Time Travel in Fiction Rundown

Time Travel in Fiction Rundown


This video is sponsored by the YouTube Red
Sci-Fi Series “Lifeline”. For ages I’ve been wanting to make a video
analyzing time travel in fiction – not the magical or physical mechanisms by which the
time travel is supposedly achieved , but rather, the different ways time travel can influence
causality (and thus the plot) within the universe of each story. Needless to say, there are spoilers ahead! Let’s start with Ender’s Game by Orson Scott
Card – time travel in this book is actually 100% realistic: the characters experience
slower passage of time when they travel close to light speed, allowing just a few days or
months to pass for those traveling while years pass on earth or other planets. It’s traveling forward through time like we
normally do, but at different rates. This kind of time travel doesn’t “change the
past” or allow characters to make different decisions than the ones they already did – it’s
all one consistent historical trajectory. The original Planet of the Apes film is similar,
where astronauts experience extreme time dilation and then crash land on a strange ape-ruled
planet that (major spoiler) turns out to just be earth in the distant future. But what about actual time-travel time travel? Well, I would say there are two big distinguishing
features between different types of time travel in fiction. The first is whether or not the time traveler
is there when history happens the “first time around” – that is, is there a kind of “self-consistency”
where, since time travel takes you to the past, when the past happened the first time,
the time-traveling version of you was always there to begin with? Or does the very act of time traveling to
the past change what happened and force the universe onto a different trajectory of history
from the one you experienced prior to traveling? And the second distinguishing feature is:
who has free will when somebody is time traveling. Like, whose actions are allowed to move history
onto a different trajectory, and whose aren’t? One of the simplest time travels is “do-over”
time travel, where you essentially get to re-play history starting exactly as it was
at a certain point, with the only caveat being you remember your experiences from already
having tried various possible future timelines (while no one else does). It’s essentially like playing a video game
where you can start a level over with the foresight of what you did wrong the first
time. For example, in Groundhog Day Bill Murray’s
character relives the same day over and over again, and though he can make different choices
each time, he always starts back at the same point (except with new memories of his previous
choices). That is, until he figures out the one exact
set of choices that frees him from the loop. I consider “A Christmas Carol” to be in this
vein, too, even though it may not seem like time travel. But because Scrooge gets to visit the future
of his current timeline, even though he has no ability to affect the timeline directly
while “visiting”, he can still change his actions in the present based on what he learns,
essentially getting a “do-over.” The video game Braid is built on the idea
of “do-overs”, where you get to rewind a few seconds and try something different
(though there are some things that are immune to going back in time and don’t “rewind”,
which is what makes the game interesting). Braid also has another kind of time travel,
where you go back to your past as a separate individual, and the past version of you is
there with no free will, just doing exactly what you did the first time around, while
“time-traveling you” can change the course of history. This is also how the video “Clock Blockers”
by the Corridor Digital youtube channel works. And then there’s time travel where the very
act of going to the past or future creates a fully new trajectory of history because
time-traveling you weren’t there the first time around, and now you are. This includes the typical “anything goes”
time travel movies like Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Back to the Future, Star Trek First
Contact, and so on, where you can kind of instantly jump back and forth to any point
in time you want, potentially resulting in multiple versions of yourself. From a causality perspective, anything you
do in the past (and even just the act of going back in time) redirects the course of history
onto a new timeline – in Back to the Future, Marty’s interference with his parents falling
in love results in the timeline of history being redirected towards a version of the
future where he doesn’t exist and so he starts to disappear from photos and real life. And even after correcting that major deviation,
his interactions with his parents while he’s in the past result in them being very different
people when he returns to his present time; he accidentally caused history to progress
in a slightly different direction. The movie ”Looper” is similar, but there’s
a little more circularity because when you jump to the past, you cause history to branch
onto on a trajectory where, in the future, the younger you also goes back in time the
same way you just did. Both you and your past self still have enough
free will to change that forward course of history, though, which results in weirdness
like you getting new memories when your past self does things you yourself didn’t do, or
if they lose a body part, suddenly you’ll lose it too, replaced by an old scar on your
own body. So, changes to the present affect not just
future timelines, but also future timelines that wrap back around to the present! The indie film Primer is in the same vein,
except that it takes the plot device of time travel to the extreme, with time travel within
time travel within time travel, time-traveling characters interacting with other time-traveling
versions of themselves, bringing time machines with them to the past inside other time machines,
and so on. But beyond the complexity, there are two things
that make Primer stand out: first, time travel to the past isn’t an instantaneous jump, but
actually takes time: to go back 6 hours, you sit in the time machine for what feels like
6 hours. And time travel can’t take you back to a time
before a given time machine was initially activated, since of course, the machine can
only be taking you back in time inside it if it’s turned on, so the first time it was
turned on is the farthest back in time you can go. There’s a nice logic to it. Which brings us to perhaps my all time favorite
of all fictional time travel: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. It’s an “instantly jump back in time” kind
of time travel that doesn’t actually generate any new timelines. It manages that because in this universe,
while you were experiencing your initial, pre-time-travel passage through a particular
point in history, your “time-traveling clone” was also already there, doing everything you’ll
eventually do when you time travel yourself. For example, Harry and friends are saved from
dying by their time-traveling selves, the first time through that timeline. It makes so much sense – if you go back
in time, you really and truly were present at that point in time all along! This also means that during the period of
overlap, the time-traveling you has no actual free will, since everything you do has in
some sense already been done, which Harry comprehends when he realizes he has to save
his past self because he was already saved by his future self when he was in the past. I think I love this kind of time travel because
it manages to be logically consistent: it’s time travel to the past where you can’t change
the past, because the past already happened. And there’s only one timeline – the one
in which time travelers arrive from the future, do stuff, and at some later date, leave to
go to the past. Logical consistency is a primary thing that,
you may have noticed, I think lays the foundation for good time travel stories – not because
logical consistency is important in an of itself, but because, most of the time, in
order to care about the characters in a story, we have to believe that actions have consequences. If everything is just a meaningless series
of events, then we almost don’t have a story. So it’s really helpful if there are rules
by which the universe of the story functions, whatever those rules may be. Speaking of actions with consequences, I finally
got the kick in the pants I needed to make this video from my friends at the Corridor
Digital YouTube channel. They’ve asked me to help promote their new
YouTube Red Original Series, “Lifeline”, which, minor spoilers ahead… is a sci fi
action thriller with time travel in it. What kind of time travel, you ask? Essentially, if somebody dies in the future,
that sends a message back to the present, which allows people to jump forward to just
before the time the person dies and change the trajectory of history from that point
onwards, averting their death. But as you might imagine, things eventually
go awry. Anyway, you can check out the first episode
of Lifeline for free on the Corridor Digital channel or by following the links onscreen
or in the description . And fun facts: I actually know the Corridor guys from back before MinutePhysics,
when I was doing special effects for the “freddiew” channel. We also all grew up in neighboring towns in
Minnesota and even competed against each other in high school sports , though we didn’t know
each other at the time. But enough trivia – go check out their
show!

