If you could go back in time…

If you could go back to one place and time in history, where would you go? We’ve all been asked this question before, probably several times before. I think it was on Stanford’s 2011 university application. I’m going to ask it again, but give it a wrinkle this time.

You can go back in time, but only to a spot on your own timeline. Furthermore, you won’t have any memory of the events that transpired after that moment in time, except for what you can write on a single notecard. You can write as small as you want. The question comes in two parts:

  1. When do you go back to?
  2. What do you write on the notecard?

I don’t know if I can answer this question for myself, but I can provide some thoughts to act as a starting point. In Voltaire’s Candide, Pangloss expresses his metaphysico-theologo-cosmolonigology: “In this best of all possible worlds, everything is for the best.” So Pangloss, and those who agree with his philosophy, would obviously pass on this opportunity. But even if you don’t agree with this philosophy, going back in time represents a huge risk: what happens if you make things worse? Once you go back in time, your current existence is likely to be gone forever, so to even take this opportunity you need to:

  1. Believe that the state of your existence could be improved
  2. Have faith that your self-reflection yielded the right advice

I found thinking about this question to be quite illuminating. It can also be helpful to give yourself a time limit to help speed up the process. Finally, I’ll give a little handout. If you think money would improve the state of your existence, then you could always go about five years and write “invest in bitcoin” on the notecard. But hopefully you can think of a way to get more out of this opportunity than just money.

 
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