Category Archives: Temporal Anomalies/Time Travel

#336: Time Trap Temporal Thoughts

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #336, on the subject of Time Trap Temporal Thoughts.

I was looking for a good time travel movie to analyze, and Netflix started pushing this one, so I watched it.

From a time travel perspective, this was not it.  That is, it was a good enough movie and it had time travel elements, but it didn’t really have interesting time travel elements.

It also had a few problems.

I suppose it really begins in the stone age, because we learn probably fairly early that some stone age humans inhabit the cave.  Our temporal instability is inside this cave, but we’ll get to that.  The stone age ended sometime between four thousand and eleven thousand years ago, depending on who you ask, but that probably does not make much difference here.

It will readily be apparent to any time travel fan that the flashing light at the cave exit indicates time passing very rapidly on the outside.  I was surprised at how long it took our seemingly intelligent spelunkers to reach that conclusion, but then, the viewer has the advantage of knowing that this is a time travel story.  What was more difficult was someone’s suggestion that the flashes were not days but the passing of the equinox when the sun was directly overhead.

Clever idea, but the caves are supposed to be in Texas.  On the equinox the sun is directly overhead at the equator.  In fact, it is never directly overhead anywhere in the continental United States but for the southernmost tip of Florida; it “moves” between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn, and so is only overhead in points within what we call the Tropics, and even there dependent on the day of the year, twice a year but for the end points themselves, once each on the appropriate solstice.

This is not impossible to resolve, however.  We only need to assume that the entrance to the cave is not perpendicular to the ground but set at a southerly angle such that twice or possibly once a year the sun passes in a direct line from it.  The sun is never directly above Stonehenge, but it frequently aligns with various stones such that light and shadows appear in specific places.  The perhaps more difficult point is that for how fast time appears to be moving, the flicker of light that enters the cave would exist for a shorter period than that of a stroboscopic camera flash.  On the other hand, the alignment need not be perfect, so we would have this flicker at least several days in a row, and while we wouldn’t quite get what we see we would get brief periodic flashes of a brighter light disrupting the ordinary day/night flicker that is too fast for the eye, much like the one hundred twenty cycle per second flicker of an incandescent light bulb.

That raises the question of how fast time is moving on the other side of the barrier.  It is not a simple question.  For one thing, even with a stopwatch it would be difficult to determine how many flashes per second we are seeing.  On top of that, as just suggested, we don’t know whether we are seeing one flash per year or two.  However, we can put boundaries on it.

If we are seeing one flash per second and two flashes per year, then time is advancing at one year every two seconds.  At that rate we move thirty years per minute, and in an hour we will have advanced one hundred eighty years.  That actually could be enough time for humanity to have moved to Mars.  It probably could not be enough time for humanity to have completely lost the English language as we know it, grown to eight feet tall, and evolved very different hand structures and respiratory requirements without genetic manipulation.  (Were you to meet someone from the early nineteenth century, they might be a couple inches shorter on average and their accent would have been funny, but you could communicate adequately–and you don’t have the advantage of entertaining recordings of how they spoke.)

The problem is in the other direction:  in order for the cave men to be alive in the cave, at least four thousand years must have passed outside.  If we are seeing five flashes per second and one flash per year, five years per second is three hundred years per minute, eighteen thousand years per hour.  That would easily make it possible for the cavemen to have arrived three and a half hours ago, and we could assume they arrived as long as half a day ago, still getting their bearings and surprised by these people from the future.  However, at that rate the day after the professor vanished would be only a fraction of a second for him, and his parents could not have been in the cave as long as a few minutes.  The cowboy the professor sees just ahead of him would have had very little head start, particularly since he must have entered after the parents despite the appearance of a nineteenth century gunslinger.

We could probably work out a rate that is between these two extremes which allows for this.  The difficult question is how long the cavemen could have survived, in terms of days, without food.  Yet there is a potential answer to that.  Within the cave there is another temporal distortion beyond which can be seen persons from previous centuries as seemingly frozen from the perspective of the outer cave area as the outer cave area is from the outside.  That section does not have the same problem as this section:  one does not need a rope to enter, nor to exit, and so it is possible that some of the cavemen had moved from the outer area to the inner area, stayed a short time, and came back.  In the few hours they were beyond the barrier thousands of years would pass.  That means that others still beyond that inner barrier might at some time in the future be rescued, if the rescuers remain watchful for thousands of years.  Even with futuristic alienistic humanity, that doesn’t seem particularly likely.  Larry Niven was sharp enough to recognize that when his future society sent ram ships to explore distant stars traveling at near-light speeds, their pilots would return to a humanity thousands of years future of their departure time, and so to a completely different society.  Anyone who spends as much as half an hour inside the outer cave would return to a very different world beyond.

Which brings us to The Rescue.

The first odd aspect of the rescue is the ladder.  It is presumably made of some futuristic material that would withstand the anticipated stresses, but there are still some significant points.  Whatever is at the top of the ladder has to be stable, unmoving relative to the interior of the cave.  Yet the air and the dirt and even the continent itself are moving, and those motions are going to impact any object fixed above the cave by any means.  We can minimize such movement, but over the course of a day there would be tiny shifts for which the system would have to compensate, and those shifts would create vibrations in the ladder.  They might be too high to hear, but someone touching the ladder should be able to feel a tingle from it.  We don’t know that they didn’t, of course, but it wasn’t noted.  Further, if the ladder is touching the floor, it’s going to wear a hole in the floor fairly quickly from those vibrations.

It was, however, the suited man himself which bothers me.  He descends the ladder and then does not explore the cave but rather walks directly to the pool of water to bring back a sample.  Further, not only does he know where this water is located, he knows that it has healing properties, because he puts the injured person in it to bring about his recovery.  Where does he get his information?  If someone had previously entered and mapped the cave that accurately and reported the quality of the water, and successfully exited again, it would have to have happened before the parents entered or the parents would have been rescued in the process.  Such an exploration could not have happened in the centuries following the professor’s entrance because between the professor and the students someone would have seen an explorer.  We might plausibly suggest that something like ground radar or sonar was used to plot the caves, which might even have revealed the position of water sources within them, but it would not have told them anything about the water there.  The actions of the suited man do not make sense, in the sense that there is no plausible basis for his apparent knowledge.

Of course, also, his brief visit to the cave involves many years passing on the outside.  He uses up his time, presumably the life support in his suit, and it is unlikely that such a suit would be functional for less than an hour.  As we noted, that would be minimally one hundred eighty years, and probably considerably longer.  It’s quite a project, although if we assume successful life extension technology it might be the equivalent of a quarter century of our lifetimes.  That’s still a very long mission.

The tentacles have a similar but more complicated problem to the ladder.  They have to have their control circuits in the tips so they can function on the temporally slowed side.  Further, it is difficult to imagine a mechanism that would permit them to function on both sides of the time barrier without stressing themselves at the point of crossing.  Of course, they don’t have to work for long on the slowed side, but the minute or so that they are snatching the people is again several years that they are extended.  When the second group reaches the ship, the first girl rescued should look considerably older.

These are really all minor quibbles, and perhaps there are aspects we don’t know.  If the ship is equipped with a system that lets it do what the cave does, and so matches its time flow to that below, it resolves some of these problems.  If the life extension technology can be applied to a girl around twenty effectively, she might well have stopped aging in the years before the others were rescued minutes later.  I will always be bothered by the acts of the future explorer, because I don’t see any way to reconcile his knowledge to the events prior to his arrival.

I tried to watch it a second time and could not persuade myself to do so, so it is possible I missed something significant, but hopefully this is adequate for the purpose.

#330: Temporal Notes on an Episode of “The Orville”

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #330, on the subject of Temporal Notes on an Episode of “The Orville”.

A long-time early fan of Temporal Anomalies in Time Travel Movies (and contributor of Temporal Anomalies in Time Travel Movies Unravels The Final Countdown) contacted me via Facebook Messenger to ask a question about a particular two-episode time travel story arc of a television show.  I have made it clear that I don’t do analyses of television series, but given that this was one question about one episode of one series, and I was probably going to have to answer him in a post that would have been too long for that medium, and I have been neglecting my time travel audience to some degree, I decided to bring it over here.

