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Temporal Anomalies

Main Page
Discussing Time Travel Theory
Other Films
Perpetual Barbecue
About the Author
Contact the Author

See also entries under the
Temporal Anomalies/Time Travel
category of the
mark Joseph "young"
web log
elsewhere on this site.

Quick Jumps

Time Travel for Kids
The Lost Mimzys
The Order of Mimzys
The Mandala Mimzy
The Alice Mimzy
What's In a Name?
Bridge Building
Parlor Tricks
Precocious Prodigies
The Last Mimzy Question:
  Probability of Analysis

Movies Analyzed
in order examined

    Addendum to Terminator
    Terminator 3:  Rise of the Machines
    Terminator Recap
    Terminator Salvation
    Terminator Genisys
    Terminator:  Dark Fate
Back To The Future
Back To The Future II
Back To The Future III
Star Trek Introduction
    Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
    Star Trek: Generations
    Star Trek: First Contact
    Star Trek (2009)
12 Monkeys
    Addendum to 12 Monkeys
Flight Of The Navigator
  Flight Of The Navigator Addendum
Army of Darkness
Lost In Space
Peggy Sue Got Married
Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure
Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey
Planet of the Apes
Kate and Leopold
Somewhere In Time
The Time Machine
Minority Report
Happy Accidents
The Final Countdown
Donnie Darko
  S. Darko
Harry Potter and
    the Prisoner of Azkaban

Deja Vu
    Primer Questions
Bender's Big Score
Popular Christmas Movies
The Butterfly Effect
  The Butterfly Effect 2
  The Butterfly Effect 3:  Revelations
The Last Mimzy
The Lake House
The Time Traveler's Wife
The Hot Tub Time Machine
Los Cronocrimines a.k.a. TimeCrimes
A Sound of Thundrer
Frequently Asked Questions
    About Time Travel

Source Code
Blackadder Back & Forth
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III
11 Minutes Ago
Men in Black III
La Jetée
Midnight in Paris
Meet the Robinsons
H. G. Wells' The Time Machine
The Jacket
Safety Not Guaranteed
The Philadelphia Experiment
    The Philadelphia Experiment II
Time After Time
About Time
Free Birds
X-Men:  Days of Future Past
Edge of Tomorrow
Mr. Peabody & Sherman
Project Almanac
Time Lapse
O Homem Do Futuro
    a.k.a. The Man from the Future

Abby Sen
When We First Met
See You Yesterday
The History of Time Travel
Copyright Information

The temporal anomaly terminology used here is drawn from Appendix 11:  Temporal Anomalies of Multiverser from Valdron Inc, and is illustrated on the home page of this web site.  This site is part of M. J. Young Net.

Books by the Author.

The Book

Temporal Anomalies in Time Travel Movies
The Last Mimzy

John "A-1 Nut" Cross called my attention to this family film which is also a time travel story, in which some scientist in the future is sending toy rabbits to the past in an attempt to gather some pure human DNA with which to restore humanity to the human race of the future.  The thinly-veiled environmentalist polemic makes for an entertaining story, but has serious problems as a time travel movie.  Our analysis of The Last Mimzy uncovers most of them.

This made our list of some of the best time travel movies for children, with the caveat that some parents might be concerned about the film's efforts to explain aspects of mysticism and psychic ability with future science.  It is a serious adventure in which kids are the heroes.  The problems, temporally, in this film are extremely challenging, and although they are not insurmountable the probability of time being preserved seems extremely low. Otherwise it is an enjoyable film with some interesting ideas.

Time Travel for Kids

Time travel being a staple of science fiction, and science fiction so often connected to either space opera (Star Wars, Star Trek) or thrillers (Terminator, Alien), it is rare to find a time travel story that's geared for a younger audience--but not unknown.  Flight of the Navigator was such a film, and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban; and more recently John Cross, who did the temporal anomalies analysis of The Final Countdown, called our attention to a new one, The Last Mimzy, a "family film" in which the children are the heroes and the time traveler is a very cuddly stuffed rabbit whose microcircuitry gives it abilities far more remarkable than merely making unintelligible speech-like sounds.

We are eventually told by the precocious preschooler that the people in the future are dying.  The not-at-all subtly laced undercurrent message of the film is that our disregard for the environment is damaging our own genetic code, with the result that our descendants will die if they cannot get a dose of pure human DNA from someone in the past; but they cannot travel to the past themselves, because time travel would kill them.  Thus they have created "many" of these "Mimzys", and sent them to the past to attempt both to gather a bit of pure DNA and to teach someone how to return the package to the future.  It is unclear whether a "Mimzy" is the entire package sent to the past which exhibits technologies which fit Clarke's Law (that they are so advanced they are indistinguishable from magic) or whether it is only the stuffed rabbit who apparently gives itself that name when talking to the girl, Emma.  If it is the former, we might conclude that the package creates its toys in such forms as will relate to those who find it; however, the latter is a more credible position, that the core of the package is the stuffed rabbit, designed to engage a child and collect his or her DNA for transport to the future.  The rest of the package is the instructional materials and tools for building a single-use bridge to the future by which the Mimzy can return.

