August 29, 2003

Time Travel Fun

Over at Crooked Timber, one of the contributors, Brian, is apparently going to be teaching a course at Brown this coming semester on...Time Travel. He warms up any prospective students by taking on the Back to the Future Trilogy...

Modifications to my obvious misremembering of the article's argument and conversations in BTTF itself are italicized in the text. Thanks to Blacksheep for pointing some of them out. Of course his theory about merging Martys stands on its own irregardless of my goofs. Thanks!

Being a fan of time travel books and movies, I like the first two of the three BTTF movies. Number three, in my opinion, was really just "let's put Marty, Doc and Biff in the Wild West". But the first two movies are eminently watchable, and as Brian points out, as you watch them, the paradoxes don't really enter into your mind. It's only later that you begin to wonder about the logical gaps.

I recall, years ago, there were a couple of articles in a magazine , of which I can't even remember the title, that dissected the two movies in terms of the time travel anomalies.

My recollection of the article is hazy, but the author did, by necessity, take a few liberties to explain away the inconsistencies that Brian outlines in his own thesis. I'll just stick to the first movie, the second one is even more convoluted.

The basic thrust is a many-timeline universe with some modifications. Concentrating on the first movie, Marty starts in 1985, and goes back to 1955. He changes history (by getting hit by the car himself) so that, if things go on, he will not exist.

And thus, Marty begins to "fade" as we see in the course of the movie. Once his existence is assured, he returns to normality. And since he, in 1955, moved past the branching point, when he goes back to the future...he goes to his new future, in 1985.

So where IS the Marty that should be here? That long ago article suggests he went back to the past and by turns wound up on the other timeline.


The author did some handwaving to suggest that he went back to the future *before* Marty interferes with the timeline that creates the better future. He cites that Marty II probably drives better than Marty I given the fact that he owns a car of his own, and thus does not crash the car, and likely manages to turn around and get back to the present. However, when Marty II moves forward in time, he slides up into Marty I's future...because his future does not exist "yet", in 1955.

Talk about Dystopia! Doc is dead, and unless he handles the plutonium himself to reload the car, he's stuck there with his less-successful parents and life.

All of this talk about Time Travel and the conservation of stuff reminds me of the role playing game Continuum, which I would like to run someday. It does neatly handle a lot of time travel paradoxes without invoking Multiple Worlds. (In point of fact, the antagonists of the game seem to be trying to create such an environment by their attempts to change history). The unpublished companion game, Narcissist, seems to have been designed to show the side of the bad guys.

Posted by Jvstin at August 29, 2003 10:25 AM