We will begin with his post, with minimal edits marked:

Have you watched the tv show The Orville?  It’s sort of a self-aware knock off of Star Trek.  They’ve had at least a dozen Star Trek actors in cameo roles in the first two seasons.  Anyway, there’s a time travel story.  I’m going to try to present it to you with as few spoilers as possible, in case you’ve not seen the show.

So, in one episode, the ship hits a temporal anomaly in space which causes the seven-years younger version of the ship’s first officer to be sent forward in time to land on The Orville.  Episode proceeds, she’s eventually given an unsuccessful memory wipe and sent back in time.  They attempted to wipe her memory so that she could not affect the future.  But it didn’t take.  So she changes history such that The Borg have conquered The Federation.  (Not exactly, that’s the spoiler-free version of the story[.])

Next episode, seven years later.  The Borg have conquered The Federation.  She remembers that time trip and realizes that it was her tampering that caused it.  So she rounds up everyone from The Orville.  This time, they send back the doctor (A Star Trek DS9 Alum) to do the memory wipe correctly.  Timeline restored.

Under your theory, once she travels into the future, the future self no longer exists, correct?  It would be as if they went to New Jersey for seven years, only they didn’t age.  So there can’t be two of them in the future.  (That’s not a spoiler, You’d have seen it coming[.])

What about her knowledge?  There’s no reason to think the younger version wouldn’t always be sent into the future.  And there’s no reason to think the memory wipe wouldn’t take.  So the last problem is the doctor going back to redo it.  Anomalies you can see?

But the lady was questioning that.  “If she’s younger me, then why don’t I remember any of this?”  And eventually concludes that she doesn’t remember it because the memory wipe must have been successful.  No reason to think she wouldn’t still think that.

Based on what I’ve said, what are your thoughts?  I think it resolves, except for the first officer being there.  What difference does that make?  I’m not 100% I agree with your theory there.  If she eventually will go back in time, why wouldn’t two of them be there?  But anyway.

Thoughts?

So that is the question.

First, my wife and I enjoyed the first season of The Orville when FoxNOW was a free service on our Roku television.  When they went to a subscription service, well, it didn’t seem worth the money to subscribe for the sake of only one show we were at all likely to watch, and a good but not great one in our assessment, so it was forgotten.  The time travel arc was not included in what we watched.

The statement that the older version of the first officer would not be in the future is partly correct, but it’s more complicated than that.

One of the problems we have is a problem with the fact that this is a television series.  I am assuming that the event which moved the first officer to the future occurred prior to season one episode one.  That would mean that she never boarded The Orville, and thus all of the episodes we have watched are wrong.  The older version of herself is not there because she never was there; someone else is first officer, and all the espisodes to date have to be re-imagined to include this other officer.  Our time traveler will not, in this original history, meet herself, but will find that she has no history for seven years.

There would be no problem if they simply found a place in their time for this traveler from the past, as Starfleet did for Dr. Gillian in Star Trek IV:  The Voyage Home.  The trouble begins because they decide to send her back, and once you send anything into the past, you alter the past and create an anomaly.  Remember, no one even imagines that this time traveler might have been their first officer, because she never was.

We also hit our first real complication here.  The writers want us to believe that returning the first officer to the past restores the original timeline which we saw in the previous episodes, but that because she remembers the future the timeline is altered.  In fact, she never was the first officer on The Orville, and so the history created in which the Borg conquer the Federation is the first history in which she is present, and it is her presence (rather than absence) which causes the change.

The obvious solution would seem to be not to send her back–but it’s too late, because that would create an infinity loop (see Temporal Theory 101 and 102 for explanations of the anomalies and terminology):  if she does not go back, the Borg do not rise to power, and the crew of Orville have no reason not to send her back, so she will go back, causing the rise of the Borg, leading them not to send her back, in a repeating cycle.

We will have to assume that their analysis is correct, that the Borg rise to power because of something she remembered about the future that was not eliminated by the mind wipe.  It is a very improbable analysis for them to have made:  no one in the future remembers any history other than the one in which the Borg rise to power, and so it should not occur to anyone that sending the first officer back caused this, and even less likely that they would believe it was because of a failed mind wipe.  However, we have another set of complications here, tied to an unanswerable question:  why did she land on Orville when she traveled to the future?

I suspect that what the writers thought was she went to the coordinates of her older self.  That does not work, though, because she had no older self in the original history and so could not go there.  Our questioner has suggested that the older self would be there because the younger self is going to travel to the past, and that would work in a fixed time theory universe–but this is not fixed time theory, because they change history more than once.  Before the younger self departs for the past it is possible that something would prevent that, and therefore we have to finish the history which terminates with that departure before we can begin any history in which there is an arrival in the past.  The older self was not there in the original history.

It might be argued that she went to The Orville because she, her younger self, was on The Orville when she was transported to the future, and so using a frame of reference theory that’s where she went–but it does not appear that she was ever on that ship prior to the first episode of the series, so that theory won’t hold.  Note that if this trip to the future happened during the time covered by the series, we would have seen it happen in a previous episode and had to deal with her disappearance then, even if we also had her reappearance which altered history.

I am out of potential rational explanations, and am forced to suggest that of all of the vastness of space she managed to appear not floating somewhere in the empty vacuum but on a ship to which she had no known connection somewhere in that vast vacuum.  She rolled a googol-sided die and got a perfect result.

That gives us our complication, because the entire history of the universe has drastically changed following her return to the past, and there is no reason to suppose that The Orville even exists in this new world, or that it has the same crew or the same mission or is within a thousand light years of the same location.  Yet when our time traveler leaps forward presumably from before those changes have been made, she must land on the same ship in the same location.  If she doesn’t, of course, we have an infinity loop; but even if somehow she does whoever is on that ship has to make the same decision to send her back at the same moment.  Further, they must fail to wipe her memory in exactly the same way, despite the fact that everything else in this universe is different.

So we assume that against incredible odds our time traveler who has not yet caused the rise of the borg lands on the same ship in the same place and is sent back at the same time to the same time.  Yet even with all this, we’ve got a disaster.

Our assumption is that having leapt to the future, the officer learns perhaps many things about the future.  Somehow at least one of those things remained in her memory when her mind was wiped, and that one memory caused a drastic change in history when she acted upon it in the past.  However, her duplicate self arriving in the future is in an entirely different future.  The odds that she would learn the same single thing that changes history are, once again, drastically against.  It isn’t just that she is unlikely to land on the same ship, or that the ship is unlikely to have the same crew.  Even were we to grant those improbable outcomes, we cannot escape the fact that this ship and this crew are the result of the seven years in which the Borg rose to power and conquered the Federation.  There is almost nothing significant our time traveler could have learned about the original history that would be true in this altered history.  Apply mind wipe, and send her back to her own time, and how is it even possible that the one thing she remembers is the same thing that created this Borg-dominated history?  Yet it must be so for the story we are given to be true, and if it’s not so then the Borg will not rise to power in this new version (in which the time traveler came from the Borg-dominated future) and we have, again, an infinity loop.

So somehow against such incredible odds our time traveler is returned to her own time with exactly the same retained memory and so causes the exact same history–the N-jump we need to save time.  That gives us a future; it is the future in which the Borg dominate the universe.

Somehow the crew of The Orville decide that this is wrong, and that it must be this way because the memory erasure didn’t work properly.  They decide this despite the fact that not a one of them has any notion that history every has been or could have been different than it was, that the Borg defeated the Federation in the only version of history any of them has ever known or experienced.  Maybe they have an alien aboard who, like Guinan in Star Trek:  The Next Generation, can simply sense that this timeline is somehow “wrong”–but in that case it will never sense that it is “right”, because it can’t be corrected, and the “right” timeline, the original history, is the one in which the young first officer never returned to the past.  Still, somehow they decide that the rise of the Borg to power is not the original history, and then they add to that that it was caused by the young officer’s trip to the past, and then that the reason she altered history was not because she hadn’t been there and now was, but because she remembered something she should have forgotten and acted upon it changing the past.  They have absolutely no evidence to support any of these conclusions, but that’s what they conclude.

Having concluded it, they decide to do the most foolish thing anyone could possibly attempt to do in time travel.  They decide to fix history.