At first glance, the notion that this is to be accomplished by sending objects designed to appeal to children might seem incongruous with the objective.  Would it not make sense for those in the future to send something to the past that would contact an intelligent adult and explain the need and how it must be met?  However, it is fairly well established that our genes tend to deteriorate as we age.  Thus if there is a pure sample of human DNA available it is more likely to come from a child than an adult.  Further, if it were explained to an adult that this package contains the tools necessary to send an object through time, it would be far more likely that that adult would attempt to understand the concepts and principles and work toward the construction of a time machine or other temporal device for his own use than that he would trust the guidance of the message from the future and send the needed sample.  Such tampering with the past might be considerably more severe, as any discoveries gleaned from the study of those objects would advance not only science but psionics significantly, drastically altering the future from which those objects came, and thus altering the objects themselves.  The appeal to children is thus a defensible decision, even though it, too, includes risks--risks which will be considered in this discussion.

From a temporal analysis perspective, the film is quite frustrating.  The most challenging problem is what it does not tell us.  It tells us that this was the last of many sent to the past, and it strongly suggests that one was found by Alice Liddel, who inspired the Lewis Carroll Alice stories, and much more weakly suggests that another wound up in Tibet, inspiring "mandalas" found in ancient artwork that were said to have mystical significance.  How many more are lost is not clear, but they, too, have their place in the story.  What we know poses problems so great that the probability of the future arriving as it should becomes nearly negligible--yet nothing in the story makes the outcome completely impossible, only incredibly improbable.  If each trip to the past creates a new history, then it will be necessary to weave those histories together to get a complete picture.

We begin with the weaving, discovering the problems and looking for solutions.

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The Lost Mimzys

There were said to be "many" Mimzys sent to the past in the movie which tells the story of the last, but only two others are identified in the film.  That leads to the question of how many others there might have been.

The 2007 movie is loosely based on a 1943 short story; but the original contains few of the elements of the film, and specifies two boxes, so it is not relevant here.

One Mimzy arrived in about 2007, another by or before 1860 (the image of Alice Liddel is dated), and another around the twelfth century.  However, three does not constitute "many"; where are the others?

The time between the last two boxes is about one hundred fifty years.  Assuming boxes were sent back to points one and a half centuries apart, we get arrivals in 1707, 1557, 1307, and 1157--the twelfth century.  This increases our Mimzys to six, which might be "many" if we stretch, and only three unaccounted; we could increase the number by assuming earlier ones, in 1007 and 857.  Alternatively we can suggest that there are missing boxes between these, seventy-five years apart, one unaccounted around 1932.  The problem remains the same.

That problem is, what happened to the other boxes?  Presumably they were sent to locations where they had some chance of discovery, unless they were entirely random, an extremely haphazard approach to a desperate mission.  Each box entered the past at a specific time and place; each impacted history.

That we cannot find that impact is complicating.  It is possible that these were never found, or recognized as significant or brought in contact with anyone who would activate them.  Or perhaps we, living in the altered history, simply are unaware of the changes.  However, given the rather dramatic impact they had when they were activated, it seems best to conclude that other boxes were never opened.

What happens if one of them still in the past is found and opened?  That is, suppose a box arrived in 1307 but was not found for many years, and that after the events of the movie it is opened by someone in the past?  Our box was opened within hours of arrival; what if that box took years to find?  Could it still be opened later?

If by later, we mean, say, forty years after it arrived, the answer should then be obvious:  that history is already in the past.  If it was going to be found in 1350, it has been found before 2007.  However, could it be found and opened in 2020, perhaps in an archaelogical dig?  Oddly, the same answer applies:  if the box would have been opened in 2020, that has already happened.

The logic for this is simple.  Our scientist sends a Mimzy back from, say, nine a.m. on June 1, 3000, to 1157, which inspires the mandala of the twelfth century.  He plans to send another an hour later, at ten o'clock.  Before he can, all of history is rewritten from 1157 through 3000.  Since the box arrived, it changed the past--all of the past from the moment of its arrival to the moment of its departure.  Thus the box that arrives in 1307 cannot be sent until after all the effects of the 1157 box are incorporated into history.  When at ten o'clock the next box is sent, to 1307, it, too, arrives and changes all history between 1307 and 3000.  Before the next box can be sent, everything relevant to the impact of that box will be part of that history, even if that box is opened in 2999.  It has in that sense already happened.

The only way that this can change is if somehow the arrival of a later Mimzy changes events surrounding an earlier one--such as, because Alice Liddell is pictured holding her Mimzy, someone realizes that the rabbit that has been handed down through his family must be connected to that one.  However, Alice Liddell's box has already had every effect it will have apart from its interaction with Emma's and Noah's box, and there are no boxes still to come.  It would only be if information about this last Mimzy reached someone who has a previous one stored somewhere that it would change what happens to the lost boxes.  Yet there is almost no information about this Mimzy, and what exists is held by a few members of a clandestine branch of the United States government who do not wish anyone to know that they had a major alert because of some children's toys they cannot explain.

