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the ever-evolving time travel post

Happiness is...
An hour long discussion with the man about time travel.

I've always gone with the multiple timelines theory, but life_on_queen argues there's a single timeline in the TSCC verse. So after a brief "single timeline!" / "multiple timelines!" exchange, I took the discussion to real life and mentioned it to the man. He wasn't interested in talking about it. "Single timeline," he said. "Let's watch TV."

Augh.

I grabbed pen and paper, started drawing diagrams and talking about Derek and Jesse. Next thing you know, the man is all into it, grabbing my pen and paper and drawing his own diagrams. Much debate and pages of back and forth scribbles later (with a very annoying pen that kept refusing to write), he declared there must be multiple timelines (and also "let's watch TV").

Here is a coherent version (I think) of what we came up with:





I got to pondering when exactly a new timeline is created. When my husband and I were discussing it, we went with a new timeline being created as soon as someone arrives. Really, we both agreed that the new timeline wouldn't be created until the time traveler actually did something to affect the future. But without knowing how significant such an event has to be, we went with the butterfly effect/chaos theory — that the slightest alteration of anything could result in a chain reaction that leads to a different future. Therefore, a new timeline is most likely created as soon as someone arrives (especially since time travel in the terminator world involves electrical disturbances, big holes cut into the landing spot and naked time jumpers walking about).

The problem with that is it doesn't mesh with T1. In that, the terminator and Kyle did not arrive simultaneously. The terminator arrived first and, by this theory, would have triggered a new timeline. If that had happened, though, Kyle would not have been able to intercept him and Sarah likely would have been killed. Well, that's no good.

For the sake of the film, it looks like I'm going to have to skip the chaos theory and wait for something bigger to trigger a new timeline. Of course, the terminator kills some punks very soon after arrival in T1 and that's clearly action that would impact the future. But I'll have to wash that away by suggesting their deaths are irrelevant until other people are affected by them or until the punks missed doing something they would have done had they not been killed. Since they were out partying, it's possible they would have passed out and not been missed at all until the next day when Kyle had already arrived. It's very thin logic, but then again, we're dealing in the theoretics of time travel as applied to a 24-year-old work of fiction :P

Soooooo... in the terminator universe, a new timeline is not created until something significant has happened (as a result of the time traveler's presence) that causes a chain reaction of events that alters the future's previous path. That doesn't necessarily affect my diagram since I'm dealing in years and not specific dates. But it does mean that it's possible for a time traveler's original future to remain intact for a period of time, allowing someone else from that same timeline to follow them. It also opens up the possibility that not every time jumper actually creates a new timeline.

To put that into a specific TSCC example, it could be that the discovery of Andy Goode's death was the thing that finally caused a new timeline to emerge from Derek's time jump. Or it could be that Vick actually came from the same timeline as Derek and it was his killing of Barbara that caused a new timeline. Whichever it was, that would also be the point, then, that Derek's original future was closed off (people from his future could no longer get to the timeline he's in now). And that brings us to Jesse. She and Derek clearly share some memories, but they also have different memories because the future was altered. Well, if her future was different then she could not have come from the same timeline that he did. She came from the new timeline created when Andy Goode was found dead (or Barbara or whatever event it was that created the new future).

This Jesse never actually knew our Derek. And our Derek never knew her. She knew the young Derek who's now just a kid in the current 2007 timeline. It's technically the same Derek, but since his future is changed to some extent, he won't end up the exact same person as our Derek — he won't ever know Billy Wisher, for example. Likewise, Jesse's not the exact same person our Derek once knew either. This Jesse is also just a kid someplace in 2007 who will grow up in a future that's different from the one in which she knew our Derek. Make sense? Heh. Probably not. Don't worry. You don't need to understand it. I've got it all worked out right up here *taps head* ;)

One last thing I'll throw in here is that I don't really see timelines as being these rigid lines fanning out away from each other. I think they're more like spiraling paths that intertwine and can even intersect. If Derek and Jesse share identical memories of any specific event, for example, that could be a segment where their different timelines actually overlapped. Of course, that also means it would theoretically be possible for someone to jump from one timeline to another. But in order to do that, they'd have to actually know where and when those timelines intersect and I can't think how that would be possible.





Comments

( 28 comments — Add a comment )
zanpakto
Nov. 29th, 2008 07:51 pm (UTC)
Is the timeline is changed everytime they send something back? Does that timeline that already happened get erased? Or can that possible future still affect the past by sending something back to a point in time. I get confused easy, I need pictures. I'd love to draw it out with T1,T2,T3 included someday. My dry erase might not be big enough.