The problem is, either you will succeed or you will fail.  If you succeed, you eliminate the problem that caused you to try in the first place, so you won’t try, so history will revert to the version in which you do not make the trip to the past to fix it.  Thus the best hope is that you will fail, and that therefore history will continue as it was.

In this case, apparently they succeeded.  Not long after they sent the officer back with the faulty memory wipe, they sent a doctor back to do it right.  He succeeds, with the result that the Borg never rise to power.  We can assume that all of history moves much as it did, but when we reach the moment when the doctor has to depart to fix the problem, that problem does not exist, because it was already fixed.  That means that they don’t know the first memory wipe failed, or that the Borg ever rose to power, and they don’t send the doctor back to fix it, so it doesn’t get fixed, and we have an infinity loop.

There is one more minor issue in all this.  In the version we are shown the older first officer says, “If she’s younger me, then why don’t I remember any of this?”  We don’t know in which history she is supposed to have said this.  In the original history, she doesn’t exist.  In the second history, in which the Borg rise to power, she should remember whatever it was she remembered seven years before, and the consequential rise of the Borg, and possibly even recognize her fault in this.  In the history created by the doctor, she would not remember it because that second mind erasure worked.

So in conclusion, the time travel foray by The Orville was a temporal disaster several times over.  Of course, we can sort of forgive this because the show is something of a parody.  I’m just glad I was not subjected to having to watch the disaster unfold on the screen.

#325: The 2019 Recap

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #325, on the subject of The 2019 Recap.

Happy New Year to you.  A year ago I continued the tradition of recapitulating in the most sketchy of fashions everything I had published over the previous year, in mark Joseph “young” web log post #278:  The 2018 Recap.  I am back to continue that tradition, as briefly as reasonable, so that if you missed something you can find it, or if you vaguely remember something you want to read again you can hunt it down.  Some of that brevity will be achieved by referencing index pages, other collections of links to articles and installments.

For example, that day also saw the publication of the first Faith in Play article of the year, but all twelve of those plus the dozen RPG-ology series articles are listed, described, and linked in 2019 at the Christian Gamers Guild Reviewed, published yesterday.  There’s some good game stuff there in addition to some good Bible stuff, including links to some articles by other talented gaming writers, and a couple contributions involving me one way or another that were not parts of either series.  Also CGG-related, I finished the Bible study on Revelation and began John in January; we’re still working through John, but thanks to a late-in-the-year problem with Yahoo!Groups that had been hosting us we had to move everything to Groups.IO, and I haven’t managed to fix all the important links yet.

At that point we were also about a quarter of the way through the novel Garden of Versers as we posted a Robert Slade chapter that same day, but that entire novel is indexed there, along with links to the web log posts giving background on the writing process.  In October we launched the sixth novel, Versers Versus Versers, which is heating up in three chapters a week, again indexed along with behind-the-writings posts there, and it will continue in the new year.  There are also links to the support pages, character sheets for the major protagonists and a few antagonists in the stories.  Also related to the novels, in October I invited reader input on which characters should be the focus of the seventh, in #318:  Toward a Seventh Multiverser Novel.

I wrote a few book reviews at Goodreads, which you can find there if you’re interested.  More of my earlier articles were translated for publication at the Places to Go, People to Be French edition.

So let’s turn to the web log posts.

The first one after the recap of the previous year was an answer to a personal question asked impersonally on a public forum:  how did I know I was called to writing and composing?  The answer is found in web log post #279:  My Journey to Becoming a Writer.

I had already begun a miniseries on the Christian contemporary and rock music of the seventies and early eighties–the time when I was working at the radio station and what I remembered from before that.  That series continued (and hopefully will continue this year) with:

Although I didn’t realize it at the time, it is evident that the music dominated the web log this year.  In May I was invited to a sort of conference/convention in Nashville, which I attended and from which I benefited significantly.  I wrote about that in web log post #297:  An Objective Look at The Extreme Tour Objective Session.  While there I talked to several persons in the Christian music industry, and one of them advised me to found my own publishing company and publish my songs.  After considerable consideration I recognized that I have no skills for business, but I could put the songs out there, and so I began with a sort of song-of-the-month miniseries, the first seven songs posted this year:

  1. #301:  The Song “Holocaust”
  2. #307:  The Song “Time Bomb”
  3. #311:  The Song “Passing Through the Portal”
  4. #314:  The Song “Walkin’ In the Woods”
  5. #317:  The Song “That’s When I’ll Believe”
  6. #320:  The Song “Free”
  7. #322:  The Song “Voices”

I admit that I have to some degree soured on law and politics.  Polarization has gotten so bad that moderates are regarded enemies by the extremists on both sides.  However, I tackled a few Supreme Court cases, some issues in taxes including tariffs, a couple election articles, and a couple of recurring issues:

I was hospitalized more than once this year, but the big one was right near the beginning when the emergency room informed me that that pain was a myocardial infarction–in the vernacular, a heart attack.  Many of you supported me in many ways, and so I offered web log post #285:  An Expression of Gratitude.

Most of the game-related material went to the RPG-ology series mentioned at the beginning of this article, and you should visit that index for those.  I did include one role playing game article here as web log post #303:  A Nightmare Game World, a very strange scenario from a dream.

Finally, I did eventually post some time travel analyses, two movies available on Netflix.  The first was a kind of offbeat not quite a love story, Temporal Anomalies in Popular Time Travel Movies unravels When We First Met; the second a Spike Lee film focused on trying to fix the past, Temporal Anomalies in Time Travel Movies unravels See You Yesterday.  For those wondering, I have not yet figured out how I can get access to the new Marvel movie Endgame, as it appears it will not be airing on Netflix and I do not expect to spring for a Disney subscription despite its appeal, at least, not unless the Patreon account grows significantly.

So that’s pretty much what I wrote this year, not counting the fact that I’m working on the second edition of Multiverser, looking for a publisher for a book entitled Why I Believe, and continuing to produce the material to continue the ongoing series into the new year.  We’ll do this again in a dozen months.

#285: An Expression of Gratitude

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #285, on the subject of An Expression of Gratitude.

I need to thank a lot of people.

The complications include that I do not know who you all are, and I’m not sure of the propriety either of naming those whose names I have or contacting you personally.

Thus I am thanking you all, however many of you there are, through this web log post.

This arises from the fact that I recently had a myocardial infarction–a heart attack–which put me in the hospital.  I posted that in this Facebook post, and somewhere about twenty responses down I posted again with news of the Friday and Monday procedures, and my Tuesday discharge and such.

Many of you sent what I guess would be called “good wishes”, that is, comments, messages, whatever, hoping that I would get better.  Thank you.  I have done so to a significant degree, although I am still a bit weak and officially convalescing (and my wife has already scolded me for overworking once she knew how much I did yesterday, the day after my discharge, but someone had to get the boys to work and someone had to pick up my prescriptions, and more often than not I find that someone is me, particularly when she is working a string of night shifts, driving herself for the first time since her broken hip, and needing to sleep during the day).  So I am not fully recovered, but I am back at work.

Many of you prayed, and for this I am particularly grateful.  You have, of course, obligated me to let you know about the answers to your prayers so that many of you can give thanks to God for the grace extended through the prayers of many of you (cf. II Corinthians 1:11).  I have largely done that in the Facebook post.  I am not out of the woods entirely–I have a bag of new medications (and of all things the pharmacy couldn’t fill the “aspirin” prescription (chewable baby aspirin–how could they not have that?), so someone has to go back for it today), and I have two appointments for a cardiac stress test and a followup to decide what the test results mean.  Those are in the second week of March.

At least two of you made a point of spreading the word of my debilitation, and of encouraging people who at least know who I am to support me financially during this time.  That has resulted in a few gifts of significant amounts through my PayPal.me account–the first real activity there since it opened, and enough to pay for this bag of prescriptions and a bit more.  I have not seen any new Patreon patrons yet, but Patreon’s notification system is sometimes wonky so I’m going to include mention of that–because I am grateful to those of you who have made an effort to keep me going, and thankful to God that you are there, to those who contributed and to those who encouraged others to do so.