Thus although those other boxes are significant, it seems they are also irrelevant.  They have no important impact on history, whatever became of them.

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The Order of Mimzys

In what sense is The Last Mimzy last?

There is a witticism that you will always find anything you lose in the last place you look.  The foolishness of it is that it is automatically true, because once you have found what you seek you will stop looking.  It is thus equally true that if our scientist in the future is sending back Mimzys to attempt to obtain something from the past, once one of them succeeds he will have no reason to send another.

That in turn means that this Mimzy was last in terms of departure time.  The scientist did not send another after he sent this one, because his problem had been solved and he did not have any reason to send another.  That means the Mandala Mimzy and the Alice Mimzy and all the others were sent before he sent this one.

However, this is a story about time travel.  Even given that there were no departures after this one, could there be later arrivals?  Could the scientist have started by sending the Alice Mimzy, then later sent the Mandala Mimzy, and perhaps have sent another Mimzy to 2160, scattering them through the timestream?

Arguably he could have done this.  It would have been a bit careless, though.  The safer approach would be to begin by sending the earliest first, and working forward through history.  This is so because of the impact of nested anomalies.  If one temporal anomaly falls entirely inside another, they interact in unpredictable ways.

Let us suppose that the Alice Mimzy was first.  Charles Dodgson, a.k.a. Lewis Carroll, writes his stories based in large part on the seeming nonsense he gets from Alice Liddel, and it has no other impact on history.  (The impact it does have is a subject below.)  Then after that the scientist sends the Mandala Mimzy.  The Mandala Mimzy impacts Oriental religion (again, a subject below).  Dodgson is an educated clergyman.  Unpredictably, the Mandalas, a new part of history thanks to the Mandala Mimzy, become part of his studies, and Alice happens to see one and comment that it looks like the box in which Mimzy came.  Dodgson takes an interest, and working with Alice completes the mission of the Mimzy.  That means that in the future the scientist who just sent the Alice Mimzy has his answer, and he no longer has reason to send the Mandala Mimzy, so he does not; yet if he does not, then Dodgson does not solve the Mimzy problem, and does not send the Mimzy back.  This creates a complex interlaced infinity loop, in which sending the Mandala Mimzy back provides the clue for the Alice Mimzy to succeed, but the success of the Alice Mimzy undoes the sending of the Mandala Mimzy, and so undoes that success.

It cannot be said with certainty that the scientist is aware of this potential complication.  However, we can be certain that no such disaster occurred (or the last Mimzy would never have been sent).  It therefore is highly likely that the last Mimzy was both the last one sent and the last one to arrive, and that there is a direct correllation between departure order and arrival order.  The orderly approach is the best and the most likely.

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The Mandala Mimzy

The first Mimzy we can identify with an event in history was apparently sent to twelfth century Tibet.

The identification of this particular Mimzy is open to debate.  What we know is that Noah made a drawing nearly identical to a mandala dated from this time and place, which itself was said to be connected to time and space.  Noah's drawings are part of his rapidly advancing understanding of the concepts of temporal engineering he will need to send the Mimzy home.  It thus seems likely that we are supposed to connect his drawings of the ancient mandalas with similar drawings by someone who was in contact with an earlier Mimzy, who drew this image and described it as related to time and space, which then was embraced by the mystical Buddhists as insight into the nature of reality.  On the other hand, Noah's teacher Larry White says that that same image had recently invaded his dreams, and the mandalas are brought into the movie by Larry and his fiance Naomi in the context of a strong Eastern religions/New Age package, which includes meditation and palmistry.  It thus might be argued that the Tibetan monks gained their insights which led to the creation of the mandalas through meditation, perhaps in dreams like Larry's, tapping into the deeper realities.  In this case, the mandalas would be part of Noah's experience because they are an image of a reality the monks perceived which he must understand to cross spacetime with his bridge.  As Mayans and Egyptians both built pyramids because these are architecturally stable, Noah and the Tibetans might independently have recognized the same fundamental concepts.  It would also mean that we have one fewer traceable Mimzy.

Historically, it appears that mandalas may have Indian Hindu rather than Tibetan Buddhist origins, although the matter does not appear to be clear.  If we are allowed to know that, it would mean that the impact of the Mandala Mimzy was not to bring about the creation of the earliest mandalas but only to cause there to be a few new ones that happen to be relevant to temporal engineering.  If, however, we are supposed to think that the Mimzy introduced concepts in Tibet that resulted in the original creation of mandalas, it changes history significantly.

It is difficult to assess the impact of so subtle a change over so many centuries.  Hindu and Buddhist mandalas are used as aids to meditation.  They undoubtedly are helpful to some adherents, who might not be as effective in their meditations absent this particular form of aid.  Some might never be attracted to meditation, or might abandon the practice.  That would be a significant change in individual lives, which would divert attention elsewhere.  It might then result in changes in lifestyle, which in turn impact marriages and thus descendants, and the world changes because the people in the world change.  The scientist in the future may have threatened his own existence by making such a subtle yet drastic change in history, introducing a major feature of religious practice into a major religion.

