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Why the Moral Dilemmas of Time Travel Should Concern Us

"The City on the Edge of Forever" is a renowned episode of Star Trek: The Original Series that delves into the moral quandary that Captain Kirk and his crew faced. In the episode, the Enterprise encounters a time portal on an unknown planet. This portal, known as the Guardian of Forever, is a massive, ring-shaped structure with the ability to transport individuals through time.

While the USS Enterprise orbits a mysterious planet, causing time distortions, Chief Medical Officer Leonard McCoy is treating an injured Lt Sulu when a time wave rocks the Enterprise. McCoy accidentally injects himself with an overdose of cordrazine.

This is a Time Travel Portal from Star trek
The Guardian of Forever "Copyright © Paramount Plus" photo edited with PhotoShop 2023 by Jon

Cordrazine was a robust chemical stimulant useful for emergency medical treatment. It was primarily used to stimulate the heart during cardiac arrest. The drug was a red liquid and was injected with a hypospray. In 2267, Captain Kirk noted that cordrazine was "tricky stuff" (TOS: "The City on the Edge of Forever"), but by the 24th century, it had become ubiquitous. Star Fleet physicians use it in much higher doses than Kirk's day.

Delusional and paranoid, McCoy flees from the bridge and beams himself down to the planet.

Captain James T. Kirk follows with a search party that includes first officer Mr. Spock, chief engineer Mr. Scott, and communications officer Lt. Uhura. On the planet's surface, they come across an ancient glowing archway that turns out to be a sentient object called the "Guardian of Forever," a portal capable of sending them to any time and place. The Guardian offers to send them back to Earth's past and plays a series of images of historical times, which Spock records on his tricorder for research purposes. While the others are distracted, the still-delusional Dr. McCoy bursts out from his hiding place and jumps through the portal.

As soon as McCoy enters the portal, the landing party instantly loses contact with the Enterprise. Bewildered, the landing party asks the Guardian what just happened. The Guardian explains that McCoy has altered the past to such an extent that the Enterprise and the reality they knew no longer exist.

The Guardian tells the landing party that it's possible to fix the damage, so Kirk requests that it replay the historical period it showed when McCoy passed through. He and Spock attempt to jump through at a point in time just before McCoy's arrival and find themselves in New York City during the Great Depression.

Image of Joan Collins
Edith Keeler aka Joan Collins "Copyright © Paramount Plus" photo edited with PhotoShop 2023 by Jon

While on Earth, they take clothes from a fire escape to blend in, and, in an attempt to evade a policeman, they find refuge in the basement of the 21st Street Mission. It is there where they meet Edith Keeler, the operator of the soup kitchen. Although Keeler senses something peculiar about the strangers, she kindly offers to pay them to tidy up the basement and provides them a place to stay. Later, Spock tries to uncover how McCoy altered history by accessing his tricorder recordings. However, this proves to be challenging with the limited technology available in 1930, which Spock compares to "stone knives and bear skins." While Spock works on the engineering problem, Kirk takes on odd jobs at the 21st Street Mission to cover their expenses, and it is there that he falls in love with Keeler.

The episode raises important questions about the moral consequences of altering events that have already transpired. The narrative highlights that even with the best intentions, changing the past can result in unpredictable and potentially devastating outcomes. Kirk's eventual decision to sacrifice his personal feelings and let Edith Keeler die is a powerful reminder that, sometimes, we must put aside our desires to ensure the greater good prevails.

The themes explored in "The City on the Edge of Forever" are incredibly poignant, as they remind us of the fragility of time, the far-reaching consequences of our actions, and why the moral dilemmas of time travel should concern us. It's a powerful message that even the smallest choices can significantly impact our future. This episode serves as a gentle nudge to reflect on our decisions' ethical implications and consider the broader impact on society. By thinking beyond our immediate desires, we can make choices that will benefit everyone in the long run.

It's important to have a helpful framework for making decisions in our daily lives. One approach is to imagine that we are behind a veil of ignorance, where we don't know our current situation. This helps us to make decisions that are equitable and that benefit everyone. By using this approach, we can be sure that our decisions are genuinely in the best interest of all involved.

In conclusion, "The City on the Edge of Forever" is a thought-provoking episode that delves into the moral issues surrounding time travel. It raises questions about the consequences of altering history and challenges us to consider the ethical implications of our choices. By examining the impact of the characters' decisions, we can glean valuable lessons that can be applied to real-life situations, reminding us of the importance of considering the greater good in our actions.

We should reflect on the complexities of temporal mechanics and ethical dilemmas, contemplating the potential consequences of altering the fabric of time itself. This thought-provoking episode serves as a reminder that our actions in the past can have far-reaching implications, urging us to consider the moral implications of time travel and the ethical responsibilities it entails.

"The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few... or the one" - Spock 1982

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Sep 10, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

We need to be careful with time travel.

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