I’ll extend these thanks to those who have been meaning to send a bit of help my direction and simply haven’t yet done so; I know what that’s like, as there are often times when I have something I need to do soon that goes for days or weeks or even months before I manage it.  So thank you for the prayers and support you are going to send in the future.  You really do make a difference.

As the picture says, thank you.

#278: The 2018 Recap

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #278, on the subject of The 2018 Recap.

A year ago I continued a tradition of recapitulating in the most sketchy of fashions everything I had published over the previous year, in mark Joseph “young” web log post #219:  A 2017 Retrospective.  I am back to continue that tradition, as briefly as reasonable.  Some of that brevity will be achieved by referencing index pages, other collections of links to articles and installments.

For example, on the second of January, the same day I published that retrospective here, I also posted another chapter in the series of Multiverser novels, at which point we were at the twenty-third chapter of the fourth book, Spy Verses (which contains one hundred forty-seven short chapters).  We had just published the first of seven behind-the-writings web log posts looking at the writing process, but all of that is indexed at that link.  Also on that same day the Christian Gamers Guild released the second installment of the new series Faith in Play, but all of those articles along with all the articles in the RPG-ology series are listed, briefly described, and linked (along with other excellent articles from other members of the guild) in the just-published Thirteen Months in Review on their site.  That saves recapping here two dozen more titles in the realms of Bible/theology and gaming, many of them excellent.  It should also be mentioned that six days a week I post to the Chaplain’s Bible study list, finishing Revelation probably early next week, and posting “Musings” on Fridays.

Spy Verses wrapped up in October, and was followed by the release of an expansion of Multiverser Novel Support Pages, updated character sheets through the end of that book, and by the end of that month we had begun publishing, several chapters per week, Garden of Versers, which is still going as I write this.

Now would probably be a good time to mention that all of that writing is free to read, supported by reader contributions–that means you–through Patreon or PayPal Me.  If you’ve been following and enjoying any of those series, your encouragement and support through those means goes a long way to keeping them going, along with much else that has been written–and although that may be the bulk of what was written, there is still much else.

Since on January 10th the first of the year’s web log posts on law and politics appeared, we’ll cover those next.

#220:  The Right to Repair presents the new New Jersey law requiring manufacturers of consumer electronics to provide schematics, parts, and tools to owners at reasonable prices, so that those with some knowledge in the field can troubleshoot and repair their own cell phones and other electronics, and none of us need be at the mercy of price-gouging company stores.

#221:  Silence on the Lesbian Front addressed the ramifications of a Supreme Court decision not to hear a case against a Mississippi law permitting merchants to decline wedding services to homosexual weddings.

#222:  The Range War Explodes:  Interstate Water Rights arose at the Supreme Court level when Florida claimed Georgia was using too much of the water that should flow downstream to it.

#225:  Give Me Your Poor talks about our immigrant history, the illusion that it was entirely altruistic, and the question of what we do going forward.

#229:  A Challenge to Winner-Take-All in the Electoral College looks at a federal lawsuit claiming that the standard electoral college election system violates the one-person-one-vote rule.

#230:  No Womb No Say? challenges the notion that men should not have a say in abortion law.

#231:  Benefits of Free-Range Parenting discusses the recent idea that parents who do not closely monitor their kids are not being negligent.

#241:  Deportation of Dangerous Felons considers the Supreme Court case which decided that the law permitting deportation of immigrants for “aggravated felonies” is too vague.

#247:  The Homosexual Wedding Cake Case examines in some detail the decision that protected a baker from legal action against him for refusing service to a homosexual couple, based primarily on the prejudicial language of the lower court decision.

#251:  Voter Unregistration Law examined a somewhat complicated case upholding a law that permits removal of non-responsive voters from the registration lists.

#253:  Political Messages at Polling Places presented the decision that non-specific political clothing and such cannot be banned from polling places.

#255:  On Sveen:  Divorcees, Check Your Beneficiaries examined a convoluted probate case in which a law passed subsequent to a divorce dictated how life insurance policy assets should be distributed.

#259:  Saying No to Public Employee Union Agency Fees is the case the unions feared, in which they were stripped of their ability to charge non-members fees for representation.

#261:  A Small Victory for Pro-Life Advocates hinged on free speech and a California law compelling crisis pregnancy centers to post notices that the state provides free and low-cost abortions.

#270:  New Jersey’s 2018 Election Ballot was the first of two parts on the election in our state, #271:  New Jersey’s 2018 Election Results providing the second part.

#274:  Close Races and Third Parties arose in part from the fact that one of our congressional districts was undecided for several days, and in part from the fact that Maine has enacted a new experimental system which benefits third parties by having voters rank all candidates in order of preference.

One post that not only bridges the space between religion and politics but explains why the two cannot really be separated should be mentioned, #224:  Religious Politics.

My practice of late has been to put my book reviews on Goodreads, and you’ll find quite a few there, but for several reasons I included #223:  In re:  Full Moon Rising, by T. M. Becker as a web log post.  I also copied information from a series of Facebook posts about books I recommended into #263:  The Ten Book Cover Challenge.

There were a few entries in time travel, mostly posted to the Temporal Anomalies section of the site, including Temporal Anomalies in Synchronicity, which is pretty good once you understand what it really is; Temporal Anomalies in Paradox, which is a remarkably convoluted action-packed time travel story; Temporal Anomalies in O Homen Do Futuro a.k.a. The Man From the Future, a wonderfully clever Brazilian film in which the time traveler has to fix what he tried to fix, interacting with himself in the past; and Temporal Anomalies in Abby Sen, an Indian film that is ultimately pretty dull but not without some interesting ideas.

In the miscellaneous realm, we had #227:  Toward Better Subtitles suggesting how to improve the closed captioning on television shows; #228:  Applying the Rules of Grammar encourages writers to understand the rules and the reasons for them before breaking them; and #273:  Maintaining Fictional Character Records gives some details of my way of keeping character information consistent from book to book.

This year we also began a subseries on the roots of Christian Contemporary and Rock Music, starting with #232:  Larry Norman, Visitor in March, and continuing with

  1. #234:  Flip Sides of Ralph Carmichael
  2. #236:  Reign of The Imperials
  3. #238:  Love Song by Love Song
  4. #240:  Should Have Been a Friend of Paul Clark
  5. #242:  Disciple AndraĆ© Crouch
  6. #244:  Missed the Archers
  7. #246:  The Secular Radio Hits
  8. #248:  The Hawkins Family
  9. #250:  Original Worship Leader Ted Sandquist
  10. #252:  Petra Means Rock
  11. #254:  Miscellaneous Early Christian Bands
  12. #256:  Harry Thomas’ Creations Come Alive
  13. #258:  British Invaders Malcolm and Alwyn
  14. #260:  Lamb and Jews for Jesus
  15. #262:  First Lady Honeytree of Christian Music
  16. #264:  How About Danny Taylor?
  17. #266:  Minstrel Barry McGuire
  18. #268:  Voice of the Second Chapter of Acts
  19. #272:  To the Bride Live
  20. #276:  Best Guitarist Phil Keaggy.

Looking at our Bible and Theology posts, the first of the year landed in the end of March, as #233:  Does Hell Exist? attempts to explore how the modern conception of hell compares with the Biblical one; #245:  Unspoken Prayer Requests finds theological problems with asking people to pray without telling them what to pray; and #267:  A Mass Revival Meeting explains what is really necessary to bring about a revival.

There were also a couple of entries related to gaming, including the republication of a lost article as #237:  Morality and Consequences:  Overlooked Roleplay Essentials–the first article I ever wrote to be published on someone else’s web site.  There was also a response to some comments made by #239:  A Departing Member of the Christian Gamers Guild, and a sort of review of a convention appearance, #249:  A 2018 AnimeNEXT Adventure.

A couple previously published pieces appeared in translation in the French edition of Places to Go, People to Be, which you can find indexed under my name there.

So that is a look at what was published online under my name this past year–a couple hundred articles, when you count all the chapters of the books (and more if you count all the Bible study posts).  In the future, well, I have a lot more to write about Christian music, I’m only getting started with Garden of Versers and have another novel, Versers Versus Versers, set up and ready to run, several Faith in Play and RPG-ology articles are in the queue (one publishes today), and there’s a study of the Gospel According to John ready to post and the Gospel According to Mark being prepared to follow it, plus some preliminary notes on Supreme Court cases, an analysis of a time travel movie that’s taking too long to finish, and more.

