The Morality of Time Travel

Okay, I realize that the odds of time travel actually becoming possible are nearly non-existant, but suppose that, somehow you found yourself in the past, one month before a significant event in history, say the bombing of Pearl Harbor, 9/11, or some other event. Additionally, your trip is one way, once you find yourself in the past, there’s no way for you to return to the future, but you are in possesion of an amount of money which is double the average income of the time period in which you’re in. Should you alert the authorities as to what’s going to happen? You have no evidence other than your word as to what’s going to happen, but you might be able to have an impact on future events if you tell someone. Would it be wrong for you, morally, to take a portion of that money and invest it such a way that you’d be able to profit from the coming events, even if you alerted the authorities and they took your claims seriously?

For example, say you find yourself in America on November 7th, 1941. You alert the government that the Japanese are going to attack Pearl Harbor in one month. Now, even if the US government believes you, and takes steps to prepare for the attack, the US is most likely still going to find itself in WW II, knowing this, would it be wrong for you to invest in the various companies which are going to thrive thanks to the war? You know, for example, that GM is going to be building lots and lots of things for the war effort and that after the war, they’re going to be a prosperous company, whereas Studebaker and Packard (two other car companies) are going to survive the war, but not last much past it. Would it be wrong of you to invest in them, morally, since you know the future?

If you found yourself in the body of an 18 year old male at that time, would you enlist in the military? Or would you find some way to avoid the service (say by going to college) since you know that the Allies are going to win the war and your service in the military wouldn’t be essential to the US winning the war? What would you do if you found yourself in Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan?

most of the time travel concepts are that you cannot tamper with events
only witness them
otherwise your parents might be dead!!!:cool:

It seems to me that it would only be immoral to use your knowledge of the future for profit if it would be moral to kill a man with one method you knew was going to die anyway in a more painful way. I mean, at the core of every moral decision is a requirement of some sort of knowledge of the situation at hand. But that knowledge only helps making a decision, not making a good decision (a morally proper one).

Actually there are several concepts that say changing history won’t change YOUR future but instead create a separate timeline parallel to it.

If I lived in Nagasaki or Hirshima, I would move.

Susanann, would you tell the nice couple down the street who run grocery store that it might be a good day to take a vacation in the country? Would you attempt to warn the mothers in the apartment building down the street that you have inside knowledge that a bombing raid was planned?

To add to what Czarcasm said, would it be okay for you not to pay rent that August of 1945 since you know that by the time the apartment managers can get around to evicting you, there won’t be a building left? If you owned property in either Hiroshima or Nagasaki, would you be wrong for selling it to someone prior to the bombs being dropped?

Personally, I would do this. However, think about all the Urban Legends that bubbled up after 9/11 concerning the “friendly Arab-Americans” who allegedly warned people to stay away from NYC on that day. If you really did have knowledge that a disaster was going to strike, many persons might conclude that you were collaborating with the enemy.

As Duke said, I think that having information on an upcoming event would make it seem like you were in league with the enemy. Besides that, I don’t think it would much matter what you did if you traveled back in time. I don’t think the outcome can be changed because everything, including you going back in time, already happeend and led to that outcome. I’m not sure if that makes sense, so I’ll give an example. You go back in time to keep Abraham Lincoln from being assassinated. In trying to tackle the killer, you instead jostle him so that a bullet that would have missed Lincoln without your intervention instead hits him. Instead, your actions actually lead to his assassination. So, going back and warning the officials would have no effect because the outcome cannot be changed. IANA scientist or an expert of any sort, of course, so it’s all IMO.

So, here I am, in the woods outside of Fairfax, with twenty or thirty thousand dollars in my pocket, in cash, I guess. It’s November the seventh, 1941, and I have the rest of my life to live, starting a few years before my birth. If I stop the war, my parents will never meet. If I delay it by even a week, in fact, my parents will never meet. (Specific timing of this event is very important, in my family’s history.)

The fact is my Grandfather was just out there a year ago installing the air defense warning system at Pearl Harbor, but he doesn’t know me. I even know the name of the man who handled signals for the Department of the Army, on the day in question. But he doesn’t know me. I have a fairly good idea who knew exactly who to talk to about changing the way things were handled on the big day, but you see, I only remember him as an old man, who told stories to a young boy. He isn’t going to believe me.

