Posts Tagged Paradox

The Gold Paradox

This is something I’ve been thinking about lately. It’s not really a story, but it’s certainly fictional. I call it the gold paradox.

First, let us assume time travel that lets you travel into the past without creating a new timeline.

If you were to travel into the past intending to stay for any length of time, you would need something that could be used as currency. There are three options. First, you could bring back modern money, which wouldn’t work because no one would accept it. Second, you could bring back archeological coinage from the region and era that you’re traveling to, but outside Roman coinage this creates a supply and demand problem in the modern day. Third, you could bring back a commodity that has been traded as a secondary currency in several ancient societies and civilizations.

So you go for option number three, and you take back gold.

Gold would be the most universal currency for the backwards time traveler. So long as a non-zero number of ancient/pre-modern civilizations are willing to accept it as currency, there will be a non-zero number of backwards time travelers that take it back as a currency.

So let’s track an individual ounce of gold. There’s roughly a 10% chance that an ounce of gold mined in the year 2012 is brought out of the earth in the United States, so that’s where this particular ounce comes from. A time traveler buys that ounce of gold, and heads back in time where he trades it for goods and services in ancient Persia around 425 BCE, leaving the gold behind. The problem arises because that ounce of gold now exist in two places in the year 425 BCE, once in Persia, and once in the ground in the North America where it won’t be mined for another roughly 2500 years. So that gold that you left with the Persians is crafted, melted, and remelted over the course of twenty-five centuries until it eventually becomes part of a Krugerrand in 2012. This bullion is then bought by another backwards time traveler on his way to celebrate the millennium in the Holy Roman Empire (which wasn’t holy, Roman, or an empire). Now in the year 1000 there are three copies of that ounce of gold, one in the ground in North America, one that was in Persia, and one now in modern Germany.

And so on.

This creates a problem, and a paradox. As the number of instances of the same ounce of gold increase in the year 2012, the value of gold drops. Of course, this makes it all the more attractive as a currency for backwards travelers, until the runaway inflation created by these time travelers serves to crash all past commodity markets as well. So the first paradox comes from all commodity markets being destroyed (once gold crashes, we’d move onto silver, copper, diamonds, etc.).

This would also serve to turn most gold into a bootstrap paradox. Gold mining stops in the past for two reasons: 1) there’s less value to the metal and 2) there’s an easier supply of gold coming from those funnily dressed strangers.

There’s also the problem that every time this ounce of gold is taken back and left behind, it increases the overall mass of the earth by one ounce. It’s a little bit of mass at a time, but it adds up under repeated trips.

I talked about this paradox with my wife, and she made an observation. The gold stacks up until the day that time travel is invented, and then it begins to disappear as it is taken into the past to get caught in these loops. It would recreate the gold market, and put the earth on a diet as all the extra mass is lost. Assuming our gravity wasn’t so affected that the moon crashed into the earth or we went careening out of our orbit.

Potential solution to the hyper-inflationary problems: going back with consumable goods. Especially modern produce. Strawberries, pomegranates, modern bananas, kiwifruit. You’d still have the issues that the matter within those fruits existed in some form in the past, so there’s still the problem of increasing the mass of the earth, but at least the commodity markets would be largely unaffected both in the past and the present.

I’m certain there’s a story in here, somewhere. For now, I present it only as mental meanderings.

, ,

1 Comment

Flash Fiction: The Paradox

Getting a late jump on a Wendig challenge, but finally got my story in mind. This week the challenge is time travel, in any way shape or form. So let’s do this.

Read the rest of this entry »

, , , ,

No Comments

Fortnightcap: Vicious Cycle

Vicious Cycle

A Fortnightcap by DL Thurston

Creative Commons License

“So.  You’ve come to kill me then?”

He didn’t turn around.  He didn’t need to.  He’d heard the faint click of the gun’s hammer being pulled back, and knew there was only one person who could be holding it.

“I have to.  You know I have to.  It’s the only way.”

“You won’t be able to.”  He turned his chair around, wanting to face the person with the gun.  He knew a general identity but not a face, not even a gender.  There was no mistaking the man there.  The high cheekbones.  The gentle nose.  This could only be his grandson.  “And really, I’m disappointed in your lack of imagination here.”

“You’re not making this easy for me.”

“It’s not supposed to be easy.  In fact, it’s supposed to be impossible.  I’m sure you’ve seen the equations, the proof that the timeline is immutable, unchangeable.  And really, picking on an old man like me?”

“You’re five years younger than me.”

“Oh sure,” he rose from his chair, and walked towards his grandson.  Around him lay the bits and pieces of his failed prototypes, in a room beyond was his success.  “I suppose now I am, but don’t you know me as an old man?  Wasn’t I kind to you?  I’ve always wanted to be a grandfather.  Your grandmother says I can’t wait to be old, and I suppose she’s right.  Are we still alive?”

His grandson’s hand was shaking, more and more as he stepped closer and closer.  “Please.  Please just stop.  You know it has to be this way.”

“Why?  Just because it’s called the Grandfather Paradox?  You have another grandfather, you know.  Somewhere else out there.  You could have even tried to kill your younger self, same paradox.”