Again, your support through Patreon or PayPal.me helps make all of it possible.  Thank you for your support and encouragement.

#227: Toward Better Subtitles

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #227, on the subject of Toward Better Subtitles.

Decades ago I saw a joke birthday card.  On the face it raved about how it was the first perfect birthday card, designed and printed entirely by a computer so nothing could possibly go wrong.  Inside, it said in Courier Block lettering, MERRY CHRISTMAS.

It came to mind recently because I have come to watch television with the subtitles activated so that if somehow I miss what someone says I can read it and keep up, and sometimes they can be rather silly.  In a recent time travel movie I analyzed, Paradox, one of the characters at one point asks what it is they are seeing, and another reasonably clearly says, “Quark gluon,” but the person writing the subtitles apparently had insufficient education in advanced particle physics to recognize those as words, and so subtitled it “[Speaks Indistinct]”.  My wife recently reported watching a British mystery series and seeing the name “Wetherington Perish Church” as the local parish church.

Image captured by Gwydion M. Williams

The reason I thought of the birthday card is upon reading some of these I began to wonder whether someone was experimenting with speech-to-text software, feeding the soundtrack into a computer and getting it to figure out what everyone is saying.  I somehow doubt it–speech-to-text software has its limitations, but some of the mistakes I’ve seen could only be made by a human.  The kind of mistakes I see strongly suggest that someone is sitting at a keyboard listening to the soundtrack and typing what they hear, and that no one is proofreading the finished product.  Yet it strikes me that the people who do these subtitles are missing an obvious aid in their efforts.

I once watched an excellent Spanish-language time travel move, Los Cronocrimines a.k.a. TimeCrimes, which was both subtitled and dubbed in English, and it was intriguing to me to notice that the subtitles did not always match the dubbing.  My conclusion was that the subtitles were probably the more accurate rendering of the original Spanish.  My reasoning was that the dubbed text had to be adjusted so that the words we heard in the audience credibly matched the movement of the lips of the speakers, but the subtitles would be a direct English translation of the original Spanish dialogue.  Therein lies my solution:  use the script.

It wouldn’t work for a lot of programs–news, reality shows, talk shows–but the majority of the television I watch is scripted.  The people on the screen aren’t making up their lines; they’ve memorized them (or sometimes are reading them from a teleprompter).  The script is available, and given the ubiquity of computers it’s almost certainly available in an electronic file format.  So the obvious fix is for those who write the subtitles to start with the script, copy/paste the text into the subtitle program, and then simply adjust it whenever the actor got the line wrong–or not.  I often see subtitles in which the actor actually said about twice as many words as the subtitle, but didn’t really change the sense.

This solution seems so obvious to me that I find myself swithering between two conclusions.  It may be that the people responsible for the subtitling just aren’t bright enough to realize that they have an available resource for any text of which they are not certain, or to recognize that what they typed can’t possibly be right.  On the other hand, maybe the attitude is based on that corollary to the familiar law, Anything not worth doing is not worth doing well.  After all, how many of us out here really rely on subtitles?  Why spend a bit more time, a bit more money, a bit more effort on getting them right?  I’m constantly reading and reviewing books which are poorly edited; should I expect better of television and movies?  Does the subtitle audience really matter?

Maybe we don’t–but we aren’t all hard of hearing.  Some of us use subtitles because we watch late at night and don’t want the television to be so loud that it disturbs the sleep of others in the house.  Some use subtitles because we’re watching at work, such as night security, and we don’t want the noise of the television.  Some use subtitles to get past character accents that are sometimes challenging to understand (oh, that’s what she said!).  They’re a convenience–but an annoying one when they make stupid mistakes.

I don’t have much influence in the film industry.  I write a few articles about time travel in movies, and I’m aware that a few independent film producers have read them, but in the main I’ll probably be ignored.  However, it would be nice to have the subtitles match the dialogue, or at least accurately represent it, especially if the people typing them can’t understand what the actors are saying–that, after all, is when many of us most need to have the written form.  So here’s hoping that those who provide the subtitles can do a bit better for those of us who use them.

#219: A 2017 Retrospective

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #219, on the subject of A 2017 Retrospective.

A year ago, plus a couple days, on the last day of 2016 we posted web log post #150:  2016 Retrospective.  We are a couple days into the new year but have not yet posted anything new this year, so we’ll take a look at what was posted in 2017.

Beginning “off-site”, there was a lot at the Christian Gamers Guild, as the Faith and Gaming series ran the rest of its articles.  I also launched two new monthly series there in the last month of the year, with introductory articles Faith in Play #1:  Reintroduction, continuing the theme of the Faith and Gaming series, and RPG-ology #1:  Near Redundancy, reviving some of the lost work and adding more to the Game Ideas Unlimited series of decades back.  In addition to the Faith and Gaming materials, the webmaster republished two articles from early editions of The Way, the Truth, and the Dice, the first Magic:  Essential to Faith, Essential to Fantasy from the magic symposium, and the second Real and Imaginary Violence, about the objection that role playing games might be too violent.  I also contributed a new article at the beginning of the year, A Christian Game, providing rules for a game-like activity using scripture.  Near the end of the year–the end of November, actually–I posted a review of all the articles from eighteen months there, as Overview of the Articles on the New Christian Gamers Guild Website.

That’s apart from the Chaplain’s Bible Study posts, where we finished the three Johannine epistles and Jude and have gotten about a third of the way through Revelation.  There have also been Musings posts on the weekends.

Over at Goodreads I’ve reviewed quite a few books.

Turning to the mark Joseph “young” web log, we began the year with #151:  A Musician’s Resume, giving my experience and credentials as a Christian musician.  That subject was addressed from a different direction in #163:  So You Want to Be a Christian Musician, from the advice I received from successful Christian musicians, with my own feeling about it.  Music was also the subject of #181:  Anatomy of a Songwriting Collaboration, the steps involved in creating the song Even You, with link to the recording.

We turned our New Year’s attention to the keeping of resolutions with a bit of practical advice in #152:  Breaking a Habit, my father’s techniques for quitting smoking more broadly applied.

A few of the practical ones related to driving, including #154:  The Danger of Cruise Control, presenting the hazard involved in the device and how to manage it, #155:  Driving on Ice and Snow, advice on how to do it, and #204:  When the Brakes Fail, suggesting ways to address the highly unlikely but cinematically popular problem of the brakes failing and the accelerator sticking.

In an odd esoteric turn, we discussed #153:  What Are Ghosts?, considering the possible explanations for the observed phenomena.  Unrelated, #184:  Remembering Adam Keller, gave recollections on the death of a friend.  Also not falling conveniently into a usual category, #193:  Yelling:  An Introspection, reflected on the internal impact of being the target of yelling.

Our Law and Politics articles considered several Supreme Court cases, beginning with a preliminary look at #156:  A New Slant on Offensive Trademarks, the trademark case brought by Asian rock band The Slants and how it potentially impacts trademark law.  The resolution of this case was also covered in #194:  Slanting in Favor of Free Speech, reporting the favorable outcome of The Slant’s trademark dispute, plus the Packingham case regarding laws preventing sex offenders from accessing social networking sites.

Other court cases included #158:  Show Me Religious Freedom, examining the Trinity Lutheran Church v. Pauley case in which a church school wanted to receive the benefits of a tire recycling playground resurfacing program; this was resolved and covered in #196:  A Church and State Playground, followup on the Trinity Lutheran playground paving case.  #190:  Praise for a Ginsberg Equal Protection Opinion, admires the decision in the immigration and citizenship case Morales-Santana.

We also addressed political issues with #171:  The President (of the Seventh Day Baptist Convention), noting that political terms of office are not eternal; #172:  Why Not Democracy?, a consideration of the disadvantages of a more democratic system; #175:  Climate Change Skepticism, about a middle ground between climate change extremism and climate change denial; #176:  Not Paying for Health Care, about socialized medicine costs and complications; #179:  Right to Choose, responding to the criticism that a male white Congressman should not have the right to take away the right of a female black teenager to choose Planned Parenthood as a free provider of her contraceptive services, and that aspect of taking away someone’s right to choose as applied to the unborn.

