Time Travel in Fiction Rundown

Time Travel in Fiction Rundown


This video is sponsored by the YouTube Red
Sci-Fi Series “Lifeline”. For ages I’ve been wanting to make a video
analyzing time travel in fiction – not the magical or physical mechanisms by which the
time travel is supposedly achieved , but rather, the different ways time travel can influence
causality (and thus the plot) within the universe of each story. Needless to say, there are spoilers ahead! Let’s start with Ender’s Game by Orson Scott
Card – time travel in this book is actually 100% realistic: the characters experience
slower passage of time when they travel close to light speed, allowing just a few days or
months to pass for those traveling while years pass on earth or other planets. It’s traveling forward through time like we
normally do, but at different rates. This kind of time travel doesn’t “change the
past” or allow characters to make different decisions than the ones they already did – it’s
all one consistent historical trajectory. The original Planet of the Apes film is similar,
where astronauts experience extreme time dilation and then crash land on a strange ape-ruled
planet that (major spoiler) turns out to just be earth in the distant future. But what about actual time-travel time travel? Well, I would say there are two big distinguishing
features between different types of time travel in fiction. The first is whether or not the time traveler
is there when history happens the “first time around” – that is, is there a kind of “self-consistency”
where, since time travel takes you to the past, when the past happened the first time,
the time-traveling version of you was always there to begin with? Or does the very act of time traveling to
the past change what happened and force the universe onto a different trajectory of history
from the one you experienced prior to traveling? And the second distinguishing feature is:
who has free will when somebody is time traveling. Like, whose actions are allowed to move history
onto a different trajectory, and whose aren’t? One of the simplest time travels is “do-over”
time travel, where you essentially get to re-play history starting exactly as it was
at a certain point, with the only caveat being you remember your experiences from already
having tried various possible future timelines (while no one else does). It’s essentially like playing a video game
where you can start a level over with the foresight of what you did wrong the first
time. For example, in Groundhog Day Bill Murray’s
character relives the same day over and over again, and though he can make different choices
each time, he always starts back at the same point (except with new memories of his previous
choices). That is, until he figures out the one exact
set of choices that frees him from the loop. I consider “A Christmas Carol” to be in this
vein, too, even though it may not seem like time travel. But because Scrooge gets to visit the future
of his current timeline, even though he has no ability to affect the timeline directly
while “visiting”, he can still change his actions in the present based on what he learns,
essentially getting a “do-over.” The video game Braid is built on the idea
of “do-overs”, where you get to rewind a few seconds and try something different
(though there are some things that are immune to going back in time and don’t “rewind”,
which is what makes the game interesting). Braid also has another kind of time travel,
where you go back to your past as a separate individual, and the past version of you is
there with no free will, just doing exactly what you did the first time around, while
“time-traveling you” can change the course of history. This is also how the video “Clock Blockers”
by the Corridor Digital youtube channel works. And then there’s time travel where the very
act of going to the past or future creates a fully new trajectory of history because
time-traveling you weren’t there the first time around, and now you are. This includes the typical “anything goes”
time travel movies like Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Back to the Future, Star Trek First
Contact, and so on, where you can kind of instantly jump back and forth to any point
in time you want, potentially resulting in multiple versions of yourself. From a causality perspective, anything you
do in the past (and even just the act of going back in time) redirects the course of history
onto a new timeline – in Back to the Future, Marty’s interference with his parents falling
in love results in the timeline of history being redirected towards a version of the
future where he doesn’t exist and so he starts to disappear from photos and real life. And even after correcting that major deviation,
his interactions with his parents while he’s in the past result in them being very different
people when he returns to his present time; he accidentally caused history to progress
in a slightly different direction. The movie ”Looper” is similar, but there’s
a little more circularity because when you jump to the past, you cause history to branch
onto on a trajectory where, in the future, the younger you also goes back in time the
same way you just did. Both you and your past self still have enough
free will to change that forward course of history, though, which results in weirdness
like you getting new memories when your past self does things you yourself didn’t do, or
if they lose a body part, suddenly you’ll lose it too, replaced by an old scar on your
own body. So, changes to the present affect not just
future timelines, but also future timelines that wrap back around to the present! The indie film Primer is in the same vein,
except that it takes the plot device of time travel to the extreme, with time travel within
time travel within time travel, time-traveling characters interacting with other time-traveling
versions of themselves, bringing time machines with them to the past inside other time machines,
and so on. But beyond the complexity, there are two things
that make Primer stand out: first, time travel to the past isn’t an instantaneous jump, but
actually takes time: to go back 6 hours, you sit in the time machine for what feels like
6 hours. And time travel can’t take you back to a time
before a given time machine was initially activated, since of course, the machine can
only be taking you back in time inside it if it’s turned on, so the first time it was
turned on is the farthest back in time you can go. There’s a nice logic to it. Which brings us to perhaps my all time favorite
of all fictional time travel: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. It’s an “instantly jump back in time” kind
of time travel that doesn’t actually generate any new timelines. It manages that because in this universe,
while you were experiencing your initial, pre-time-travel passage through a particular
point in history, your “time-traveling clone” was also already there, doing everything you’ll
eventually do when you time travel yourself. For example, Harry and friends are saved from
dying by their time-traveling selves, the first time through that timeline. It makes so much sense – if you go back
in time, you really and truly were present at that point in time all along! This also means that during the period of
overlap, the time-traveling you has no actual free will, since everything you do has in
some sense already been done, which Harry comprehends when he realizes he has to save
his past self because he was already saved by his future self when he was in the past. I think I love this kind of time travel because
it manages to be logically consistent: it’s time travel to the past where you can’t change
the past, because the past already happened. And there’s only one timeline – the one
in which time travelers arrive from the future, do stuff, and at some later date, leave to
go to the past. Logical consistency is a primary thing that,
you may have noticed, I think lays the foundation for good time travel stories – not because
logical consistency is important in an of itself, but because, most of the time, in
order to care about the characters in a story, we have to believe that actions have consequences. If everything is just a meaningless series
of events, then we almost don’t have a story. So it’s really helpful if there are rules
by which the universe of the story functions, whatever those rules may be. Speaking of actions with consequences, I finally
got the kick in the pants I needed to make this video from my friends at the Corridor
Digital YouTube channel. They’ve asked me to help promote their new
YouTube Red Original Series, “Lifeline”, which, minor spoilers ahead… is a sci fi
action thriller with time travel in it. What kind of time travel, you ask? Essentially, if somebody dies in the future,
that sends a message back to the present, which allows people to jump forward to just
before the time the person dies and change the trajectory of history from that point
onwards, averting their death. But as you might imagine, things eventually
go awry. Anyway, you can check out the first episode
of Lifeline for free on the Corridor Digital channel or by following the links onscreen
or in the description . And fun facts: I actually know the Corridor guys from back before MinutePhysics,
when I was doing special effects for the “freddiew” channel. We also all grew up in neighboring towns in
Minnesota and even competed against each other in high school sports , though we didn’t know
each other at the time. But enough trivia – go check out their
show!

