I couldn’t do a science fiction theme without addressing time travel, now could I? The Star Trek franchise has used time travel many times, along with Babylon 5 and various other shows. Doctor Who has existed for 50 years for a reason. People enjoy the idea of time travel. We love the idea of connecting with the past, and the possibility of changing the things that went wrong. Quantum Leap anyone?
There are lots of ways to come at the theme of time travel. We could talk about paradoxes, which are always fun. We could look at the different ways that time travel has been used to good effect in fiction. I considered various ways of tackling this subject, but in the end I decided to look at the ethics of time travel. After all, I’ve been looking at ethical issues throughout this challenge, so why not?
If we gained the ability to travel through time, should we use it, and if we choose to do so, in what way should we use it?
If it were possible to use it as observers without actually interacting with events, think of all the things we could learn. Then again, think of the cultural heroes we admire now, the people who inspire so many. It’s perfectly possible that they too had their demons, and that learning the full truth about them could dishearten many. Would it be more of a curse than a blessing to learn these kinds of truths, or is it always better to believe the truth than in a lie?
|Image courtesy of|
Then, if we decide that we can interfere in the past, to what extent should we be allowed to do it? Even The Doctor, who changes events all the time, knows when to be careful, and he warns of fixed events that cannot be changed. We would need rules that determine what can be changed and what can’t. Events such as the Holocaust were horrific, and we could save so many people if we went back in time to try to change it. However, this is an event in history that impacted so many, how can we even begin to imagine the impact such a change would have? There’s also the question of whether we could even change it. The revival of The Twilight Zone brought us the episode “Cradle of Darkness,” where a nanny sought to kill Adolf Hitler as a baby. In the end, she killed an innocent child and ensured that Adolf would grow up in the other child’s place. Time is tricky that way. And even if that nanny had killed the real Adolf Hitler, can we ethically justify killing someone who has not yet done any harm?
If we did have a set of rules governing how we tinker with time, who would make those rules? Who should have the right to decide which events determine our future? In the film Galaxy Quest, we see the Omega 13 device, which allows someone to jump 13 seconds into the past. That is enough time to rectify a single mistake. At this small a level, we cannot see what the consequences might be of such alterations, and it could conceivably save lives. Yet, once the mistake is made, is it within our right to go back and change it?
It’s also worth noting that the Star Trek universe has a Temporal Prime Directive, but people tend to flagrantly ignore it. Maybe it’s worth considering whether people will actually follow the rules at all before we make time travel a reality.