Oh isnt it next week we find out terminators are sent way into the past? lol. benjamin franklin terminator.


roxybisquaint
Nov. 30th, 2008 04:21 am (UTC)
The way I view multiple timeline theory, the timeline that the time traveler came from would not get erased. It would still exist, but the people in that timeline would never be able to access the new timeline that gets created when someone time jumps backwards. In other words, a new timeline starts at the point where the time jumper landed. The people from the original future could still travel back in their timeline, though.

That might make more sense if you look at the diagram I've added to my original post.

roxybisquaint
Nov. 30th, 2008 11:18 am (UTC)
Actually, I've had to alter my thoughts on when a new timeline gets created because of time travel issues with T1. If you're up for it, I added a rather lengthy explanation in the original post.
zanpakto
Nov. 29th, 2008 08:08 pm (UTC)
It would be cool if they built more hidden time machines, weapons & bunkers like that. Because right now, they don't have a good plan to fight.

I just thought of this....If sarah and john jump too far back or forward, then they might get stranded. John needs to be there for the war at the right age he will be in order to send people, terminators, build time machines. Its not like the Delorean, where the machine goes with. If he ever does a major jump he needs a tech to go with him, or skynet might win in his absence.
roxybisquaint
Nov. 30th, 2008 05:15 am (UTC)
Well I think the reason they aren't spending time formulating plans for what to do after judgement day is because they're focused on stopping judgement day. But I'm sure Sarah has contingency plans ("That's my mom. She always plans ahead." - John from T2).

Also, I don't think we have to worry about more time machines popping up. Having Sarah and John jump forward to get them to present day was a nice device to set the series up, but if they did more time jumping themselves, I'm sure there would be much eye-rolling among the fans. It's bad enough we've got new people and machines popping in all the time.
trinfaneb
Nov. 29th, 2008 08:30 pm (UTC)
In S.M. Stirling's T2 follow-up novels, Skynet believes the whole timeline situation exists because of "the persistence of "several alternative world-lines" coexisting in "a state of quantum superimposition." I haven't been able to grok everything into a unified theory myself, but this sounds better than anything else I've heard thus far.

roxybisquaint
Nov. 30th, 2008 03:56 am (UTC)
I liked the sound of "several alternative world-lines" coexisting in "a state of quantum superimposition" so much that I had to go do some reading about it. That lead me to quantum superposition and multiverses, which is apparently the theory that I've been all into. At least now I know what to call it ;)
trinfaneb
Nov. 30th, 2008 06:17 pm (UTC)
I'm glad I gave you something to think about :) I wish I had the math ability to understand quantum superimposition myself. Very interesting diagram and theories. I wonder if the various Terminator writers have ever put this much thought into this issue? :)
roxybisquaint
Nov. 30th, 2008 07:59 pm (UTC)
Oh me too (wish I had the math ability to understand it). I find quantum mechanics fascinating, but can't grasp it the principles behind it.

Heh. If TSCC writers were concerned with timelines they wouldn't have screwed up simple dates so quickly in the series. But I get the feeling James Cameron put a lot of thought into it. I think he settled for a paradoxical loop in a single timeline, though. This has to happen because it did, kind of thing. The problem I have with that is it runs counter to "The future's not set. There is not fate but what we make." He wanted it both ways ;)


miniglik
Nov. 29th, 2008 11:21 pm (UTC)
Ah, mr miniglik and myself discuss time travel quite often. It's fun.

Personally, I never buy into single timeline predestination paradox theories. I think they're potentially infinite looped timelines which can gradually stabilize into what looks like a single timeline, but was previously many alternate timelines which gradually evolved into a timeline that depends on time travel for consistancy (i.e., Kyle is John's father, John sends Kyle back). Although, in this case I do not think they stabilized into a timeline that repeats itself in a stable manner (I think even the first movie changed things -- that originally Skynet did not develop from the the T-800's hand -- because I can't fathom John Connor knowing about the hand/microchip and not warning his mother to make sure all pieces of the Terminator were destroyed).[/tangent]

However, the best Terminator-related conversations I've ever had with my spouse were regarding the organization of post-apacolyptic humanity's fighting forces. Where they'd hide, how they'd organize, what parts of the world would be harder hit. Etc. Fun times. ;)
roxybisquaint
Nov. 30th, 2008 03:13 am (UTC)
Yeah, seems to me that any single timeline theory either has to go into the hokey Back to the Future idea (that changes in the past make instant changes in the same/original future) or it's a fate/predestination thing where you can't affect the future. I don't find either of those plausible.

