A few weeks ago a friend at track asked me one of those"would you rather" questions. Unfortunately this one wasn't about Ryan Reynolds versus Ryan Gosling, because I've got an answer for that. But similar to Ryans' abs (not a typo on that plural possessive, btw) I can't stop thinking about this question.
Would you rather be 45 years old* (*This was the age he gave me but I think it was based on an assumption about how old I am and that 45 would be a significant jump) but get a million dollars OR be 10 yesterday old again and know everything you know now??
Obviously, my first answer was "I'd take the million dollars than use it to buy the organs of young people and stay young forever."
I know - that's a terrible answer. For one thing, organs are hella expensive, and I probably couldn't even get a better spleen for that much. Also, it's gross, a little Sci-Fi-esque, and illegal. Not that any of that bothers me particularly.
But since he asked me this, I have been thinking about this dilemma on most of my long runs, at least for a while. It's a really interesting problem, especially given my deep interest in time travel. So of course I over-analyzed it, and came up with all different pros and cons for each scenario before making a decision based purely on emotional response. :)
But let's start with the rational stuff first, because it is super important to consider.
A few basic assumptions about how time works in this thought experiment: A) If I take the money, I become 45 now, I don't jump ahead into the future to when I would am 45. B) If I go back to being ten, I go back in time - I don't become ten now (because that would be super WEIRD - where would I go? Who would take care of me?)
Option A: Take the Money
Pros: I have $1M.
Cons: I have to pay taxes on that; $1M is like basically nothing in today's economy so the only way that money really makes my adulthood better is if I do super-responsible stuff with it like pay off my mortgage and then invest the rest of it, so really where is the fun there? Oh, and even though it is not a lot of years, I jump ahead to being 45 and then I am older, and deeper into my next age group for racing - totally skipping over the first five years when I am the "young person" in my division. That's a lot to give up.
Option B: Be Young Again
Pros: I am ten years old again, and have my entire life in front of me - all during which I know everything I know now! That means that I could go to college for all different things this time and I would be significantly better at college-ing while I am there, so that's a nice bonus. There's a lot of dumb stuff I would not have to do because I already did it, and know what happens.
Other good stuff: I don't have to pay a mortgage or make my own meals or buy clothes or really any of that. Of course, if I actually knew what I know now, I totally would do those things because I would also understand how much work it was for my parents - so probably I would not actually do much less of that stuff. I mean, this is less of a pro for me, and more one for my parents, but if I really went back knowing what I know now, I would have been a MUCH better teenager - probably because I would not have thought my parents didn't know how hard life was, and other stupid, stupid things that I said at 16.
I could/would be even more unbearable to all of the girls my brother ever dated in high school, because I would know that none of them are going to last. (LOL, I knew that the first time, too.)
There's some stuff I would "invent." I would have made an effort to learn more about computers, and I would invent Facebook, but with better emojis. I might also invent the Roomba, just so that I could then also invent videos of cats riding on Roombas. So there is a fair amount of potential good I could do for the world.
Cons: The Cons here are really the cons of time travel in general: you cannot go back without totally screwing up the future. It would be one thing if, in this thought experiment, I just got to go back to being ten years old, none the wiser. But - that's not how this works; in this scenario, I know everything that I know now. And while that is great for all of my education and personal experience - WTF do I do with what I know about the world? Because here's the thing: if I go back to 1988, that's before SO MUCH BAD STUFF.
PLUS - I would be a ten year old telling - who??? If I start telling my parents that I know all of these things, what do you think they are going to do? I mean, I know my parents pretty well. I am guessing they would not bundle my brother and me into the car for a fun trip to Quantico where I can tell them everything I know! No; I would have been medicated. Which is nothing against my parents - why would they think I was not making it up?? So I just cannot imagine a scenario in which anyone takes me seriously if I start trying to explain the things that happen in the world between 1988 and now. And even if I could make someone believe me, it could make it worse.
It's like the dilemma in 11/22/63 - if you go back and try to prevent even a single bad thing, it can irreparably change the course of history in ways you cannot even imagine. Even if you have the best of intentions, you cannot possibly know the scope of the consequences of your actions. I am going to use homegrown terrorism as my example here (because, as you probably don't know - American terrorists were something I was very interested in during my undergraduate, but when I finished school and was looking for potential avenues for doing something productive with this interest, there was no federal interest - Ugh, how's that working out, guys??): let's say I could make someone in the FBI believe me about Timothy McVeigh, and they were able to stop him. On the one hand: saved lives and took a terrorist off the streets. But I am also aware of what can happen when a larger group perceives a threat from the government, based on the singling out of a member or leader - it could just have easily provoked another Waco-style standoff (which is exactly what McVeigh was retaliating against). So history may be changed, but it could be just as bad if not worse.
Obviously this is an extreme and dark example, but that's the point - you don't know. And that is why time travel is such a bad idea. None of us can see the totality of the universe, or how even small decisions ripple out to create change over time. Returning to 1988 with what I know now could potentially mean that 2015 looked just like it was imagined in Back to the Future or it could mean a 2019 that looks like Blade Runner. Or both.
So yeah - on balance, from a purely rational perspective it certainly seems like taking the money is the way to go!
But, as I said, I decided this one for myself based on emotions, not rational thought. Because as much as I like to consider all the evidence and use data and blah blah, the truth is that I am just a squishy mass of feelings (ugh). Luckily, my emotional decision is the same as my rational one: take the money. And not even take the money, just ... don't go back.
Yes, it would be amazing to be young again, and have a chance to learn more and do more; to travel more and see things and all of that.
But I would be alone. A do-over is only exciting if you get to try new stuff, and that means you may never cross paths with the people who come into your life because of choices you make.
I met my best friends after 1995, because of my choices about high school, college, and graduate school. If I did my life over, I would never see them again, or talk to them again. Yes, I would make new friends, but I would also have to live with the loss of people I love deeply now, and I would never get to see what their lives become. It would be a huge, gaping hole.
I definitely would not be married to my husband. Not because I would not want to be, but because love is an organic, amazing thing - and if I went back, and had 18 years of our relationship with me, when I finally cross paths with him in 1999 our relationship would unfold in completely different ways, that probably would not bring us to where we are today. How could I walk away from all of that, and from him?
The truth is, I would rather be older but share my life with the people who are important to me now, than to give them all up to be young again. Yeah, to get a million dollars would also be nice, but I don't even need the money. As hard as getting older can be, I would not change it for anything. I have done cool stuff, and turned into a person I like, surrounded by people I love (yes, even my brother). I have no interest in leaving any of them.
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