100 thoughts on “Time Travel in Fiction Rundown

  1. I was totally confused by this part when I read Harry Potter. Know that I know that it was time travel clears it really up.

  2. Oh, boy, would you love the Terry Pratchett's concept of a plant that you can pick fruit from before you even plant it, unless you forget to plant it in the future 😀

  3. "12 Monkeys" introduced the idea of mega-jet lag. Good point. Before we could travel at high speeds no one considered that our body had a clock that needed to be in tune with our location. If time travel is possible, what as-yet-unknown demands of our humanity could cause problems after we arrive? or return?

  4. Arthur Dent realizes the same when he meets Agrajag. Until he meets the future Agrajag who he accidentally killed when he gave him a heart attack after popping out of thin air on a paisley sofa at Lourds cricket ground.

  5. Very interesting video. My favourite series on time travel is Sliders and favourite movie is Frequency. What do you think about them?

  6. I adore the time travel in The Rise and Fall of DODO, where you cannot be certain that when you return to the future you are going to the future you created with your time shenanigans. You have multiple possible futures but don't know which one you're going to manifest in when you travel to the "present". So you have to keep repeating a time shenanigan again and again to push the average of all possible timelines toward it being more likely that the reality you end up in is the desired one.

  7. Wow you could not have been more wrong about Bill and Ted. That is 100% closed loop time travel. Not Willy Nilly anything goes

  8. What all those time-travel stories completely ignore is that it's about more than just time: the Earth (and everything else) moves through space, and an address on Earth, for example, may be the same earthly address at an earlier or later point in time but the position in space is a completely different one. While this might rather be an aspect regarding those "magical or physical mechanisms" explicitly not addressed in this video, it still applies.

  9. You missed the movie Predestination. It does time travel like The Prisoner of Azkaban but with a lot more twisted (infinite) loops.

