DRMacIver's Notebook

Regrets and interventions

Regrets and interventions

I’ve seen a number of people write letters to their past selves recently. I keep thinking about doing so, but I have questions.

Mostly I want to know about what model of time travel we’re using. Do I stop existing when my past self receives the letter, or do I create an alternate timeline?

I, by and large, like existing. I’m not sure what to think about continuity of self in general. I’d probably use a teleporter, but time travel based genocide/suicide in order to birth a new world with a different version of me in it seems like a step too far.

This isn’t just pedantic quibbling about the question in which I try to avoid what it’s really asking. The question is important.

You see, a fantasy of sending a letter to your younger self expresses a very straightforward core belief: If you wished the best for the younger version of yourself, you would make sure they never become you.

I struggle to regret being me, mostly for the relationships in my life. I’m probably supposed to not regret being me for intrinsic reasons, but eh. I’m fine I guess. I’ll admit to liking many of the other versions better. But those versions had different life paths, and met different people, and I’m sure those people are equally fine, but I like mine.

But in the scenario where I get to advise young David on his life path, I would definitely offer him plenty of advice, and if he listened to me it would lead to a very different life. Probably many very different lives.

It’s difficult to look back at nearly 40 years of life and think how much you’d have done differently, and I think a lot of my memory “problems” probably come from avoiding doing that.

It feels like I’ve essentially meandered my way through a long series of choices that seemed like a good idea at the time but, in retrospect, weren’t, or needed to be better thought out. As a result the point in life I’ve ended up in is… fine? But there’s plenty of in-retrospect-obvious paths where a letter from future me would probably have been very life improving.

I don’t feel bad over not having taken those paths exactly. Many of these better paths are ones where I wouldn’t really have been able to figure them out at the time. Some of them are ones I’m still struggling with. There are past paths that I wish I’d stuck with, but this would have required a level of reliability with which I’m still struggling.

But I’m pretty sure someone would have been able to figure them out. This is why I have such strong feelings about help. There was no time travelling letter from my future self that could have fixed things, but there was an entire human civilisation in which I was embedded that seems weirdly indifferent to the growth and well-being of the people within it. Probably the people who could have helped existed, and maybe I could even have had access to them if I had sought them out, but I wouldn’t have had the first idea how even if I knew that I needed to.

I guess, to a large degree, this is why I write much of what I do. I don’t have the ability to send it back in time, but my problems are hardly unique, and maybe if they’re in a similar position to me, what I write can substitute for someone else’s letter from a future self that they’re not getting either.