When Did Time Travel Come From?

When Did Time Travel Come From?


*clock ticking* Who was the first person to ever have the idea of travelling through time? If I had to guess, I’d say it was probably an early human tens of thousands of years ago who stubbed his toe or tripped or lit his hair on fire, and in searing pain had the thought: “I wish I would’ve not done that”. In this really limited way, time travel as an idea is probably as old as regret, which is to say, as old as humanity itself. Human beings have an instinctive sense for cause and effect and a particular skill for manipulating causes to get the effects that they want. It makes sense that our wandering minds would look at the effects of what’s already happened and wonder what things might look like if the causes had been different somehow. Which makes it kind of weird that time travel as a device to tell stories is a relatively recent phenomenon. It might not seem that way, since travelling through time is such a staple of modern science fiction and really the modern imagination. We’ve been so saturated with time-travelling novels and TV shows and movies that the average person pretty much understands all the basic concepts and paradoxes. But the time travel genre is only about a hundred years old, and change, depending on where you mark the beginning. Many people see H.G. Wells’ “The Time Machine” in 1895 as the start of the genre. Others look to Mark Twain’s “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court”, from a few years later. Some even cite Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”, with it’s Ghosts of Christmas past and future, from 1843. The truth is, you can’t really pinpoint a specific novel as the genesis of time-travel fiction, because the genre doesn’t pop into existence out of nowhere like a cyborg from the future. It grew slowly from the ashes of a genre that no one really knows about any more. But to understand that, there is one specific book you can mention. In more ways than one, Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species” triggered a sea change in science and culture. After “Origin” was published in 1859, the idea of evolution, not necessarily the idea of natural selection, was adopted fast – really fast. Just a decade later, evolution was ‘assumed’ at several top universities, and it filtered down into the popular consciousness. It coloured the way people thought, not just about biology, but about sociology too. If species were getting fitter and fitter, better and better, why not societies? It’s in this period that a certain kind of novel becomes really popular. It’s called the “utopian romance” and it culminates in Edward Bellamy’s 1888 book “Looking Backward”. In Bellamy’s book, the hero Julian West falls into a deep hypnotic sleep and wakes up one hundred and thirteen (113) years later in the year 2000. The world is totally changed into a socialist utopia, essentially, Bellamy’s version of the perfect society, evolved out of the society of his own day. The book was a huge success. The second novel in all of American literature to sell over a million copies. Like successful things do, it exploded the genre, resulting in dozens and dozens of utopian stories written along a very similar structure. And with evolution as the guiding principle, utopias were no longer on a lost island or a different world… they were in the future. In his extraordinary book on time travel fiction, David Wittenberg shows that, over time, utopian romance became really preoccupied with how its heroes got the the future. A lot of the time people fell asleep and woke up years later, other times peoples minds were sent forward and were able to come back. People traveled to the future in hot air balloons, by lightning storms, even once with the use of a special shampoo. In fact, when H.G. Wells solves the problem with the mechanical “time machine”, he’s doing it for the same reason as everybody else: to create a realistic frame for his own utopian story. Or, in this case, his criticism and satire of that genre. Eventually, the utopian craze fell under the weight of its own propaganda, today barely anyone reads or writes that kind of fiction and nobody knows the name of the author or the book that sold a million copies a hundred years ago. But as Utopian Fiction collapsed, it left us with a framing device that grew into its own genre. That’s where, or rather, when, time travel fiction as we know it, comes from. In the following decades, the genre would be transformed by the discoveries of Einstein, it would use a popular understanding of space time to probe the paradoxes of causality that we’ve all become so familiar with. But as Wittenberg notes, time travel fiction is essentially the child of narrative itself. Examining the nature of causality is the same thing as examining the nature of story because… that’s what a story is: cause and effect. It’s why time travel books and movies are obsessed with rules. They’re like laboratories of storytelling. Just create a world, establish its rules, and ask… [Gunshot and yell.] “whats possible?” *clock ticking* Hey everybody, thank you so much for watching. This episode was sponsored by the new Youtube Red original series “Lifeline”. It’s the first, the very first, scifi narrative series that Red has produced, about a company called Lifeline sends its agents into the future to save clients that they know are going to die. It’s a really great concept and, personally, I’m super excited that Red is actually green-lighting shows like this, I hope the future brings more by talented creators. In this case, Sam and Niko from Corridor Digital are directing the entire series and I’ve been a fan of theirs for a while. You can watch the first episode for free right now by clicking the link right here or the first link in the description. Thanks guys, I’ll see ya next time.

100 thoughts on “When Did Time Travel Come From?

  1. Hello Nerdwriter and fans of Nerdwriter! I am a composer, and a project I'm on aspiring toward right now is a musical where time travel plays a significant role (we're still in very very early stages of creation.) I just wanted to reach out to this community to get suggestions for good, perhaps lesser-known examples of time travel fiction to help get the creative juices flowing. I'm especially looking for examples where the time-travel plays an essential or at least significant role in developing themes and not simply used as a plot device. It would be much appreciated! Have a great day/night/whatever time it is on your side of the world!

  2. So what you're saying is that Looper is excellent and I should go back in time and convince my younger self to support it in the theater instead of only watching it a week ago?

  3. I fell down the YouTube rabbit hole the last two or three months and then suddenly tonight my brain signaled to my heart: ??!! NerdWriter !!?? …. aaaah how I’ve missed you

  4. I'm starting to get annoyed cause I have the bell notification on but I am not getting ANY your channel. Feels bad man. Almost forgot about your channel. Lol

  5. Who in their right mind would claim a book that came out 4 years after a book literally about a time machine is the basis for "time travel fiction".

