It’s been three decades since John Lennon’s murder by Mark David Chapman in front of his home in New York City on Dec. 8 1980. And those of us who were devotees of the funniest, most soulful, most protean, and most iconoclastic of the Fab Four have been left to wonder what else he might have done and who he might have become, had he only escaped a deranged assassin’s four bullets. (On Lennon’s 70th birthday in October, an artist digitally altered a photo of him to create this image of what he might look like today.)
It’s no surprise then, that when we speculate about time travel and whether it would be possible to go back in time and alter the past, it’s tempting to fantasize about this: What if you could transport yourself to the 72nd Street side of the Dakota building at, say, 10:48 p.m., so that you could step in front of Chapman and wrestle that .38 revolver out of his hand, before he could fire those shots?
I don’t think the question has ever been put to a scientific poll, but for what it’s worth, Google’s search engine suggests that many Internet users may have contemplated saving Lennon. A combination of the terms “travel+back+ in+time+save+john+lennon+life,” for example, yields 220,000 hits, and “time+machine+save+John+Lennon” produces an even more impressive 162 million results. And granted, many of those turn out to be off-topic, but there are also quite a few heartfelt musings about rescuing our favorite working-class hero. There’s also a newly-created Facebook Group entitled If I had a time machine, I would go back to 1980 and save John Lennon, which already has several dozen members.
Which leads us back to the question: Is time travel possible, and if so, could we alter the past? From the 2009 anthology “Science Fiction and Philosophy: From Time Travel to Superintelligence,” we’ll refer you to this insightful essay by David Deutsch and Michael Lockwood about the quantum physics of time travel. We won’t lay out the entirety of their analysis here, but suffice to say that they conclude that that “the laws of physics do not rule out such adventures.” If you’re in the mood for something poppier, here’s Boing Boing’s take on the possibility of time travel.
And now for the news: