Could You Go Back In Time And Change History?

Okay.  This may be the single most important blog entry I have ever written, asking the deepest, most important question known to mankind.  I have gotten into heated arguments and nearly lost a friend over this question (Tammy Martin, I’m looking at you!)  Here it is….

Can you go back in time and change history?

I have heard so many answers to this question, from the scientific to the fantastical, from mathematicians, historians, writers, artists, philosophers, and crazy people.  For whatever reason it’s something that can spark an argument in no time flat.

Here’s my answer:

No, you can’t go back in time and change anything.

Because history already happened the way it did.  Anything that anyone from the future who goes back in time to change things does is what has already happened in the present.  Meaning you can’t go back in time and save Lincoln from being shot because he was already shot.  It’s a done deal.  You can’t go back and kill your own ancestor, thus negating your existence, and you can’t go back and stop Hitler from coming to power.  Because it already happened.

In this reality.

I do, however, think that you could go back in time and change something, stop Lincoln from being killed, kill your ancestor, or stop Hitler from coming to power, but it would create a splinter reality.  You would then find yourself living in a reality where Lincoln WAS saved, for example.  But you would no longer be a part of this timeline anymore.  In other words, you can go back in time but if you change anything you won’t be able to return to the same future that you left from.  You will effectively cease to exist in that timeline.

I have an idea for a series of novels that deals with this issue.  In it someone has discovered time travel.  Only it’s an academic pursuit.  It’s not public knowledge.  Very few people know about it.  Time travel is part of a particular university’s graduate studies program.  Only a very few people are selected to take part.  Think of it as research by immersion.  You sign on to be a part of this program and are sent back to the time period of your study to live for a limited number of years.

Throughout history in this world there are carefully guarded safe-houses where students in the program live.  They are equipped with all the modern technology the program needs to transport people and messages to and from the era of history.  But the natives to the time period can’t get wind of them, so they’re hidden.  The people of history are sorted into three categories: green, yellow, and red.  Students of the program can interact with “green” people all they want because they are completely unimportant Joe Nobodys.  “Red” people are absolutely off-limits.  They are the well-known figures of history, Lincoln, Hitler, anyone related to you.  Even speaking to them could spell disaster.  Then there are the “yellow” people.  Those are the people who might be important but no one is quite sure.  Students are ordered to stay away from them too, just in case.  But of course since this is a story they would have to be involved in the plot.

So yeah, that’s my idea.  I need to come up with a few good plots to make it work.  I will someday.  There would have to be something about a student being discovered, someone from history going back to the future, a whole alternative universe being splintered off by accident, maybe even connecting splinter universes somehow.  We’ll see.

Now, back to the original point at hand.

NO. Just ... No.

No, I don’t think you could change history at all if you went back in time.

Do I think time travel is possible?  I mean, really possible?

*sigh*  I really want to answer yes to this question.  But no, no I don’t.

What about you?  Time travel or no time travel?  Could you mess up history or not?


13 thoughts on “Could You Go Back In Time And Change History?

  1. I would love to have a trip in Dr. Who’s Tardis, but I would only want to observe, its just too tricky a thing! It would be great for geneologists, I’d like to go back and see my ancestors…not to talk to, even though that would be cool, but I’d be too afraid of negating my existence, such as it is! I know very little about them and those who could enlighten me are no longer on this earth! I find time travel stories fun and would love to read yours!

    • Actually here is my thoughts. If you could go back in time, I think you would be able to change things. Because you just being there has changed it already. If the first time around I was not in 1866 and then I went to 1866 then was I in 1866? That is a change. Butterfly effect. quantum physics , says by observing you change it, I watch to much sy-fy answer is………………………………… If you could go back and you did change something you would not know. Take Hitler. If you went back and killed him say at birth. Then he was never born, So in your “new future” He did not exist, so you would not know that you changed the past. But does that change your future, because if you do not know he existed, then on what ever day you went back and killed him, you would not go back and kill him, you would do something different at that time which would change something in the future.