    Crack is whack children.

  6. Nerdwriter, please make one video about any videogame, I would love to see your cult and deep analysis applied to that type of art

  7. Turns out Bellamy was as bad about predicting the future as anyone else. Utopia is not how anyone would describe Socialist countries today. Just look at Venezuela. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/12/17/world/americas/venezuela-children-starving.html

  8. It is sad that people consider shit like this to be "intellectual". In reality, Nerdwriter simply uses stimulating vocal cues and grandiloquent language in order to convey the impression that a viewer has learned something substantial or intellectual. This entire video, frankly, was unenlightening and unimpressive. His main theme- that utopian literature inspired the time travel genre- is a petty and trivial theory. It certainly does not deserve an entire 6 minute " heavy" video dedicated to its analysis.

  9. I think most people these days find utopian fiction mind-numbingly optimistic. Also you completely forgot Rip Van Winkle.

  10. First thing I thought of when I started this video was Looking Backward. I've owned a copy since 1995 or so, gifted to me by someone who thought I would appreciate the ideas it represented.

  11. I really enjoyed this video, as always! BUT, I will say that how you trace the origins of time travel as a concept is very Eurocentric. Throughout the entire video, I was wondering why you never touched on sources from Asia, Africa, indigenous Americans, etc., especially since storytelling is foundational to many cultures in those places. I have a really hard time believing that a book written in 1800s England was the first to bring it up. Looking through the comments section, I found a handful of people who brought up examples from ancient Hindu texts, the Quran, etc. I find that a common theme in the history of thought is that all thought is unfairly traced back to Europe, and it's kinda annoying. It's as if the rest of the world never existed before modernity hit Europe. I think it's too easy and, to be honest, a bit lazy to always trace the source of things to Europe, and in many causes it's simply not accurate. If people (I'm not meaning to attack you in particular!) just made a little effort, they could open themselves up to a world of knowledge and an abundance of interesting source material. It's quite limiting to keep referencing the same canon.

  12. I suspect that Railroad Time had an important influence on making people think about the possibility of time travel, which is, I would suggest, different from sleeping for a very long time or wishing that I hadn't stumped my toe.

  13. I think there's plenty of utopian fiction still around; it's just gotten more sophisticated. Rather than simply offering a tour of the wonderful new society, today's utopian fiction a) presents the utopia as under some sort of threat or attack, thus enabling a plot; and b) often acknowledges that the utopia is not completely perfect, while still holding it up as much better than our society and thus as a model to emulate. Iain Banks' Culture series fits that format, for example; but the best-known and most popular example is Star Trek.

  14. Tbh time travel have already been invented about a billion times already, as in the end the time traveler goes back to the time when that person invented time travel to stop the things he did when he invented time travel.

  15. For all the thought put into them, it is truly a shame most time travel stories don't make any sense, not even by the rules set by the author. Primer may be the most noteworthy exception.

  16. Good analysis! Just be careful when you associate "fitter and fitter" with "better and better" at 2:36 because it's not necessarely the case for every species. For example, if you drastically change the environment of specific individuals, it's true that the specie with the best adaptive capacity will survive, but they are not getting better and better. Always remember that it is not the strongest of the species that survives but the most adaptable.

  17. Time travel is clearly not possible. I know this because it has never been done. How do I know it has never been done?

    Cliff Burton is still dead. If time travel existed he would be alive.

  18. How do you get permission to use copyrighted material from movies in your videos? Awesome videos though man! great job!

  19. Another awesome video. I’d argue that if you’re gonna reference Looking Backward as a part of the time travel genre, you can’t go without referencing Rip Van Winkle. There’s also time travel mentioned in Buddhist, Hindu and abrahamic myths. Since these take root from Sumerian culture, it’s fair to say that stories with a time travel motif date as far back as literature itself. But yeah, as a specific subset of science fiction, I think this hits the nail on the head.

  20. I find it dubious that Darwin was that of a key in people figuring out society evolves… they weren't cave-men by then, there was such thing as "history" already…

  21. I'd never heard of bellamy or his novel before i
    Intend to read it if I can find it. Thanks for another great video

  22. You should also mention that people wants to go back to a time were they want to relive those memories they have experienced. Great video

  23. Just so you know: Mark Twain's "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" is older than H.G. Well's "The Time Machine". It was published in 1889, not on 1899.

  24. The reason why people read Utopian novels was that nobody could afford to know what the future holds. People of the middle class were most likely to be drawn towards these types of novels. Very obvious but people are drawn towards things they can't have that is why stories like these were made to give people an experience of the world that they either left behind or world that is yet to come. Compared to today, everyone has access to this knowledge. So they don't read Utopian Novels that much.

  25. "Tomorrowland" is a good example of a modern Utopian Romance. Also, it's relative failure at the box-office shows that the general public has indeed moved away from the genre.

  26. It is mentioned in the Qur'an. Read chapter 18 : People of the cave.
    Also, probably in the Bible they're mentioned as Seven Sleepers.

  27. Nerdwrite1 / COLDFUSION / TECHALTAIR / LEMINO are best youtuber and they also have good narrating technique and voice also. love from Nepal 🙂

  28. 1:53 Does anyone notice the random little details Nerdwriter adds to videos? No one would have blinked if he hadn't added a faded shadow to that text, but he works for that quality anyway. It's awesome.

  29. The same premise of every time travel movie. Morals Don t fuck up , then you do not have to go back.

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