Friday, November 20, 2009

Bathroom Monologue: “If it didn’t happen, it can’t happen.” –Some dude on Lost, on time travel

Listen to the audio version of "If it didn't happen, it can't happen," or download the MP3 here.

They knew how to alter the flow of energy and even speed particles faster than light. A mass inside the tube would travel so quickly that it would appear outside before it even reached the tube’s end. The math guys went nuts over it. Soon the president declared we’d have a man in the past in the next ten years.

But nobody showed up in the past, as far as the people of the present could tell. A monkey was sent back but never found. Figuring a monkey appearing somewhere wouldn’t make enough historical impact that they’d know about it today, the association sent a lone man back next. Then they waited ten minutes and checked the history books and Google, but there was no trace of a time traveling man.

He sure wasn’t here – the science guys checked for his particles, and not one bit of his matter existed in our time anymore. Hopefully it existed in the past, though the math guys kept their eyes on the future in case our brave time-traveler popped in there. Until that indeterminate future came, they prepared their apologies to his wife and figured out who else they could blame. And until that time, they had theories on when and where their chrononaut was.

The first theory was that he’d simply traveled too far back in time and been eaten by a pterodactyl. The math guys questioned this given that their battery power was, theoretically, barely capable of propelling a mass a few hours. A weekend at the best (and most Heisenbergian).

The second theory pointed out that the earth wasn’t the center of the universe. Very angry scientists pointed out that they knew that, and remained very angry until a high school SciFi nerd continued explaining that as the earth was moving around the sun, if someone were to travel to the same spot twelve hours ago, he would find himself floating in the middle of space, not in Florida.

Telescopes were alerted to look for the floating frozen remains of the brave chrononaut. Observatories did more business for a couple weeks. No remains were spied.

A third theory soon emerged and hung over the heads of celebrities hoping to purchase time travel vacations. This one was called “The H.G. Wells Principle.” This one was also posed by a guy far too young to be anything but annoying to tenured professors. He posited that for the present to exist at all, the past could not be disturbed from how it transpired. Obviously the world that created the time machine could not exist if you went back and killed all of the math guys’ parents or prevented pivotal events like a World War I. But not only couldn’t you prevent Archduke Ferdinand from being shot - you couldn’t prevent the wheels on his car from turning. It wasn’t just that you couldn’t do something that prevented you from going back there – it was that you couldn’t change anything about it because it had already happened exactly that way. If it didn’t happen, then it couldn’t happen, which meant a time traveler couldn’t bend a blade of grass or disturb a particle of dirt. He couldn’t dispel the air around his body when he materialized, nor breathe it in, nor fall to the ground and disturb dirt particles as he suffocated. His body could not exist in past space. On the Wells Principle you couldn’t alter the past, and by being in the past at all you would alter it in some infinitesimal way – which meant if you traveled to the past, you’d have to cease to be.

A large sum of money has been offered to anyone who can mathematically disprove the third theory. Much of that money comes from the chrononaut’s wife.


  1. I like that...although I need some aspirin now. :)

    Hope you're feeling better soon!

  2. Oh, I don't know. There are several public figures who could have traveled here from the future. And their monkey behavior...well, anyway, very much liked your story!

  3. I'm with Laura - give me some aspirin. :) Interesting you would think of this before going for surgery. I do hope you're not trying to tell us something. John? John?
    Seriously, great writing as always. I hope your feeling better soon.

  4. Cracked up with "Soon the president declared we’d have a man in the past in the next ten years" and sat through the rest of the story enthralled. Funny and yet does raise some interesting questions...

  5. I love this kind of speculative fiction! You've literally blotted your MC out of existence!

    Great work! I'm fascinated and will likely think about the story all night now.

  6. as much fun as 'the sound of thunder'

  7. Great stuff, and as a math guy myself I appreciate it even more :-)

  8. Another great read, John. Milissa picked out my favourite line: "Soon the president declared we’d have a man in the past in the next ten years." Great stuff.

  9. Oh, the perils of time travel. No, the perils of just thinking about time travel. That was a very cool story!

  10. When will they learn? cracking enthralling read

  11. This is great, really clever and probably the most entertaining and best explanation of so many theories on time travel that I've ever read in such a short space. Way better, and briefer than a Brief History... have they filled that vacancy at Cambridge yet?


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