Temporal Anomalies in Time Travel Movies
March 18, 2002 4:17 PM   Subscribe

Temporal Anomalies in Time Travel Movies discusses time travel concept discrepancies in popular movies, such as Back to the Future, 12 Monkeys, and Flight of the Navigator. Although they're really just movies, and time travel isn't real (as far as we know), author M. Joseph Young provides very logical arguments for why those things couldn't really happen.
posted by lnicole (23 comments total)
Original site is here. I linked to the Google cache to avoid knocking the site off for bandwidth constraints.
posted by lnicole at 4:18 PM on March 18, 2002

too late...its already been kicked offline b/c of bandwidth and the links don't appear to be cached too.
Linking geocities on Mefi=death to people accessing their webpage (well, somewhat)
posted by jmd82 at 4:31 PM on March 18, 2002

Shame about the site not working- I'd be interested in reading more of that.

However, it's a Double-post anyway, I'm afraid...
posted by hincandenza at 4:34 PM on March 18, 2002

hincandenza, that link is going to come back to haunt you. In about thirty-two years.
posted by ook at 4:50 PM on March 18, 2002

So, if we travel forward in time to keep you from double-posting, then you won't post that, and then we won't travel forward in time to do stop you, in which case you will.

So maybe we did.

Have I just irrefutably proved that I am a time-traveller? Or is this an exercise in irrefutility?
posted by umberto at 4:56 PM on March 18, 2002

*sniffle* I didn't think it would die so soon! I was reluctant to post it all day because I was afraid this would happen. In case anyone happens to love this movie like I do, I happen to have the cached version of the Flight of the Navigator write-up in my history.

that was a good one, hincandenza... heehee
posted by lnicole at 4:57 PM on March 18, 2002

You can get to quite a few of the caches this way.

Dem's some interesting stuff.
posted by OneBallJay at 5:01 PM on March 18, 2002

I always thought something was wrong with Terminator, but without drawing a diagram, my head was swimming. Thanks for the link...
posted by machaus at 5:15 PM on March 18, 2002

Yeah, this guy worked this theory out for a role-playing game in which time travel is possible. It does seem to make eliminate some of the paradoxes of "traditional" fictional time travel. In any case, it's interesting and fun geekery. IMHO of course.

I have my own pet theory, which is that it requires an infinite amount of energy to send a time traveler to a time where he could actually change history, so you can only travel to doomed sites where you couldn't make a difference. (Connie Willis did a similar thing, except she had "slippage" where the machinery just put you somewhere else.) I'll use this in a story someday...
posted by kindall at 5:43 PM on March 18, 2002

Hrm. Sad, what happened to that Geocities page. People should really stop hosting intresting stuff there.
posted by delmoi at 6:50 PM on March 18, 2002

skallas: The watch experiment is even easier than that. Get a couple stopwatches (2, 3, 4, whatever) and a big fan. Duct tape a number of stopwatches to the fan and leave the rest on the counter. Run the fan for a week and the stopwatches will be out of sync.
posted by ODiV at 7:43 PM on March 18, 2002

I like the multiple worldline type of time travel.
If you went back in time the worlds would just branch there, so there would be no paradox.
posted by Iax at 9:37 PM on March 18, 2002

I like the multiple worldline type of time travel.
If you went back in time the worlds would just branch there, so there would be no paradox.

But then what happens when you return to the present/future? DO you go to the branched future, or the original future/present? Or do you have a toggle switch on your time machine for precisely that reason?
posted by rorycberger at 11:33 PM on March 18, 2002

Oh, and my favorite time travel fiction: All You Zombies, by Robert Heinlein. Not only is there time travel, but there's the whole sex thing too. Another one of those infinite loops.
posted by rorycberger at 11:37 PM on March 18, 2002

The standard reference on the topic is Larry Niven's 1960s essay "The Theory and Practice of Time Travel" (see collection All the Myriad Ways or, I think, N-Space). Essentially he looks at all the different ways it could work, discusses some of the physics at a lay level (particularly the Conservation of Energy questions), and works out all the potential problems that might arise -- depending on what your theory of time travel is. For instance, you could have multiple parallel universes with every possibility explored; he did, himself, in the story from which the above collection takes its title. You could have the idea that time travel into the past is mathematically impossible, involving imaginary numbers -- so if you built a time machine, it would take you to "imaginary" worlds -- and he wrote a series around a sad sack named Svetz who was capable of retrieving unicorns and dragons, with droll results.

