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The Philosopher Limitation by Y.X. Acs



Y.X. Acs

Doctor Mandalay was not a man given to indulging in illusions. He knew things broke and things went awry, no matter how well you planned. But despite this uncertainty, the necessity of the attempt was obvious, crucial, it would occur and had, in a sense, thus already come to pass. Dr. Mandalay would travel back in time or die trying.

Mandalay had identified his conviction as the same motivating historical Christians in their willingness to become martyrs, and, in so doing, he was pleased to count himself among the ranks of a rare and select group, one that included Socrates, Galileo and even Madame Curie, in a less substantial sense.

In any case the experiment would go forward, if for no other reason than to silence the prattle of the sophist dilettantes and para-scientific muck-rakers.


As it was, the experiment did have profound implications not only for science but for philosophy as well. Mandalay had been obliged to invite an agonizing array of notables to his ‘proof of principle’ soiree. The list included many luminary philosophers, but had explicitly excluded religious figures, a choice Mandalay made for both diplomatic and methodological reasons. Natty, aged newspapermen, bloggers and physicists rubbed elbows with celebrities.

At last Mandalay called the room to attention, “Thank you all very much for coming. I feel particularly grateful for the attendance of Professor Stephen Hawking who flew all the way from a lecture tour in Bern so that he could be with us this evening.

“I will keep my introduction brief, and will only allow myself a simplified restatement of the principles underlying tonight’s experiment. For, of course, the hope is that tonight we will be given a first proof regarding the reality of time travel, but I would like to remind everyone that this evening’s endeavor is predicated upon another, very specific hypothesis, one which will likewise be proven or disproven based on the evening’s results.

“The implications of this particular hypothesis have already been well picked-over in other venues, so I will simply restate its primary claim, this being: that the influence of philosophy on history is sufficiently slight so as to enable a statistical certainty regarding its quantum non-interference. If this is true, it follows that philosophers stand as chronologically manipulable phenomena for the purposes of experimental travel in time. Or, put differently, we can meet, communicate with, and could even kill any given philosopher without damage to the time-line. Therefore, so long as a time-traveler follows certain well-established guidelines, we should be able to enter a new era in human movement, one that is no longer limited by the past or the future. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you: My Time Machine!”

The curtain fell and a gleaming copper and bronze apparatus stood revealed. It was a spherical exoskeleton of metal bands containing a seat. The flash-bulbs adored it for some time before Mandalay mounted the stage and saluted the audience.

Then, gripping the hand-brake, he proudly exclaimed, “On my return I shall have visited the past or I shall not return at all!”


Two Years Earlier:

Mandalay woke and was satisfied to see that it had rained. He’d left his copy of “Being and Nothingness” on the patio, face-down, so that the spine bore the weight of its ideas.

At this point in history he’d become convinced of the accuracy of his own ideas, all that was left to do now was illustrate it mathematically, and then publish the results. This was not personal, he reminded himself. As a scientist, he had a responsibility to ensure the safest entry possible into the era of time travel. After all, what if the scientific community had remained ignorant of the ‘philosopher limitation’? It was quite possible that a catastrophically ill-fated venture might have been formulated and executed, one that interfered with the works of engineers or artists, or, god forbid, that of other scientists.

As he’d written on his blog just the evening before: “Should anyone, anywhere, use my research for the purpose of non-philosopher limited time-travel, the results would be catastrophic, almost certainly resulting in a paradox that would take the form of a chain of atomic explosions ranging in time from the point at which the alteration was first effected to that at which the chrononaut first embarked.”

Chrononaut. . . he’d liked that word from the very start.

It was nonetheless irritating to have practically every mechanical detail regarding time travel worked out, his sphere approaching completion, and yet to remain limited by the lack of an appropriate test subject. It had been a slow process for Mandalay, who found it an odious task to read their works and biographies. Especially since he had to locate one who’d truly stayed a philosopher their entire life, one who had limited themselves solely to the philosophical in their work and hadn’t dabbled in history or education or any of the other, more practical, domains.

Still, Mandalay counted himself lucky to be living in a time when philosophy stood on its own feet, different from and even counter to religion. Without philosophy’s rise as a self-subsistent body of thought time travel may have well-remained impossible.

But still, he had to pick one…

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