100 thoughts on “Time Travel in Fiction Rundown”

  • LJ NumberFifteen says:

    Could the opposite of the first example of time dilation exist as well? So instead of travelling really fast and experiencing only a few months as everyone else experiences years…. is there a way you could experience years where as everyone else experiences on a few months?

  • omg lifeline??? i started watching it with someone but i dont remember who lol, was it mi ex?? no wonder why I stopped 🙁 but the concept was interesting, it got me hooked

  • Red v blues new seasons are really good at good time travel similar to Harry Potter where time travelers cause the events of history to happen and then completely shatter it by creating a paradox that stops the time travelers from time traveling it completely blew my mind at how well they set it up

  • Dárius Ducký says:

    With that Harry Potter time traveling there is an one paradox that im always thinking when im thinking about time traveling xD….
    So the paradox or the thing is… who started going back to past….
    For example you are living yourlife, but then your future YOU will came to the past (you from future… we will call it you2) so you2 went to past and he is telling you, you will die, so you save yourself and then you have to do the same because you2 told you, you are gonna die so you became you2 and you have to do the same… save your past you… but the same thing happened to the you2… that's how it happened you2 "got rescuied" by the other you…. but tho was the first you? Who all started it? Who started the whole thing because you2 rescued you but who rescued you2? you3 and who rescued you3? you4…. and it goes and it goes to the infinity and that's the paradox.

