Lies Time Travelers Tell

in #science7 years ago (edited)

Lies Time Travelers Tell

By Tim Machinee

Note to the reader: As you read this you will begin to realize that the title is somewhat misleading. Sorry about that.


The short story "The Toynbee Convector" by Ray Bradbury about time travel doesn't actually involve time travel. It's more a story of the trickster archetype.

For those who don't like to read (why are you here?) below is a YouTube video of the story:

In the story a reporter named Roger Shumway is given the honor of visiting Craig Bennett Stiles, a man commonly referred to as "the Time Traveler". This is the first interview granted by Stiles in almost one hundred years. Except for a brief period after claiming to have invented a time machine and to have traveled to the future and back Stiles had been publicly silent. During the short time Stiles was publicly speaking a century earlier he presented records of his journey showing a much more economically healthy future society that had cleaned the pollution out of the environment. 

Upon hearing Stiles' claims people were skeptical of his claims at first but nobody was able to explain or disprove the authenticity of the records. Inspired by a better future many people began a cargo cult movement to create the world the records described.

In the present time of Bradbury's story the citizens of a utopian future are all literally waiting for the arrival of the Time Traveler. The time and date of the younger version of Stiles' appearance was common knowledge due to the records that were collected as the time machine flew across the skies of different countries.

When the moment came that both a young Craig Bennett Stiles would be flying above as an older Craig Bennett Stiles watched below, nothing happened. After an awkward moment of more waiting Stiles simply stated to Shumway, "I lied.". As Wikipedia summaries Stiles' confession: "Since he knew the people of the world had it in them to create a utopia, he created the illusion of one, to give humanity a goal, and hope. Because of people's belief in the illusion, the imagined utopian future became reality. After explaining his actions, Stiles dies. As a pyrotechnic display appears overhead — the supposed past version of Stiles arriving via his time machine — Shumway resolves to travel to the future, too, and carry on Stiles' legacy. Although Stiles wanted Shumway to tell people the truth so that they would know they had saved themselves, the reporter decides to maintain the illusion and not expose the secret, and destroys the evidence that Stiles had left for him to reveal."

A story of time travel turns out to be how a clever man was a catalyst for change. Thus, it is really an allegory about white lies that may not be so little. Or is it? Is what Craig Bennett Stiles did harmless and excusable because it made life on Earth better?

Part of the way the deception was carried out so well, according to the short story, is that Stiles was the only self-proclaimed time traveler. Stiles said during his confession the government agreed and insisted that the time machine be sealed and locked away to prevent other people from traveling through time. From this it is reasonable to infer that during the brief time Stiles was doing the book and movie deal thing there might have been at least one hearing by the government during which Stiles would have testified. Writing and selling a book about hoaxed traveling through time is one thing. I can think of at least one Coast to Coast AM radio show guest that has done that. Falsely testifying about traveling through time during a government hearing is another thing. It is perjury.

The author believes that it would be fun to observe a mock trial of Craig Bennett Stiles. Since La Jolla was given as a location in the short story a Stiles mock trial would use California Penal Codes 118 through 129 to set forth what constitutes perjury.

The basic definition of perjury is when a person knowingly gives false information after having either affirmed to tell the truth or taken a sworn oath.

In California law, perjury can be broken down into four elements that a mock trial prosecutor must prove.

  • Stiles took an oath to provide truthful information.
  • Stiles willfully stated that the information was true knowing that it was in fact false.
  • The information Stiles gave was material.
  • When Stiles made the statement, he intended to testify falsely while under oath.

It pretty much seems like an open and shut case.  Stiles' confession to a reporter virtually fulfills every element if he testified during at least one government hearing about traveling to the future and back. Not much to it. So why did the author state earlier that it would be fun to observe a mock trial? Two words: Jury nullification.

Perjury is a crime against justice and a crime of moral turpitude. Perjury is dishonest, fraud and anti-social conduct. However, the world one hundred years earlier was not honest with itself. The world that needed to change was telling itself that things couldn't change.  The real "lie" Stiles told the world was that it was capable of great things. He didn't know that to be true because he didn't witness it. However, he believed it was true. In Stiles' mind whether the time machine really worked or not didn't matter.  Human beings matter. The statement that humanity could and did so many great things was far more material than a machine that made flashing light and sounds but never really went anywhere.

Maybe during a mock trial the defense would try to raise a political or shadow defense. No matter what the defense the author would like to believe that a good and just jury would see the actions of Craig Bennett Stiles for what they were in the short story. The lie about time travel wasn't evil or anti-social. The letter of the law was violated if he falsely testified to being a time traveler but Stiles told the lie in defense of mankind. Wouldn't a guilty finding of perjury be unfair in that case?

It should be noted that under current perjury law in California the "Time Traveler" could face up to four years in prison. Alternatively the judge could make it zero days in jail, formal probation, fines, community service and restitution.

It's not jury nullification when the judge does it.

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