Oh, good point about John not warning Sarah to destroy all the T-800 parts! That really never occurred to me. Then again, there are lots of things John could be telling Sarah via time travelers that he never does. But I agree that there had to be an original timeline to the story where Skynet does not develop from the hand and chip left at the Cyberdyne factory. I also think the first John Connor (who sent Kyle back) would have had a different father.

I updated my post to include a diagram if you're curious what we were drawing.
spectralbovine
Nov. 29th, 2008 11:45 pm (UTC)
Awesome.

My roommate and I once did this with 12 Monkeys. We used a whiteboard.
roxybisquaint
Nov. 30th, 2008 02:46 am (UTC)
Oh man... 12 Monkeys. Now there's a mind twisting timeline. I can see why a whiteboard would be needed!
cisaac
Nov. 30th, 2008 07:08 am (UTC)
This timeline diagram makes complete sense.

And it makes my brain hurt at this time of night. I'll digest it again tomorrow.

It is spiffy, though.
indiefic
Nov. 30th, 2008 11:19 pm (UTC)
In that, the terminator and Kyle did not arrive simultaneously.

They arrived the same night. I don't know about simultaneously. They did the Terminator's arrival, killing of the punks, etc, first, but then they switch to Kyle landing in the alley and breaking into the department store. It's the same night. I suppose the case could be made that they did land simultaneously, but the events were shown out of order. Dunno. Hmm.

As to all the different timelines, the Terminator universe is nothing if not a total mindfuck (and BAD BAD BAD at math. God, in a fandom so dependent on dates, the people with the IP rights really need to pay more attention to their own details.) Personally, I don't know that the idea of linear time really works at all in the terminator universe. With the discovery of a way to jump to different places in time, it becomes fluid, concurrent rather than linear. If actions taken by someone decades in the future can affect present day, then from my point of view, the two timelines are happening simultaneously rather than in succession and aren't necessarily completely dependent on one another.

I think that made more sense in my head before I tried to write it out.

Personally, I like the idea of the multiverse, that every choice by every person (or terminator) creates a separate alternate reality and that all of those realities co-exist simultaneously. But that's just me ;P

And that brings us to Jesse. She and Derek clearly share some memories, but they also have different memories because the future was altered.

I'm still withholding judgment on Jesse at this point. Primarily because I think she's a liar. It's impossible to figure out if she came from Derek's future because I don't trust a single word that comes out of her mouth.

And on the same note, I'm still not convinced that there isn't a future where the now-11-year-old Derek meets Billy Wisher. Maybe Wisher is a terminator programmed to think he's the human formerly known as Andy Goode. (I don't find that scenario particularly likely, but I'm not counting anything out in this universe.)

Kuddos for all the mapping. You rock.
roxybisquaint
Dec. 5th, 2008 05:55 am (UTC)
They arrived the same night.

Did they? I thought it was daytime when Kyle left the store. Oh wait - I remember the cop shining his search light now.

the people with the IP rights really need to pay more attention to their own details.

For real. It drives me crazy when they make simple mistakes with dates. Also when they change dates fro seemingly no apparent reason.

--

Okay, so about this time travel thing (which I seem incapable of wrapping my head around tonight)...

I like the multiverse idea too, but I don't necessarily see every possibility for the infinity of time as co-existing simultaneously. I think at any given moment, every possibility exists for the next moment, but maybe not beyond that. Each action keys the next set of paths. In a sense, they all coexist theoretically, but not in actuality.

I see our terminator story is being told in the past, not the present. It's "once upon a time" with time twisty elements. Each time someone new arrives from the future (which is really the present), it signals how the path changed.

Or something like that ;)

I'm still withholding judgment on Jesse at this point. Primarily because I think she's a liar. It's impossible to figure out if she came from Derek's future because I don't trust a single word that comes out of her mouth.

Yeah, she's a liar all right. And I guess it is possible she came from Derek's future and is just fucking with him. What makes me think she actually is from another future, though, is that if she's not, Fischer went along with the con. I wouldn't rule that out, but I think it's a less likely scenario.


indiefic
Dec. 5th, 2008 01:02 pm (UTC)
edited for clarification
And I guess it is possible she came from Derek's future and is just fucking with him. What makes me think she actually is from another future, though, is that if she's not, Fischer went along with the con. I wouldn't rule that out, but I think it's a less likely scenario.

I'm mostly just frustrated by all the Derek/Jesse/Fischer action because I think it really is the most concrete illustration we've had to date as to how the actions of John, Sarah and Derek are possibly changing the future and yet ... I find Jesse and Fischer to be such unreliable sources of information that I don't really trust anything they say or do. I think that even if there is a grain of truth in what they're saying, they're both probably distorting the facts to suit their own needs.