In mitigation, Tibet is a particularly insular section of the world.  Even a complete genetic reshuffling of its population would take centuries to spread even so far as India and China, cultures themselves relatively insular.  Eurasian marriages are very uncommon prior to the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  That isolation is deteriorating, though, and we do not know how many generations lie between our heroes and our scientist.  There is a risk that he would undo his own existence, creating a grandfather paradox in which the cause in the future undoes its own basis in the past.

We can further mitigate that risk if we conclude that the Mandala Mimzy did not introduce mandalas to Buddhism, but that Buddhism already having some from Hinduism added those brought by the Mimzy to its collection.  Thus although Noah drew several such images many of which had been drawn before, mandalas would have existed absent the earlier Mimzy's interference--it is only these particular mandalas that would be missing.  That reduces the impact the earlier Mimzy had in Tibet, and resolves our problems significantly.  The risk is at least reduced, and the story remains possible.

There is another Mimzy about which we know a bit more.

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The Alice Mimzy

We can speculate with some reliability that there was a Mimzy in ancient Tibet, and we know with certainty that one, the last one, arrived in the early twenty-first century.  It is also given to us to believe that a Mimzy was found by Alice Liddell, nineteenth century neighbor of the Reverend Charles Dodgson who wrote nonsense stories, linguistic puzzles, logic studies, and cultural works under the name Lewis Carroll.  We are shown a picture of Alice with a rabbit that looks very like Mimzy, and the rest is given to our imaginations.

Connections abound.  Alice follows a talking white rabbit who is concerned about being somewhere on time down a rabbit hole, just as Emma's Mimzy needs to travel through the tunnel to the future before it is too late.  The starting point of the tunnel shines silvery like a mirror, and Emma puts her head through it to see a very different world just as Alice visits a strange world passing through her mirror.  Even the word "Mimzy" appears in the poem Jabberwocky in the first Alice story.  If Alice Liddell shared information about her Mimzy with the local minister, it explains many features of the Alice stories--so many, in fact, that those stories probably would not exist absent that interference.

This is not insignificant.  Carroll wrote more than just the Alice stories.  His argument against vivisection impacted arguments a century later.  His various logic puzzles, such as the stopped clock being more accurate than one that loses a minute each day, have challenged logicians since.  Even within the Alice stories themselves he made significant contributions to linguistics through his wordplay.  Yet it was the Alice stories that gave him the platform for everything else.  Absent those, he is an unknown country parson who befriended the local children.  His contributions in several fields vanish, and those fields are set back by it.  It is impossible to determine the impact Carroll had on the minds of twentieth century minds.  Few people in the modern world are completely ignorant of his stories; few educated people have not been directly or indirectly influenced by his work, from C. S. Lewis to Grace Slick to Tim Burton.

It is again difficult to imagine what the world would have been absent Lewis Carroll.  We might attempt to construct a variation in which the inventive lover of children wrote inspired nonsense stories absent those elements.  The conversations with the Mock Turtle and Gryphon, the mouse's long and sad tail, the Mad Hatter, the animated playing cards and chessmen, Father William, and so much more of the Alice stories have no obvious connection to the Mimzy.  We lose key story elements, but Carroll's lesser-known Bruno and Sylvie tales demonstrate at least that he could have devised a different story.  As long as he is given the opportunity to write and whatever he writes captures imaginations, he remains part of history; the Mimzy once again alters that history a bit (none of us know anything about white rabbits in tailcoats, and Jefferson Airplane had one fewer hit song) but it retains enough of its form that it continues.  We once again view the Mimzy not as creating a major factor in culture but as altering it somewhat.

There is, however, another problem raised by the Alice Mimzy.

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What's In a Name?

The Alice Mimzy, that is, the one supposed to be the inspiration of Lewis Carroll's Alice stories, may have had major or minor impact on those stories, but it apparently made one significant change:  it gave its name to the nonsense vocabulary that comprises the poem Jabberwocky:

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe.
All mimzy were the borogroves
And the mome raths outgrabe.
As far as we knew, Lewis Carroll invented this word, and several others, as part of illustrating a peculiar feature of analytic language, that words which are completely unfamiliar can be given a sense of meaning by connecting them syntactically with known structures.  As Alice says of the complete poem, "It puts thoughts in my head, but I don't know what they are."  It creates the illusion of meaning, and that illusion is so compelling we believe we know the story being told despite the fact that we don't know so many of the words used to tell it.  One of those words is mimzy.

That raises the question, though, as to why the rabbit, or the box sent from the future, is called a mimzy.  If the word has meaning as a noun or even as a name, that meaning must trace back to Carroll's use of it as an adjective describing the condition or state of the borogroves in that poem.  Yet if Carroll himself got the word from Alice's Mimzy, then there is a loop created, in which the Mimzy is called that because of the poem and the poem uses that word because of the Mimzy.