    I hope you underatand that xD

  • Wait see its losing me cuz how can one save themselves from something if in the future they have to travel back to the past to save themselves. Its like saying I was gonna get hit by a car when I was 5 and killed but 50 year old me came back to save 5 year old me to make sure that doesn't happen

  • As much I love Prisoner of Azkaban, time travel in HP is actually not that consistent and I'm not even talking about the paradox of future Harry saving past Harry because that is acceptable in time travel fiction.
    The thing is that in the original timeline Sirius and the hippogriff are both executed, while after the time travel intervention they escape. In the original timeline Harry and friends experience some of the consequences of their time-traveling selves' actions (like future Harry saving them from the dementors or future Hermione throwing pebbles to warn them at Hagrid's house) but not the final consequence that was Sirius and Buckbeak escaping. That doesn't make much sense. If there is only one timeline then the time travellers actions would create only one series of events and one final resault from the start. It seems more like a mistake than a paradox or anything else.
    Cursed Child on the other hand follows the Back to the Future rules where every action of the time travellers in the past creates each time a totally different future. I didn't like the book but I think the time travel stuff there was more consistent.

  • Some Random Max Fan says:

    Also Dragonball is a time travel series where you make a new time and can go back and forth without going into another time.

  • Everybkdy sayin endgame n steingate

    But Dark o netflix brought me here😂

    Though ive always wondered about time travel tho

  • So re. Prisoner of Azkaban – if Harry Potter went back in time and saved himself, he existed in the past along with his past.
    But the issue now is that he has created a time loop that Harry Potter is stuck in forever with just one timeline.
    First Harry Potter is saved by his future self. Then this saved Harry Potter experiences passage of some time and eventually reaches the age/point at which he travels to the past. Then he saves himself in the past and this repeats ad nauseum.
    Unless I'm missing something, this seems quite bad imo.
    Personally the best Time Travel movies I've enjoyed are – Time Crimes (a spanish time travel film), Retroactive (starring Jim Belushi, a low budget but fun time travel movie), 12:01 and couple more like that.

  • Man, wish you could see the time travel in Steins;Gate. The concept is instead of sending a body back in time, send your consciousness back to your body in a point in time (so you consistently know of changes as you retain memory – there are no two instances of you in that timeline).

  • Jeff Hardy Rosal says:

    But what about Men in Black 3, where Boris goes back in time to kill Kay, then Jay goes back to time again to save Kay?

  • Everything is happening at once. There is no such thing as time. Your current experience is only a perception. Think about your so called past self, your current self, and your future self…what really is the difference? Only position…your position in space/reality is the differentiation between your current experience, your past and your future. If you were to move through the cosmos at light speed, you would see that so called time is relative…the only reason why you are experiencing "now" is because your momentum is at a point of almost static speed…so, how would one experience an earlier "time" or position? Not to move at the current static speed or faster, but to move at a negative speed or a slower vibration then your current state. How is that achieved? Probably through some form of meditation.

  • The time travel that you explained from Harry Potter is actually what is present in Bill & Ted; not the "anything goes" type of time travel.

    The reason is because both the titular characters before they first use the time machine, the future versions of themselves meet them, bragging about how "awesome" their journey was, and how they said the exact same things their past selves, who they were talking to, did. "We didn't believe it either when we were you; and we us said what you us said right now!" "69, dudes!"

    Not just that, but also when Ted was looking for the key to his dad's jail complex, he found it in a place his future self put it to make his past self find it very easily. Which after the prison escape, Ted said, "We need to remember to go back in time and put the keys right where we [our past selves] found them".

    What happened in Bill & Ted didn't change the course of history also because the titluar characters travelled to the future where they got to see the utopian good future before they even did what they needed to to make it possible yet (by passing the History report). This means the timeline really was one in which the characters had no free will and everything happened with no alteration into alternate futures.

