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Bootstrap Theory

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Bootstrap Theory

Back in 2009, Stephen Hawking threw a party for time travellers, complete with a buffet, balloons, and chilled champagne. He waited for his guests to arrive, but ultimately no one came… After all, he’d sent out the invitations only after he had thrown the party. Hawking saw this as proof that time travel didn’t exist, but couldn’t deny throughout his career that it may be possible. Time travel is one of the most popular modern sci-fi tropes around, present in series ranging from “Harry Potter” to “Doctor Who”, “Star Trek” and more. However, the concept of travelling in time via mechanical means was first popularized more than a century ago in 1895 by HG Wells’ novel “The Time Machine”. Though it may seem like it belongs only in fiction, however, time travel is scientifically plausible, and in fact, technically does already exist. That’s because Einstein's theory of Special Relativity explains that time is subjective and can speed up or slow down depending on how fast you’re going. So, if you travel near the speed of light for five years in your time, decades could have passed back on Earth. Everyone you knew before your trip will have grown old, even though from your perspective only a few years will’ve passed. So, today’s question, on the face of it, is very plausible... Time travel (to the future, at least) is an idea with sound science to back it up. In fact, some astronauts have already time travelled into the future, but only by the smallest of margins. Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka can reasonably claim to be the world’s most prolific time traveller, as he has spent more time in orbit around the Earth than anyone else. Because of time dilation, he’s time travelled around 0.02 seconds into the future during his missions, meaning he’s aged 0.02 seconds less than everyone else alive. But that’s only time travelling forwards. What about travelling backwards in time? It’s a notoriously tricky concept, and there are certain paradoxes that come into play… including Bootstrap Theory, which says that bringing an object back in time means that that object existed before it was created, and so has no determinable origin; a clear problem. Then there’s the Grandfather Paradox which posits that if someone were to go back and kill their grandfather, they would prevent themselves from ever being born, and so would never have been able to go back in time in the first place; another sizeable issue! However, both of these can be solved if we assume infinite timelines and universes - allowing for all of the possibilities to unfold. So, if time travel exists, it’s almost certain that there are also countless timelines to cater for it, with “new realities” forming every few seconds. In which case, would we ever know that time travel exists, even if it already does? There’s a chance we might not. If technology is developed that allows us to travel around the speed of light, to push us into the future, it would have zero effect on us in the here and now. So, as we live our everyday lives driving to work, eating lunch, and watching TV, there’s a seemingly distant (though still very real) possibility that someone else is jetting off in front of you, aging far less rapidly than you are. That person could theoretically travel to the year 2100 having only aged a year or two…. But we’d never know about them because we’d likely never meet them. And if we did meet them, we’d perhaps be sceptical of their story. But still, via those potentially infinite universes and timelines, we could all be experiencing the effects of time travellers messing up our own timelines every day. Say someone travelled back in time to prevent you getting in a car accident; they’d then split your life into two; one where you crash in a fatal accident, and another where you don’t. Every time someone spliced your original timeline, they’d birth new ones right alongside it - and the multiverse becomes an ever-thickening web of everything that ever was, is or could be. But you, as in the “original you” living in your “original timeline”, would be completely oblivious and would never know that time travel existed or that it had shaped your life to this point. On the other hand, if you were living across one of the other timelines, you might come face-to-face with solid proof of time travel. So, somewhere out there, a different you could even be time travelling right now - completely aware that you exist even if you’re unaware that they do. If technology for travelling to the past has already been invented (after all, if it’s to ever exist, then why not right now?) it’s likely that world governments would keep it under strict lock and key… as that sort of tech could cause huge problems. Unless time travel was rigorously regulated, anyone and everyone could show up in all sorts of time periods, leaving artefacts from the future, blowing their own cover, and altering human history. Changing even the smallest thing could send ripples through time all the way up to the moment you yourself first time travelled - which could be disastrous for the world around you. So, if time travel already exists, then there’s surely a “time police”, too. It’d be their job to stop others from creating chaos - like a time travel version of the Men in Black, maybe even erasing your memory if you’d ever seen anything you weren’t supposed to. More specifically, if time travel really was real, it could provide answers to some unexplained phenomena in our standard, non-time-travel lives. It could be that Déjà vu is simply the experience of having our own timeline split by an unknown time traveller’s actions, leaving us to feel as though we’ve experienced the same thing twice. The Mandela Effect, causing shared but incorrect memories, might be another sign. Common examples range from believing that Curious George has a tail (he doesn’t), to recalling that Nelson Mandela passed away in prison (he didn’t). If time travel already exists, these false memories could be down to some kind of glitch caused by an errant traveller’s antics. There’s no doubt, though, that if time travel does exist, those who know about it and can use it have unrivalled power. They’d have prior access to news stories, exam questions and lottery numbers (unless the “time police” outlawed it) and, for as long as they could even glimpse the future, they’d know which companies were best to invest in. More than money, though, they’d have the ability to peek through anybody’s life story at any time… and potentially the power to reshape, redirect, prolong or cut short any life they felt like. Without even knowing it, those not privy to time travel would be completely under the time travellers’ control. And the scary part? If you accept that time travel’s even theoretically possible, then all of that should inevitably be happening right now. Because, if time travel is to ever exist, then surely it already does? Someone, somewhere, at some time should’ve already mastered it. And that’s what would happen if time travel already exists. What do you think?

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