Are You Hungry? I Haven’t Eaten Since Later Today: Chrono-Ethics in “Primer” – Part 3

This is a continuation of Part 1 and Part 2 of this article.

We left off with Abe and Aaron working out a plan to go back in time.

As Abe and Aaron get in the car to begin to carry out the plan, they notice the father of Abe’s friend Rachel, Thomas Granger, in his car behind them, seemingly staking them out. There would be no reason for Granger to be outside Aaron’s home in the middle of the night, so they call Granger at his home…and he answers.

Somehow, in a future timeline that we never see, Granger has traveled back in time.

He is both in his car watching Abe and Aaron and also at his house answering his phone.

The implications are psychologically terrifying:

Abe and Aaron are living in someone else’s past. The timeline that they’ve been experiencing is not the “prime” timeline.  In effect, they are not in control of the events of their lives. A future version of one of them must have told Granger about their time-travel abilities for reasons that we can’t know, leading the characters to question each other:

“Were you planning on telling him?”

“I would never tell anyone, would you?”

“No. What if it were an emergency?”

“No, why would you?”

We might deduce that it’s a future Abe since Granger is the father of Abe’s friend Rachel, and Granger apparently suffers extreme physical degradation if he comes within close proximity of Abe. Then again, we only know that through the narrator who we later learn is an nth version of an Aaron of very questionable ethics.

The need to control or prevent a catastrophic infinite recursion loop like the one we see in Primer leads to a crucial question:

What type of person might we select to travel back in time if and when we develop the ability?

That person would have almost godlike powers, and the frailty of the human condition might be enough to lead that person to use the ability to time-travel for personal gain—wealth, fame, power, etc. We would have to select someone that had been trained since birth to forswear the vain trappings of the world and work solely for the good of humanity.

Whether that is possible, I don’t know. I suspect not but perhaps we start now, training a generation of people in preparation for the time when we have the ability: training such as monks, hermits, or ascetics might receive. If we can perform the mental gymnastics that lead to the ability to time-travel, if the human mind can evolve to a point that it cracks the space-time continuum, surely it can also develop a chrono-ethics strategy to prevent a disaster like we see in “Primer” in which the ability to create a utopia devolves into dystopian terror in less than one week.

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