Is Grandpa Safe?

One of the oldest themes in science fiction is time travel, and one of the oldest story lines in the time travel genre deals with the paradoxes of going back in time.  What if you went back into time and, like Marty McFly, did something that changed the future course of events so dramatically that you never actually came into being?

It’s called the Grandfather Paradox.  Specifically, what if you went back in time and killed your own grandfather before he had the chance to father your mother or your father?  And if you did, and your parents and, ultimately, you never existed as a result, then how could you have been here to go back into time and kill dear old Granddad in the first place?

Science fiction deals with this in all kinds of interesting ways — postulating, for example, the creation of parallel universes every time a back-in-time traveler messes with the existing continuum of events and offs an ancestor — but science isn’t so easily satisfied.  It’s clear that forward time travel actually can occur under Einstein’s theory of relativity and concepts of time dilation; tests have proven that as a spacecraft’s speed increases, a clock on board the ship runs more slowly than a clock back on Earth.  In short, blast off and travel fast and far enough, and you’ll return to a world where your children are older than you are.

Einstein’s theories also suggest that travel back in time is theoretically possible, because the interaction between gravity and spacetime means that if a sufficient gravitational field existed, a closed timelike curve could be created and the time traveler could travel along that curve to the past.  Some scientists, like Stephen Hawking, argue that the Grandfather Paradox means that backward time travel and therefore closed timelike curves cannot exist, and they puckishly argue that the fact that we aren’t currently besieged by future beings who’ve figured out how to journey back in time means such travel is not possible.

Other scientists, however, accept the possibility of moving along a closed timelike curve and have been testing theories that would prevent Grandpa’s untimely demise.  One theory focuses on consistency, and another on correlation.  The “consistency” theory argues that any object that enters a closed timelike curve must exit the curve with the same properties — which evidently means that, thanks to your self-directed consistency, you couldn’t go back and kill your grandfather and prevent your own existence.  Scientists have actually tried to test this theory, using polarized photons launched through a time loop simulator, and the tests showed that the simulated time-traveling photons had the same properties the theory would predict.  Another theory contemplates a kind of “post-selection” concept that (I think) means that you couldn’t go back into time unless you had already gone back into time and were therefore part of the causal chain that created the world in which you live.  The time loop is closed, and whatever you would do on your backward trip would inevitably be what you had already done.

Like everything in quantum physics, it’s all very weird and confusing, and of course the theoretical physicists don’t explain why anyone would want to go back into time and murder their own grandfather, anyway.  But the upshot of the theories and testing seems to be that, even if backward time travel could occur, Grandpa apparently is safe.  All grandfathers and potential future grandfathers can now breathe a sigh of relief.

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No Good Summer Movies

Jaws was released on June 1, 1975.  Taut, believable, and  brilliantly acted, telling the story of a gigantic great white shark that terrorized a resort town and then coldly set out to kill the men who were hunting it, Jaws was perfect fare for the summer.  Anyone who saw it in a theater with a big screen, with the iconic “dun-dun, dun-dun” music playing and letting you know to prepare yourself for the awful carnage that was going to begin at any moment, will never forget it and always feel a thrill when they think of it.

Summer used to be the big season for movies.  You could relax in air-conditioned comfort, enjoy the movie, and practice the hinge move on your girlfriend in a darkened room.  And Hollywood always seemed to deliver at least one great movie that ran throughout the summer.  Whether it was Jaws, the original Star Wars movies, E.T., Raiders of the Lost Ark, Ghostbusters, Back to the Future, or Animal House, every year there was at least one can’t miss movie that everyone was talking about.  Watch any of those films, or the other summer blockbusters that you remember, and you’ll see well-made films that stand the test of time.

Last weekend Kish and I decided a trip to the movies was a good idea, so we checked the roster at the nearby multiplex.  Another Transformers movie.  Another X-Men movie.  A silly comedy, Tammy.  A remake of a TV series, 22 Jump Street, that we never watched in the first place.  Edge of TomorrowThink Like A Man Too.  And others, equally forgettable.  And this weekend, the big premiere is of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes — another remake, one that the previews indicate is full of computer-generated scenes of rampaging apes.  We yawned and decided to pass — and we’re not alone.  With these lame offerings, is anyone really surprised that Hollywood receipts are way down this summer?

In the past, Hollywood at least seemed to make an effort to deliver summer movies that were new and exciting, well-written, well-acted, and well-made.  Now, it offers a steady diet of remakes and movies that rely heavily on formulas and special effects, explosions, and groin shot humor.  If Jaws were released this summer, it would stand out among this tired and uninspired fare like LeBron James at a junior high school game.

C’mon, Hollywood.  At least try!

Making A Federal Case Out Of It

In case you missed it, last week was the first “federal anti-bullying summit.”

According to statistics quoted at the summit, in 2007 one out of three middle school and high school students reported being bullied at some point.  Does anyone really think that percentage is greater than it was in, say, 1970?  Speaking as an overweight, pimply, glasses-wearing junior high school student of that era, I can assure you from bitter personal experience that bullying was alive and well in the America of decades gone by.  Watch A Christmas Story or Back To The Future if you don’t believe me.

So, what has changed?  Just the fact that the federal government now seems to be involved in everything.  And listen to what Arne Duncan, the Secretary of Education, had to say about the federal response to bullying, according to the article linked above:  “Duncan promised new coordination among federal agencies, better data to understand the problem and solutions, and more federal funding, especially for those schools with the greatest needs.”

So, we will try to “solve” local bullying problems by getting federal agencies more involved, doing some national-level numbers crunching, and throwing more federal bucks at the schools that apparently are the most inept at dealing with their specific bullying problems.  Does anyone else find this ridiculous, as well as pointless?

Have our local school boards and school administrators really become so feeble and pathetic that they have to look to Washington, D.C. to figure out how to deal with the playground bully?  Ralphie didn’t need the feds to tell him how to deal with Scut Farkas, and Marty managed to take care of Biff without seeking federal funding.  Wouldn’t we all be better off if our local institutions and school principals actually did their jobs and the federal government focused on issues that are truly national in scope and importance?