“You invented the thing.  You’re the one everyone knows.  You’re the one that proved it’s impossible.  It just…it just has to be you.  Has to be this way.”

“You can’t.”

“Could you please sit back down?”

“You can’t.”

“Stop saying that!”  He was getting flustered.  There were tears streaming down his face, and his hand shook all the more.

“What’s your name?”

“Why does that matter?”

“If you’re going to kill me, I’d like to at least know your name.”

“They…they named me after you.”

The inventor smiled.  “Charles, then.  Do they call you ‘Charlie?’  I always hated Charlie.  Why don’t you give me the gun.  There are other paradoxes, other ways of testing things.  It doesn’t have to be this way.”

“It…it does.”  The resolve in his voice was slipping away.  His grip on the gun loosened.  The inventor reached out and pulled it away.

“That’s good.  Now, I’d love to hear all about your life.  My life.  That would be a paradox, too.  Let’s just put the safety on this,” the gun was slick with sweat.  It slipped in his hand.  He tried to catch it, but as he did the world exploded in noise and pain.  He looked down at the gaping hole in his own chest.

The inventor fell to his knees, looking up at his grandson’s shocked expression.  “This,” he said, each word a struggle, “wasn’t in my equations.”  Darkness closed in around him as the paradox storms swept in.

Fortnightcaps are biweekly experimentation into short form fiction. All Fortnightcaps are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. So if you like the story, please feel free to link people back here. And if you didn’t, maybe the one in two weeks will be better.

, , , , ,

No Comments

Fornightcap: Paradox of the Crowds

Paradox of the Crowds

A Fortnightcap by DL Thurston

Creative Commons License

“Of the what?”

“The crowds.  Paradox of the crowds.”  He walked through a lab that was strewn with equipment, some of it burned out, some blinking, some new in box.  Past the computers, past the camera, past the schematics.  “Look,” he said, finding an empty space of white board he drew a circle.  “There are some events that are considered historic events, we can agree on that, right?”


“And one of the reasons you want to invent time travel is so you can see some of them?”  He drew a line pointing in to the circle.

“Well, it’s not the only reason, but–”

“But you do want to see them.  So if you want to see them, why wouldn’t some other time traveler?  Or hundreds?  Or thousands?”  Line after line, until the circle resembled some deformed spider.  “If time travel is ever invented at some future point, we’d see massive crowds of people showing up to witness these historic events.  But they’re just not there.  Therefore time travel won’t ever be invented.  Not by you, not by anyone.”

The inventor’s face fell for a moment.  Then rose again.  “Disco demolition night.”


“1979, the death of disco.  The Chicago White Sox hosted a double header, planning to destroy any disco record the fans would bring between the two games.  Nearly 100,000 people showed up.  An impossibly big crowd for that kind of event.”

“Why would time travelers want to see that?”

“It’s infamous.  Be a part of one of the worst ideas in baseball history!”  He was waving his arms around, excited now.  “The inauguration of Barack Obama.  First black president.  Impossibly huge crowds that choked the Mall, and then were gone.  Surely there could have been a few visitors from out of time, not just out of town.”

“I don’t think–”

“No you don’t!  You just find reasons why not!”

“Look, if you want to keep up with this insanity, be my guest.  I’m not going to be part of it.”

The inventor watched as his visitor left, then got back to work on the pieces scattered around his lab.  The crowd, watching from a distance, cheered then quietly dispersed.

Fortnightcaps are biweekly experimentation into short form fiction. All Fortnightcaps are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. So if you like the story, please feel free to link people back here. And if you didn’t, maybe the one in two weeks will be better.

, , , , ,

1 Comment

Classic Time Travel Paradox

While at Capclave I sat in on a presentation about time travel in which I learned about a paradox of time travel that I never thought of before.  It came back to mind when I saw this video linked on Gizmodo:

The important part is right around the 3:20 mark in the video, but while they talk about the understandably disturbing element of having a white time traveler help invent one of the most important influences African-American culture had on American pop culture in the 1950s they overlook the slightly more disturbing paradox that the whole thing creates.  It goes like this.

Marty McFly lives in the 1980s.  He grew up watching performances of Johnny B. Goode by Chuck Berry and learns not only the song but the entire dance routine.  Then, through a series of movie contrivances, he finds himself back in the 1950s and playing guitar with a jam band at a school dance.  Wanting to play something hip, he plays Johnny B. Goode.  Halfway through the song we get the classic “Chuck!  It’s your cousin Marvin!  Marvin Berry…” phone call, creating the implication that Chuck Berry learns the song Johnny B. Goode from listening to Marty McFly sing it at this sock hop.  He records the song, it becomes a hit, and Marty McFly grows up hearing it and learns the song, starting the cycle all over again.

Except, and here’s the problem: who wrote the song?  Marty learns it from Chuck Berry.  Chuck Berry learns it from Marty.  Somewhere in there the song wrote itself and insisted itself upon the world through this loop.

See?  The 1950s were right.  Rock and roll music is of the devil!

, ,


%d bloggers like this: