Sunday, June 7, 2009

You Know What Would Suck?

Original Posting
Time Machines.

I can think of no more obvious example of where science and human power would be more detrimental to human flourishing. Think about what would happen, if you will, if we were ever able to expand our knowledge and understanding to the degree that we can manipulate the flow of time itself, allowing us to create a device that would allow us to move backward (or forward) in time.

The first issue would be availability. Presumably this would be very expensive machinery, accessible only to a small group of powerful individuals. Still, the excitement and outrage from the public would cause a panic. 'We can go back in time and kill Hitler!' they will think, 'but we can also go back in time and kill Washington, or Newton, or Einstein, or Darwin.' People will be excited about the possibilities of undoing the horrors of the past, but they will also be afraid that someone could undo the great achievements of the past (after all, there's bound to be people who think the world would be a better place without some of them).

Of course, that will only be part of the population. There will be a huge portion of the population that understands what a horrible instrument this could be. After all, one little change in the past can have radical, unpredicted, and unwanted effects on the future. 'Stop the whole thing!' they will say, 'we can't control this! Maybe we can be proud of this accomplishment, it says a lot about human ingenuity to build a device that would allow us to go into the past... but at the end of the day the effects of our actions could have all kinds of unintended consequences. A simple trip to assassinate teenage Adolf could end with us all under Communist rule! Or maybe the Nazis win without Hitler! Or maybe it'll allow anti-Jewish sentiment to persist long enough for someone else to come along and do a more devastating holocaust. Too dangerous, put it away.'

It will not, of course, be put away. If the main argument about changing the past is unpredictable results, this simply means we need to increase our understanding. We cannot say we cannot, it's all a matter of effort! It simply means we need more evidence, more data, more research so that we can precisely calculate the effects of our alterations. Those who decry it as dangerous and unpredictable are passing up a golden opportunity. We finally have the power to fix history! It would be unethical not to use it.

After all, if you (who have knowledge of Hurricane Katrina) could go back in time and warn the appropriate people of the devastation it will cause, wouldn't you be a horrible person not to do so? If you, with all your knowledge of the Nazi's and their attempts to exterminate the Jews and create an Aryan world, do not attempt to warn people then you're no better than the god who sits back while these things happen! For the good of humanity, we must use this technology!

The outcry is still great, of course, so the government has to step in. The government will be asked to put a stop to all this, to keep the people who want to change history from actually doing so. Naturally, the government sees the value of this technology: all of their errors can be fixed. Brush away the Vietnam War, that didn't turn out right. Now that the War in Iraq is no longer popular, get ready to hit the 'undo' button. The public doesn't like it? Well, if we change it, the public won't have any knowledge that history's been changed would it? We were elected to do what's good for the people; even if the people do not like what's good for them we must still do it.

Then, in the name of what's good for humanity, in the name of human flourishing, in the name of living well, the scientist will study to make results predictable and a government team of planners will map out a series of changes that will improve the life of humanity. They'll go back and improve humanity, the ultimate triumph of human power and reason over the natural course of things! They'll control history, in the name of humanity's good of course, and that will result in absolute power.

"Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the [machine] controls the past."

We could all be manipulated easily then, all one would have to do in pinpoint the points wherein we as a society were least suspicious and most willing to trust authority, then make their sweeping changes. If they don't work, just hit 'undo,' and try something else. You've got all the time in the world to find something that works. They'll brush away any ethical objections by reminding themselves that it would be unethical not to try to improve the world in this way.

Then, we'll be powerless. We'll be utterly at the mercy of those who are able to control the machine. Even if we're powerless because our overlords seek our good, we're still powerless.

That's why time machines would suck.

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