Here are 10 quick ideas for a time travel story, including everything from colonies in the distant past and future, to time traveling Jews, Jesus, and jealous husbands.
If one of these ideas inspires you to create a time travel story of your own, let us know and we’ll share it with out community!
1. Future War
A future dictator invades the past. He sends giant war machines into 19th Century London, Paris and Washington, and he demands that all world leaders surrender to him. It’s up to a team of time traveling heroes to stop him.
2. As Time Goes By
A scientist discovers that he can slow down time in a localized area. He can use this to visit the future (and stop off anywhere along the way), but he can never go back. At first, he uses the device to prolong his own life, spending a day inside the time-bubble as a month passes outside. Later, curiosity compels him to travel into the distant future in search of new wonders and a fresh start.
Our protagonist finds a future world full of wonders, and he begins to build a new life for himself. But when things start to go wrong, he finds himself traveling forward yet again. Eventually, the urge to travel forward becomes irresistible as he searches for perfection. Is he really searching for something, or just running from his own past?
As our traveler comes to the end of his life he realizes that, while he has seen more than most people, he hasn’t really lived at all. He’s spent his whole life running.
3. Doing Time
Using a time machine, a penal colony is established in Earths distant future – a future in which humanity is extinct and the sun is approaching the end of its natural life-cycle. When the end finally comes, do the guards evacuate the prisoners or leave them to their fate?
4. The Man You Used To Be
After his wife leaves him, a scientist travels back in time to be with her again. He’s determined to get it right the second time around, and thinks he knows what to do to keep her happy. But when he travels into the past he comes across an obstacle he hadn’t counted on – the past version of himself.
Desperate to be with his wife again, he plots to do the unthinkable – he plans to murder his past self and take his place.
There are two obvious ways in which this story could end, each equally as ironic. 1) He kills his former self and is happily reunited with his wife, but after spending one perfect day together the time paradox begins to kick in and he vanishes into oblivion. 2) He kills his former self, but his wife recognizes that he is not the man he used to be. Because of what he’s been through and what he’s done, he’s changed, and his wife can see it in his eyes. She leaves him again.
5. Future Tense
Fearing the extinction of humanity is on the horizon, a large group of humans travel into Earths distant future to avoid the catastrophe. They arrive in a time in which the Earth has recovered from the disaster, and in which all traces of human civilization have disappeared. Many animal species have evolved beyond recognition. In this new wilderness, they attempt to build a home.
Knowing that the end of human civilization is near, people are desperate to travel to the future colony. With a limited number of places available, people fight for the last remaining passes. Eventually, the future colony finds itself with too many mouths to feed.
6. Past Participants
With the destruction of Earth imminent, humanity begins colonizing the distant past. The colonization effort slowly begins to interfere with the timeline. Each group of colonists that arrives from the future has experienced a different version of history, with increasingly interesting results.
One group of time travel colonists is from a fascist timeline in which the Nazis won the Second World War, and they try to take over the colony. Another group reports having found the remains of the colony during a future archaeological dig, indicating that the colonization effort will eventually fail.
7. Populating Zion
A team of scientists rescue Jews from Nazi extermination camps by transporting them forward in time just before the moment of their deaths. Nazis are confounded when they open the doors to gas chambers and find that their victims have mysteriously vanished. In the future, thousands of rescued Jews struggle to understand what has happened to them, and they begin to hail the lead scientist as their Messiah.
8. Time Me Up, Time Me Down
After inventing a time machine, a scientist travels into his own future where he meets his beautiful future wife. Back in his own time, he meets his future wife for the first time (for her at least), but she isn’t interested in him. He tries his hardest to impress her but fails. How can this be when they are meant to be together?
Determined to win her heart, he travels back to their first meeting over and over again, trying something different each time. He even visits her past in an attempt to learn more about her, but nothing works. Becoming increasingly obsessed, he eventually resorts to kidnapping her. He takes her forward in time to show her their future life, but his actions have drastically changed the timeline.
9. Final Interview
A time travel agency sends a man to interview famous historic figures just hours before they die. The interviews are not only important to historians, they have also become a form of popular entertainment. After interviewing countless historic figures over a long and distinguished career, our protagonist has become something of a celebrity himself. One day, a younger man arrives at his home insisting that he be allowed to interview the protagonist. The protagonist realizes that the younger man is his future replacement, and that he himself is soon to die.
(Thanks to Jorgen Lundman for this idea, the full version of which can be read here)
10. Jesus vs The Time Police
The technology needed for time travel exists, but it has been outlawed by most of the world’s governments. A special police unit or federal agency uses specialist equipment to track down illegal time travelers and prevent them from damaging the timeline.
Some of the time travelers are attempting to alter their own past for personal gain, others are rich tourists seeking a thrilling but illegal encounter with the past. One day, however, they track down a time traveler who has managed to evade them for several years. He has been living in the past for all this time, and he claims to have become an important historical figure. Doing a little research, they determine his claims to be true. The time traveler has had a profound effect on the timeline, and undoing his actions might have profoundly negative consequences. He has written himself into history – a history that the time-police have always accepted to be true.
