Imagination is tricky. I live with 3 kids so what-ifs are a constant.
Last night we talked about time travel over dinner. We were discussing Matariki and how long it would take to reach the stars. I said it would take 100, 000 years to reach our nearest neighbour, Alpha Centauri, if you travelled at the speed of light.
Since some sort of time trickery would be needed, the girls started coming up with ways it might work. Magic and machines. Science and Mr Peabody. The wife chipped in that time is ‘bendy’ as you can sometimes achieve a task when you simply don’t have enough time. Which is a version of the Dr Who’s “wibbley-wobbley timey-wimey” stuff.
One of the 11 year-olds added that déjà vu was proof that you had visited a particular point before.
It was a fun discussion. But I steered it towards an aspect that had really blown my mind.
Historians of Time Travel claim that there were no such stories until HG Wells wrote The Time Machine. None. There were stories about people falling asleep and waking long in their future, but none with travel as we think of it. Forward and back. Here and there. Checking out the sights.
This blows my mind. All cultures are full of fanciful tales of imagination. But HG Wells had a novel idea that was so attractive that it is viewed as a possibility, only slightly out of reach.
So why did this idea pop up in the 1890s?
Historians believe it’s because an age of unprecedented change in technology and society had begun. Electricity, trains, telephones and telegraphs. All unimaginable to their parents’ generation. What rapid change lay ahead? Moving pictures, radio communication and flight; all within reach. The reliable constants of life were no more.
Some things are impossible to imagine. Time travel was one of them. Now it seems impossible to unimagine.
Somehow it must work. Each one of us around the dinner table last night agreed.
Somewhere all our pasts continue, awaiting our benign intervention to put things right. While multiple futures sit before us full of disaster, glory, dystopia and lotto wins.
Stories have power.
China recently banned time travel stories as they undermine the status quo.
What is must be.
What isn’t. Is unthinkable.