Wherever you go… there you are: Thoughts on time travel and alternate realities

About Time stillI was having a conversation with my wife about the choices that we had made over the years. We discussed whether or not our lives would have been substantially different if we had married other people, had stayed in one of the many place we have lived in instead of moving on or taken a different career path. Our starting point had been that our lives could have been better in some way if we had made different choices when we were younger. If, for example, we had taken the offer to buy the apartment we were living in when we were in San Francisco just as the dot com boom was beginning, we could have sold it later for a substantial profit.

The more we talked; however, the more it became clear to us that there was a problem with this whole line of thinking. No matter what the change in form, I am still there and if I am there; the lessons I have to learn and the demons I have to face do not change. Whether I am in a relationship with this person or another, eventually the fears, convictions and memories that I have accumulated from the moment I was conceived will manifest themselves. While it is true that they will not manifest in the same way and at the same time as did, they still appear. I remembered one of my grandfathers, who married a number of women over the years, including the same woman twice in a strange Richard Burton homage. Yet each time, the marriage ended the same way. Even though he made different choices, leaving one woman for another, he never left himself. Without that self knowledge, he simply repeated a pattern of infatuation, disillusionment and abandonment each time, like a cover version of the same tune.

In order to get out of this trap, many stories rely on the idea of time travel as a way to somehow rewrite the past based on the knowledge that has been gained from reliving a particular situation. This is is supposed to alter the outcome. The film About Time is a current example of this trope. In it, the main character, Tim, discovers that he can travel back in time. He uses this gift to learn how to win the girl of his dreams, Mary. In the end, he manages to learn from each time he tries with Mary and eventually find the way to have a relationship with her. While practice makes perfect, I wondered how long the relationship would last. It did not seem to me that Tim learned anything about himself, about why he had troubles with women in the first place. I suspect that a sequel to the movie would find him repeating the same behaviours and expectations that led him to the original situation and which led his father to where he was.

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