• Of Time Travel, Myths, and Plausibility

    “That’s exactly what I am saying,” said my son, Anirudh, sounding excited and agitated. “When Luke goes back to the time that his mother was killed, he basically prevents her from dying; with this he creates an entirely new timeline.”

    “So what happens to his step-mom and step-brother? And to his own father?” his mom countered. “What if each of them also goes back and changes things around? It would be total chaos!!”

    The debate went on for a little while, till I could finally butt in – after I had tried butting-in about 7 times.

    “Wait, Dad!” Ani kept stopping me. “You’ll get your chance.”

    Then I countered with my opinion that Time Travel was a biological implausibility – at least in the manner in which it is shown in these movies: Luke returns to a time when he was 10 years old, and his 30-year old self comes face – to – face with himself at 10 – years age.

    “So, using the Time Travel device, we have essentially created two human beings! Even Nature goes through a fairly complicated biological process to create a life, and can never produce a second version of that same life!”

    I knew I had a clincher for a debate; but what surprised me was that the debate went on, getting more heated along the way, till it had to be called off when too many sparks were flying.

    So, what had I not done right?

    I came across this article – Why people believe in conspiracy theories – and how to change their minds and got my answers from there. I would recommend you read that article to get the full idea, but I will summarize the points here.

    Reasons why people believe some things despite factual data contradicting those beliefs?

    • The tendency to see patterns even if none exists – which is hard-wired in us as a protective mechanism
    • Social proof – if more people believe it, then I believe the same in order to fit-in
    • Confirmation Bias – when sifting through data, I tend to pick up and believe those which confirm my beliefs, and ignore or justify those that contradict them
    • Backfire effect – myth – busting efforts can backfire, because after a while, people may only remember the myths and forget the context in which they heard them – such as, if we were debunking those myths

    So, what are the remedies?:

    • Firstly, beliefs should not be confronted head – to – head; spend some time creating common grounds, becoming friends, and developing a liking and trust.
    • To avoid the backfire effect, don’t even mention the myths – ignore them, and simply state the facts
    • Don’t antagonize the listener by challenging their beliefs or world-view; instead, provide explanations that are consonant with their existing beliefs
    • Use stories and narratives to get people listening with interest – there is a higher chance of change happening there.

    So how might I have had that conversation with my son and successfully applied this advise?

    This is how it would have gone:

    “That’s exactly what I am saying,” said my son, Anirudh, sounding excited and agitated. “When Luke goes back to the time that his mother was killed, he basically prevents her from dying; with this he creates an entirely new timeline.”

    “So what happens to his step-mom and step-brother? And to his own father?” his mom countered. “What if each of them also goes back and changes things around? It would be total chaos!!”

    “You know why I love Time Travel stories?” I exclaimed, starry – eyed. Ani stopped in mid-argument, like a pup picking up the scent of a bone. “I love the fact that we can change the Timeline and have it the way we want.”

    “That’s the fun part,” agreed Ani. “But changing the Timeline is not that simple – it comes with its own price?”

    “Yeah, I know – like, what happens to the others who come after an event? Do they cease to exist?”

    “That, and also the fact that now you are the only person who has knowledge of what would happen if something was done.”

    “Have you thought about this? I return from a future, which has now changed due to my action – so I can’t go back to the moment I came from because I have changed the Timeline. So, then I am stuck here, two of me together, like twins.”

    “That’s the paradox part,” explained Ani importantly, ” By simply choosing an alternate pathway today, I end up splitting myself up and creating two versions of me, one which is much older – and this arrives from thin air, has my DNA and fingerprints – come to think of it, this can’t happen, right? What I mean to say is, if this was possible, then it would have happened already, right?”

    So, I lead him to the same conclusion without doing too much of my own talking!

     

     

     

     

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