What If … ?

If we knew what would happen later in our lives would we live them differently? The things that we would gain would be balanced by the things we would lose. If I never married my first wife I would have never had my two daughters. I also would have not joined the Army, ended up in Huntsville, met my second wife, the list goes on and on.

Perhaps the arrow of time only points in one direction because we could not deal with the complexity that would ensue if we could run time backwards and forwards until we came up with a timeline that pleased us. If we could change the past, should we?

If Buddy Holly hadn’t died in that plane crash, would the Beatles have been the hit that they became? Perhaps there would have been an American invasion of Britain and there would have been a whole different pantheon of musical super groups in the sixties and seventies.

Or what if Tim Berners-Lee hadn’t cobbled together HTML to appease the need of the scientists at CERN to share hyperlinked, multimedia papers. Would someone else have come up with something better? Or would there have been something worse.?Perhaps we would be stuck with a commercial system that took a lot longer to reach critical mass. Would that necessarily be a bad thing?

Maybe if the web were a commercial entity instead of a freely interoperating conglomeration of different content providers Facebook wouldn’t have risen to be such a dominant force. Maybe people wouldn’t have gotten lost in the bubble of just the news they wanted to hear. Or would things have played out substantially the same? Are the way things are a fluke or are they the inevitable consequences of human nature?

We can never know for sure. If there is such a thing as time travel, we can’t know what effect it would have on the future. Perhaps like quantum theory suggests, we can either know where we are or how fast we are going. We can be the observer or the observed.

If I seem particularly obsessed with the idea of time travel right now it can be partially ascribed to reading “The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O”, the latest book by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland. It bears many of the hallmarks of Stephenson’s best novels with a nice fresh flavor that can probably be attributed to the contributions of his co-author. I’ve barely started the novel, a tome at 768 pages, and I’ve already had my thinking challenged several times over by both the technical ideas presented and the memorable characters that we have been given by these two master story tellers.

I for one am going to savor this one. I hope these two gift us with another story as good as this one has been so far.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.