Season 5, the time travel season is over, and we have a long wait ahead of us. While it was on, it spawned quite a few lively discussions, most notably about the conflict between free will and fate.
Since we do have some time on our hands now, and to pass the time, I thought I would stir the pot a little, and offer a chance to discuss the topic once more. But this time, using a nonLOST Story that I will post here.
I came up with this creepy little scenario a while back:
Two nerds were arguing the merits of time travel, as nerds have always done. The only difference was these two nerds had an actual working time machine.
The gist of the argument was that one nerd (we’ll call him Bob) believed that time travel does not allow for the exercise of free will, while the other (we’ll call him Mortimer) believed free will is hampered not at all by time travel.
The argument was going nowhere, armed as they are by mere words, and so a decision was made to use the time machine at their disposal to perform an experiment.
Bob said, “I say Mortimer, prepare for your arguments to melt before the intense heat of experiment! I will turn this time machine on and set it for exactly ten minutes into the past. Thus whatever is sent into it will come out of it ten minutes before entering. To put it in terms that your feeble mind can grasp, an object will exit this time machine and due to the all powerful laws of causality (which supersede your laughable notions of free will), ten minutes later we will have no choice but to put that object into the time machine.”
Mortimer was unimpressed, confident as he was in the inevitable triumph of free will. “Very well, Bob. I accept your terms. But what shall we send through? It must be something instantly recognisable so that there will be no schenannigans, temporal or otherwise.”
“Agreed,” replied Bob, “In that case I nominate my hand. I will pass my hand through. When this happens I will shake hands with myself, and then ten minutes later I will pass my hands through and repeat the performance, but this time from the other side.”
“Then it is agreed.”
Bob powered up the time machine and set it on the table. The two friends watched the little machine intently, waiting for Bob’s hand to emerge.
Before long, a finger tip poked out, hesitantly at first but then suddenly and forcefully, knocking the time machine over in its struggle. Bob jumped forward and placed the machine back on its stand. He could see his hand poking from the portal, but it was not the relaxed friendly appendage he had expected to see. It was flailing to and fro, as if struggling to retract back into the machine.
This was rather disconcerting and Bob, his attention seized by the writhing digits, asked Mortimer, “Why do you suppose that’s happening?”
Mortimer’s answer came quickly, as if the question was expected, “Because you know I’m about to do this!”
And Mortimer impaled the hand to the table with a large knife. Bob’s scream was echoed by a shrill outburst that emanated from the time machine.
Bob lurched forward, shoving Mortimer aside, and yanked the knife free. The bleeding hand was immediately yanked into the time machine and vanished.
Bob wheeled around to confront Mortimer, “What the hell did you do that for!?” he shrieked.
Mortimer was laughing, “To give you the chance to put your money where your mouth is.” A sly grin slid across his face, “Or should I say your hand? Look, according to you, in about ten minutes time, you will put your hand into that machine, knowing full well the outcome if you do. According to you, despite every reason not to, causality will force you to do it. I say it’s poppycock. You won’t do it.”
The blood drained from Bob’s face as the reality of his situation sunk in. Mortimer was right, if he didn’t put his hand in the portal, what would happen? Would the universe implode? Would a parallel universe be born? His mind balked at the scenario, but it was inescapable. He was going to do it.
All the while that Bob struggled with the cruelty of his fate, its perpetrator sat there, smug, basking in his cleverness, not a shred of remorse in evidence. He sat there watching Bob, enjoying the agony he had wrought.
Disgusted, Bob turned away and looked at the time machine. It sat there.
Mortimer laughed again.
Bob had had enough. He would not let that pompous windbag win. Without clearly thinking his sudden idea through, lest he change his mind, Bob turned back and pounced on Mortimer.
“You think this is funny don’t you! You think this is all a big joke.”
Bob grabbed Mortimer and wrestled him to the ground. He got a grip on the other’s right wrist and pulled him to his feet.
“Well, I think you missed the real punchline my friend.”
Bob forced Mortimer toward the table where the time machine still waited.
Mortimer tried to break free of Bob’s grasp, but in vain. Bob pushed his captive into the side of the table, knocking the wind and most of the fight out of him. With the resistance slakened, Bob forced Mortimer’s hand into the time machine.
The full realization of his predicament seized Mortimer and he took up the struggle anew, but still Bob held tight.
Suddenly Mortimer screamed.
Bob slackened his grip and watched in horror as Mortimer writhed in pain.
Suddenly he jerked his hand free of the portal and doubled over on the ground under the table. Bob immediately called an ambulance.
Guilt overcame his anger and he crouched beside his victim, hoping to console him. Bob was shocked to find Mortimer laughing.
Mortimer turned to look at Bob, his face streaming with tears, but still he laughed. “I was right. You were wrong.” He laughed.
“You’re in shock. The paramedics are on their way. Look, I know this will sound lame, but I’m sorry. I – I wasn’t thinking clearly. I’ll make it up to you, I promise. I’ll do anything.”
“Admit you were wrong.”
Mortimer looked at Bob again and grabbed his lapel with his uninjured hand, staining it with his blood, “You were wrong, admit it.”
“Come now, Mortimer! This is madness! You’re in shock, we don’t-”
“You were wrong! You used your free will! Despite the obvious outcome, despite seeing your hand come out of the portal, despite seeing it stabbed, you used your free will to change things. You put my hand through instead. Your free will triumphed, admit it!”
Bob though hard. “No Mortimer. I didn’t change anything. It was your hand that came through. Remember? It was struggling, it knocked the time machine over, because I-” Bob swallowed hard, “because I was forcing your hand into the machine. The events acted out exactly as they always did, I changed nothing.”
Mortimer wasn’t listening. His breathing was shallow. Bob felt his pulse it was fading.
“Mortimer! You were right! I was wrong! Mortimer!”
Mortimer’s eye’s flew open and he sprang up gleefully, “I knew you would see it my way!” He went into the kitchen to bandage his hand, leaving a befuddled Bob sitting under the table with his blood-stained lapel.
Who was right?