Can the Past Be Changed? / Memorable Fancies #1233

We tend, irreflectively, to view the past as just as real as the present, and we go about finding out “what happened” the same way we find out what’s happening now: by collecting testimony, looking at records, searching for physical evidence — everything but direct observation of the past event, which is now impossible. Our unspoken assumption is that the past is just as real as the present, but can no longer be directly observed.

A contrary view:

The past is just what we conclude from collecting testimony, looking at records, searching for physical evidence — these activities constitute the past. Time travel to the past is not impossible merely because of logical paradox (killing one’s grandfather before one’s father has been conceived), but because there is no past to return to.

And if we construct the past from what we today consider evidence, then such construction is a political/social process subject to the same kinds of pushes and pulls as any other.

Can the past be changed? If the past is just what we build from memories and pieces of plausible evidence, then our memories can change, new evidence found, old evidence disregarded — and therefore the past, that supreme work of fiction, can change as well.

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