  10. I disagree about the Harry Potter time travel being most consistent.

    Look, Harry 7 was about to die, but Harry 6 saved him.

    So then Harry 7 survives, goes through the loop to save Harry 8. Thus infinite loop, I get it.

    But who saved Harry 1? Harry 1 was going to die, only by Harry 1 living can he then go back and save Harry 2.

    See what I mean? Someone other than Harry had to save Harry at some point.

  11. The Time Traveler's Wife (novel and movie) does time travel similar to Harry Potter. Love it, my fave book and take on time travel

  12. Here's my Endgame time travel explanation. Warning Spoilers (like you haven't seen it already lol):
    There exists one major timeline I'll call "Timeline Prime." This is the set timeline that'll happen if no one time travels.
    If you go back to grab an infinity stone from a location in time, then a new altered timeline as a result of not having that infinity stone unfolds, but somehow still doesn't effect the Timeline Prime. Furthermore, when you travel back to the future, you return to Timeline Prime and not an altered timeline, because…reasons (I'm going to assume the act of time travel makes a "save" of your atoms, and updates it with whatever new stuff you bring. Whatever. Stop trying to figure this out, because Endgame was kickass regardless).
    But what happens if you don't return the infinity stone? Let's say you die, and the infinity stone gets buried in the ocean or whatever. It isn't returned. What happens? Well, Timeline Prime occurs as normal, and this new branched timeline occurs as normal. No big deal. BUT…if you travel back to get the infinity stone, use it on Timeline Prime, THEN return mere seconds after it was taken to put it right back again, then the altered branched timeline simply doesn't happen (or it did happen, but was altered for only a few seconds, so it might as well didn't happen).
    But the big question is: How can the timelines go back to Timeline Prime if these altered timelines happen!?
    Because Timeline Prime was "predestined" to originally include these altered timelines, and so was always meant to be this way! Arguably, the moment they returned to Timeline Prime after getting the infinity stones, and it still existed as it was, they verified that whatever they'd do from that point on would result somehow in the infinity stones being returned to their rightful place, which implies either they're all saved and returned the stones, or Thanos returned the stones after he used them for some reason.

    So there you go. THIS is a convoluted and drawn out explanation as to how (and why) Endgame's time travel works. It's bullshit, but time travel wasn't really the main point of Endgame anyway. It was all about Captain America lifting Thor's hammer and lightnining Thanos's basic ass to oblivion, and Captain Marvel trying to act like she's actually significant.

  13. Since you like time travel so much, have you seen “The Final Countdown “ with Kirk Douglas and Martin Sheen?

  14. Little bit of a throw-back, but the Haruhi series also has consistent time-travel (outside of the Endless Eight, but that's getting into god-like shenanigans).
    Characters often have to go back in time and fix things that would have been huge problems in the past if they weren't already taken care of by their future selves. It's a recurring plot thread.

  15. Nothing about time travel stories that exist only as printed works, which haven't been made into movies or TV shows? Such as Isaac Asimov's The End of Eternity, or David Gerrold's The Man Who Folded Himself, or even Harry Harrison's hilarious The Technicolor® Time Machine. I guess literacy is dying out after all. If I could travel in time, I wonder if I could find some way to change that?

  16. "Time is but an stubborn illusion." This doesnt mean that it doesnt exist but the past, the present and the future is just a concept we use to identify time and all three is equally real. We people from the present tend to think that people from the future as super civilisize human but people from the past also thought of us as people from their future..It depends on the observer to identify which is the past, the present and the future. In conclusion, the past, the present and the future is just a part of a single concept called time and its how we percieved time but time is actually fixed and will never change, its based on relativity that it would change. Things that happened,things that is happening, and things that would happen in the future is already part of the time and will never change…So a time machine is just a useless teleportation device that would bring you back in the past but will never allow you to change something that was bound to happened inside a fixed time…

    If you want to change things that was already bound to happen, you would either need to create a new entire universe that isnt connected to our current universe which is impossible or simply hop between the multiverse..

    If time travelling is like moving between the time stamp of a single movie with things are already predetermined to happen and only how you view the whole things would change. Hopping between the multiverse means that you would move to a different movie with things that are also predetermined to happen but different compared to the last movie(original universe)

    If you travel back in time to save your love one from a car accident,it was like starting the movie from the start, your simply watching a repeating scene with predetermined outcome.The movie about the death of godzilla is about the death of godzilla.Its already a fact that you cant change
    But if you hop between the multiverse, it was like choosing a different story for godzilla… choosing a different movie(universe) would also mean that things would also be different, maybe the other movie about godzilla is how he destroy the planets instead of his death…instead of a universe where your love one died from a car acciccent, a different universe may offer a different outcome…

    thats just how i look things to… i never said it was the absolute truth.