It is not too difficult to resolve this as a matter of temporal anomalies.  It is the one form of predestination paradox that works most easily, in which the original source of information is replaced by a new source but remains within the loop.  In this case, it might be that Carroll created the word originally and the scientist used it.  According to Carroll's Humpty Dumpty character, the word combines miserable with flimsy, although this first verse of the poem was published by Carroll in a periodical dedicated to poetry prior to the Alice stories and thus the meaning of the nonce might be a later extrapolation by the author.  He might have devised the word as Humpty Dumpty suggests, or he might have created the word merely for the sound of it, and backwritten the origin as part of the later story.

The latter fits better with the supposition that the word mimzy came to Carroll from Alice.  If he invented the word by contraction in the original history and then in the replaced history got it elsewhere, the odds are against the explanation being the same.  If, though, he simply invented it and then devised the fake etymology, it is more likely that he would have devised the same false etymology for the word given a different origin.

Underlying this, though, is a more complicated problem with the Alice Mimzy.  The fragments of Carroll we attribute to it are scattered over several years--the opening verse of Jabberwocky from an early poem, the rabbit and rabbit hole from the first Alice book, and the silvery mirror from the second book.  Yet Emma's Mimzy lasted a very few months.  The only resolution for this that works is that Carroll invented the word Mimzy for the poem, and when the scientist chose to call the rabbit by that name Carroll thought Alice got it from the poem and so included it in the story.

By this construction, the Alice Mimzy could have had a serious impact on itself, but ultimately did not.

That brings us to the modern Mimzy, with Noah and Emma.

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Often when we consider the impact of time travel, we think of our own moment as "the present", and concern ourselves with how a change in "the past" would impact us.  However, the fixed time theorists are right at least on this point:  if time travel is possible, then the future must exist as a real place, in some sense already in a real form.  Thus the hazards that our own present would be altered by travel to the past are equally hazards that the future would be altered by travel from the future to the present.

Replacement theory takes this as given:  time travel from any future to any past changes history.  The question is, how does it change history?  And as we reach the last Mimzy, we are forced to consider what impact that trip to the past had not on our past but on our future, the past of the scientist who sent it.  That impact may be considerable.

The bulk of the impact is felt through the changes wrought in Noah and Emma, who exhibit extraordinary abilities.  However, before considering this we have another detail, the impact of the Mimzy herself on her own development.

If you have followed the studies of Terminator, you should recall that the end of the first film set up a sawtooth snap.  Cyberdyne salvaged parts of the T-800 which was destroyed in its factory, and studied them; from those studies, they made advances.  They were not able to copy the technology, but they were able to learn from it, to try ideas they would not otherwise have considered.  In doing so, they advanced the technologies that would bring Skynet and the development of the very T-800 they were studying--which therefore would be a more advanced machine than the one they studied, and so would have left more advanced parts behind to study, which would have advanced their efforts the more leading to more advanced parts being studied.  The repetition escalates until it plateaus at a point where Cyberdyne cannot learn more from the additional improvements to the parts.

The same sequence is happening here.  The Mimzy was sent back to the future; but before it left, a lab recorded an X-ray image of its interior construction and shaved a tiny bit of its circuitry to examine under an electron microscope.  In that chip-sized dot they discovered highly advanced circuitry, and an Intel logo.  (That would encourage me to buy stock in Intel were I there.)  The government made the logical choice, calling one of Intel's people for consultation.  That means Intel knows that this information exists, and that it has the Intel name on it.  They will respectfully request that their property be delivered to them.  The government is not going to argue that the Intel product they hold comes from the future, and doesn't have a better reason to withhold it--who else would be able to study it adequately?  Intel will get the materials, and the government will get assurances that their advances will used for American military and government systems first.

As with Cyberdyne, they won't be able to copy such microcircuitry for a long time yet.  It is probably etched with microwave lasers yet to be developed.  However, there will be more than simply the atomic level etching involved here.  New ways of interconnecting circuits will have developed.  Some of the etchings will represent components as far beyond the transistor as the transistor is beyond the key and kite string.  Cybernetics gets a huge shot in the arm from this.

And as it does so, it feeds the advances that lead ultimately to the Mimzy.  The doll sent from the future is yet more advanced, and the circuitry being studied reveals that much more, and the technology level ratchets up to that plateau at which Intel can learn nothing more from studying its own future technology.

What may be more serious is that with each improvement of the Mimzy design, the improved Mimzys are sent to all the previous targeted times.  The Mandala Mimzy and the Alice Mimzy and all the unknown Mimzys are better prepared for their tasks, more intelligent and more functional machines.  One of them might succeed where its previous incarnation had failed.  Yet if it does so, it undoes the sending of this Mimzy, and undoes the improvements that led to its success.

We can hope that this does not happen, and note that it might not; the film still is not impossible.  Yet there are other dangers to time created by this Mimzy.