      I do love you Merry and I remember that day we had this bout. Now we are older and wiser and still not agreeing LOL

      • Thanks Merry, Now my house is having the conservation that when Dylan went to Australia. He flew in the day before he left. He left Australia on a Tuesday and got home on a Monday. Yes that is Earth time, which is man made, not cosmic time. How ever he did get a redo on his Tuesday one Tuesday he was on a plane and the same Tuesday he was home in bed sleeping. And ya know Jen who is the biggest Dr Who fan ever will have her own thoughts

  2. The answer to your first question is no. Not as we currently understand physics. There are plenty of theories about how it could be possible but technically you can’t right now. This subject is one of my all time favourites. I watch loads of sciency programs about it and read a lot too. It’s a perfect topic to get people all riled up and talkative.

    From what I understand there are 2 main possibilities. 1) History is very resilient because it has already happened, as you say. So if you went back and tried to change something fundamental, the time line would find a way to rectify that and bring itself back on course. Like going back and killing your grandfather, well you’re still alive which means he obviously made it with your grandmother and your mum and dad were born regardless of your actions. Or your grandfather isn’t who your grandmother says it is!

    2) The alternative reality point of view where every action has an equal and opposite reaction. These are thought to be caused every moment of every day, from big things like the bomb dropping on Hiroshima, or not, to the minute like a cat crossing the road and causing a crash, or not.

    And this includes the idea of time travel and making changes to history, as you put it, creating an alternative time line, or other universe, reality, whatever terminology you prefer. So in theory there are countless versions of existence playing out some with massive differences, humans with 2 heads and webbed feet or a tree with a slightly different leaf.

    In regard to your story idea, if a student travels back in time, observes history and lives at a safe house, leaving messages for the future, would that students life already be mapped out when they were born? Would the university HAVE to choose them for the course because if they didn’t it would cause severe upset to the time line? Rather than the student applying for the course? I wonder if the university would keep tabs on those born with certain names, locations etc, because they already know about them from their place in the safe house, which hasn’t happened yet. But it has. So it must happen again.

    Damn, I love this kind of topic!! Marvellous stuff. Imagine a scenario where a scholar/scientist spends years perfecting a time travel device. If that was you wouldn’t you want to go back in time and give the formula to yourself and save yourself a lot of time? More importantly, if time travel to the past was possible, I suspect we’d know about it – think of what humans may look like after the next 10,000 years of evolution. Thin, pale skinned, big brain power for telepathy so no mouth, large eyes to observe, time travel machines in the shape of saucers….

    • Ooo! I love it! Yeah, this is the kind of topic that could keep me up late nights talking about it.

      What if even though you spent years inventing time travel you weren’t able to give the information to yourself for some reason? That might be an interesting twist. And if you tried something would happen to get in the way of you finding out. The Universe self-correcting, as it were. There’s got to be a story in there somewhere! =D

  3. Mine would be a scientific question. Could the same set of atoms exist twice in the same time? In other words, could the atoms that make me exist, go back to a time when they were something else and still exist as me as well. Because I’m thinking that’s impossible.

    I think time travel is a wonderful thing to imagine, but unlikely without breaking the physical laws of the universe somehow.

    • Good point there. I don’t know enough about atomic physics, but I wonder how often atoms break down and are reformed, or if different sub-atomic particles can be said to exist at more than one time. *sigh* Physics is so inadequate for these thing sometimes. =P It also makes me wonder if people will ever be able to move faster than the speed of light. But that’s a whole different blog post!

      • I think there’s something about quantum mechanics there somewhere. I can’t recall the exact quote I heard on a documentary but it has something to do with the Schrödinger’s Cat principle. But I like the idea of not being able to be within the same space as your other self due to atom displacement theory or something!

  4. Merry, have you ever read Orson Scott Card’s “Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus”? It’s very much along the same lines – eg. people can alter the past but it changes the future and causes their own “present” to cease to exist in the process.

  5. You are kind of correct… However, to exist alone in the past would create an infinite strain of new possibilities and change, which happen in the present induced by the past change so, creating a new dimension of time happens all the time, from atomic structure, to the very data in which the universe/multi-verse is governed. This means that there is a probability of ∞- C (C=Criteria of an event happening at a specific space of time and ∞ being the concept of everything possible in every possible way) of things happening. If this is applied, then a new version of the past would be created at any given time and it would become the future.
    Schrodingers cat is showing that C+∞ = Would overlap time through a paradox so that in one basic way, the cat did not die, but neither did it think in the parallel to that decision.

    To conclude, quantum mechanics dictate time- why not look up some of the variables and formula contained in there

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