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Oct 6, 2009

Time Travel and Mental Powers


By "mental powers" I mean abilities such as telepathic communication of thoughts, precognition and the "mantalic" abilities described by Issac Asimov in some of his science fiction stories. Time travel is another popular plot element in science fiction. I am a fan of Asimov's Foundation Universe and the way he united it with his Robot Stories. I also like the idea that his time travel story The End of Eternity can be linked to the Foundation Universe by means of telepathic robots who used time travel to assure that the Foundation would come into existence.

Time Travel and Mental Powers are popular science fiction plot elements that have long made me uncomfortable. Along with Faster-Than-Light space travel, I have no reason to suspect that Time Travel and Mental Powers are possible. I enjoy hard science fiction and I always feel most comfortable when stories stay away from plot elements that seem to contradict what we know about the universe. However, I've been trying to become more open to plot elements like Time Travel and Mental Powers. For example, I worked hard to get comfortable with telepathy in "The Search for Kalid". To do so, I had to invent an entire "science of telepathy" that I could imagine as speculative future science.

I've long been puzzled by the way that Asimov seemed to pull the idea of telepathic robots "out of the blue". My first step towards finding a way to accept telepathy within the context of "hard science fiction" was the story Mnemtronium. The idea behind that story is that it might be possible to discover some "new physics" that would make telepathy possible. I'm pleased with the way the idea of "T particles" developed as a plot device for telepathy in "The Search for Kalid" and I look forward to further developing the idea in "The Start of Eternity", particularly in the context of robots with positronic brains.

When I started writing stories set in what I call the Exodemic Fictional Universe I did not allow myself the luxury of Faster-Than-Light space travel. However, I'm certainly dealing with FTL travel in The Start of Eternity and I was able to live with FTL communication in VirileMail. Of course, "The Start of Eternity" also deals with Time Travel (as imagined by Asimov), although my intention is to arrange things so that Time Travel becomes impossible by the end of "The Start of Eternity". I still have mixed feelings about FTL travel in science fiction. I think there are many interesting science fiction stories that could be written about a future without it, but most people just reflexively assume that outer space is boring unless you can travel quickly from world to world. I'm very troubled by time travel in science fiction. Asimov's "The End of Eternity" has some appeal because it puts a limit on the use of time travel. Without such a limit, time travel scenarios tend to degenerate into silly fantasies such as "time travel wars" where people endlessly revert each other's changes to time.

I started thinking about Time Travel and Mental Powers today when I was playing around on Facebook. I began experimenting with Twitter earlier this year and I finally got around to starting a Facebook account. I found a Facebook group devoted to Asimov and a discussion post there from Paul Levinson. This knol contains the topic of that Facebook post (the Facebook post links to where you can listen to an audio version). I'll explain in my next blog post how Levinson's topic (How Pierre-Simon Laplace’s Demon Finds a Stage in the Foundation and Dune Trilogies) and his novel "The Plot to Save Socrates" got me thinking about Time Travel and Mental Powers...and exactly what I'm thinking along those lines.

Image. I made this as a cover image for "The Search for Kalid". This image was made by using a few copyleft images: Details and Credits.

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