Back to the Future: Is It Yours Alone?
Recreational time travel, the infinite multiverse, & fractal delineation of temporal progression.
Let’s explore the possibilities of time travel in honor of Back to the Future Day!
Time Travel: Your Options for Futures Past
- Time is a flat circle
- Every choice generates a collapsing probabilities of futures: the choice(s) one makes results in specific timeline.
- Time is more like a big ball of wibbily wobbly timey wimey…stuff
Time is a Flat Circle
- Key features: deterministic, fatalistic, cyclical
- Prerequisites: none — this version of time is self-contained.
The idea that time is a flat circle is disseminated by the likes of Rust Cohle in True Detective, & exemplified in Futurama when Professor Farnsworth builds the forward time machine.
The main feature in this version of time is that it is cyclical. Time repeats itself over some extended period. Time starts with the big bang & ends existence collapsing in on itself, restarting the big bang.
Rust Cohle uses this idea in support of determinism & fatalism: “everything we’ve done or will do, we’re gonna do over & over & over again.” Futurama’s version is less specific as to whether or not time is deterministic or can be modified.
Retroprogressive time travel (being able to return after traveling forward in time) in this type of existence will solely result in you being aware of your impending doom (cyclical universe). Or you will be able to modify all time until the “reset,” wherein, the carbon copy of existence will be had, including the time travelers changes (cyclical time). Back to the Future could support this version of time, as McFly returns to the altered past future when Biff has become president.
More broadly, over the course of the Back to the Future trilogy, the version of time travel that is applied in the movie suggests that time is an immutable continuum & it is only the perception of the traveler that events are changing as a result of time traveling.
The Paradox Problem
Cyclical Time systemically falls victim to paradox issues: what if you kill your own grandfather? What happens if you meet yourself in your own past or future? Where as the in the cyclical universe, all of these events would be predetermined & destined to occur, in cyclical time, these paradoxes would hold all of existence hostage until resolved, most often by removing the existence of a character.
Of course, if time is predetermined, a paradox is solely a description of a subjective perception of a section of time.
Collapsing Probabilities to the Future
- Key features: a set past; indeterministic; paradoxes eliminated; single forward timeline, & a subjective temporal viewpoint
- Prerequisites: infinite multiverse
This variety of time allows for anything to happen due to a collapsing set of probabilities from an infinite multiverse to a single being’s past timeline.
What becomes imminently curious about this version of time is a lack of total free will, but the allowance of subjective free will. Although the future is not set, as in cyclical time or universe theories, a single being’s future is in part determined by the choices of every other being in the universe & vice-versa. A potential jump into “the” future is solely dependent on the actions of every other being during the realtime duration of the time traveler’s jump.
Retroprogessive time travel is impossible in this version of time as attempting to come back from a future, would result in a new, potentially identical, universe, but the future of that universe would be slightly different as the time traveler has diverse knowledge, & is interacting with a timeline that would have otherwise, previously, not been affected by the time travel.
Pure retrogressive time travel (going back in time), is totally feasible, as long as the time traveler has never skipped forward in time. Retrogressive time travel in this variety of time also demonstrates why a subjective temporal viewpoint is necessary: no single time traveler would be able to travel back along someone else’s timeline, as each being’s timeline would diverge into an innumerable quantity of universes, dimensions & time-streams, each with it’s own version of every being in existence, making choices to generate equally infinite sets of existence.
Thus, a past existence can be traveled only by the being that has traveled in once before. An objective temporal viewpoint is quite impossible, as an omnipresent being (including a time machine) might not exist in a certain version of the infinite multiverse, precluding it from being omnipresent.
The Paradox Problem
With a subjective viewpoint, the beginning of one’s existence is as far back as one could travel in their own timeline. Killing one’s own grandfather would not prevent one’s own existence, because the murder would only ever occur after the beginning of one’s existence. Even if one’s existence began during retrogressive time travel of another being, that retrogression would eliminated the previous future of that being’s timeline, as one’s existence would be a newly collapsed probability (as opposed to one’s lack of existence). Presuming the above mentioned, retrogressively traveling being is one’s mother, her past timeline would still exist in a separate existence than one’s own.
Back to the Future could also support this version of time, as the paradoxes that arise in the plot are resolved mainly with more time travel. It would be difficult to show that there is contiguous timeline, that is that Marty is, in fact, traveling back & forth outside of a single timeline, instead of a new universe being created each time he makes a decision. The moviegoing audience has a unique perspective of having an intrinsic timeline outside of the timeline within the plot of the movie to create reference points that the characters cannot.
A Big Ball of Wibbily Wobbly Timey Wimey…Stuff
- Key features: no features; all the features
- Prerequisites: certain, yet unspecified points of immutable time
Imagine a whole bunch of pasta. Vermincelli, if you want to be specific. Now imagine that each vermincello is a time stream for some specific being. The streams can be crossed, stick to each other, run parallel, or be uncooked, cooked, dry, covered in sauce, etcetera & wonderfully, each has no direction. No up, down, forth, backwards, diagonal-ways… You get the point. This is like time travel in Dr. Who.
Now all of this lovely pasta on a plate. The pasta can touch the plate, exist on the plate, leave a slight residue on the plate, but can’t actually change the plate. The plate is like the certain, immutable points in time of the variety of time in Dr. Who. Each being’s metaphysical, vermincello time-stream is able to curl back in on itself infinitely, move around nearer, or farther away from the plate, & each always has an end & a beginning, yet travel to & fro those points is quite possible.
What this creates is a complete & utter level of free will & temporal existential nihilism unlike any other variety of time. Existence & time traveled within it have no set meaning, purpose or intrinsic value.
The value of the immutable points in time (the plate) is that it gives an objective point of reference for all other subjective travel: a system designating these immutable points in reference to each other gives subjective perception of traveling forward or backward in a time-stream, while also coinciding with other beings’ time-streams. You can meet other people in other time-streams referencing these immutable points. You can travel forward & back in time without needing to create or nullify infinite universes/dimensions, as über-universally, all actions, throughout whatever point in whatever time-stream have reference points.
The Paradox Problem
Dr. Who never really resolves paradoxes. As best this author can postulate, the fact that there are objective points in time allows for a discrete paradox to exist between two (or more) temporal reference points. Within those points the paradox exists, traveling around those points ends the paradox loop.
So, which came first, Marty or McFly? Yes.
Back to the Future does not support this variety of time traveling.
Back to Futures Past
I’d like to write a book someday titled, “Futures Past,” but that is neither here nor there. The reality of the situation is that until a being is able to “step out of existence” to hold an objective view of existence, we will not truly know if we are able to travel through time. Even then, how would an existing being be able to measure if it were outside of existence?
Does it matter? I really just want to be able to get places more quickly & have a few more second chances, knowing that the result will not be the same.