I had the pleasure of running into myself over the weekend. I had been watching the Olympics on television when the sound of a large bang – much like that caused by something large suddenly appearing and displacing the air that had previously been occupying the points in space now given over to the something large – filtered through to my ears.
The bang had come from the kitchen and my immediate thought was that the cats were up to no good again; their attempts at cooking have often led to much finger-wagging, cleaning of burnt equipment, and discarding of broken crockery and it wouldn’t have been the first time for either of them to have switched the gas on and then have trouble with the ignition switch on the hob.
The Olympics was getting interesting – and by that I mean that they were just about to show some more coverage of the women’s gymnastics – when some neurons started firing in my brain. You see, one of the cats was on my lap and the other one was on the sofa and both had their ears pricked up and were staring as if looking through the various walls towards the kitchen. Clearly, the bang had not been caused by feline experimentation this time around. Could my other half be responsible? My cranial cogs clicked around and decided that no, what with her not being in the house and all that, it was unlikely to be her at fault.
Ah. I persuaded my lapwarmer to remove himself and stood up to investigate. The air felt heavy like just before a storm and there was a slight smell, a bit like hot metal. I made my way to the kitchen and discovered …
My kitchen is fairly large for the houses in the area: just over twenty feet long and about ten wide with units down each side and quarry tiles on the floor. You tend to notice usually that there are not giant noses in the middle of the room but on this occasion that particular observation was lacking. Also, the number of yourselves in the room tend to be zero if you’re not there or one if you are. On this occasion I numbered two and this struck me, along with the giant nose, as being particularly unusual.
My doppelganger smiled and said, "I bet you’re wondering why there’s a giant nose and another you here aren’t you?"
"Hmmm," I hmmmed. "I must confess that the thought has just crossed my mind but if I had to guess I’d say that you were either a future version of me – not too far in the future from the look of it – who has travelled backwards through time in a giant nose-shaped time machine or the intent staring for potential camel-toes on the gymnasts has ruptured a vessel in my cerebral cortex and I’m having an episode."
"Bravo!" the other I said to me. "You’re absolutely right … about the first part that is. You haven’t suffered an embolism you’ll be pleased to know."
I was pleased but didn’t let on. Instead, I said "So, time travel’s really possible then? I guess a lot of scientists are going to have egg on their faces."
My alternate self laughed and then explained why time travel is possible:
"Time travel is impossible now and that will always be the case but as technology and understanding improve over time the possibility of time travel being possible in the future increases. Would you agree so far?" I chewed on my lip for a second and nodded. It sounded reasonable. "Okay, given that, we can say that the probability of time travel being possible now is very small indeed but each day that passes that probability rises. It’s a very small rise but the important thing is that it’s a rise. Now, we know the universe is infinite or, if it’s not, then it’s doing a good impersonation so we can easily see that our very small probability tends towards certainty as you approach the end of everything. Following this?"
In my mind I pictured a little graph with a slope representing probability of time travel being possible rising as the axis increased over time. I thought I followed it well enough and nodded again.
"Excellent. Finally, the universe is quantum in nature and obeys probability at the various quanta energy levels so, knowing that, we can see that while time travel is clearly impossible now, no matter when now is, because it will be possible in the future it is possible now even though it isn’t!"
The other I looked pleased and raised his/our/my eyebrows. I sensed he was expecting me to suddenly comprehend so I pretended I did. I then asked "So, where did you get the time machine from and why is it shaped like a giant nose?"
"Well," I replied to me, "I got the time machine from a future version of myself, a future future version of yourself, and he got it from a future version of himself, et cetera. The reason for the nose shape is …"
We were interrupted at that point by the sound of a loud bang – much like that caused by something large suddenly appearing and displacing the air that had previously been occupying the points in space now given over to the something large – from upstairs. We both laughed and said "Bloody cats" before we felt the air thicken, like before a storm, and fill with the aroma of hot metal.
"Crap," we said in unison and trundled up the stairs to the bedroom.
We have a nice bedroom; deep purple walls (the colour, not the group) with gold as the accent colour and mostly filled with a metal-framed, four-poster bed with golden, translucent drapes. Until our entry into the room, however, the room had lacked a giant nose and the most number of mes it had ever had in there at one time had only ever been one: it was now three.
"Do we suppose that there is a danger that at some point the universe may consist of nothing but us?" I asked.
"A bit like the replicators from Stargate, you mean?" I 3 asked.
"Only more handsome!" I 2 interjected.
We all smiled and, had anyone been looking in from outside, it would have made them sick. I was still concerned though and my other selves reflected that emotion back at me behind their grins. At that moment another I bounded in through the bedroom door.
I mentioned that I hadn’t heard my latest incarnation arrive and he replied that he’d had to park outside as the kitchen and bedroom were already taken and the giant nose time machine had built-in safeguards to prevent it occupying the same place in time.
"Anyway," I 4 said, "As you’ve probably just become aware we’ve got a problem because the further forward in time we go the more of us there are going to be and the interest of people will eventually give way to distrust, then fear, and outright war. Future versions of ourselves have come up with a plan that involves going back in time and telling previous versions of ourselves not to go back in time so as to prevent the problem. So … who wants to pop back and tell the others?"
"Is this a paradox or does this simply not make sense?" I asked. I 3 looked perplexed too.
"What’s the difference?" said I 2.
"Well," I answered, "I can accept a paradox because I’ve read about them and believe anything I read but if this simply doesn’t make sense then I have to conclude that I’ve lied to myself and I really am suffering some delusion."
Turns out I was right but I’m better now.