So I recently finished the book End of Eternity by Isaac Asimov. This is an amazing book, really easy to read and a great exploration of different ways to think about time travel. The other piece that the book explores is what happens when you can alter a timeline, which is one of the more – potentially – problematic parts of time travel.
Eternity is the location where the Eternals observe, calculate, and alter time. Eternity exists as a space that is separate from the normal timeline where someone can travel up and down the timeline to view that time, but the Eternals will also alter the timeline if they find an occurrence that could be considered harmful to humanity. These changes have the potential to end the existence of some human beings or alter personalities, etc, but the Eternals feel that they are doing what is best for the whole human race. As every time travel story tells us: messing with time is never quite that simple. (Spoilers ahead for End of Eternity)
Types of Time Travel
As mentioned earlier Eternity is a space outside of the normal timeline that runs parallel to the timeline, but one can jump forward or backwards through Eternity to different points along the timeline. At any point in the timeline one can then jump into “reality” to interact with the actual timeline. At the same time, this can be very dangerous, because who knows what might happen?
This is why the Eternals created an area in Eternity where the best and brightest from across time live and calculate the outcome of reality and will calculate what will happen if a reality change is introduced. There are multiple jobs that are involved in these calculations. People who plot the change to the desired outcome, but then there are those who decide what needs to be changed to make a difference. They want to cause a change that is small enough to only effect the desired change instead of making a massive change that could make things a lot worse.
The Eternals really do think they are doing the best thing for humanity and the Eternity is a hidden space from most of humanity, even though it is rumored about in different time periods. The interesting thing is that we discover a different way to time travel eventually. In the regular timeline humanity figures out how to view all realities with the time travel. They can figure out the possible alternative realities that all exist. They themselves have calculated the likelihood of realities and outcomes. In doing this though they discovered that their own time was actually a low probability. When they discover Eternity they were able to lock the Eternals out from their section of time because of what they discovered.
Messing With Time
In the future humanity discovered time travel and with time travel discovered that Eternity exists and that people are messing with time. They had mostly focused on their own time, but when they discovered that there was a low probability of their existence they started exploring more to figure out what happens in the future and who caused it. What the discover becomes so intriguing. The Eternals desire to normalize and standardize time, thinking they are creating a safe and secure place for humanity – but doing so is suppressing humanity’s growth. The future humanity discovers that humans die out because by the time they go to explore space there is no space left. Alien races have already gone out to explore and staked their claim on all other planets. By the time humanity made it to space there was no room left.
In a lot of ways this makes sense. A lot of times the advancements for humanity take risks and sometimes those risks can be dangerous, but if we don’t take those risks does humanity become stagnant? If there were people from the future looking at our time and thinking about all the problems humanity is going through why wouldn’t they want to change it? At the same time if we as a species do not grow naturally, will we ever evolve? Or we will just remain where we are and the dressing will change?
Hand of God
How do we decide who has the knowledge, integrity, etc, to make a decision that will effect every person on the planet? Also, in Eternity they were looking at short sections of time for the outcome, instead of understanding the full chain of events that were created. They saw one disaster and decided it needed to be averted, but did not understand what averting that disaster really meant. In an interesting way they were playing God, without really having the whole picture.
The interesting thing that they mention is that whenever they make a change it only affects a couple centuries and usually the timeline returns to normal. Which goes along with what the future humans discovered and that is the fact that reality exists along a baseline. There is a base reality that exists that is the highest probability of happening and the timeline is most likely to return to that base timeline. The more you change time the more you alter that base time, which as the future humans discover creates a lot of problems. When the future humans do decide to change time they view all alternate realities that could lead to the desired conclusion and they actually decided which of all the paths to take. It is still playing God, but they also had early on chosen not to interfere and just to observe. They only acted when they understood someone else was messing with time and acted to stop the Eternals.
Thus, the name of the book, End of Eternity.