We presumed to make a suggestion #159:  To Compassion International, recommending a means for the charitable organization to continue delivering aid to impoverished children in India in the face of new legal obstacles.  We also had some words for PETA in #162:  Furry Thinking, as PETA criticized Games Workshop for putting plastic fur on its miniatures and we discuss the fundamental concepts behind human treatment of animals.

We also talked about discrimination, including discriminatory awards programs #166:  A Ghetto of Our Own, awards targeted to the best of a particular racial group, based on similar awards for Christian musicians; #207:  The Gender Identity Trap, observing that the notion that someone is a different gender on the inside than his or her sex on the outside is confusing cultural expectations with reality, and #212:  Gender Subjectivity, continuing that discussion with consideration of how someone can know that they feel like somthing they have never been.  #217:  The Sexual Harassment Scandal, addressed the recent explosion of sexual harassment allegations.

We covered the election in New Jersey with #210:  New Jersey 2017 Gubernatorial Election, giving an overview of the candidates in the race, #211:  New Jersey 2017 Ballot Questions, suggesting voting against both the library funding question and the environmental lock box question, and #214:  New Jersey 2017 Election Results, giving the general outcome in the major races for governor, state legislature, and public questions.

Related to elections, #213:  Political Fragmentation, looks at the Pew survey results on political typology.

We recalled a lesson in legislative decision-making with #182:  Emotionalism and Science, the story of Tris in flame-retardant infant clothing, and the warning against solutions that have not been considered for their other effects.  We further discussed #200:  Confederates, connecting what the Confederacy really stood for with modern issues; and #203:  Electoral College End Run, opposing the notion of bypassing the Constitutional means of selecting a President by having States pass laws assigning their Electoral Votes to the candidate who wins the national popular vote.

2017 also saw the publication of the entirety of the third Multiverser novel, For Better or Verse, along with a dozen web log posts looking behind the writing process, which are all indexed in that table of contents page.  There were also updated character papers for major and some supporting characters in the Multiverser Novel Support Pages section, and before the year ended we began releasing the fourth novel, serialized, Spy Verses, with the first of its behind-the-writings posts, #218:  Versers Resume, with individual sections for the first twenty-one chapters.

Our Bible and Theology posts included #160:  For All In Authority, discussing praying for our leaders, and protesting against them; #165:  Saints Alive, regarding statues of saints and prayers offered to them; #168:  Praying for You, my conditional offer to pray for others, in ministry or otherwise; #173:  Hospitalization Benefits, about those who prayed for my recovery; #177:  I Am Not Second, on putting ourselves last; #178:  Alive for a Reason, that we all have purpose as long as we are alive; #187:  Sacrificing Sola Fide, response to Walter Bjorck’s suggestion that it be eliminated for Christian unity; #192:  Updating the Bible’s Gender Language, in response to reactions to the Southern Baptist Convention’s promise to do so; #208:  Halloween, responding to a Facebook question regarding the Christian response to the holiday celebrations; #215:  What Forty-One Years of Marriage Really Means, reacting to Facebook applause for our anniversary with discussion of trust and forgiveness, contracts versus covenants; and #216:  Why Are You Here?, discussing the purpose of human existence.

We gave what was really advice for writers in #161:  Pseudovulgarity, about the words we don’t say and the words we say instead.

On the subject of games, I wrote about #167:  Cybergame Timing, a suggestion for improving some of those games we play on our cell phones and Facebook pages, and a loosely related post, #188:  Downward Upgrades, the problem of ever-burgeoning programs for smart phones.  I guested at a convention, and wrote of it in #189:  An AnimeNEXT 2017 Experience, reflecting on being a guest at the convention.  I consider probabilities to be a gaming issue, and so include here #195:  Probabilities in Dishwashing, calculating a problem based on cup colors.

I have promised to do more time travel; home situations have impeded my ability to watch movies not favored by my wife, but this is anticipated to change soon.  I did offer #185:  Notes on Time Travel in The Flash, considering time remnants and time wraiths in the superhero series; #199:  Time Travel Movies that Work, a brief list of time travel movies whose temporal problems are minimal; #201:  The Grandfather Paradox Solution, answering a Facebook question about what happens if a traveler accidentally causes the undoing of his own existence; and #206:  Temporal Thoughts on Colkatay Columbus, deciding that the movie in which Christopher Columbus reaches India in the twenty-first century is not a time travel film.

I launched a new set of forums, and announced them in #197:  Launching the mark Joseph “young” Forums, officially opening the forum section of the web site.  Unfortunately I announced them four days before landing in the hospital for the first of three summer hospitalizations–of the sixty-two days comprising July and August this year, I spent thirty-one of them in one or another of three hospitals, putting a serious dent in my writing time.  I have not yet managed to refocus on those forums, for which I blame my own post-surgical life complications and those of my wife, who also spent a significant stretch of time hospitalized and in post-hospitalization rehabilitation, and in extended recovery.  Again I express my gratitude for the prayers and other support of those who brought us through these difficulties, which are hopefully nearing an end.

Which is to say, I expect to offer you more in the coming year.  The fourth novel is already being posted, and a fifth Multiverser novel is being written in collaboration with a promising young author.  There are a few time travel movies available on Netflix, which I hope to be able to analyze soon.  There are a stack of intriguing Supreme Court cases for which I am trying to await the resolutions.  Your continued support as readers–and as Patreon and PayPal.me contributors–will bring these to realization.

Thank you.

#206: Temporal Thoughts on Colkatay Columbus

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #206, on the subject of Temporal Thoughts on Colkatay Columbus.

I realized that the premise of this movie was absurd enough that it was probably not going to be a serious time travel film.  Found on Netflix, the blurb simply said that Christopher Columbus arrives in Kolkata, India in the present, where two young men seek his advice in their own searches for success.

What was not evident, though, was that the movie itself was not intended to be absurd nor even comedic, and it might not involve time travel at all.  It is an Indian movie, viewed with subtitles.

Apart from the intrepid explorer himself, who plays a significant role in the story, our primary characters are called Sam and Ray.

Sam has a longer more ethnic name, but he shortened it and cut all ties with his family eight years before the story opens.  He is reasonably successful as a radio disk jockey (an “RJ” in the parlance of the film), but wants to be a musical recording artist.  To this end, he has begun dating an entirely self-absorbed girl solely because her father is wealthy enough to finance the production of an album for him–despite the fact that he has a very close relationship with a girl who adores him.

Ray is a corporate office worker who writes short stories in what little spare time he has, and wants to succeed as a writer, but with mixed objectives he also wants a promotion up the corporate ladder.  His complication is that he is clearly attracted to a girl who is his superior, perhaps supervisor, in the company, and she to him, but although he would like to pursue a relationship he is too concerned about persuading her to pull some strings to get him promoted.

One day the two young men are riding in the back seat of a car driven by one of their friends when they almost hit a man, maybe sixty or so from appearance, dressed in Italian Renaissance clothing.  They are curious and engage him in conversation, and he claims to be Christopher Columbus, the discoverer of America, or at least of quite a few islands off its coast.  Then when he swoons (and hey, wearing all that heavy warm clothing in India, it’s surprising he lasted as long as he did) they catch him, bundle him into their car, and then debate whether to take him to a hospital or take him to their home to see if he can help them find success.

That is certainly the theme of the film, that everyone is exploring, searching for something.  Columbus believes himself to be the greatest explorer, and wants to help people find what they seek, so he becomes involved in advising the boys on reaching their goals.  It is genuinely interesting, if you aren’t stymied by the slow pace, but it is not the point of our investigation.

At this point we have three plausible understandings of who this person might be.  He might, of course, be some crazy person who believes himself to be Christopher Columbus, memorized much of his history from available sources such as Wikipedia, and dresses and acts the part.  He might be the real Christopher Columbus, rumors of his death having been greatly exaggerated, still alive half a millennium later.  He might be the real Christopher Columbus leaping across time to the present.

