25 January 2008

What J-Fav doesn't know about Thanksgiving, 1984

Hi -

I thought I'd step outside the usual link-posting to share something that I'm not sure J-Fav even knows about me, which is the significance of Thanksgiving, 1984. You know, as it relates to time travel.

When I was younger, but old enough to know that my engineering mindset would land me somewhere in engineering/science-ville, I wondered for a moment about time travel. Since, obviously, if time travel became a common mode of spatio-temporal transportation, I'd be working at the time machine factory or have time-traveler buddies. (Look, I thought a lot of weird stuff up in fifth grade.)

So, the logic went: The popular press said that although time travel into the future is unlikely, perhaps one could skip back to the past. Somehow. I don't know how, something about spinning massive chunks of ultra-dense black cylinders near the mouths of black holes or something like that.

Then I wondered if I really would ever get to travel back in time.

Then I wondered if there was I way I could make sure to find out that I'd travel back in time, such as hiding a note near a landmark, or winning the lottery and saving the money for myself somewhere.

I finally decided that I would pick a date and location that I would travel back to if I ever had the chance, and meet my younger self there, and then as my (original) younger self grew up, I'd always remember that event. Since I'm bad at remembering just about everything, I figured the name of a holiday and an important-sounding year would be easy enough to reference back for a date.

So I picked Thanksgiving, 1984, in the town of West Orange, NJ.

Then I realized that if I was destined one day to travel in time, I'd be able to find out ahead of time - immediately - as soon as it was clear that I've fixed that date and location in my brain. Right? As long as it's after Thanksgiving, 1984, and assuming I won't forget that date, if I suddenly have a recollection of meeting my older self over Thanksgiving dinner in fourth grade, then I've proved that I will at some point in the future travel backwards to meet myself.

Except there's one problem.

There's, like, 100 places much more interesting to visit than that.

And then I start feeling guilty, because in 1984 I feel like there are a bunch of people I could run to and say very important things to that would change the course of their lives, and how selfish it would be of me to squander my one chance for time travel on mere tourism.

So, I suppose that it's insufficient for me to simply remember a date and place. I must still convince myself that's where I'm going, and not be seduced at the last second into traveling somewhere more interesting. Assuming I do get a chance to turn back the clock, I'd need to stop waffling about my destination if I want to know ahead of time if I'll get that chance.

In retrospect, this feels a lot less logical than it did in fifth grade.



G-Fav said...

Hey! This is future you! Two things: (1) get some exercise, I look like hell!!, and (2) short-sell Yahoo stock already.


G-Fav said...

And it's "then's where I'm going," not "that's where I'm going."

future g-fav, who can barely remember how to type on these keyboard-things

Jennifer said...

wow -- FutureGregg's wisdom saves the Gregg of today! Did he tell you to lay off the Slim Jims, too?


RLM said...

G-Fav, you crack me up. At about that age I was really into the idea of time travel too ("Back to the Future" helped that along significantly), but I never thought about it at *nearly* this level of detail... :) My question now is, isn't it obvious that you never do travel back to Thanksgiving 1984, since the you of now *doesn't* have a recollection of meeting your future self then? Or will you only gain that memory once the you of now actually makes the trip back?

Anonymous said...

Wait, but if you travel back in time, won't that cause a bifurcation in the universe of cause and effect? So take heart -- if your current memory doesn't include a visit from your future self, it doesn't mean you won't travel in time and keep your promise -- it just means you're remembering the time-track of the version in which you don't.

If I had a time machine, I'd go back to midnight and tell myself to go to bed.


GEB said...

Doesn't your own (1) commitment to scientific method and (2) fundamental conscientiousness, fondness of children, and goodness of heart dictate that you would certainly, being who you are, feel obliged to return to Thanksgiving 1984 rather than anywhere else?

G-Fav said...


I have returned, jet-lagged, from a week away at a conference. And now I see you local theoreticians are figuring this out.

These are good points. So we're concluding that perhaps I will indeed travel back in time, even though I won't "remember" it...

I am confused!

In any case, the jet I was in went fairly quickly. Perhaps I traveled forward in time a nanosecond, due to special relativity. Toby did seem a bit older to me when I returned...