The basic problem was that you can "easily" time travel into the future by making use of Einsteinian temporal distortion, say by accelerating near light speed or almost getting sucked into a black hole. But Niven posits that such a journey must expend energy, so a journey into the past must also -- where does it come from? where would it go?

Discussing this without referring to Niven is like discussing physics without mentioning Archimedes.
posted by dhartung at 11:41 PM on March 18, 2002

Heinlein's By His Bootstraps is another classic, rorycberger. And now I find there's an audio version of it with Richard Dreyfuss--cool...
posted by y2karl at 6:23 AM on March 19, 2002

It seems kind of silly to try to force a model of timetravel on movies that are assuming a completely different one.

If you don't like the timetravel model where any changes timetravellers make are simply ones they had always been destined to make (i.e. we are living in a world that timetravellers from our future have already changed), then movies like 12 Monkeys and Bill & Ted just don't work at all.
posted by straight at 7:25 AM on March 19, 2002

This was an interesting link, though it's too bad about the geocities situation (couldn't see the diagrams... ) and I thought imposing this theory on movies was an interesting exercise, but I have a couple questions.

If by returning to the past you are erasing history from that point forward, then why would it matter if you somehow stop yourself from returning to the past, or even being born? History has been restructured. You have removed yourself from the continuum of time and caused it to record over itself. E.g., if I go back to 1950, I am basically creating a time-clone of myself, because I didn't exist in 1950. if I don't do anything to interrupt my parents meeting and having a child (and by some miracle the exact same dna info meets, but let's leave that aside) it will be me, but not me. It will be a clone of me. There will now be two of us in time, in the one time continuum that exists, and whether she goes back in time and starts time all over again all over again or not, we can exist together without causing an anomaly. Or, not. That is, if I kill my own grandpa, then that other version of me never lives, only the one who came back from an alternate recording of history and changed things (assuming I kill him before he reproduces obviously).

Right? what am I missing?
posted by mdn at 7:52 AM on March 19, 2002

Don't use google cache to surf sites. Use the wayback machine.

Though, it currently seems to be broken in both OmniWeb and IE Mac. Mozilla handles it fine. They are using some bizarre javascript now,
posted by benh57 at 9:10 AM on March 19, 2002

I said I had a couple of questions but then only asked one - I guess my other thought was regarding the rest of the world, the ones who don't travel back in time: so when the traveler goes back and starts time over again from whichever point he chooses (say, 1950) then what happens to all of us left here(or, I should say, now)? We simply disappear, cease to exist, by this theory, right? But matter can't just disappear. Or maybe we experience the rewind while Traveler is going back - though probably we wouldn't realize it was a rewind if we went through exactly what we'd experienced going forward... not sure about that actually; perhaps it's dependent on what the smallest unit of time is (if there's an inherent backwardness or the experience of moments in reverse order).

Well, so that's what I meant by "a couple questions." I'd really appreciate a response - I always get to the interesting threads to late and then I feel like I'm going around killing threads because I'm always the last to post something.

or do I have bad breath?
posted by mdn at 11:16 AM on March 19, 2002

We simply disappear, cease to exist, by this theory, right? But matter can't just disappear.

Well, think about the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics. In the Schrodinger's Cat experiment, according to the many-worlds theory, there are two cats, one alive and one dead, until you actually open the box and see which is inside. When you look, you "destroy" one of the cats. Alternate timelines in this guy's theory are more or less the same thing, basically they depend on an "observer" to determine their reality.
posted by kindall at 12:57 PM on March 19, 2002

No, actually, that's a wrong interpretation of the many-worlds interpretation. Forget I said that.
posted by kindall at 3:40 PM on March 19, 2002

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