In a few years, I will have to think about how much it matters that I think the date June 6th, 1944 might be an important day. I better just shut up about that, huh? When Kennedy goes to Dallas, in twenty two years, I am going to be pushing eighty, and it doesn’t seem likely to me that anyone will believe me then, either. What do I do, go sit in the book depository, or camp out at the grassy knoll?

I know that I should sell my Enron when it hits Eighty. Of course, I will be fairly old, when that happens. I can’t even get near the job I have now, because if I do, I am going to be involved in the damnedest case of pointless whistleblowing you ever heard of. The stuff that is going on is entirely heinous, and no one will even give a damned. That won’t even be possible for another twenty years. And if I do, folks will ask, who are you? Who the hell am I? I most definitely am not me, since I am not even born yet, and have a beard down to here already.

I’m buying a nice house with my cash, not too far from here, and renting out rooms for a few years. Then when Mobile Oil comes to buy up the property, I will hold out the longest, and make a bundle. Until then, I am gonna live by going to Pimlico, and Churchill Downs, and betting the names I recognize.


OK, how could I as an individual affect a significant event like Pearl Harbor, Nagasaki/Horishima, or even 9-11?

If I go back in time, I have no previous identity. I tell the authorities what I know, they check up on me and I didnt exist prior to my arrival. Yeah, they’ll believe me on the spot. They’ll arrest me, check up on me some more and when the event happens (coz I cant stop it) They’ll have a real live spy ready for the sacrifice.

I may make every effort to clue someone about what is going to happen but I am not going to go directly. In the case of Pearl Harbor, I may get a radio and transmit in Japanese on an open channel an Hour before the attack. I may try to find that stupid lieutenant that is manning the radar station on that day and stress the fact that verification is essential and not just assume.

I may explode a warehouse or 2 the night before just to put the fleet on alert, altho that lil trick might get me a life sentence.

But in the long run, I would strive to survive the whole thing, plan to buy IBM stock along with Microsoft, genentech, (sell before year 2000), Xerox, General Dynamics, RCA, Motorola along with several japanese firms after the war. Firms like Honda, Toyota, Mitsubishi and Sony.

Which is why you don’t do it that way. If you’re going to stop Booth, you don’t wait till the last possible second. You shoot that SOB the morning before he plans to get Lincoln. You then high tail it out of town and make a new life for yourself somewhere else (since fingerprints and ballastics were unknown sciences back then, it shouldn’t be too hard for you to get away if there were no witnesses to the crime).

I’d invent Post-It notes and voicemail.

Everyone thinks that they can invent Post-it notes. You know the glue on those suckers is a very special type of adhesive. It has to hold on, and it has to come off without leaving a residue, and without tearing the note, or whatever it was put on.

3M had the adhesive first, and then some smart sucker came up with the use for it. Up until then the adhesive was just another failure. Not strong enough. Stuff you used it on could just be pulled off without a trace.

So, go ahead and invent the Hula Hoop, and the Frisbee.


See, the way my theory works is, the past cannot be changed. Everything you do in the past has already been done and either led to or not affected the outcome. For example, on one episode of Futurama (I know it’s a cartoon, just stay with me), the main character Fry goes back in time. He ends up killing his grandfather and sleeping with his grandmother. And yet, nothing changes. His going back in time led to his own birth; he just didn’t know it. Of course, this is just how I like to think time travel would work - it can’t be proven, I just wanted to explain the theory further.

I’ve read stories that had cheap cop-outs like that before. They don’t answer the real question, they create a special situation that begs the real question. Now, if Fry had killed his grandfather and slept with his grandmother, it may very well explain his brain damage, but it doesn’t expain what might happen if he did something intentional that couldn’t be explained by such a cheap plot twist. Lets say that he killed his grandmother and slept with his grandfather. How could time right itself and bring about Fry’s existence in the short period of time left until his(now highly unlikely) birth?

The folks from Wham-O are looking for you, Tris.

With a pocket laser pistol.

I’d go back to 1955 and write Let It Be

No, actually it’s an interesting question. If I did that, would it be plagairism? Even if the song hadn’t been written yet?

What if my existence modifies the new timeline and 1971 comes along and it turns out The Beatles never wrote Let it Be. Would it be moral to claim it as your own then?

My guess would be that your version wouldn’t sell as well as the Beatles did… :smiley:


Sam, in 1955 you would have been run out of town on a rail for writing Let it be. People got bent out of shape by the stuff that actually got written in 1955, never mind Beatles songs. Can you imagine ** Imagine** on American Bandstand?

I don’t think so.