I was up at the office until 3:30, and now I can't sleep. Instead, with time travel and counterfactuals having been the topic of my latest posts, I'm re-mulling over a thought exercise I play from time to time.
The way it works: you are given the use of machine that is a combination time-travel-biographical-VCR and universe-splitter-and-splicer. The machine allows you to rewind your life to any point. Then, the world-splittler creates two parallel universes: in World One, your biographical tape plays itself out as originally recorded, in World Two, you are re-given control of your body at that point on the tape to do anything you want differently for one hour. Your self will not remember the reasons it did the things it did in that hour. World Two will then proceed to play itself forward to the present with everything happening as it would have had the actions you done in that hour been the actions you had done in the first place. In the present, you are allowed to splice your views of World One and World Two together and see the ways in which the two worlds are different.
The three variants of the game are: (1) you get to choose whether you want to experience the remainder of your life in World One or World Two; (2) you have to leave World One and resume yourself in World Two, regardless of how things have turned out for you there; and (3) you get to see what happened to you in World Two, but you don't have any choice of having that be your life (you have to stay in World One).
For each variant, the game of course is: where in your life do you rewind the tape to, and what is it that you do?
For Variant 2, I have an obvious answer. I should go back to some weeknight evening in July 1998 and spend the hour making telephone calls to both my sister and my mother convincing them that, despite whatever my sister is being told by her practitioners in the lame and borderline-sinister rural health care system back around the family farm, she must go and insist that they give her a CAT scan* because she is presenting what even an idiot whose only knowledge of medicine is from watching ER can tell are the classic early warning signs of a brain tumor. For if this is discovered in July instead of, say, September, the chances are extremely high that she gets to be one of those brave cancer survivors wearing around a yellow livestrong bracelet instead of being, say, dead.
Especially since I'm not all that close to my siblings, one thing about this choice is it actually has very little implications for my own day-to-day life: the best guess for where I would be right now in World Two is right here on my laptop, typing a different answer to conclude this post. So in my most ridiculously self-absorbed moments, I imagine doing something different with Variant 2 than using it to save my sister's life. And then, of course, I immediately feel profoundly guilty, like some kind of counterfactual cretin. I think this is really the signal feature of what little mental games make the cut of being those I choose to play regularly: not only must they offer the possibility for all kinds and angles of speculation, but they seemingly must also allow the opportunity for me to go down cognitive avenues that then make me feel guilty or wallowy.
* Instead of their recommending that she go see, say, a freaking chiropractor, which is what happened in World One.