Is time travel ethical? Should you alter your own timeline? Let’s dive into Back to the Future and figure out these ethical questions together. Make sure to let us know if you agree or disagree with our verdict!
In sci-fi classic, Back to the Future, Marty McFly is invited by scientist, Dr. Emmet Brown to see his time traveling DeLorean in action and preps a trip to 11/5/1955, the day Doc conceived the idea of time travel. A group of pissed off terrorists interrupt and shoot Doc Brown dead over their dealings with plutonium fuel.
Marty escapes to 1955 and disrupts the flow of history after getting pummeled by the car meant for his father. Accordingly, a younger version of his mother gets hot for him. The knucklehead Biff is there too.
In true classic sci-fi fashion, Marty McFly finds Doc Brown’s younger self and is told that the only way to power the DeLorean without plutonium, is with lightning. Marty attempts to normalize the tangled timeline by having his parents to kiss, but they don’t, at least not until Biff forces himself onto Lorraine and George comes to the rescue. The day is saved!
Marty returns to the clock tower as the lighting strikes, sending him back to 1985 to find that his father is a successful author, and Loraine is living large. All is well, and the future is saved, until Doc Brown appears with a warning and warps them back to the future for part 2.
Time travel was possibl due to the FLUX CAPACITOR. What’s a flux capacitor? Well, it’s imaginary for now. But, time travel IS possible due to quantum mechanics. Per Einstein, if you plug in faster than light velocity, you get backwards time travel. This is due to a hypothetical faster than light particle called tachyons.
If a flux capacitor was developed and generated tachyons to travel backwards in time, you’d likely be faced with the butterfly effect: “a phenomenon whereby a minute localized change in a complex system can have large effects elsewhere.” In other words, if you step on the wrong butterfly you’ll change the universe. But, it won’t be the universe you were born into, but rather, a new (potentially dystopian sci-fi) universe that you’ve created.
Welcome to paradoxe. According to Einstein, time is a river. It can speed up, slow down, whirlpool, even fork in different directions. When Marty McFly travels in the DeLorean, the river of time forks, and a parallel universe with a new timeline is created.
It’s time we get to some ETHICS. If you could time travel, does that mean you should alter your timeline, even if it isn’t the same timeline you were born into?
When the time traveling DeLorean is first revealed, Doc Brown and Marty McFly meet at Pines Mall. Moments later when Marty McFly travels backwards in time, he crashes into a farmhouse, and is chased by a gun-wielding farmer. Marty speeds away, but in doing so, runs over the farmers pine tree. Fast forwards towards the end of film, when Marty travels back to the Twin Pines Mall, we see that The Twin Pines Mall is now called the Lone Pine Mall. Thanks Butterfly effect.
Take George and Lorraine’s kiss. If Marty had prevented his parents from having their first kiss, he likely would have never been born, at least not in the parallel universe he traveled to. Every action has a reaction, and with numerous people comes numerous actions.
Is it morally fair to right perceived wrongs? Marty improved his parent’s lives, while bully biff became a loser. But while we cheer at our hero’s win, we don’t know who else was affected. What if Biff and his father were wealthy, and his mother was poor, left with nothing after their divorce? Maybe she had cancer, and the only reason she was beating the cancer was because Biff was paying for her chemotherapy. With Biff defeated, his mother could have been too.
It all comes down to the fact that a trillion different actions took place for George and Lorraine to have their first kiss. Any action, no matter how small, can have adverse effects on people all over the world, either beneficial or detrimental.
Ultimately, we at Space Taste believe that time travel is ethical, but only if you lay down some ground rules before hopping in that Delorean and keep your visit to “observation only”. Leave your thoughts in the comments below. See you next time, future travelers.
This video is not sponsored by Universal or related to the filmmaking team behind Back to the Future in any way. We are not associated with BTTF in any capacity…we just love sci-fi, superheroes, comic books, and looking into the ethics behind time travel.
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