Oh and so I started thinking about this too, but every time Jesse talks about the future!john!connor and Cameron, it's always in present tense, like Cameron was still with future!John when Jesse jumped back. Again, she's a LIAR!, so I don't know, but if that's true it complicates the whole thing even further because she Cameron may have jumped farther back in time than Jesse or Derek but actually have done it from a place farther forward in time than either of them.

I have no faith that any of that made any sense. Apologies. It's early and I'm woefully undercaffeinated.

Edited at 2008-12-05 01:04 pm (UTC)
roxybisquaint
Dec. 6th, 2008 08:42 pm (UTC)
That all made sense, actually.

Don't forget about bloody future soldier, though. I think that was a pretty big clue that the future had changed for the worse. My assumption is that he got shot as he was going through, which would mean either the resistance's time travel facility was being overrun by metal at the time or, more likely (I think) there was a battle raging between 2 factions of the resistance. If my theory is true, I fully expect a reveal at some point that it was Jesse herself who shot that soldier as he was going through. And then she probably followed him.

I've also thought about Jesse's future!John/Cameron comments and have wondered if she comes from a future where Cameron has been with John for 20 years. I discounted it, though, because then it wouldn't have made sense for Jesse to say to Derek: "imagine what he'll be like if he spends the next 20 years with her." For Jesse to come from a future where that was true and then say that to present day Derek would mean she already knew they were from different futures. And no matter how much she may lie or pretend, I don't think she could know that. So it's probably just that in Jesse's future, John captures and reprograms Cameron sooner than that he did in Derek's future. His use of the metal has been going on longer and is more widespread and problematic.

Your idea of Cameron coming from a point further ahead in time is a cool one. That's not a possibility I'd even considered. So far, everyone seems to have come from 2027, but that could make things interesting if one of the mysteries surrounding Cameron is that she's from a later date. I'm not sure what the implications of that could be, but I think I like how that could set her apart from all the other time jumpers in terms of what she knows about future war eventualities. If the future keeps changing, Cameron could have come from one in which everything is the reverse of Kyle's experience in T1. Instead of the resistance having practically won the war, it could be that Skynet had practically won the war and Cameron came through in a last ditch effort to reverse things.

(Deleted comment)
roxybisquaint
Mar. 9th, 2009 08:38 pm (UTC)
had me outnumbered. He's on my side now. We've got you outnumbered.
(Deleted comment)
roxybisquaint
Mar. 11th, 2009 02:26 am (UTC)
I agree that T1 poses a paradoxical loop — this has to happen because it already did. But we also have: "The future's not set. There is no fate but what we make for ourselves." Which is why I think James Cameron essentially wanted it both ways.

A continuously-evolving single timeline that always will have John Connor leading the resistance doesn't work for me because I put more weight into "no fate". So I go with the notion of there having been an original timeline where Kyle was not John's father. From a story standpoint, it's not quite as awesome as the paradox, but once you get past the starting point, multiple timelines work much better (and are more logical to me).

So the way I reconcile the two is that the future is wide open and anything can happen, but if it plays out a certain way, then the path we know will be followed. Skynet could be stopped before j-day because the future is not set, but IF j-day comes, John Connor's fate is to lead the resistance.

Edited at 2009-03-11 02:27 am (UTC)
(Deleted comment)
castellan_craft
May. 13th, 2009 01:42 am (UTC)
I know I'll be a dissenting voice here, but I wanted to chime in because a previous fandom of mine dealt extensively yet almost inadvertently with time travel.

To me, I always viewed the Terminator franchise through the idea of the "Circular Timeline" due to the paradoxical nature of the kick off movie. I know this sounds ordained, but it really isn't. To quote some wonderful fan fic a writer known as "Sepdet" wrote in that old fandom of mine: "...Will time start repeating itself? Will we hit a terrible contradiction and explode? Will everything start unravelling?" ... "Ah. It would not be repeating, Marrim. Because it is a circle, not a spiral."

Certain things are ordained: Suns die, planets die, worlds are born, life develops, lather, rinse, repeat. Individual lives are not set.

Imagine if Sarah Connor keeps fighting to stop Judgment day. She initiates more events like the death of Miles Dyson and the destruction of Cyberdyne's research. It puts it off, but it doesn't stop it because this advancement is set in the natural course of things. Even if it gets put off until after her and John's life spans, it will not be the end of the world. Someone will take their places. They are an archetype that mankind cannot help but unconsciously fill.

