they say you shouldn't touch your past or future self, because matter can not occupy the same space at the same time. In the movie, if you do, (even if you're Jean-Claude Van Damme) you both explode. That's partially true when it comes to time travel. Though I've shaken hands with my future or former self many times in the course of my travels, neither I nor myself have ever exploded because of it.

That's mainly because matter avoids occupying the same space by either (A), bumping in to it in the case of solids or (B) flowing around it in the case of fluids. However, it is true that if you and your former or future self are compressed into the same space--by a large vice or giant C-clamp, for instance--you will both rupture and effectively explode, throwing guts everywhere.

In Back to the Future they make a big deal about going back in time and interfering with you're parents. If they die, or don't get together, then you never existed. That's why my favorite joke is to go back in time and kill my grandparents, AFTER they've already given birth to my parents. That's not a paradox.

Ben said his favorite joke would be to shoot his grandparents after they've given birth to his parents in front of little-kid versions of his parents. Thank goodness he's never had a time machine; Ben is often irresponsible like this.

So anyway, the most fun thing to do with a time machine is to visit your future or former self. It is stupid to visit yourself from 5 minutes in the past or future, but many a smarty-pants has suggested those destinations to me. This is why only very few people are allowed to have time machines. Ben suggested I could visit myself from the present one time, and I told him that was impossible. After all, there's only one me at any given time, and the me that is me constantly occupies the present so there can't be another one there for me to meet. But then Ben explained that he meant I from, say, 4 years ago should hop on up and visit me from now. "That's a good idea," I said. "I'll send my time machine back to me now."

I must never have gotten it when I was 15, because I never came and returned it to me nor did I automatically have it from then. Though even if I had had it from then, I still sent it away already so I wouldn't have it now anyway.


One time, thinking it would be interesting to see myself older, I traveled forward in time 35 years to talk to a 54-year-old me. There he was, balding and wearing glasses when I showed up. Since he was surprised to see me, I must have been the first me to get the idea of going to see him, or else he'd have will remembered doing it himself.

"How's it going, Jason," he asked. "So how do I shape up? Am I all you expected to be when you're just past middle age? I've accomplished a lot, I have a loving family and expect to live another 35 years, no problem. What do you think?"

"Glasses are like nerd detectors but reversed," I said. "Instead of using them to see nerds, nerds use them to see." I'm not sure why I was so mean to my future self, but I've always been my harshest critic, and apparently always will be.

The future me was crushed. Imagine the psychological impact of a physical embodiment of both your own intellectual potential and your lost youth and physical vigor telling you you're a nerd. He (I) lost it completely.

"I'm a nerd, huh?" He pulled out a gun. "Who's the nerd now?"

I calmly explained to him that he couldn't shoot me, because then he would have died 35 years ago, and never been able to shoot me (himself). Then my wry facade face melted and I laughed and laughed and laughed.

"You think you're so funny, smart and great," he said. "I know, because I did 35 years ago, too. Well, how about this, smart guy? It is now 5:03 p.m., May 3, 2033. From now on, no matter what you do, you'll know you're going to die at 5:03 p.m., May 3, 2033." He then shot himself in the head, killing me instantly in exactly 35 years.

I had outsmarted myself once again. Now, I forever have this date hanging over my head. Didn't Poe or Kafka write a story about this once? Maybe it was a "Twilight Zone" episode. Well, if you haven't seen it, believe me-it isn't funny to know exactly when you're going to die.

I miss my time machine. I hope someday it comes back to me, or I come back to it or I show up at my door one day with my time machine and something really neat from the future, like futuristic food pills that are small but make you feel as full as a four-course dinner. Until then, I'll have to console myself with the fact that although I can't have any of those food pills until 2024, there's still lots of oil around to make gas for my car.

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