The illegal time traveler might be a famous general, monarch, or president. He might even be a religious figure, such as Jesus (as such, he may not have had an entirely positive effect on history, but a profound one nonetheless). If the illegal time-traveler is Jesus, might his ascension to heaven actually be his forced return to his own time, staged by the time-police?The time-police are faced with a dilemma – set the timeline straight and undo his actions without knowing what the result might be, or allow him to continue living in the past.
This article was written byMark Ball. With thanks to Jorgen Lundman.
| Copyright © Norman Swartz, 1993|
Visiting the Past
In the Fall of 1993, in the Critical Thinking course (PHIL 001), we were using the textbook Logical Reasoning (Wadsworth), by Bradley Dowden. We had been working through the book, chapter by chapter. On Oct. 31, I read p. 202, which contains the following argument:
That evening, I sent an email letter to Bradley Dowden (with whom I had been corresponding occasionally during the previous few weeks). Below, with his permission, is a transcript of our exchange.
Swartz to Dowden
October 31, 1993Dear Brad,
I have tonight read your chapter nine.
I disagree with your argument at the top of p. 202, the one which alleges to show that (time) travel into the past is logically impossible. I would like to suggest that your argument commits a modal fallacy.
Since it is possible that someone should have prevented your grandparents from having met one another, and since it is impossible for you to travel into the past and to have prevented your grandparents from having met one another, you conclude that it is thus impossible to travel into the past. Let "P" stand for "preventing your grandparents from meeting" and "T" stand for "travel into the past" (patched up as needed to be proper statements). Then your argument is
~(T & P)
What is logically impossible is that BOTH one travels into the past AND changes the past (from what it was). But so long as one does not change the past, there is no logical contradiction in positing travel into the past.
Below I reproduce section 8.11 (pp. 224-227) from my book Beyond Experience: Metaphysical Theories and Philosophical Constraints (Toronto: Toronto University Press), 1991. You may want, also, to look at Possible Worlds: An Introduction to Logic and Its Philosophy, by Raymond Bradley and myself (Indianapolis: Hackett), 1979, p. 25, exercise 4, and p. 333, part C. David Lewis has written a fine paper on time travel. I have the exact reference on campus. I have another book here at home that lists a paper by Lewis. If, when I get to campus tomorrow, I find that there is more than one Lewis paper on time travel and that the one I list here is not the one I wanted, I will send along the corrected reference. In the meantime, I think, the paper is "The Paradoxes of Time Travel", in American Philosophical Quarterly, vol. 13, 1976, pp. 145-152.
Dowden to Swartz
Nov. 1, 1993Norman,
You make some interesting points about time travel, but let me offer a counter.
1. The formal modal argument is invalid, but my argument doesn't properly translate into that modal argument.
2. I do not agree that my reasoning on p. 202 is as follows: "Since it is possible that someone should have prevented your grandparents from having met one another, and since it is impossible for you to travel into the past and to have prevented your grandparents from having met one another, you conclude that it is thus impossible to travel into the past." That isn't why I conclude that time travel into the past is impossible. Why I do conclude this will be clearer in a moment.
3. I do agree that I am using the same old argument that you discuss in your book in the following passage:"If you could travel backward in time, then you could encounter yourself when you were a youngster. Even if you are not normally homicidally inclined, it is at least theoretically possible that you kill that youngster. But if you did, then you would not have grown up to have reached the age when you traveled back in time. Thus there would be a contradiction: you both would and would not have traveled backward in time. Since the story involves a contradiction, it is logically impossible to travel backward in time."
4. I agree that your analysis of time travel into the past does show that "If one travels into the past, then one does not change the past."
5. However, what we MEAN, or at least what I and most other people I talk with mean, by travel into the past, is travel in which the past does change. Statements that are true are made false. To travel into the past as a disembodied watcher of past events is not to travel at all.
6. You believe time travel is possible. OK. Let's suppose you have your time machine and you go back. For example, suppose you step into a time machine tomorrow and go say hello to your great grandparents. This supposition leads immediately to a contradiction because it is true that you never did say hello to your great grandparents. To say hello is to change the past, but as you will certainly agree, to make the true be false is absurd, and to change the past is logically impossible. Whatever is true is true, period. Therefore, the only way to travel into the past is to do so in a way that changes nothing. But to travel this way is thereby not to travel into the past at all because travel into the past requires changing the past.
7. So I stand by my argument on p. 202.
Swartz to Dowden
November 2, 1993
BD> 5. However, what we MEAN, or at least what I and most other
BD> people I talk with mean, by travel into the past, is travel
BD> in which the past does change. Statements that are true are
BD> made false. To travel into the past as a disembodied
BD> watcher of past events is not to travel at all.
