Time Travel, Part 3

Can the future cause the past?

Predestination Paradox, causality loop, and retrocausality are all terms to deal with essentially the same concept.  Instead of the typical cause and effect relationship in this case, the effect actually operates as the cause.  To give a very simple example of this concept let’s say that you are given a picture of yourself with a future date on it, at a location you have never been to.  You are curious as to how someone would get this picture and why you would be in that location, so you go there at the time listed on the photo.  You have now taken the action of going there, because you saw that you were going to go there.  Again this is a very simplistic example, but it should explain what I am talking about here.  In most cases, the characters actually discover something unpleasant is going to happen and end up causing that very thing to happen by trying to prevent it.

I personally have a few huge issues with causality loops.  Essentially, they are an accepted paradox where there is no explanation of the original source.  If we look at time as a line where point A is the time you are presented with future knowledge and point B is the future event actually happening, we see the loop then created between these two points in time.  This loop would essentially continue into infinity, because each time it occurs it generates another instance of itself.  The events of the future would not have happened on their own without knowledge of them, though.  Something had to have set this loop into motion the first time, but that aspect of the story never seems to be told.  These stories can get particularly frustrating for me when the characters give up the free will of their actions to just act based on what they know of the future.

Ontological Paradoxes take this concept to their extreme.  In the case of an ontological paradox, an object from one point in time is taken to another point in time (usually the past) and becomes the very thing that is discovered in the future.  As an example, a father gives his son a pocket watch.  The son then travels back in time and in some strange turn of events ends up giving his father the very watch that he will someday be given.  In this case the watch is stuck in a paradoxical loop.  It doesn’t seem to have a creation, and despite going through this loop an infinite number of times it does not seem to be aging as would be expected.  The object simply exists with no explanation of how.  I have read many stories that involve this concept, but I have only found one that actually dealt with the origins of the object.  In the worst case, a person can end up becoming their own ancestor, thus creating a real paradox where a human being exists that shouldn’t.

My basic issue with all of these concepts is that they don’t make logical sense.  Not everything in entertainment needs to make sense, but Science Fiction is based in science, and circular logic just doesn’t fit.  I also cannot see any way a causality loop could work in a game since it is essentially forcing the players into a situation that they will likely try to avoid just because they feel railroaded.  That being said, I am currently enjoying a TV show based on a causality loop, but it does frustrate me.

Comments (8)

Chris MNovember 2nd, 2009 at 12:41 am

Time is a unit of measure conceived by beings who decompose due to telomeres and RNA/ DNA sequences that transplant failing and degraded material plus UV rays blasting away free radicals. As finite beings we see thing in a linear mindset as we age forward. Hence time travel and concepts of time travel in physics are also linear. To deviate from the time events causes paradox A or splits off into parallel universe B. When we have no idea what time travel might cause any more that the Wright Brothers could have known what breaking the spend of sound might be like and what consequences might come of that.

Wayne RNovember 2nd, 2009 at 12:47 pm

Time is a measurement of the consequence of change. Its not real, you can’t go forward and back like you can with the change in direction that gave you the time measurement. If I take ten steps forward across a room the time it took is a measurement of the changes in state I went thought getting across the room. I can’t rewind time to get back to were I started, all I can do is reverse the changes in state I went thought but that does not move me back in time.

DanNovember 2nd, 2009 at 1:28 pm

I realize defining time is about as tricky as defining consciousness, but I think it’s fair to say that it is something real through which we can travel. For example, we know that time and mass have a relationship. If you accelerate someone to an incredible speed, their apparent mass will increase, and they will experience a change in time. They may have only lived through 10 minutes while the rest of us on Earth went through 10 years. This is something they’ve proven to be true through the use of atomic clocks. Clearly there’s something more at work here than just our perception of change.

So what is that something?

I won’t claim to be an expert physicist, and from what little I know, it seems even they can’t agree on what time is, how it operates, or (to Chris’ point) what analogy best describes it (linear, planar, multiverse, etc). But I think it’s a reasonable premise for the article to say that time is something objectively real and then examine the story implications of allowing someone to move any direction other than “forward.” Doubly so since the focus here is on internal consistency in fiction and not a time machine Wayne’s trying to build in his basement.

WayneNovember 2nd, 2009 at 1:45 pm

More and more it seems I will likely end up doing a physics installment at some point. The mindset of these articles though is entirely dealing with it in fiction. It is examining the common tropes, the original ideas, and just aspects to consider in your own games or fiction.