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One impact of time travel rarely considered by analysts is the redistribution of wealth.  In Star Trek IV:  The Voyage Home when Montgomery Scott gives Doctor Nichols the formula for transparent aluminum, there is a very real chance that he has turned a moderately successful materials scientist into a fabulously wealthy inventor.  This wealth puts the doctor in a different class of people, and perhaps more significantly it puts at least his children and possibly his grandchildren in a different class of people--it will be Princeton, not Rutgers, Harvard, not Widener.  Invitations to the local Lions Club are replaced by those to thousand-dollar-per-plate White House fundraisers.  The temptation to break up his marriage will come from a starlet, not a waitress.

What is also important to recognize is that even though in some sense new technologies create new wealth, that an improved standard of living in some sense means that there is more "money" in the world, in temporal terms it means that that new money "moved".  The person who would have had it does not; Doctor Nichols has it instead.  Doctor Nichols' heirs will probably meet and marry different people, and their children will be different, and the ripple created by this (discussed already) will mean ultimately that millions of people who would have been born never will be.

That impact is mitigated in Star Trek by the history of the twenty-first century suggested by The Next Generation, in which millions die and civilization collapses; Doctor Nichols' wealth is short-lived, in generational terms.  However, we have a similar threat in The Last Mimzy, related to lottery winnings.

It seems that at some point since he started dating Naomi, Larry White dreamed the winning numbers of a pending megamillions lottery.  We might justly be skeptical.  Larry did not take the dream seriously enough to buy a ticket; would he have written down the numbers?  Did he recognize the numbers when they were drawn as being those from his dream?  Memories of dreams are unstable--the best current theory is that they are comprised of random images which our brain attempts to form into logical sequence as it recalls them.  They are morphic.  It is entirely plausible that someone would "remember" something as having happened in a dream which was not at all what he dreamt.

However, granting Larry the benefit of the doubt, perhaps he did have such a dream.  Now, as the film ends, he has a vision, and it is numbers, and Naomi is ecstatic.  They are going to be incredibly rich, and her weak insistence that she wants it for all the good they can do with it doesn't fool even Larry.

It will change their lives.  Lottery winners often say that they won't quit their jobs, but someone has joked that that's just because they can grin and think "I don't need this job" whenever it gets tough.  They might not quit, but they won't be as serious about their work.  They will become targets of thousands of charitable organizations seeking their donations, and made to feel like celebrities; it will change the lives of others with whom they come in contact, and of the many with whom now they do not come in contact.

It also changes the lives of whoever does not get those millions.

There are two ways this can be resolved.

First, it is entirely possible that Larry is mistaken; the numbers, if he saw any, are meaningless, or at least are not for any lottery he is likely to attempt to play.  (If he saw the winning numbers for New Jersey's lottery two weeks from now, how likely is he in Washington State to buy the right ticket at the right time?)  Sequences of numbers can mean just about anything--the winning horses at Belmont, the finals in March Madness, the dates of global disasters.  So maybe Larry will never profit from whatever he saw.

The movie would like us to think otherwise, though.  Larry and Naomi live happily ever after on the millions they win thanks to his vision.  But that might be acceptable as well.  Larry's dreams do not seem to be induced by the Mimzy; his dreams start earlier and his contact is indirect.  So perhaps he does have precognitive visions, and he did see the winning lottery numbers--and would have done so that night whether or not there was a Mimzy.  In that case, there is no change to history due to the money, because the money went where it always went.

It's a bit implausible, but at least it's not impossible.  The next problem might not be so simple.

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Bridge Building

The impact the Last Mimzy has on future history is felt in the Intel research, and possibly the lottery winnings, but even more strongly through the changes wrought in Noah and Emma, who exhibit extraordinary abilities.  Some of these, particularly Noah's, are reproducible.  Noah's science project involves two aspects.  One of those is the building of a different kind of bridge, a tube bridge.  If it is truly functional, it represents an advance in civil engineering.

The earliest bridges involved solid objects jutting from one high point to another over a chasm or waterway.  These were limited by the weight and flexibility of such objects--heavier objects were more difficult to maneuver and support, lighter ones tended to sag.  Thus it was necessary to support bridges midway if they were to reach any distance.  Pilings are the most primitive forms of support, which must be driven deep into the ground at the bottom and thus must be tall enough to reach the heights; and still there is the problem that if something is to pass under the bridge (say, a boat), it must have a large enough space.  Arches make this possible, and so bridges can span waterways as long as they are not so deep that you cannot build multiple columns from rockbed to roadbed.  That is not always an option.

In the nineteenth century, bridge design took a massive step forward with the Brooklyn Bridge, the world's first suspension bridge.  This advance required only two pillars affixed to the bedrock, which provided support for two heavy cables which were anchored in opposite shores.  From these cables, lighter cables descended, and the somewhat flexible roadway was hung from wires.  This gave significant height and wide spacing, and removed the need to run multiple pillars to the deep bedrock.

Noah's design appears to eliminate the pillars, suspending the bridge entirely from its endpoints as a cable structure.  If this were possible on a human scale (and the suggestion of the film is that it would be) it would facilitate bridges in more places, such as chasms currently crossed by cablecars and over waterways too deep for support columns.

