John C. Wright on Time Travel: An Absurdity Wrapped in a Non-Starter

It’s a longish post, but well worth your time.

In science fiction stories, there are a limited number of ways to explain the conundrum of how time travel can work in a world where there is both the appearance of free will and the appearance of cause and effect.

I doubt I can list all the various answers of the various imaginative authors who have attempted in an entertaining way to address the paradox. It makes for entertaining bull sessions by college students and philosophers, however.

But I can mention some basics:

In effect, the effort is to see how you can keep one or both of the appearances of cause and effect and of free will.

Wright mentions a number of methods (he calls them “options”) for dealing with the paradox:

  1. Free Will Doesn’t Exist (You can go back in time, but you will do exactly what you did, because that is what happened. This is the Slaughterhouse Five answer. “The Moment is Structured That Way” say the Tralfalmadorians).
  2. Cause and Effect Doesn’t Exist (You can go back in time, but in changing the past you only eliminate yourself).
  3. The Universe Doesn’t Like Things Changed (You can go back in time, and change the past, but the universe will order itself so that it gets the desired result in spite of your actions. This is the Tralfalmadorians-on-Steroids).
  4. Time Travel is Just a Scene-Change Device (Dr. Who, Quantum Leap, etc.)
  5. Multiple Time Lines Without Consequence (the easiest solution, in which no matter how much mucking about you do, the only changes will be cosmetic, and you can always go back and re-do it, and you will discover that you in fact, already have)
  6. Time is a Hard Drive Being Overwritten (By changing the past, you destroy the original timeline in which time travel was invented. So time-travel has the result of eliminating time-travel)

It’s great fun to consider, and I’ve always admired the Back the Future precisely because it makes Time Travel very difficult. You’ve got to have a Flux Capacitor and you’ve got to have 1.21 jiggiwatts of electricity and you’ve got to get that car up to 88 mph. Miss either one of these, and the time travel won’t happen.

I also especially enjoy the second movie because the plot takes it back inside the structure of the first movie, and revisits the exact same scenes without disturbing any of them, or indeed having anyone in those scenes notice that they’re being observed. It fascinates me. I’ve never seen a sequel deconstruct the first movie so entertainingly.

No, Islamic Spain was Not Tolerant

So sayeth this review of The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise. (h/t Vox Populi)

And yes, the reviewer is an Orthodox priest, if you want to ready your ad hominems, and he is positively scathing regarding the myth, even working in a Gone With the Wind reference.

As Fernandez-Morera’s book points out, the picture of a tolerant Islam can only be drawn by selecting among the facts and zeroing in on a few of the upper classes, while conveniently ignoring the mass of people and suppressing certain other facts—even facts about those upper classes.

Now, the fact that medieval Muslims forcibly oppressed Christians in their lands does not and should not surprise. Religions, if they’re worth anything, are totalizing, thus religious tolerance always has the tendency to border on being a contradiction in terms. So the status of Christian dhimmis in Muslim Spain as fifth-class subjects should not really be a revelation.

But it is, and this indicaes a broader problem, of a spiritual cancer at the heart of the West. There are those among us who are prepared to believe, and repeat, anything, if it makes our own culture look bad. The same people who tut derisively about the Crusades train themselves not to notice the wars of conquest by which Arab Muslims destroyed Christian Visigothic Spain in the eighth century. Their stunted ideology requires them to deplore the first thing and attack anyone who mentions the second thing as a racist (because, you know, Islam is a race. Oh, we know that it isn’t, but you’re too dumb to make that distinction). Attacking your own culture makes you virtuous, you see.

Even British Prime Minister Tony Blair climbed on the bandwagon, saying in 2007, “The standard-bearers of tolerance in the early Middle Ages were far more likely to be found in Muslim lands than in Christian ones”.

Given that the early Middle Ages were the time when Muslims attacked other lands specifically in the name of their religion, this statement beggars belief. I’d be hard pressed to think that Tony Blair even really thought this was true. It’s just the sort of thing we’re expected to say, a reading from the Catechism of the Blessed Dictatorship of Post-Cultural Relativism.

I Dislike Pynchon So I’m Reading More Pynchon

So I finally finished The Crying of Lot 49, and while I’d like to say the ending defied my expectations, it didn’t. My Goodreads review is as follows:

** spoiler alert ** A series of non-statements and mild suggestions and endless asides which we are supposed to forgive the author because he assigns his characters ridiculous names and makes his protagonist wander about having LSD-style revelations in longish semi-Faulknerian sentences. There’s a conspiracy to do something, and if you want to find out if any of its real, you’re going to have to decide for yourself, as the book merrily refuses to tell you. I guess you could call that a spoiler, but honestly there isn’t anything to spoil, and that’s the point. I want to punch the author for wasting my time.

