A measure of wishful thinking, birthed in missed opportunities, explored through the discipline of physics. It is a ‘real’ hope of turning what ifs into realities. Real but not realistic. Time travel makes some sense scientifically, yet the law of causality seems to remain a hurdle which renders this concept implausible – depending on what or who it is traveling along and whether it is going backwards or forwards.
I recently witnessed such a portrayal of time travel in the latest X-Men film, Days of Future Past. Characters find themselves in a dire situation in a time beyond our own present day, realising the only way to escape the inevitable fate to which they are doomed within this dystopian society, is to go back in time and interfere with the historical narrative they form part of in order to change their sombre destiny which, in real time, is upon them.
Time travel in the broad sense concerns both space and time. It is said that, “time can’t exist without space, and space can’t exist without time” and this is because space are three dimensions of reality, namely height, depth and width while time is a fourth dimension which some refer to as duration or ageing. The two exist as one (the space-time continuum) and any event that occurs in the universe has to involve both space and time. Through Einstein’s theory of general relativity it has been discovered that gravity does not only pull on space but also on time. This means that if a person is propelled from a given starting point at an extreme velocity, that person can eventually reach the place where he is ageing slower than those who remain at the starting point, exposed to gravitational pull under initial conditions. The fast moving person (A) ages only one year in the time it took those left behind (B) to age two hundred and twenty-three years, for instance. This means that he finds himself 223 years ahead of them within one year’s time and thus has travelled into the future. On similar but opposite grounds, it appears that A as the initial position could move back in time to a state of B.
That seems good as far as ageing or duration is concerned but as soon as one brings interrelated events into play, it becomes problematic. Could A have been directly involved in life events lived by B during their hundred year life time? If B moved to A in the future, is their supposed past lived in initial conditions still their actual past, now that they find themselves in A? Or otherwise put, do people moving between A and B have two separate histories or only one? This is where problems surrounding the law of causality, or cause and effect, comes into play. Once a person travels into his own supposed past, he interferes with the story leading up to the very future he just travelled from while physically living in multiple moments on a historical timeline. The logical inconsistencies involved become apparent and it is for this reason that the concept as a realistic possibility is often rejected.
In the X-Men film, the consciousness of a character is sent back in time to inhabit a (his own younger) body while his present day body remains in the current moment. (Those who consider consciousness a mere product of bodily functions would perhaps suggest his present body is physically recreated in the past; the two bodies thus simultaneously hosting one consciousness?) He goes through some trouble to convince his ‘new’ acquaintances, some of whom he is ‘yet to meet’ in the past, that he is from the future and well familiar with them and their destiny. He gets them to understand how desperately important it is to be cautious of their future actions, considering the consequences it is bound to have in the proposed dystopia, in which he now exists.
Events boil down to a moment where one of the characters, Mystique, finds herself in the decisive moment, trapped in the circumstances which led to their ultimate destruction as explained by the visitor from the future. She is now faced with a choice: act instinctively and do what appears to be just, abandoning many people to the future already foreseen; or, act in a contrary manner for the sake of obtaining salvation for all those doomed to suffer in the days the ‘man from the future’ foretold?
This portrays a real hope, alive in so many today living with the knowledge that a universal ‘fixing’ is needed. Some point to multiple past events responsible for our current and future fate as a global society, others to the human condition as the ‘event’ which needs rectification. But who will go/come back to fix it?
The Gospel testifies to a reality in which something similar to time travel is possible. It presents the space-time universe as having come into existence from an outside dimension. God, who is Himself beyond this continuum, spoke all things restricted to space-time into being. He is not bound by its restrictions and knowing the beginning from the end, operates from a perspective where He exists in the past, future and present at any given moment. Beholding the whole universe in the present, God looks from the beginning of time with perfect foreknowledge while looking back from the end of time with perfect hindsight. His entrance into the world in the person of Jesus of Nazareth is thus both an expression of time travel into the future and the past – when measured from our perspective, along our timeline. One can deduct from Old Testament writings that God began leaking His plan, to physically enter the space-time continuum at a future stage, through prophets from the past. Jesus, who entered space-time, existed before he made this entrance; in fact, he existed before space-time came into existence. Jesus also came into material existence from a future day, a day of intense anguish for many. The events of that future day are greatly dependent on Jesus’ decisions and actions while on earth. He eventually finds himself in a decisive moment, trapped in circumstances which will greatly influence the ultimate desolation awaiting many. He is eventually faced with a choice: act instinctively and do what appears to be just, or act in a contrary manner for the sake of offering salvation to all in the days he has ‘foreseen’?
What we know is this: Mystique chose the path of meekness, and so did Jesus; her actions bought a future salvation in that very moment, and so did His; her salvation is for those lives influenced by her actions, His for those who actively trust that his actions saved them; her salvation is temporary, His eternal.
“When you are courting a nice girl an hour seems like a second. When you sit on a red-hot cinder a second seems like an hour. That’s relativity.” – Albert Einstein
*apologies for any misrepresentation of basic time travel theory or Christian doctrines, please share corrective thoughts below.