Every advance in technology expands into other fields.  It is not possible to predict how this technique would impact the future.  One can imagine applications in robotics, high rise construction, aircraft design, space habitats; what we cannot guess is the developments that will arise because of the problems that arise from these solutions.  Our technology has been accelerated; we will know more sooner.  Further, as discussed in connection with the lottery winnings, wealth will be redistributed.

That cannot not impact the work of a scientist as little as fifty or as much as five hundred years in the future.  If we want to suppose that his technological base is not altered by this, we must either advance him far enough that the difference in our advancement would be lost over time (a hundred years either way on the invention of the waterwheel probably would not impact our present technology) or postulate a crisis in which gains were lost and some amount of rebuilding had to be done.  Neither of those is a very promising solution here.  The impact of Noah's bridge technology threatens the existence of our future scientist, and thus the whole fabric of future time.

And that is not the only danger.

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Parlor Tricks

Welcome to my parlor, said the spider; only in The Last Mimzy it is Noah welcoming the spider.  He talks to spiders, and also to other "bugs" (the creatures that swarm the surveillance cameras are not spiders), directing them and causing them to act as he desires.

That he does this by mouth suggests that it is a sort of psionic ability, that his mind understands the command codes to direct these creatures.  It is as if he speaks a new language, but not the language they speak so much as a language they are compelled to obey.  The complexity of his control (e.g., that he can tell the bugs to converge on a specific location that is not near himself) makes it the more intriguing.

It would not be so big a deal if this proved to be an ability one boy developed, even if he did not lose it upon the departure of the Mimzy (our next issue).  What makes it problematic is that in describing his science project he states that he programmed his computer to produce the desired sounds which would direct the spiders to make the bridge according to his designs.  That means even if his "programming" amounted to "speaking" into the microphone, the patterns are in the computer, and can be analyzed.  Others can experiment with them, finding ways to control yet more creatures to do yet more tasks.  Hand-held sonic devices could be built to keep flies, wasps, bees, ants, and mosquitos away from picnics while inviting butterflies and ladybugs to visit.  Ants could be directed to remove the aphids from the roses and to open the poeonies on schecule.  Bees could be guided to orange blossoms, or clover blossoms, or whatever blossoms were desired for a particular variety of honey, giving purer results.  Houses could be rid of termites, roaches, ants, silverfish, and a host of other infestations, without the use of chemicals.  "My dog has fleas" no longer.

These are all obvious applications of a simple development.  Again, though, it is the unforeseen that has the greatest impact.  This control over insects and arachnids and similar organisms will advance fields like entymology significantly, and advances in fundamental sciences always lead to unanticipated new technologies.  The atomizer that sprayed French perfume became the carburetor in the gasoline engine; the search for the elixer of life gave us gunpowder.  Given the ability to control these miniscule denizens of our world, what would that uncover for us?

We cannot guess, but we can know this:  absent the interference of the Mimzy from the future, Noah would not have that ability and would not have copied it into his computer.  It leads to a different future, new technologies previously untapped, new discoveries in the sciences.  It undoes the world in which the scientist creates the Mimzies, and so threatens the Mimzies themselves.

Which, like the advances in bridge technology discussed last time, undoes the changes, potentially giving us an infinity loop built on a grandfather paradox:  the cause in the future is undone, and the effect in the past must also be undone, which restores the cause in the future, which restores the effect in the past.

It is difficult to imagine that our future scientist still exists when his Mimzy attempts to return to him.  Again, however, it is not impossible.  Neither the bridge nor the spider control of a certainty undoes the Mimzy project.

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Precocious Prodigies

It is fairly clear that the impact The Last Mimzy has on Noah will alter the technology and science of the future, in relation to his contributions both to civil engineering and to entomology.  Yet he and his sister Emma have exhibited several other abilities which are bound to be noted, particularly as government investigators and medical researchers are already aware of these reports.

Noah has demonstrated a heightened sensory ability that enables him to see small objects at unreasonable distances and hear sounds no one else can hear; it has impacted his eyesight such that he no longer needs glasses.  He also has teleported both a can of soda and a golf ball.  His sister Emma uses telekinesis on a bowl of sugar, cyberkinesis to open an electronic lock, and levitation in her bedroom.  She also has heightened hearing, hearing the Mimzy doll not only when it speaks quietly to her but when it does so from another room.  She evidences clairvoyance in saying that she can see the missing spinners under the bed at the beach house, knows Broadman's name as soon as she sees him (mind reading?), apparently sends a message to Larry White's dreams, and makes telepathic contact with Noah, who arguably reciprocates.

Odds are good that these kids will come to someone's attention.  They might be studied; they might be employed.  The abilities they have gained from their brief contact with these future "toys" have made them invaluable.  We have two children imbued with super powers; how can they not seriously change history?

This does not even consider whether the abilities are duplicable.  If we study how they do this, can we train other children to have the same abilities?  Is it heritable?  Will Emma's children be telepaths, Noah's teleporters?  Has something been unlocked in the world that cannot be contained?

