The Three Major Theories of Time Travel

Above we have a rather interesting (and thankfully rather short) infographic from Harrison Desnmore about pretty much all the kinds of time travels you see in movies. Did you time traveling actions make history the way it’s always been? Did they screw up time and reality itself? Or did you create an entirely new universe based on your f-ing around in the past?

The middle one is what’s known as a “plot hole” in most instances, but the other two could fall under that category too if you expand on them enough. I’m of the firm belief that all time travel movies ultimately never make sense once you start trying to extrapolate them to their logical conclusion. Still, this is all enough to make your brain hurt for a while.

Not pictured: Primer, which is it’s own category that can’t even be explained by human words.

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  1. Dynamic Lazy Timeline
    Time travelers from the future affected by present events will be altered in the easiest way possible for the universe.
    If you go back in time and kill your grandfather, you will cease to exist from that moment forward. The new timeline will see that you never existed to travel back in time, but it will see that you arrived before the murder and the actions leading up to that point.

    As seen in Looper.
    This style greatly reminds me of lightning. It takes the path of least resistance.

    My understanding is that Primer follows Multiverse. The infograph Paul pointed to for Primer explained that as you left a timeline, that timeline no longer had you in it. When you witness yourself going into a box, they were leaving for the next timeline while you gained the opportunity to take their place in this timeline.

    Primer infograph:

  2. One of the things that I found weird about this year’s MIB3 is(spoilers)
    That Will Smith travels to the past from an altered time to correct it. He prevents another character’s death at the hands of a time traveler, restoring the timeline.

    But he also travels back a few minutes within the past to more effectively defeat his enemy after being wounded. But when he travels back, he doesn’t find himself standing there, planning to travel in time. If he went back a few minute to a timeline which exists because of his own actions, shouldn’t he bump into his past, time traveled self?

    But I’m thinking way too much about this, aren’t I?

  3. Something time travel movies don’t take into account – you don’t travel just back in time, but also move distance.

    The earth is moving around the sun, and the earth is also rotating (Not exactly 24 hours for one rotation).

    Doctor Who can do it because the TARDIS travels in time and space.

    Physic nerd alert!

  4. I’ve always considered the fixed timeline as the only possible structure for time in the universe. Consider that you travel to the future. From that perspective our present is in the past and a matter of record. Our actions in the present do not result in constantly changing newspaper headlines to the future based time traveler any more than our newspaper heading are not in flux from events happening (in a simultaneous) yesterday.

    Other multiverse versions of our universe may or may not exist, but they must surely exist separately from our own even if the split point hasn’t occurred yet, because if a universe is created for every difference that occurs then what’s the cut off point? Human decisions? The change in the charge of an electron? Do these new time lines then split? and split again? It would be less a split and more of an exponential explosion. Where would the energy come from for that?

  5. Nicholas: The Time Machine (2002) shows the machine physically staying where it was as time rapidly moved past. Looper suggest that it’s machine is able to place a person in different locations, though they don’t show that the future is actively calculating where the destination is. I do agree that your point is highly valid.

    Monstrinho: I’ve tried to figure out potential plots for a time movie where the time line is a matter of record in that people, even those from alternate times or those holding newspapers or the like from alternate times, but without some being able to at some point recognize changes a story has characters that have bouncing motivations and goals that likely leave the audience confused.

    Timelines that lend themselves well to theory don’t always lend themselves to Hollywood.

    Going with the fixed timeline direction with the multiverse splitting, perhaps all of the decisions that are ever made (where ever their split point is at) already exist in the first place, with all lines being identical at the beginning, then half of them become the left side of the first ‘split’ and the other half the right. No need for energy creation among these already existing parallels.

  6. The problem with the Dynamic Timeline model is that it assumes time travel is possible and history can be changed, but it still insists that there’s only one timelike dimension.

    While a single timelike dimension works fine for the Fixed Timeline model, the Dynamic Timeline model requires a minimum of *two* timelike dimensions. One of the timelike dimensions corresponds to how events play out within the timeline, and the other timelike dimension corresponds to the timeline being changed by time travelers. There’s also an implication that if time travel is possible in the first place, then it probably occurs naturally at the quantum level, not just when a living creature invents a time machine. Random quantum events could be changing history underneath us all the time.

  7. “Not pictured: Primer, which is it’s own category that can’t even be explained by human words.”
    – Loved this line; because it is so true.

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