A thought entered my head the other night and it’s blossomed into a story idea. It’s also one I can incorporate into the third book in my current series. So I’m pumped to talk about it. That said, it deviates significantly from the more practical themes I’ve tackled over the last several weeks. Today it’s time to get metaphysical. What follows isn’t meant to ascribe to some transcendental, spiritual journey. Rather it’s a brief psychological study, a crude scientific exploration of our relationship with mind and memory. Not everything you read below is an original thought; moreso an amalgamation of various ideas I’ve recently read and see through the lens of my fiction.
Has time travel existed since the dawn of humanity, hiding in plain sight?
We think of our future self as someone who does not yet exist. Yet our present self is able to witness our past self through memories. So couldn’t it also be possible that our future self is witnessing our present self through memories. If a technology existed that allowed someone to experience a memory as vividly as real life in the present moment, would that technology be considered a time machine. Could you (or for practical purposes, the main character of my story) travel forward and backward through time by reliving memories along life’s path. In that scenario, is it possible to forget what “memory” is your true, present, physical self, and what memories are projections? Could you get perilously lost in your own memories that you wake up one day thinking you’re 40, the next day 14 and the day after that 64.
Let’s explore this idea further. The first question: doesn’t our present self have the ability to alter the course of our future self. The future hasn’t been established, so how can it possibly relived as a memory. Although that’s true, regardless of the course our present self takes, it can’t break a trail of memories that will inevitably bring it into the future.
Although an infinite number of futures are possible, not all of them are optimal. To mitigate the potential damage of the wrong path, it’s possible to cast a version of yourself out into a hypothetical. That hypothetical can become reality if the physical self follows this metaphysical self along that course. Given we’re unlikely to put ourselves deliberately into harms way, it’s easy enough to invalidate a large swath of the possible paths forward.
Along a short enough timeline, we can predict with near perfect accuracy what will happen in the future. While traveling on a train, I can confidently say that in five seconds I will be closer to my house and I will continue to be sitting in my seat with this computer on my lap. Is the version of myself five seconds ahead any less real than the version pressing down on the key right this instant. Are you any less real at the end of this sentence as you were when you started? The implication is that just because the metaphysical self isn’t yet corporeal doesn’t mean that the projection doesn’t exist. Put differently, it’s possible in some sense for our minds to exist in multiple time lines simultaneously. Just the sheer act of planning is a form of time travel.
Now looking into the past, we carry ourselves back along a path that brought us to today. But similar to the hypothetical future, is it not possible that we connect to a multitude of past selves? For instance, just because something happened to us doesn’t mean that we can recall the event with perfect clarity. The debris of time contaminates the memory. It alters our relationship with the past. It means that each instance where debris fractures the memory’s path, a new past metaphysical self is created. Furthermore, the forty year old version of you will experience a memory differently than the fourteen year old version simply because of the benefit of experience and wisdom. With more tools at your disposal, you can reconnect with your past in a way that you couldn’t as a teenager processing some event in the moment.
This is an idea I played with in my debut novel. The main character uses a machine called PTER to witness her patient’s traumatic past and repair fissures that have destroyed the fabric of a memory over time. In doing so it helps the patient reconnect with their authentic past physical self, but with an added maturity they didn’t have at the time.
In science fiction we read stories about time travelers going back into the past and altering the future in potentially catastrophic ways. They step into a machine that hurls them years into the past. I’m arguing that maybe it’s possible to do this inside your own mind. By re-engineering the relationship we have with our own past, we can alter how it impacts our future. Trauma exposure therapy seeks to do this by recreating the environment where the trauma struck. Sometimes our imaginations are a greater enemy than the past ever could be.
Something I love about literature is that you can find hidden meaning in the prose. Meaning that is even hidden from the author themself. This is an aspect of We Follow the Dying Light (and it’s sequel in progress) that I didn’t appreciate. It now gives me the inspiration I need for the third and final book that will take Catarina through a time traveling journey of her own memories. Happy reading folks!