Saturday, May 8, 2010

Temporal Anomalies in Time Travel Movies

This is my new favorite website:

Check out every Time Travel Movie and why it works or doesn't work according to the laws of physics. I haven't read it all yet but it seems 12 Monkeys and Millennium follow the rules while films like Minority Report are completely torn apart. I recommend it highly.

Here's an excerpt from the Minority Report section:

"If you've already read the material on Frequency, you're aware that information traveling from the future to the past can be as damaging or even more damaging in time travel terms than people doing so. Viewed this way, Minority Report is an unmitigated disaster, a collection of hundreds of anomalies none of which can be resolved.

The core concept of the film is that psychics are able to predict the future. Three in particular, victims of drug use by parents which affected their unborn minds, have visions of emotionally charged events in the short-term future, especially murders. Using very sophisticated mind/machine interface technology, an experimental police organization is able to view these visions, identify people and situations from them, and arrive at the scene of the crime before it happens. They then arrest the perpetrator prior to the murder. Often this happens at the last moment, as the fragmentary visions are pieced together just in time to stop the attack. Yet these authorities are not unwilling to arrest someone a week before his crime, if they have the information in time.

It is evident that as a time travel situation this creates paradox upon paradox. Agatha and the twins, our three psychics lying in the tank and seeing the horrors of the future to come, receive images of an event, a murder, and pass these images to their keepers. The keepers act on those images and prevent the murder from being committed. Yet if the murder is not committed, the images cannot exist in any real sense. Thus if the murder is prevented, the images don't exist, and the psychics cannot see them; but if the psychics cannot see them, the police cannot be warned, and the murder cannot be prevented. Each time a murder is prevented, an infinity loop is created, and time is trapped in the anomaly.

There is another striking problem in all this related to the main story. Tom Cruise' character, Captain John Anderton, is seen in one of the visions killing a complete stranger. He does not understand why he would kill a complete stranger; but it is obvious that he is going to be arrested for it immediately, although the event is a week or so away and appears to be a planned murder, not a crime of passion (as most are now that everyone knows you will be arrested before the murder if you plan it). He runs; he puts a lot of time and effort into trying to discover who this victim is and why he would kill him. He kidnaps Agatha, the best of the three psychics, to help him in this. Ultimately he finds the man. It appears that the man is the kidnapper who took Anderton's son some years before. Anderton decides not to kill him, but to arrest him. Then things really start falling apart, as it now appears that this man is not the kidnapper, but was set up to look like it so that Anderton would kill him; and that the man is intent on dying, because he has made a deal with some unnamed person who will care for his family if and only if Anderton kills him. The result is that the man kills himself with Anderton's gun, and of course the police are already on their way, completely unaware of the truth of the situation.

The problem in this is that the cause is dependent on the result. That is, why does Anderton kill the man? He would not do so were he not there. He would not be there had he not attempted to find out who the man was. He would not have sought the identity of the man had he not seen the vision of himself killing the man. In the end, Anderton kills the man because he kills the man. We're fooled by the sophistry of the causal loop, sold the bill of goods (popular in fixed time stories) that because everything in this story has a cause in the story, it's all plausible. It is not plausible, because there is no cause outside the loop that will start the loop. Further, this is not and cannot be a fixed time story if the psychics are seeing actual future events, because in that case the best that could be done would be to have the police arrest the criminals immediately after murders which, in fixed time theory, they would have been inexplicably helpless to prevent (another problem in fixed time theory).

It helps in these situations to do a reverse negation of the causal chain. If Anderton does not see himself kill the man, he will not investigate. If he does not investigate, he will not discover the man's identity or location. If he does not discover the man's identity or location, he will not be in the room. If he is not in the room, he will not kill the man. If he does not kill the man, the psychics will not have the vision. If they do not have the vision, he will not see himself kill the man. There is no cause outside this chain that can trigger it.

Such chains can be created, under the theory of this site, by an original causal chain which is erased by altered circumstances. Perhaps someone calls Anderton with an anonymous tip regarding the man who kidnapped his son. Anderton responds, kills the kidnapper, and so creates the image for the vision. This image appears while he is in the office (creating the CD timeline) and so he has a new information source leading him ultimately to that man at the right time and place. In this case the victim is shot anyway, as the police arrive too late; thus the vision is preserved (possibly in altered form--now Agatha is in the room with him, although see more on this below) and this is a brief sawtooth snap terminating in an N-jump.

Apart from this one death, all the other arrests create infinity loops, if viewed as information traveling from the future to the past. However, there is reason not to view it this way, and this reason saves the movie."

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