Back to the Future Day: To When Should A Philosopher from 2015 Go?

Back to the Future Day: To When Should A Philosopher from 2015 Go?


In the movie Back to the Future II, Doc Brown and Marty McFly travel 30 years into the future, to today, October 21st, 2015. The movie was ahead of its time, at least when it came to marketing, apparently.

The movie also raised an important question which, alas, is still with us today, namely:
where is my hoverboard?

(No, these really aren’t quite it.)

And, of course, the movie raised questions about time travel. Joining in the day’s fun are philosophy and physics faculty at William & Mary who were asked “whether it’s possible to really go back to the future, plus a bunch of other stuff about movies, time and how their disciplines deal with these mysteries.” Here are philosophers Chad Vance and Aaron Griffith with some time travel basics and how they relate to the movie:

(via Cortney Langley)

Also, over at Open Mind, a journalist consults with Sara Bernstein (Duke) about the movie and time travel, who tells us that the plot of the movie is logically impossible.

Though the Back to the Future series is not the only movie franchise to involve time travel (see these charts) nor the most complicated (see Primer), we can nonetheless make use of Back to the Future day to ask:

If a philosopher from 2015 could travel to any time just to do some philosophy then, to when should they go, and why? When would you go?

back to the future ii hoverboard

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Sara L. Uckelman
5 years ago

Back to the Middle Ages. Seriously — if you want rapid and exciting innovation in science and philosophy, you’d be hard pressed to beat the University of Oxford in the first 40 years of the 14th C — unless, of course, you preferred the Parisian lifestyle!Report

Demonax
Demonax
5 years ago

If the philosopher in question is an ABD or recent PhD like myself the answer is clear. Back to the most recent year in which there was a functioning academic job market. That way, by obtaining job security in philosophy and a decent salary, one could ‘just do philosophy’ without worrying about paying back one’s crippling student loan debt on an adjunct’s wage. Legend holds this was perhaps a decade or more ago, but the truth has been lost in the sands of time.Report

ejrd
ejrd
Reply to  Demonax
5 years ago

And some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. History became legend. Legend became myth…the functioning job market will betray us all.Report

recent grad
recent grad
5 years ago

A few hours ago, so I can pack a better lunch.Report

Alan White
Alan White
5 years ago

I haven’t looked at the links, but it’s clear to me (at least) there are two different types of time-travel movies–BTTFs and Terminators (excepting the latest Genisys which apparently puts the two into a blender). BTTFs utilize Everett-Wheeler-Lewis pluriverses to make travel to an actual past (or future) amenable to distinct futures available from any given present time due to particular causal influence–Marty made changes in the 50s that made his alternate future real where his parents were cool instead of what he’d known before (they were losers in his former time-line). But in all Terminators (until Genisys) travel to the past just filled in previously unknown necessary conditions that made the one future–the rise of the machines and the place of John Conner in resisting that–inevitable. Open-looped time travel where time-traveled points (taken thus as now) are susceptible to causal influence to an alternative future beyond that point as against closed-loop time travel where we at best gather epistemic back-fill on how things temporally are just gonna be as we occupy non-present times and see more clearly how inevitably things work out. FWIW I prefer the (non-Genisys) Terminator scenarios, and probably because I view causality and temporality as two sides to one coin, and so the only interesting time-travel story is an epistemic one (Kyle is John’s father! Wow!).

In that vein, I curiously only want to go back to a time when important things happened for seemingly trivial reasons, and what those reasons (and associated events) in Terminator-detail actually were. Like why Newton fixed on apples and gravity, why Kierkegaard’s post-betrothed encounter with Regina produced Fear and Trembling, why Augustine’s hearing a phrase from over a wall converted him and changed Christianity forever. It’s a time-travel version of a fixation of mine–to determine what the smallest thing is in one’s life that made the greatest difference as things turned out.Report

felonius screwtape
felonius screwtape
5 years ago

Paris, 1740s-1760s; and then again 200 years later.

Athens late 5th Century BC

Berlin, 1830s-1840sReport

David Wallace
David Wallace
5 years ago

Everyone is going backwards in time, which I think shows a lack of imagination. Why not go to 2500 AD? That ought to be far enough ahead to resolve a lot of these niggling questions about the unsustainability of consumption, the intrinsic self-destructiveness of the capitalist model, the move towards vegetarianism, the collapse of the traditional university, and so on. As a bonus, if human civilisation has survived, there’ll probably be lots of interesting technical advances to act as case studies for medical ethics, and there should have been a ton of really interesting philosophy and science to read- without the gap to the twentieth century being so long that it’s impossible to make the culture shift, which might be true if you went thousands and thousands of years into the future.

(I mean, come on: you can read most of the best philosophy written *before* 2015 without a time machine; only a time machine will let you read the best of Third Millenium AD philosophy.)Report

Alan White
Alan White
Reply to  David Wallace
5 years ago

But David (if I may), what if in 2500 CE we’ve been off-planet as a civilization for a thousand years, leaving behind a contaminated poisoned mess? But then as the sole visitor there, your time machine broken down in that environment, you’ll have to use your considerable scientific wits to survive and try to contact your distant fellow humans. Hmm. . . seems like a plot for “The Earthling”!Report

Alan white
Alan white
5 years ago

Ok either in my cutesy way I meant in my response to David 25000 CE, or an alternate future where we advanced and left the planet by 1500, or maybe I just screwed up and meant 100 years rather than a thousand. Take your pick!Report

Bob Kirkman
5 years ago

I’ve noted something of phenomenological interest in fictional accounts and depictions of time travel, where it always seems possible to go to a different time – any different time, in any direction – and always end up in the same place: I go from here-now to here-then, but it’s always exactly here.

And yet, the planet goes on rotating on its axis and revolving around a sun that’s in a galaxy that’s rotating as it moves away from other galaxies.

What I’m suggesting is that, in creating those fictional accounts, authors and screenwriters may apply this kind of scientific account or that to the understanding of time, but seem bound to a prescientific experience of place or ground (or “boden”, to use Husserl’s term) as a fixed orientation in the lifeworld.

I’m also suggesting that, if you want to travel in time, you best be sure your time machine is fitted out for interstellar or even intergalactic travel, because here may not be here yet/any more when you get there.

(Much the same happens in a particular episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, in which two crew members (and one enemy) are “shifted” so they can no longer interact with ordinary matter – they can pass through walls and objects and people . . . but can still walk on the floor and breathe the air.)Report

Alex
Alex
5 years ago

I’d hop in that damn thing, get the flux capacitor going, and haul my ass straight to the Trial and Death of Socrates.Report

Michael Kremer
Michael Kremer
5 years ago

I appear to have gone to October 25, 2015 by way of 22, 23, and 24. Sorry I missed this thread.Report