By sending Kyle Reese back to initiate the birth and creation of this perfect soldier for mankind, the circle didn't break... it contracted. Things that might have taken longer spans of time were quickened and unnecessary events were removed from circulation. There was going to be a savior because there already was. Torching Cyberdyne in T2, on the other hand, expanded the circle: they were given more time.
roxybisquaint
May. 14th, 2009 01:06 am (UTC)
I totally disagree, but I don't imagine you're surprised by that :P

The first problem I have with that theory is it lumps technological advancement (and more specifically, the development of Skynet) in with the natural order of things. But technological advancement doesn't happen independent of man's choices, so it's not part of the natural order of things.

There's a difference, for example, between the work Miles Dyson was doing in T2 and the work Andy Goode was doing in TSCC. Cyberdyne's chip would have been used in an advanced computer system sold to the military that ultimately would have started a nuclear war. Andy, if left to his own devices, may never have done anything like that. He wanted to understand this AI he'd created and had he had a chance to do that, it may never have become Skynet. In both situations that drive to make an advanced AI existed but the outcomes might have been entirely different because of the choices of the people developing it. That proves to me that it's not a circle.

The other problem I have with the theory is that it writes off Sarah and John as irrelevant: John isn't needed because, whether he exists or not, someone will save the human race from extinction. And Sarah isn't needed because she doesn't have to train and protect him. But without them, there is no Terminator story.

castellan_craft
May. 14th, 2009 01:48 am (UTC)
Totally expected of course. XD

"...technological advancement doesn't happen independent of man's choices, so it's not part of the natural order of things."

It's not even the "technological advancement" that is necessarily in the natural order, but the inevitable conflict is due to the existence of the choice to do wrong. When thinking of circular times lines, you have to think reeeeally broad. I'm not saying people are incapable of making the right decisions and putting all their work towards good. I'm saying that when you have billions of lives with billions more to come and each has so many choices laid out in front of them, whether or not it's days or generations on, one of them will make the wrong choice. Andy's Turk might not have been Skynet, but the second it hits the world, how long will it take for one person out of billions to decide that something similar could be used in an aggressive way? Somewhere out there, at least one person wants another dead.

The circle contracts to drop conflict from circulation once world peace ensues. It expands again to include it once one angry arse with enough charisma to get people to follow him comes along. It's always in flux.

I'm not saying the characters are irrelevant. They matter because we place value on them. Just looking at the story in these broad terms is bloody boring and like staring distantly at a chess board just watching the cycle of the game play out before a new ones starts, and another, and another. It only gets interesting when you sit the Knight down and get his story about how he'd die for king John Connor and how he wasn't expecting the Queen to be so normal when he was sent back 5 squares to protect her. The archetype catches people's attention because they are patterns that we as human beings have built. They are typically the foundation on which we can suspend our disbelief while it's the details that make us actually care.

I suppose a better example in the tiny microcosm that is my bedroom would be if Sarah & John Connor never "existed"... if for some bizarre reason in some alternate dimension James Cameron never shared his story with the world, I'd right now be plugging away reading the latest chapters of Girl Genius to fill the void and seeing how Agatha Heterodyne plans to save the world from the Clanks and Constructs that the mad scientists let loose during an industrial revolution gone wrong instead of writing Terminator fan fic in another window. XD
(Anonymous)
Jan. 29th, 2011 07:57 am (UTC)
The T-800 in The Terminator would have failed at killing Sarah Connor.
If only the T-800 shows up and Kyle Reese doesn't, Sarah Connor goes out (with or without that guy on the answering machine) and her roommate stays in. The T-800 arrives at the address, thinking the roommate is Sarah Connor. The T-800 kills her. Sarah Connor lives. The end.

Cut to next timeline:

Kyle Reese arrives. He stalks Sarah Connor. Sarah Connor gets spooked. Sarah calls her roommate. The T-800 hears the message and realizes that this bitch (the roommate) isn't Sarah Connor. The T-800 goes looking for her.


It is only because Kyle arrived, that Sarah's life is in danger.
roxybisquaint
Jan. 29th, 2011 05:51 pm (UTC)
Re: The T-800 in The Terminator would have failed at killing Sarah Connor.
Ooooo interesting. Yeah, it's Sarah leaving a message on the answering machine that tips off the T800 and she wouldn't have done that if Kyle hadn't been following her.

It's possible the terminator would've looked through the house to confirm the identity of the woman he'd just killed and discovered that it was Ginger (in which case he would've been back on Sarah's trail). But at the very least, events would've played out differently and Sarah must survive each iteration or there would never be a John and Skynet would have no reason to send the T800.
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