  17. If the time traveler has no free will, then how did the first time traveler come back to the past and save himself (thus altering the timeline which would mean he had free will when he time traveled, it doesn't sound like "logical consistency").
    Also, If he had to be saved from diying (which means he actualy died once) and the past cannot be changed, how can there ever be a futur him coming back to the past to save himself?

  18. I understood only 13.2317638937567287355799194756486585839810999300746296468293746271810101938374% The video is a little complex.

  19. _the time back _perhaps maybe in the past of the future and in the future of the past she s he is cum…… _archaicxn lord

  20. Isme to woh movie hai hi nahi.

    Jo. Ladki khud ko chodti hai.

    Future wali past wali ko bistar le jati hai. Matlab angrej bhi na lund khada karne ke tareeke dhunte rehte hai.

    Ghor apradh. ROFLMAO

    Me tumhe sharab deta hu. Saale. Vilayti ghode. ROFLMAO

  21. This ones a long one but please read. It may change your view on time travel. Read slowly and digest it properly.
    I don’t believe in time travel that much because if in the future or another possible future time travel existed, then surely someone has traveled to our present. Seriously, if there were to be an infinite amount of futures or “branches” then at least one out of the infinite amount of possibility’s, someone has gone to our present and messed up or told someone about it or been caught. Because the “time travelers” that we have “caught on camera” or have had “sightings”, about haven’t been proven, then time travel will never happen. Unless there are ultimate universes where the laws of physics were different, then maybe it would be possible. If time travel were real, then Harry Potter’s view on it would have to be real.
    Let’s say you had the idea of robbing a bank but you also had the idea of stopping it if something went wrong via time travel. As soon as you are about to reach the bank, you from the future would stop you. Done. Because in the future, you failed and ran away. You then time traveled back to stop yourself from doing it and now whatever the consequences were that happened after you failed would disappear and act like nothing happened. So in your eyes you had the idea of robbing a bank, and if something went wrong you would time travel. When you get to the bank, you are stopped by your future self. The End. If you have made it this far then thank you and have a good day.

  22. (Spoiler alert for the cursed child)
    Alright, so, in harry potter and the prisoner of azkaban, the type of time travel in the book is limited to one timeline as said in the vid. if someone actually dies, you can't save them when you time travel. They're dead. What's done is done.
    Of course, big jk rowling chucked these rules when she was writing harry potter and the cursed child for some reason, as spoiler alert, albus and scorpius get told to go back and save someone who was long dead in their original timeline – cedric diggory. They do it, which then results in a completely different timeline where harry's dead and voldemort's taken over the world. Either this means rowling literally doesn't care anymore and just wanted to make more money (this is probably the reason, let's face it).
    I like to reassure myself with a Theory™ i've made up, just so i don't cry myself to sleep every night.
    There are different types of time turner – cheap crap ones where there is only one timeline like the one given to hermione, and ones where there can be multiple timelines depending on what you do in the past future, which does kind of make sense.
    It's not a great book in any case. Just the idea of voldemort having a kid is disturbing.
    Just needed to rant a bit. Sorry about that.

  23. Could you do something like this for how the time stone works (dr strange/infinity war) and quantum time travel (endgame)

  24. Slight problem with HP time travel: in the book there is a pre-time travel sentence where the axe that would have killed Buckbeak makes a swishing sound (implying that he wasn't saved). There isn't an explanation for this except for diverging timelines which would make Harry's soul drained. (Imagine reading this with out knowing what the book was about).

  25. I think stience gate is the closest any fictional writing can get to time traveling concept the 1 percent divergence rule

  26. Example from the tv show Milo Murphy’s Law (basically the “partner piece” to phineas and ferb). A character gets an Apple thrown at them and they use to distract the bad guys, and afterwards putting it in their pocket. Later when they time travel back to the same time, the same character throws the Apple at their past selves, promting their partner to ask where they got it in the first place.

  27. I really like the Primer's time travel. It has what many other time travel systems lack: Logical limitations based on the technology or magic that is used for it. For me it seems the most plausible way of time travel that could ever be invented. Not that I believe time travel will truly ever be invented aside from the one that is based on time dilation, but if it ever will this is my bet.

    Also, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series has some nice takes on the problems of time travel, namely the grammatical tenses are hilarious.

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