But. This was an early work, and Pynchon has had a multi-decade career as a novelist. And really, what picqued my interest, as I said, was a viewing of the film for Inherent Vice. So I went to the library this weekend and picked it up.

So far, a chaper and change in, it doesn’t suck. The ridiculousness of the names are toned-down to something approaching verisimilitude, and the loose plot-logic is so far within the bounds of noir. I expect I’ll enjoy this one far more.

And that’s a good thing. It’s fun do damn a book, and even to condescend to an author from a great height, yet it’s also a shame.

Bonus: the Red Letter Media guys review the Inherent Vice movie:

My Pynchon Problem

A recent viewing of the film Inherent Vice led me to try to finish The Crying of Lot 49, which I abandoned out of frustration some time ago. I’ve made a small amount of headway, but am bored again.

Action is not being built. The plot is not going anywhere. The woman with the ridiculous name is having conversations with other people with ridiculous names about random nonsense that’s supposed to be relevatory but is entirely unconnected with what she’s ostensibly doing. I struggle to care.

It’s baffling to me that I can be so close to the end of a book this short and feel no desire to continue. This seems to be a problem I have with literature from this era. The Beats, Burroughs, Joyce, Waiting for Godot, it all seems so enamored of itself for frustrating readers as to form a kind of anti-literature. It’s less like reading a book than joining a Hermetic cult.

Call it the need for status, for differentiation from the semi-literate masses, but the need to set up a hyper-literacy, from the New Criticism on down, strikes me as largely self-defeating. No wonder all our cultural battles are fought over popcorn movies.

John C. Wright Brings Rousseau and Virgil into Conan

Robert E. Howard was, I am coming to understand, a master of his craft.

What is the difference between a real savage and a noble savage? Let us look into the iron shadows of the moonlight for an answer.

This story is well suited to the question, for it just so happens to have a lovely, half-clad and large-eyed  brunette in distress; a highly civilized oriental aristocrat bent on her dishonor; a rough and semi-civilized pirate chief who hates Conan with hot passion (and wants him hanged on a hook); eldritch monuments from a forgotten civilization, haunted perhaps with the ghosts of an accursed peoples; and an apelike monstrosity equally likely to originate from the darkness of prehistory as the darkness of the netherworld.

In other words, we have one antagonist from each season of the rise and fall of cultures from primitive to civilized to decadent to dark ages and back to prehistory again.

As they say, Read the Whole Thing. And I have further contrasts of Conan with more modern fiction here, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Sample From “The Short Cool Summer”

People who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing that they like.

A Man With No Business, Killing Time

When my car is in the shop
They tell me “an hour and
A half.”

So I have fish tacos and
Salad and a pint that
Lingers around the temples
Tightening the skin in that
Pleasant way it does.

And I wander about the mall
With nothing to buy but
A record if I felt like dropping
Forty dollars on the latest from
Queens of the Stone Age.

But Instead I slip through
The attractions and lures of
Commerce promising me
Ease and joy and self-expression
At a discounted rate
This week only.

I wander back, as slow as I came,
The heat somewhat stronger on my face
Hoping to walk through
Firestone’s doors with the words
“I was just about to call you,”
Greeting me

But instead I wait though
A commercial break for
American Pickers or a show like that
To be told it isn’t done yet
It isn’t started yet
They’re very busy and very behind.
I knew this as I walked in
Because my car hadn’t moved
Or spawned new tires.

And they tell me
“another forty-five Minutes.”

So I cross the crosswalkless
Boulevard in the other direction
Along a tree-lined sidewalk
Counting my steps on the FitBit
Congratulating myself for activity
Navigating the wide sweep of the
Parking lot between the old
H.H. Gregg and Barnes & Noble.

There are no books I intend
To buy, but I might surprise myself,
With Upanishads or Buddhist Scriptures
Or a lesser C.S. Lewis tome
But instead I wrinkle my nose at
The gaudy covers of modern
Poetry books, with their
Instagram verses and their
Banal politics and their
Dull ironies on the urge
To fornicate.

I read a few stanzas by Frost and say
In my bookstore whisper
“That’s beautiful.”
I do not buy it.

I slip away into the attached
Starbucks and order a
Doppio Espresso in a paper cup
And then my thumbs fall
To recording
The preceding
As I drink and muse
And consider waking back.

6/25/18

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 Like it? There’s more here.

New Summer Poetry

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Over the course of that rainy muddy monsoon that was the summer of 2018, I wrote some poems, cheap, messy, quick, and therefore true. I consider it an expression of this idea I call Suburban Zen, which I have not fully defined. It’s closer to Zen that way.

It’s a Kindle-exclusive, and it’s 99 cents. You know what to do.

This is my second such collection. The other one, Stir, was longer and composed over a longer period of time.

I am likely to keep doing this. There’s an ease an a gratification in making such small offerings. They keep the juices flowing.