When the film is rising to its climax the first of those is knocked out of consideration, as fifteenth century Portuguese explorer Bartholomew Diaz (first man to navigate around the southern tip of Africa to reach India by water) shows up at the apartment looking for Columbus, saying that the latter gave him the address and asked him to bring a hammock so he could sleep better.  It appears that they are genuinely who they claim to be, despite the weak explanations for their fluency in the local language and somewhat native appearance.

However, Diaz explains that he has been living in South Africa in recent years, along with Gandhi, and that suggests that they are not time travelers at all.  They simply are the continuations of their original selves from years before, still alive after their deaths.

That may be the significance here.  In the closing scene, two other young men are asked for help by someone in a military uniform who claims his motorcycle broke down and gives his name as Che Guevara.  In some way, these famous people are still around.

There might be a clue to the author’s intent in the fact that a couple times characters engage in tossing quotations from famous people at each other.  One even comments that if you become famous, silly little things you said become famous quotes.  There is thus a sense in which those famous people are still with us, still influencing us, still in some sense alive in our midst, having a sort of immortality that is manifest within the movie by their corporeal presence.

I had some concern that at some point Columbus might return to the past.  Indeed, there is pressure on him to “go back”.  However, he only returns to his ship, and we can reasonably conclude that he does not travel through time in any way different from the rest of us, he only has continued to do so for five centuries beyond when we thought he died.

So despite the notion of Christopher Columbus appearing in the early twenty-first century, there is no time travel in this one.

I appear to have access to copies of Paradox, Synchronicity, The Man from the Future, and Abby Sen, all of which have strong claims to containing time travel elements.  Watch for posts, either here on the web log or as full page analyses in the Temporal Anomalies in Time Travel Movies section of the site.

#201: The Grandfather Paradox Solution

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #201, on the subject of The Grandfather Paradox Solution.

Award-winning science fiction author Larry Niven.

I sent birthday greetings to a time travel fan on Facebook–one who deserves special mention, as he has provided copies of several time travel movies analyzed on our Temporal Anomalies site–and in response received a discussion of a time travel issue.  I would have said that this is addressed already on the site, but I recognize that the site has become unwieldy in some ways and it’s difficult to find, let alone absorb, it all.  I have edited his comments for space, and added links to references on the site for those who are uncertain of the terminology.

I’ve been thinking about Niven’s Law (ie the popular “if you change it in the past it stays changed even if you undo the time travel” version).

Here’s the thing–without it, it seems to me that things work by magic.  Let’s use the old example of going back and killing my grandfather as a child.

Fixed time this is just impossible….

Parallel universes, no problem….

Replacement theory is where it gets interesting (of course).  Let’s first postulate that I’m not going back to kill Granddad.  Let’s say instead that I’d discovered in talking to other people that there was some sort of childhood toy in my granddad’s house…that was extremely rare, and if I went back and got it I could sell it for a fortune in the future….Unfortunately while I’m back in the past I interrupt a burglar, he shoots at me and misses but kills my granddad who was hiding behind the couch watching this armed burglar tussle with me….

So…I haven’t erased my motivation for going back.  However, obviously if I never exist, I can’t go back, which means that I won’t interrupt the burglar, which means he won’t shoot….

But what exactly happens?  What does the burglar see?  Does he just see me vanish into thin air?  That’s what I mean–there’s no real known phenomena that would cause that.  And in fact he wouldn’t see it anyway, because the whole idea is that I could never have been there in the 1st place.

I think in reality, if time travel is possible at all…either Niven’s Law must exist or else something like Hawking’s Conjecture must be true (the one where he says that you will be physically unable to successfully perform any actions that would create a paradox…).  I find the Conjecture even less likely (it pretty much falls under your “God won’t let it happen” thing).

Mind you that doesn’t get off the hook with “uncaused causes“.  There’s no perfect answers.  It just always seemed weird to me that things could magically change just because I remove the reason for the change.

This happens to be exactly the problem that is resolved by the standard concept of the infinity loop, two histories each of which causes the other.  My reader has missed this, falling into the notion presented by other time travel stories, perhaps most notoriously the ending of The Philadelphia Experiment II, in which the death of the childless father causes the son, a moment later, to dissolve into non-existence.  The reality postulated by the theory is much less complicated.

The postulated problem suggests that when I travel to the past I accidentally cause the death of my own grandfather.  The questioner then wonders whether I flicker out of existence, but recognizes that the problem is more complicated, that in fact if I never existed I never made the trip to the past and the burglar never shot at me.  That, though, means he never killed my grandfather, and I am able to make the trip to the past.  This much the question recognizes; it then gets caught in trying to make both versions of time real simultaneously, as if the death of my grandfather means that I must immediately vanish.  This fails to grasp the significance of causal chains, which we will here review.

In all of our science, we have causal chains:  A causes B, B causes C.  If B does not happen, C does not happen, because C only happens if caused by B; similarly, B only happens if caused by A, so if we prevent A, we prevent B, and in so doing we also prevent C.  This is simple for us in most situations, because of two “rules” that have always applied to everything we have observed.  One is that causes and effects have always happened in temporal sequence, that is, A happens before B and B before C even if only infinitessimally (the hammer strikes the firing pin which compresses and ignites the gunpowder which drives the bullet out of the shell, all in a fraction of a second but that fraction divided into sequential fractions).  The other is that once a cause has brought about an effect we are unable to remove the cause.

Time travel erases both of those rules, and therein lies our confusions.

In the present circumstance, the original history has Burglar invading Grandfather’s house, observed perhaps by grandfather but otherwise unmolested.  Decades pass and Traveler learns of the valuable toy in Grandfather’s attic.  Having access to a time machine, he travels to a time when he believes he can obtain the toy without changing anything significant in history.

  • There is an issue here which is not addressed in the problem:  we do not know how Traveler became aware of the presence of the toy in the attic, but if he removes it too soon he might well break the chain of information such that he does not know about the toy.  For example, if his information about the toy comes from the estate sale records, the toy will not be listed there once he has removed it.  However, our theorist having been careful on all other points, we will assume that Traveler got the information through a source that predates his effort to steal the toy.

He arrives in the past, and interrupts Burglar, who in attempting to kill him accidentally kills Grandfather.  There are scores of steps in this causal chain, but simplifying it we have A: Traveler travels to the past; B: Traveler interferes with Burglar; and C: Burglar kills Grandfather.

However, there was a causal chain in the original history in which Grandfather sired Father who sired Traveler, who eventually left for the past.  Our logic problem recognizes that because Grandfather is now prematurely dead, Father will never be born, and Traveler in turn will never be born.  It is precisely because the original causal chain has been disrupted that Traveler is never born–there is nothing magical about that, and no one imagines that it is.  We understand completely that if you remove the cause of an effect, the effect never happens; if you kill someone’s grandfather before he has children, the grandchild is never born.

Yet exactly the same rule applies at the other end.  If Traveler is never born, he never makes the trip to the past, which means A: Traveler travels to the past never happens.  Since A is the cause of B: Traveler interferes with Burglar, B never happens, and since B never happens, C: Burglar kills grandfather, also never happens.  If it applies to the A-B-C sequence that is Grandfather sires Father, Father sires Traveler, then it also applies equally to the A-B-C sequence Traveler travels to the past, Traveler interferes with Burglar, Burglar kills Grandfather.  The removal of the cause A undoes the effects B and C.

We balk at this because what we perceive as inaction in the future is becoming a cause of a change in the past, and we feel as if whether or not the past can be changed it can only be changed by someone traveling to the past.  However, if we look at it a different way, it might become clearer.  If I know that Gary traveled to the past, leaving tomorrow, and that what he changed altered history in a disastrous way, in theory I might attempt to travel to the past and prevent him from making that mistake, but could I not just as easily act to prevent him from making the disastrous trip?  (I admit that this would cause an infinity loop, but the point is only that preventing the trip to the past will prevent the changes to the past just as surely as traveling to the past to do so would.)  At the same time, we are mistaken to think of “not traveling to the past” as inaction.  It is much more properly different action, and different action becomes a different cause that has a different effect.  Further, since the effect B which is the cause of the effect C is itself the effect of A, if A is undone–if Traveler does not go to the past–then B is also undone–Traveler does not interfere with Burglar–and C is in turn undone–Grandfather is not killed.

