Tag Archives: alternating the course of history

Thought Experiment: What Would You Do If You Could Relive Your Life With Your Current Memories?

The older I get, the more I wish I could go back in time and tell my younger self that things weren’t as hopeless as they seemed. I would’ve loved to grab my 15-year-old self by the shoulder, looked him right in the eyes, and told him that I had many wonderful experiences ahead of me. I would’ve maybe told him some winning lotto number as well, but that’s beside the point.

Most people who survived adolescents and found ways to thrive in the adult world appreciate the perspective of hindsight. It can be sobering for some, but bittersweet for others. When we’re young, ignorant, and inexperienced, everything just seems more overwhelming. We struggle to make sense of it all. You really can’t hope to understand anything without time, experience, and perspective.

I suspect most people have entertained the idea of sending messages to their younger self at some point in their lives. Even if it’s just to tell them who will win the Super Bowl this year, there’s a lot of wisdom we’d love to impart. Movies like “Groundhog Day” and “Happy Death Day” demonstrate the power of having such hindsight. However, those movies only go so far.

It’s one thing to relive a single day with all your memories intact. An entire lifetime is on a much larger scale with far greater implications. It makes for an interesting thought experiment. Now, after a certain X-Men comic told a remarkable story with this, I’d like to pose it as a formal question.

What would you do if you could live your entire life over again with the same memories, knowledge, and experiences you have now?

It’s a question that is likely to inspire many different answers. Everyone’s life, circumstances, and experiences are different. Some people wouldn’t want to change much. They like how their lives turned out. Others would make significant changes, both for their lives and for others.

Since a scenario like this has so many implications, here are a few specifics to consider before answering this question. I’m going to try and answer it for myself, but I think it’s worth establishing a context, if only to avoid the kind of time travel paradoxes that make the timelines in “Back to the Future” so confusing.

With that in mind, here are the rules for this little experiment:

  1. When you’re reborn, you have all the memories you have up to this point in your life
  2. You’re aware that you were reborn and don’t suffer significant shock from being in a younger body
  3. You keep the fact that you have the knowledge of your future self secret
  4. You assume consciousness in your younger self at around five-years-old, which is when most children start to form lasting memories
  5. You can only be reborn and re-live your life once
  6. Your ability to recall your memories is consistent with your ability to recall general memories at this very moment
  7. You have no hint of knowing how different decisions affect the future course of events for yourself and the world as a whole
  8. The course of events still unfold as you remember them and don’t change unless you directly influence them

With those rules in mind, take a moment to contemplate how you would live your life the second go-around. What would you do initially? How would you change the course of your childhood? How would that change the course of your teenage years? What points in your life would you make radically different decisions?

For me, personally, there are many general aspects of my life that I would change, even from a young age. I would take a very different approach to how I went about everything from school to friends to my little league baseball career. Life experiences has shown me how flawed my mentality was during that time. I focused so much on outcomes over the process that it caused more frustration than growth.

I also developed a very negative outlook for much of my youth and during my teen years. In my defense, I had terrible social skills and some irrational anxieties that only became absurd with the benefit of hindsight. Armed with the experience I have now, I would’ve been a lot more hopeful and optimistic in approaching school, friends, and challenges. I think that would’ve helped me achieve more and learn more.

In terms of specifics, I freely admit that I would use my knowledge of the future for personal gain, albeit to a limited extent. I can’t remember specific lotto numbers for specific dates, but I can remember which teams won the Super Bowl and the World Series. I also remember which companies made the most gains in the stock market. As such, I would invest whatever I could in Apple, Netflix, Amazon, and Google.

That would’ve made paying off my student loan debt a lot easier. It also would’ve spared me some very unpleasant experiences I had when it came to finding decent housing, both in college and after I graduated. Not having to worry about money would definitely have helped with a lot of things. I could use it to take additional classes, invest in my writing career, and avoid some major missteps, of which I’ve made plenty.

I imagine a lot of people would take advantage of that knowledge. Now, there are some arguments that making those kinds of investments and bets often end up changing the outcome, resulting in a time paradox of sorts. That might be the case if you randomly invested a billion dollars in Apple at a time when it was on the brink of bankruptcy, but I imagine it would take a lot to significantly change something like that.

This brings me to the most sensitive aspects of this thought experiment and one I’m sure more than a few people have already imagined. Having the benefits of hindsight means you can fix the mistakes you made in your youth, both in terms of decision and attitudes. What about decisions that might affect the entire course of history?

It’s one thing to profit from a bump in stock prices. It’s quite another to change a key moment in history. It’s the inescapable implications behind the butterfly effect. However, even movies like “Back to the Future” show that you can only affect the course of history to a limited extent. Even in the worst scenario, Marty McFly only messed up Hill Valley in “Back to the Future II.” He didn’t cause a nuclear holocaust.

If you only have your memories of the future and no other abilities beyond that, you’re still going to have trouble changing certain events. A lot of people would probably try to prevent the events of September 11th, 2001, but how would you even go about that? Would calling someone at the FBI or warning the airports be enough? Would going there and trying to stop it directly be effective?

At best, you’ll only delay it. At worst, you might get yourself killed. The same goes for any event. Say you wanted to change the outcome of the 2000 US Presidential Election or, depending on your affiliation, the 2016 Election. These events have many moving parts. There’s only so much you can do to influence them. Even if you shout the warnings from the highest rooftop, you’ll probably won’t be taken seriously.

There’s also the distinct possibility that changing these events will lead to something much worse. That’s what happened in the Stephen King novel, “11.22.63.” In the story, Jake Epping stopped the Kennedy Assassination, but that indirectly led to a nuclear war. There was even an episode of “Family Guy” that explored this concept.

It’s a difficult decision that I’m sure most would wrestle with. Personally, I would make an effort to avert something as terrible as the September 11th, 2001 attacks. I don’t know how I would go about it, but I certainly would try. I would probably do the same for things like the Columbine massacre or other school shootings, if only to save the lives that wouldn’t otherwise be saved.

As for other events, it’s hard to say and even harder to know the implications. If someone has a specific method they would use, please share them in the comments. I think they’re worth discussing.

These are just some of the issues you would face if you had a chance to relive your life all over again. Hindsight offers many benefits and perspectives, but it also comes with risks. You might be able to avoid the mistakes you know about, but you also might end up making others you didn’t anticipation and those could be far worse.

It’s still an interesting though to consider. As we get older, our perspective on the past and present changes considerably. We can never know how we would’ve acted with some added foresight. I like to think that I, along with most people, would’ve used it to become better.

Leave a comment

Filed under Jack Fisher's Insights, philosophy, Thought Experiment