Eating steak had never had this effect on me before, but this was my first time at 4 Gats – the quintessentially quirky Catalonian restaurant in Barcelona. Opened in 1897, it was renowned as the foremost meeting place of the artistic, eccentric, and supposed outsiders. I felt immediately at ease; no doubt I was sitting at Pablo Picasso’s favourite table.
As I drank in the unique ambiance, a weird, yet profoundly wonderful, notion entered my head. A thought experiment – the hallmark of Albert Einstein – consumed my consciousness: what would I do if I saw my younger self at a nearby table?
How bizarre would that be? And most irresistibly, would I approach, and if so, what would I say? What piece of advice was worthy of endowing to my youthful self, without overwhelming him? I finished my delicious meal without an answer.
A thought experiment
This conundrum continued to play on my mind ─ maddeningly without a conclusion. In order to buy more time, I decided to share my quandary with a group of friends who readily agreed to participate in this idiosyncratic idea. My challenge was:
Sitting in the crowded Fantasy Bar, you see your younger self at a proximate table. Youthful you is oblivious to your presence as you ponder what to do.
On the wall hangs Sir Isaac Newton’s third law of motion: “Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.”
Do you leave or walk over?
And if you choose the latter, what one piece of advice would you give yourself before departing?
My Newtonian notice was vital since I remained somewhat cautious of an approach – and the potential of irreversible change ─ even though it excited me to do so. What if my younger self took my advice which then affected my present life? Restraint or recklessness? I had to delve deeper before making my final decision. Meanwhile my buddies were far more boisterous.
Advice to younger selves
Gina’s cue was a dose of karma: “Treat any living thing the way you would like to be treated yourself.” Joe was reflective: “I did not have a clue about much at all, with the exception of Luton Town Football club. I was also scared ─ no, frightened ─ to try things out. What advice would I give myself? Try things out if you want to learn, don’t be scared to be braver than you are, and don’t be afraid to do things that you didn’t do.”
Grant was more pragmatic: “Buy Bitcoin,” while accepting that his younger version probably wouldn’t listen much to that sage suggestion. Passionate Liverpool fan Karen had one golden nugget to share: “As much as it pains me to say this, it would be to put £1,000 on Leicester City winning the Premier League in 2015/2016.”
Ray’s mantra was straight to the point: “Take every piece of the action and do not hesitate.”, whilst Chris was more philosophical: “Never take the easier path. Don’t give in because it’s hard; strive for excellence, but shoot for perfection.”
Melancholy Drew reflected on wellbeing: “I would walk over, and the one piece of advice I’d give myself would be to look after my health by avoiding sugar.” Pete was resolute: “It’s a marathon and not a sprint. I’d ignore Newton.” Lucy excitedly added: “I would approach myself; I think my advice would be just to say, don’t ever worry about a thing, nothing! Rely on yourself and you’ll never go wrong. It’s important to live in the here and now because this afternoon, next week or year isn’t ours yet.”
Finally, Tina wrapped things up but was the only one of the respondents who declined to offer her younger model with any words of wisdom: “I’d walk over. I thought about giving advice but at what point can I intervene without risking losing the good of what I have now? So, I’d listen to what my young self has to say and that should allow my now-self to forgive me for all the stupid choices I’ve made, because they were done with the best intentions at the time!”
This admission intrigued me since I was still uncertain. Unsurprisingly I wasn’t the first person to wrestle with this challenge.
The problem with time travel
American author Ray Bradbury, in his 1952 short science fiction story A Sound of Thunder, contended that any adjustment in the past – no matter how subtle – would create ripples of change in the future. In 2055, where regulated time travel exists, a bunch of wealthy big game hunters pay to hunt the ultimate prey: a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Strict guidance is issued, and company scouts tag the quarry allowing the kill to occur moments before the natural death of the creature, thereby maintaining the natural timeline.
Nonetheless, a minor transgression occurs which creates significant shifts on their return. Movies such as Back to the Future (1985) and The Butterfly Effect (2004) explore this phenomenon too – all reaching the same conclusion: change cannot be contained. Robert C. Bishop, professor of physics and philosophy at Wheaton College, Illinois, comments: “The so-called ‘butterfly effect’ has become one of the most popular images of chaos. The idea is that the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in Argentina could cause a tornado in Texas three weeks later.”
Returning to my wannabe time travelling friends I posed a follow-up question: What one thing could you not live without that exists in your current life?
The overwhelming verdict centred upon people: children, life partners and extended family.
My life hasn’t been spared suffering, disappointment, and tragedy, and there were many occasions when I so wished that I had acted in another way, or that luck could have been on my side. But what can’t I live without? That’s easy – my children Lucy and Adam. What if I’d not plucked up the courage to ask my late wife, Theresa, out?
The randomness of my life ─ often powered by pure chance – has made myself me; a sum of my fears, failures, f@%kups, successes, slam dunks and sweet moments ─ and created the life around me. I wouldn’t want to change that – and would my younger self have even listened to some older geezer giving it large on key life principles? I doubt that too; but even that would have been too much of a risk to take.
As I paid the bill, put on my coat, and walked to the door, I paused for a moment, glanced at the younger me, and smiled, with one concluding thought – “Enjoy the ride!” Leaving 4 Gats, I simply text my kids: “I love you.”
What would you do?