But we return to what it is that Burglar experiences when his stray bullet kills Grandfather, theoretically undoing the existence of Traveler.

I admit that it is plausible that this event will cause time to unravel entirely, and the universe will cease to exist.  I think, though, that this is a bit extreme, and further it seems to require that the universe “knows” that history has changed in an irreconcilable way.  I don’t think the universe can know anything of the sort–for the universe, despite the fact that someone arrived from the future and became a new cause, this is the first time through these events, and as far as the universe “knows” (if it can be said to “know” anything in any sense), this is the history that exists.  It does not “know” that the man who just died is the grandfather, and thus the necessary cause of the life, of the Traveler who incidentally caused his death.  It has to “discover” that by playing through the events which follow.

There is thus an interweaving of two histories, in a sense.  Traveler comes from a universe in which Grandfather had a child.  The history of the universe is being rewritten, event by event, cause by cause, moment by moment, but it has not been rewritten yet.  Since under replacement theory there is ultimately only one history of the universe, each moment that is created erases and replaces the moment that was the same time in the other history.  That means the cause of Traveler’s presence in the past, cause A, has not yet been erased, and so Traveler still exists in the past even while his history is being erased and rewritten.

Ultimately the moment comes when cause A needs to happen in order for effect B, in the past, to be supported.  If we had an N-jump, that would happen.  To use our example modified, there was no Burglar, Traveler successfully collected the toy and stored it in a place where he could recover it in the future, and returned to the future without significantly altering the past.  Thus as the moment of his departure approaches he is the same person planning the same trip, and at the right moment he does so, cause A creating effect B, his arrival in the past.  This creates a stable history, and we have a sort of diverging hiccough:  because traveler leaves for the past on schedule, time continues into the future based on the history Traveler created and now confirmed.

However, with Burglar in the mix, we know that Grandfather died and Traveler was never born.  That means cause A never happens, and effect B never happens–we already know what happens if no time traveler arrives from the future, because that was the original history.  Burglar passes through the house unmolested, Grandfather survives to sire Father who sires Traveler.  That results in Traveler making the trip, creating the other history.

In no history does anyone simply disappear.  In no history does something inexplicably change without cause.  The difference between the original history and the altered history is that in the altered history someone arrives from the future and introduces causes that create a different set of events leading to its own undoing, while in the original history no one arrives from the future and so events follow the undisturbed path of events to the moment when someone decides to change them.

I should note that in all of this we experience the changes at the speed of time.  There is a sense in which at the instant Grandfather dies, Traveler ceases ever to have existed–but that only happens because of the intervening causes and effects which fail to bring him to life.  We experience those events at the speed of time; using time travel we presumably could skip ahead to the outcomes in the future.  That, though, means that in some sense all of those events happen instantaneously–and as I have suggested in The Spreadsheet Illustration, it can be understood as all happening simultaneously–it is Einstein who said that time exists so that everything would not happen at once, but if the nature of time is such that time travel is possible, the reality is that everything does happen “at once”, and time exists so that we can experience the causal chains in the order in which events cause each other.  So in that sense the moment Burglar kills Grandfather, Traveler ceases to exist, but his non-existence can only be discovered by following the causal chain to the moment when he fails to arrive in the past.

I hope this clarifies the problem and the solution.  I should mention that we previously addressed the matter in relation to a supposed “multiverse” solution in web log post #81:  The Grandfather Paradox Problem just over a year ago.

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MJY Blog Entry #199: Time Travel Movies that Work

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #199, on the subject of Time Travel Movies that Work.

A few weeks ago, one of my readers specifically asked what time travel movies I thought actually worked, temporally.  My musings on this were interrupted by an extended hospitalization, but I have felt for a while that I ought to be writing something about time travel and for various reasons have not been able to obtain copies of any new time travel movies, so here’s a review of some of the old ones.

Paul Nigh’s ‘TeamTimeCar.com’ Back to the Future DeLorean Time Machine

Let’s clear out a few issues first.  The first two Terminator films, and the third, were all “workable”, but they required a tremendous number of less than probable events.  That is, if we were in the world where the onscreen stories were occurring, we would know that we were in a statistically unlikely world, but if we were in the world from which those events might have arisen we would be very foolish to trust that things were going to work that way.  A lot of our movies are like that, and I’m not going to include a lot of movies which “work provided a lot of improbable events occur”.

There are also a couple of movies that land on the time travel desk which “work” because either there is no time travel within the film (although time travel issues are raised) or we don’t know any details about it.  Terminator Genisys [edit] Salvation is noteworthy in this regard, as there is a lot of concern over what happens if Kyle Reese is killed before traveling back to become John Conner’s father.  Also in this category is the very enjoyable Safety Not Guaranteed, in which we are never entirely certain whether the machine actually does travel in time until the end.  These are good movies and technically time travel movies that work, but do so because the time travel is outside the frame of the film.

The first movie that genuinely impressed me as near perfect was Twelve Monkeys.  It still is impressive, although there are problems with it that I missed because I had not yet recognized them.  Perhaps the biggest is that it appears they are using a time travel projector/collector, and as we saw in Timeline they are seriously problematic.  That problem is resolved if, as we suggest in the beginning of our Twelve Monkeys analysis, the return trip is not initiated from the future but based on a timer that determines when he returns.  So although there are more caveats than there once were, this is still on the list of the better films.

Source Code genuinely blew me away, because it works brilliantly–but not as a time travel story.  Explaining what it actually is would be a major spoiler, but if you have not seen it, do so, and then read the analysis.

I genuinely love Eleven Minutes Ago.  It is a quirky independent film in which a time traveler accidentally crashes a wedding party, falls in love with one of the bridesmaids, and woos her by returning to the party in eleven minute segments out of sequence.  The most difficult part of this film is the card trick, but even that has a better than even chance of working.

Also on the list of films that work is Los Cronocrimines a.k.a. TimeCrimes.  It is certainly temporally convoluted, but with a few not entirely unreasonable assumptions we obtain a working story.  The time machine itself in this instance suffers from the same problems as that devised by H. G. Wells:  once someone is using it, why are they not inside it if someone else tries to use it to travel the same temporal path?  However, since no one knows a way to travel through time, we tend to avoid looking too closely at the methods suggested.

That is also the main problem with Time After Time, in which H. G. Wells pursues Jack the Ripper into the twentieth century.  The end of the movie might create some genetic problem issues, but that is beyond what we know from the film.  Of course, this works largely because the time travel is only at the beginning and not part of the larger story.  There are a few temporal hiccoughs in the beginning, though.

I should mention Back to the Future, the first part.  It has some nonsense in it concerning what happens to the photo and to Marty when it appears that his history is being undone, and in the end it should not be the Marty we know but the affluent Marty who grew up in that affluent home whom we see in the future, but otherwise this does a reasonable job of producing a replacement theory story.  The sequels are fraught with impossibilities and problems, but I saw the original at its twenty-fifth anniversary showing and thought it stood the test of time, even though this was the second analysis (the third film) I had written.

The Star Trek movies deserve mention, particularly Star Trek IV:  The Voyage Home.  There are some problems with it, but in the main it holds together.  The other three time-travel-based films in the series are all over the map, from the disastrous Generations to the slightly problematic First Contact to the challenging Star Trek (2009).

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was a surprise because I knew that the time travel in the book did not work, but discovered that because of one small change that in the movie did.  It’s not perfect, but its functional.

I also need to mention Flight of the Navigator, which lands on the list because we are provided with the A-B timeline only, with Davey being delivered to the beginning of the altered C-D timeline at the end of the film.  That of course changes everything, and we don’t see how, but we can envision a solution to the time travel problems (indeed, more than one), and so reasonably can include it in movies that work.

There are other time travel movies I like and would recommend, not because they work easily but because they’re funny (Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel, Blackadder Back & Forth) or engaging (Happy Accidents, The Time Traveler’s Wife) or intriquing in their ideas (The Jacket, Next), but you can read my analyses of those and many other films, along with theory discussions, correspondence, and other articles, indexed from the main Temporal Anomalies in Popular Time Travel Movies page.

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