What Would Happen If A Time Traveler Missed You?

As you go about your day-to-day life, perhaps you don’t often consider exactly the impact  
you’ve had on the world around you? The various ways - large and small - in which your friends,  family, or colleagues’ experiences are changed thanks to you being a part of  their lives. 

Consider your existence through the prism of time travel, though, and the possibility that an errant force could take it away the extraordinary question; what if a time traveler erased your existence?

There have now been various examples of alleged, real-world time travelers flooding the internet in recent years, including the likes of John Titor and Bob White. But pop culture perhaps still provides the best-known models for how time travel might work, with “Back to the Future” still setting something of a template. 

In the film, we see main character Marty McFly accidentally interfere with his own parents' timelines, including with how they first met, which creates the threat that he (Marty) could start to disappear. 

For today’s video, we’re imagining something similar only what if you vanish completely? And what if your  disappearance is caused by someone else? 
Broadly speaking, it’s an idea that ties  into what’s known as the “Grandfather Paradox”. Specifically, the paradox imagines the problems that would emerge were a time traveler to travel back and kill their own grandfather, to thereby prevent their own existence. 

How could that ever be accomplished, the paradox asks,  if the time traveler themselves is never alive as a result of their grandfather’s  demise? They surely can’t be there to prevent their own existence… if they never existed?
The concept relates to more than just this particular situation, though, with the paradox  highlighting how going back in time to make any change - no matter how big or small - could have a profound impact on reality. In the case of today’s artikel, it’s clear that were a traveler to erase  someone else’s existence (i.e., your existence) the effects would be widespread indeed. 
So, what would the impact look like? To start, we can think of a life like a tree. It grows  over time, new branches form, from which grow more branches, which in turn sprout their own, and so on… until eventually the tree has grown so high and so big, that it’s hard to discern all its various pieces. 

To tell one branch from another, or to trace any branch back to where it, individually, began. The whole thing is formed from the tree’s original root, but it has grown into a seriously complex structure since then. 
Our lives could be thought of in much the same way. We start off small,  innocent, and with seemingly little wider impact, but as time passes, we interact with new people we create new relationships, new branches… we  grow, just like the tree. 

Some of the bonds we make last many years, forming something like the trunk of a tree… whereas others come and go, like the leaves that fall every season. All of our lives extend far beyond just ourselves, however, in the same way as the tree grows far beyond just its roots and its trunk.
Nevertheless, if someone comes along and chops down that tree, all of it is lost forever. And  that’s what we’re dealing with here, were a time traveler to erase you. Everything lost, from all of your branches, for all of time. Your erasure would mean that your friends and family never knew you. 

They’d never be influenced by you. Any children you might have would never be born and, of course, their own timelines would never unfold. Which could mean whole generations of people that never come into being. 

It’s quickly clear then that, in a world where time travel is possible, the act of erasing another’s existence would be just about the worst crime (or the greatest mistake) possible. Not only would you be gone, but there’d be nothing of you to remember.
The relationships affected wouldn’t only be the closest or strongest you have, either. Did  you ever help someone? Were they someone close, someone you barely knew, or even a total stranger?  Did you ever teach anyone anything? Make someone laugh, or inspire them? Were you known to that  person, or was it the first time you’d met them?  Did you ever save a person’s life? 

You may have answered “yes” or “no” to any number of those, but in a bizarre reality where a time traveler erases  you… it’s a flat and terrible “no” to all of them. Because none of it ever happened. To bring it back to the tree… imagine a bird's nest sitting on one of the branches. If that branch had never grown,  where would that bird have laid its nest? It could never possibly have had the same life.
On a planet with close to eight billion people, it’s perhaps hard to accept or believe that a single person can have any real impact on the world around them. But the reality is quite different. If it were possible to list and recall every single decision you’d ever made, for example, you’d be able to see how they affect so much more than just your own life. 

There are the big ones like getting married or going to college, which impact everyone involved - from your spouse, to your teacher, to that person you sat next to on the bus that one time.  

The lives and experiences of everyone and thing you encounter because of those decisions are altered (if you’re erased). It’s a mind-bending thought. And it goes further, because what if  the most important decision in someone else’s life only ever happened because you were there?  

Either in a big or small way, or perhaps even in a way you never noticed. Your erasure would then dramatically affect their lives… and then the lives of those they in turn affect, as well.  

Yes, the world itself would likely continue to turn, but it would be a wholly different place if  everything that just one person had achieved was to be taken away from it. As with so many time travel hypotheticals, the repercussions are far reaching and deeply significant.
There are some extensions to be found in the “many-worlds interpretation”, and the multiverse. Here, with a vast expanse of possibilities for reality stretching out before us into infinity, we can consider what the world would be like if anyone from any moment in history were to somehow be removed, or erased. 

Now, it’s as though the whole of human history is actually a forest, but with one tree taken out each time, for every possible version of life - including  versions with or without you (or anyone else). If this really were how reality is structured,  then it offers something of an answer to the Grandfather Paradox.  

Because now any one person can be erased out of existence, because this life isn’t the only life they have… and they continue to live elsewhere, in the web of many-worlds.  If time travel is ever possible, at any place or time in a multiverse,  then it might even be inevitable that erasures do happen. 

If just one strand of the multiverse took this direction, then it could branch out and out forever, reeling in every single human life, ready for removal, in at least one version of reality. Which is a pretty frightening thought… but also pretty mind-blowing for us lowly, single reality humans to comprehend, don’t you think?
But finally, and perhaps most unsettling of all, say time travel is possible,  and there’s a version of you out there, somewhere, that will be erased as a result… there’s still the  question of “why”? What did you do to deserve such a ruthless removal from temporal space?  Invent something unwanted? 

Trigger the end of the world? Or was a small, seemingly inconsequential  action enough to set off such a catastrophic turn of events, like putting too much sugar in  someone’s coffee? Or taking the last cupcake at the bakery? This “what if” scenario can certainly conjure a feeling of fragility… as though literally everything in life matters immensely.
But, then again, it can also leave us with a feeling of true purpose. Because, really,  what we do does matter. Not in a scary way, but in a positive and enriching way. Consider where  your tree of life has taken you. Consider those you’ve crossed paths with, and where their trees have taken them. 

If any one of them were to be removed completely from the wider forest, then  what a loss it would be. And that’s what would happen if a time traveler erased your existence.

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