This is too easy, and – no offense intended – a bit of a cheat. Compare with this:
It is logically impossible to build a car that will take one from Sacramento to Cleveland. What we MEAN, or at least what I and most other people I talk with mean, by travel to distant places, is travel in which the distant place is changed. Statements that are true are made false. To travel to a distant place as a disembodied watcher of distant events is not to travel at all.Of course a time machine which allowed one to change the past is logically impossible, but making that the (unrealizable) goal is to trivialize the problem, to pose it in a question-begging manner, to stack the deck. Even if one does stack the deck in this way, there still remains the question: Is it logically possible to build a time machine which allows travel into the past where one does not change the past? And the answer to this latter, nontrivial, version of the question is: yes. Robert Heinlein, for example, has described the manner brilliantly in his long book Time Enough for Love and in his short story "All You Zombies". I defy anyone to find a logical contradiction in those tales.
When I argue for the logical possibility of travel into the past, I do not mean as a disembodied watcher of past events. I mean as a 'real' participant in the activity of the past. Suppose a visitor were to arrive here and now from the year 2045. He shakes my hand, and then sits and chats with me about what is in store during the next 52 years. I take notes and record them in my diary. A year (1994) from now, I even publish some of these notes. The visitor from the future (year 2045) has not changed the past (i.e. the past relative to the year 2045): he has contributed to making the past just the way it was. By traveling back to the year 1993, he caused certain events to occur in 1993 and in 1994. Nothing was changed from the way it was; but the past was changed from the way it would have been if he had not traveled back from 2045 to 1993. Nothing true is made false; there is no logical contradiction.
BD> 6. You believe time travel is possible. OK. Let's suppose
BD> you have your time machine and you go back. For example,
BD> suppose you step into a time machine tomorrow and go say
BD> hello to your great grandparents. This supposition leads
BD> immediately to a contradiction because it is true that you
BD> never did say hello to your great grandparents. To say
BD> hello is to change the past, but as you will certainly
BD> agree, to make the true be false is absurd, and to change
BD> the past is logically impossible. Whatever is true is true,
BD> period. Therefore, the only way to travel into the past is
BD> to do so in a way that changes nothing. But to travel this
BD> way is thereby not to travel into the past at all because
BD> travel into the past requires changing the past.
To be sure, there are ways of telling time travel stories (your way immediately above) that are self-contradictory. But to prove impossibility, it is not sufficient to tell one story in which there is a self-contradiction, one must show something far stronger, viz. that every story in which there is time travel harbors a contradiction. You have not done this. Heinlein and many others have offered stories in which there are no contradictions. And all it takes to demonstrate possibility is one story free of contradiction. (Many philosophers misunderstand the methodology of possible-worlds tales. Quinton, for example, got it wrong in his "Spaces and Times", Philosophy, vol. 37 no. 140 (Apr. 1962), pp. 130-47. I explain his error, and the correct methodology, on pp. 218-219 in my Beyond Experience (referred to earlier).)
Remember the logic of possibility ( ) is just the logic of existence [ (x) ] extended to the set of all possible worlds. Failure to find time travel in one possible world does not show its impossibility, any more than failing to find my wristwatch in the bedroom would show that it does not exist. To be sure there are (some) scenarios describing time travel which are self-contradictory. (You just gave one such, in saying that you both said hello to your grandparents and did not.) But one proves the logical impossibility of time travel only if one shows that every story of time travel is logically self-contradictory. There is no self-contradiction in the little story I just told about the visitor from 2045; there are no self-contradictions in the stories I just mentioned by Robert Heinlein. In these stories, the time travelers 'really' walk about, observe, and are actors on the scene, in the past; however, they change nothing. They no more bring about contradictions than you and I do by doing whatever it is we do today.
BD> Therefore, the only way to travel into the past is
BD> to do so in a way that changes nothing.
Yes. I agree completely. But I would also add "Ditto for travel in space". Travel in space is similarly constrained by the law of non-contradiction.
BD> But to travel this way is thereby not to travel into the past
BD> at all because travel into the past requires changing the
This is too strong, and it is question-begging. The corresponding argument about space would 'show' (illicitly) that travel in space is impossible.
Dowden to Swartz
Nov. 2, 1993
I found your argument about the visitor from 2045 very convincing. I guess I've never thought very seriously about the issue of time travel. Yes, I now believe it is logically possible to build a time machine which allows travel into the past where one does not change the past. This would be 'real' time travel, not just a disembodied existence passively viewing the scene. The person could contribute to making the past just the way it was.
Previously when I've thought about time travel into the past I've thought of that kind of travel that meets the demand "Oh, I wish I could go back and make the Toronto Blue Jays lose the World Series, or go back and make Adolf Hitler slip on a banana peel and die at the age of seven." That sort of time travel, in which the past does get changed, is logically impossible, and that is the only kind of time travel I was considering when I wrote page 202 of my textbook. So I'll change my ways in the future. I'll change the first sentence at the top of page 202 to say "Nobody has ever built a time machine that could take a person back to an earlier time to change what has happened." No, I believe the whole paragraph should be rewritten.
Thanks for the discussion about this topic of time travel.