Travel forwards in time is definitely possible if you accept the various experiments proving Einsteinian physics and the concepts of spacetime. Wayne R touched on something that I have struggled with myself. You have to separate the measurement of time with time itself and realize that it in turn become relative. You are always moving forward in your own time-line, but if you could somehow pull yourself outside of the flow of time for everyone else it would essentially be time travel. For example approaching the speed of light would lead to time traveling a a different pace for you then it does for everyone else on earth. This has been demonstrated indicating that time is something that has inherent adjustable properties. Whether travel backwards in time is possible in reality or not, it does exist in fiction.

Wayne RNovember 2nd, 2009 at 2:07 pm

True, and I am not arguing against story’s about time travel. Just stating the biggest problem with time is how we define it. And I your comment about time and mass having a relationship is true, I just think what that relationship is, again has definition issues. But I don’t mean our perception of changes as Chris M was speaking, but instead change in the sense of motion from one place to another in space.

But I am alluding to something, and looking for more input about what everyone thinks about what I mean when I say consequence of change.

AnZsDadNovember 3rd, 2009 at 3:48 pm

Wayne C, in his comment above, said “approaching the speed of light would lead to time [moving at] a different pace for you [than]…everyone else”. [Changes made to correct errata and for clarity] The point I am about to make may be along the same lines as those made before, but I wonder what others make of it.
The perception of each observer (one on Earth and one travelling at a large fraction of c) is that time is flowing at the same pace as normal. No matter what speed each of us is traveling at, we perceive that it takes the same length of time to say “One Mississippi” (the accepted standard for measuring a second, for some reason). If, however, we were each able to perceive the other, the Earth-based observer would see the traveller moving very slowly while the traveller would see the Earth-based person moving at a heightened speed. At least, this is my take on it based on “common sense”. In this case, which person is doing the “time traveling”?

Wayne ColeNovember 3rd, 2009 at 4:08 pm

Both are traveling forward through time, they are just doing so at a different pace. The example shows that the rate of travel through time can be adjusted, so it would then go to reason that it would be possible to make further adjustments. If it is something that can be adjusted then it also might be possible to do so by various means and not just by adjusting speed\mass. To truly be time travel would you have to control your final destination? If you have no control over where you end up are you then just stumbling through time and not actually traveling? All the while though which physical time travel you always seem to be traveling at a consistent rate through your own lifeline. It is only by observing the rest of the world that you can be said to have time traveled. Thus using the example while both the person on Earth and the Person approaching the speed of light are essentially traveling through their own personal time lines only the one who has approached the speed of light has traveled taken steps to change the rate that they are traveling through time in relation to the rest of the world so I would have to say that they are the one who was time traveling because they had more control over the rate they traveled. There is a reason time travel tends to make peoples heads hurt.

Chris MNovember 3rd, 2009 at 11:45 pm

To put a more precise bead on things our perception of time and time’s existence relative to ourselves are measured by organic and finite points of reference.

As we decay and age and die and give birth and as food spoils… time passes. Time in that instance is defined as the cellular breakdown of biodegradable matter and the passing of one state to another free the energy of our atomic state back to the dance on the subatomic level. Another definition is that time passes as a ball drops from a rooftop to the ground floor as measured by the mechanical count of a old fashioned watch.

And again time is measured by revolutions and rotations of the axial spin of the Earth relative in distance to the sun our satellite the moon and the terminator of night( and the positions of the other planets and stars of the astronomer’s canvas passing into day relative to equidistant point on the globe. All can be said to be an A to B in terms of causality and effect
In that sense time comes to mean and encapsulate a transitory definition and from the framework of the examples presented is somewhat ambiguous.

In the same way that we define light as a wave in one definition of as a band of tightly knit particles of photons in another theory emitted from varying points of radioactive spectra what becomes clear to me is that our comprehension of time is rudimentary at best and we don’t know if time moves through n dimensions or whether a shift in mass and density or the travel of relativistic speeds would perpetuate a journey in time because it is beyond our capability to even leave our solar system.

The power cost of such a journey would have to be enormous on par with a compressed miniature star. For and organic body to be protected against the output of radiation and the potential speeds hypothesized protective layers would to be engineered with safety backups.

Human beings have a primitive concept of time as just an incremental device as a result that mind envisions it as such we impose a limit that should not be there in the place. Time is not static but a fluid mechanism, of coexistent universes or multiple spatial points that flow outwards and inwards in n directions and n combinations and permutations not visible to input and output of what is observable to our optic nerve but something akin to the subatomic level equivalent of an ongoing galactic collision that is repeated and sustained and takes on a pattern indicated in nature through a flow and rhythm. We humans breathe math. Literally breathe… math, the input and output of our lungs have a measured capacity and our arteries pump x fractions of a liter of oxygen rich blood per nanosecond. And maybe it is in the that fact that we might one day uncover time travel and use it as a beneficial tool to examine the condition of the universe and mankind.

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