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all the time in the world

The Time Traveler's Life - Part Two

By Allan Eastman

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A Conversation with Science Fiction Master Joe Haldeman

Joe Haldeman's The Accidental Time Machine

Science Fiction Master Joe Haldeman's "The Accidental Time Machine"

Yeah, OK, so you would be more of a Bradbury than a Poul Anderson in that case?


I guess, with wishful thinking on my part, that the Anderson idea is more true...you know, the elastic strands of Time that will snap back to the “real” time line despite some minor changes that one might have made in a specific case – like one person killing their Grandfather....I mean, I hope that you can go back into the past and meet yourself because the person that is doing the time travel is a different older incarnation of the younger self that you encounter...I had the feeling from Accidental Time Machine that you don’t think that is a possibility?

Yeah, well, until the very end of The Accidental Time Machine, there’s no necessity for accepting that there is backwards time travel. In writing stories, I’m OK with it, as long as the character himself doesn’t conveniently forget things or conveniently know things that he shouldn’t know. Then I’m OK with it. Now as far as the real Universe, whatever that means, I get uncomfortable with it. There’s a deep, deep problem – an epistemological problem - about the whole idea of believing in something. That is to say, I claim that I don’t have beliefs – the way that people have beliefs in religious fictions and things like that – I don’t believe that I have to have belief for Science to work. I think that Science is perfectly good just demonstrating one thing after another and sooner or later, it will make a pattern that you can use to predict what is going to happen in the future. None of that requires belief because it can always be revised if new information comes along.

What tends to be what the history of Science does...

Yeah. I’m comfortable with that but you can’t put that on every page of a book, right? You have to set up a sort of reality system or belief system or whatever you want to say that becomes implicit as the book develops. You can’t keep revising it and you can’t have a character sit down and explain what the author’s basic philosophy is.


It`s a problem with a certain kind of Science Fiction.

Barbour talks about...there’s a real question whether the Past and the Future are, in fact, Realities. Does the Past exist as a Reality? Does the Future exist as a Reality? What do you think about that?

Well, I have a whole speech that I gave at MIT...

(Laughs) Well, that’s lucky...

...and I demonstrated in that, that the Past is a fiction. Of course, the Past is a fiction – it’s just a bunch of observations that other people made, and also recollections of your own observations which are faulty by definition. And history itself is just a pack of lies. You know, depending on how convincing the other liars are, it’s more or less convincing. The Future itself, of course, does not exist. None of that has happened yet. And the Present? The Present is a fiction too. The thing is, we take the mathematical notion of the Present - that is to say T=Zero – and there is T=1 second, T=2 seconds and there is T=minus 1 and T=minus 2 seconds too...those are fine. But there is no T=Zero to you, as an organism because all the input that you are getting through various senses is delayed for different amounts of time. And indeed, your own thought processes are delayed by so many 100ths of a second, depending on which part of the brain they are coming from. And so, you as an organism do not exist in any way at T=Zero. You’re spread across the continuum there...and in fact, what I went on to demonstrate in my speech is that only the Future is real. Because it’s indeterminate – you can say anything about it. That doesn’t mean that it is going to happen, it doesn’t mean that it’s not going to happen. So it’s real in a way that the Present and the Past are not.


(Laughs) Excellent!

The audience sort of stared at me and said, “Yeah, whatever you say, Joe.”

Very good...well, you said somewhere that Science Fiction writers don’t have the greatest record in predicting the future. What was it? “World Peace and personal dirigibles?”

Yeah, I want my world peace and personal dirigibles. I’d like to do time travel too. If nobody would mind....I’d like to go back and see stuff.

If you could travel in time, where (when) would you go? What would you do?

You know, this is so mundane....but I’d like to go back to Paris in the 20’s...

All right, yeah...

I’d like to be a fly on the wall when Hemingway and Fitzgerald and Sherwood Anderson, John dos Passos and that crowd were hanging around, being cool. That’d be fun.

Absolutely. Yeah, I’d love to go and hang out in Constantinople, about 900AD or so...lots of exciting things going on there.


And how about the Future? Do you have any desire to go up forward and compare notes with what you’ve been thinking?

That’d be interesting...I’m not sure what that means...I’m not sure that there is a Future. I’m sort of a many worlds guy when you look in that direction. And I think that there are a lot of futures that have equal probability and ones that have very small probability still exist, to some degree.

Well, if time travel does exist, the only way time travel seems to occur at all is to get moving at relativistic speeds and do the big time dilation jump into the future and get a look. No chance of coming back, as you say...

That seems totally mundane to me. I mean, what you’ve done when you do an Einsteinian relativistic piece of travel is you have selected one, of many, possible futures...


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