Some will argue that the powers were dependent on the toys, that Noah and Emma did not really gain psionic abilities but merely learned to harness technologies advanced enough to be indistinguishable from magic.  How much science we wish to import into our mysticism is a point of debate; but Noah did not have any of the toys with him when he teleported the golf ball, and Emma was separated from Mimzy when she knew Broadman's name, telepathically contacted Noah, and unlocked the door.  These are abilities the children themselves have learned or gained.

It then forces us to wonder--perhaps hopefully--whether the abilities will fade once the toys are gone.  It is hard to imagine that either of them will willingly stop using such useful skills.  If their brains have developed in new ways, the theory that they would now atrophy back to normal levels is difficult to defend.  I might get a bit rusty at riding a bicycle, but certainly not if I do so every day.

There is again the genetic concern.  Noah was apparently a genuinely ordinary boy, and although Emma was always bright and talented she is much more than that now.  This has changed their identities drastically.  It will alter their relationships, their schooling, their employment--they will meet (and not meet) an entirely different set of people.  If either of them does not marry whomever he or she would have and instead marries someone who would have married someone else, that shift means that two other people are now taking spouses from other original marriages, which sends two other spouses looking--a ripple (previously considered) through the population that could change the identities of hundreds in the next generation, thousands in the generation after that, and ultimately the entire population.

This harmless collection of toys has probably undone the birth of the scientist who sent them.  Again we potentially have a grandfather paradox, where the cause in the future undoes its own cause in the past.  In that case, as a time travel story the movie fails.  That's regrettable, because it's an interesting and enjoyable story otherwise.  As family films go, you could do worse.

Again, though, it is not impossible that the changed Noah and Emma hide their abilities, perhaps lose them, and return to what their lives would have been absent the Mimzy.  It is not certain that the future would necessarily be undone, despite the high probability.  Since the scientist apparently did receive the Mimzy, he must have been very lucky, not changing anything that mattered despite changing so much.

The film would go well with Flight of the Navigator as a double feature.  The older film is a better time travel story with less mysticism (although some of the science is poorly considered), good for the same audience.

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The Last Mimzy Reader Question:  Probability of Analysis

In response to Resequencing, Hesus asked:

In response to The Alice Mimzy, Virgil Dunbar wrote:

That's certainly debatable.
As mentioned in response there, all reconstructions of what might have happened had history been otherwise are debatable; the question is whether they are more or less probable than some alternate reconstruction.

Mr. Dunbar did not respond to suggest what part of the reconstruction there he found dubious.  Perhaps he thinks the estimation of the impact of Lewis Carroll on various fields excessive.  Perhaps he does not believe that Alice's rabbit was a Mimzy or that the story intends for us to see the Alice stories as inspired by the Mimzy experience.  Perhaps he objects to the notion that those stories would have been successful without that inspiration.  Without a specific statement of what he finds doubtful, it is difficult to make a defense of what was stated, particularly within the limits of one article.

Perhaps, though, it is sufficient to acknowledge that probabilities are the foundation of all such reconstructions.  In some ways, they are a bit like economic forecasts.  Assumptions are made concerning the influence particular events had on outcomes--such as, for example, the consideration of whether Obama would now be President had Gore carried Florida in 2000.  No one can say who would have won the election in 2008, nor even with certainty who would have been in the running for it, but the history of the past half century suggests that a Democratic win in 2000 would have severely limited the chance for an unknown to rise to the head of the democratic ticket and carry the general election two terms later, no matter what happened in 2004.  That does not make it impossible--just extremely unlikely.

Thus in considering Lewis Carroll, we find a man who had a significant impact on people in many fields, from linguistics to logic to entertainment, who was propelled to his platform by the popularity of the Alice stories.  Much as movie and pop stars today influence opinion for no better reason than popularity, so too it was his successful fantasy fiction that gave Carroll the platform for his impact.  If we assume that those stories were completely dependent on information from the future, we create an original history in which he is just another writer.  That changes history enough that when he gains his influence, the world changes dramatically.

Yet the other side of the analysis is identifying the possible improbable.  The movie tells us that the scientist succeeded, and that there was a future beyond that moment.  Therefore as unlikely as it appears, it must be that the change did not destroy time--no infinity loop was created.  The question then becomes not how improbable is it that time could survive, but what set of circumstances makes it possible?  The answers appear to be that the influence of the Mimzy on the Alice stories was minimal, that Carroll was famous for those stories without those portions.  It may seem improbable, but it is not impossible, and for history to survive it may be necessary.

Is there another explanation?  There are always other possibilities.  Perhaps aliens were involved; perhaps an angel intervened; perhaps there was another time traveler.  A good analysis makes as few assumptions as possible, working mostly from what is known to reach what will work.  Only when some outside influence is necessary to save the story is it appropriate to include one.

So perhaps the guesses about Lewis Carroll are wrong; but thus far no one has suggested another theory that works.

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