Sometimes, during a peaceful stroll through the neighborhood, I imagine what the town must have looked like when it was first settled. There was a time, over a century ago, when there were effectively two main streets. Those were the days when Norfolk, Nebraska gained a certain notoriety as a rough town.
Thankfully, today, Norfolk has a lower than average crime rate for the U.S. It’s a fairly nice place to call home. So, it’s rather safe to take long, solo walks in most areas of town. We are experiencing some modest commercial growth. Along with this gain some improvements in infrastructure are taking place.
During some of the walks around town, it’s been fun to imagine what Norfolk might look like in the next decade, the next century, and far beyond, into the future. Will we finally acquire mass transit? Will there be new technology and architectural techniques to protect us from severe blizzards, thunderstorms, and tornadoes? What will the ethnic demographic mix be like?
The fantasy spinning of mental time travel is not restricted to walking around my hometown. Whenever I go on vacation, my mind weaves visions of what the locales must have looked like long ago and what they might look like in the future. I see a city such as Chicago, Illinois and wonder about it’s colorful, historical past.
There was the devastating 1871 fire that leveled the central business district. Before that, early Chicago was a collection of an Army fort and small settlements. Before the arrival of European people, there were native tribes such as the Mascouten, Miami, and Shikaakwa. The city’s name, Chicago, is derived from Shikaakwa.
Theoretical physicist Michio Kaku has said, “Time travel and teleportation will have to wait. It may take centuries to master these technologies. But within the coming decades, we will understand dark matter, perhaps test string theory, find planets which can harbor life, and maybe have Brain 2.0, i.e. our consciousness on a disk which will survive even after we die.”
Who hasn’t woven imaginary alternate histories in their minds? What if the first World War had been avoided? Would there have been the horrors of fascism, genocide, and the Second World War?
There are popular alternative histories based upon the imaginary defeat of the Allies by the Axis Powers. It’s terrifying to imagine that such an end result could have happened. What would life be like now if Hitler, Mussolini, and Tojo had won? Would the Axis be overthrown by now? What would international relations be like? Would democracy flourish? These imaginary alternate events could have happened if a wrong-headed person traveled back in time and triggered an alternative series of events.
One of the problems with thinking that a person could travel back in time and be able to influence history, is that the people in those days would probably have believed the time tourist was an insane crank. The time traveler would have probably been locked away in a mental institution or burned at the stake. What about physical living conditions such as housing and food? Could you survive without modern conveniences?
If you travel into the future, could you cope with the possible advancements in technology? What differences in social norms will take place in the 22nd or 23rd century that might be too much for a person of the 21st century to endure? What would be the fate of someone traveling into the future?
Some people believe that we are now living in an alternate time period because people from the future traveled back to our recent past and somehow altered history. It’s spooky to think that our reality could be an altered series of events.
Of course, all of us are mental time travelers. We relive past events in our minds; we imagine future scenarios, too. Much of the time we are not living mindfully in the present moment. Our thoughts go backwards and forwards. What could and should we have done in the past? What will we do in the future? What will we do right now?