  • A while ago I read a book that had another different approach to time travel. You can only travel in the past, where your consciousness replaces that of your past self. From the point of your arrival in the past a new timeline diverges, while the original timeline remains unchanged. But once the amount of time that has been traveled back has passed in the new timeline, both timelines merge together. The physical events of the original one are overwritten by the history of the new timeline, while all sentient beings of the new timeline 'regain' their awareness/memory of the old timeline.
    I have yet to see this particular concept anywhere else and found it very intriguing to read.

  • let me tell you. about homestuck.
    it includes 2 different ways of time travelling. there's the self-consistent kind, like in harry potter, AND the history-altering one, like in back to the future.
    then there's also a third variant that isnt exactly time travel but has similar results.

  • How about if you travelling back to the past, it creates a new time line which will replace the time line that you came from, that means you won’t exist, because of the butterfly effect, every small changes can result in large differences, it creates a large conflict. So in this case, Is time travelling still possible?

  • “Christina, it’s me again, Hououin Kyoma. It seems the organization sent an intelligent YouTuber to find out our time traveling ways. Yes. Of course. Well I’ll call again if I see something else strange. El Psy Congroo.”

  • You skipped a very popular one that makes no sense at all and makes its own rules whenever they see fit. That's right, Dragon Ball. You should have used it as an example of how a time travel story should not be made.
    BTW, funny you mentioned Star Trek: First Contact but didn't explain the Kelvin timeline (or should I say universe?).

  • But it's not consistent because the only way harry could save himself in the past is by knowing that he needs saving in the first place. He needs to be saved first in order to know that he needs to be saved which can't happen because he wouldn't have been saved.

    There is a lost thread there, his future self that still exists despite not being saved to save himself for the first time.

  • I hate the 'already changed the past' because it enables an infinite number of self-causing events that are really bullshit but cause the audience to feel 'profound'. In other words self-causing events are like rhetorical questions, designed not to be answered so the asker doesn't sound stupid.
    If you're time-traveling to the past then change something, otherwise a memory sequence or post-cog would work better.

  • And about story consequences, you could make it so that there are restrictions on the amount of time the machine can go, like primer, and the amount of times it will work, like the sci-fi story I'm writing,(it's only in paper draft at the moment, cyoas are difficult to write online)(also it's called 'Doorhinge' if there are any questions,) where characters set up return points at certain points in time and then return to them later, thusly causing the return points to lose change and become useless.

  • 5:50 No, it deosn't. BECAUSE its the first time History gets to that point, meaning in order for their other version to safe them, they would have to survive in the first place, but since they wouldn't without their other selfes, that means they should've all died right then and there which means they can not create other versions of themselfes to save them.

    Alot of Fiction gets timetravel completely wrong. I know that its just made up scenarios and ways it might work, but even then alot of it writers just get completely wrong. In reality, the truth is that you can never go back, only forward. Even if you were to move backwards, you're still moving forward, just with your back turned.

  • Seriously, it it's so irrealistic (Relativity Bois will understand) why it's so widely used in movies?
    I miss the old sci-fi, like Verne and Asimov, that was realistic.

  • I like harry potter's time travel as well.
    It's like they were destined to travel time, editting their past didn't change anything because it was destined that their future selves would save them.

    Good logic.

  • Oeshen Playz1036 says:

    is it impossible to kill yourself in the past because you would be already bead before you time traveled and your time travel would be dead and also where did the first loop came from and if you time travel in the future and go to the past you wont see yourself in the past you went to and going to parallel universes would make you stay there until you did what you did before you went there.

  • Now I'm actually half concerned and half curious about to what extent writing a time travel system that resembles the time travel system of an existing story would count as plagiarism. I know copying actual mechanisms and events is an obvious no-no, but what I'm wondering about is the more "abstract" aspect discussed here. If I wrote a story where the logic of time traveling is similar to another story's, because I think it's the most consistent way to do it, or even because I've simply been influenced by stories that I like to think about it happening that particular way, and thus end up creating (a) similarly structured timeline(s) in the context of an entirely unrelated plotline, would it somehow be unethical or illegal? This is something I'd never considered before that popped into my mind after watching this.

  • I've been a huge fan of Corridor for the better part of a decade, so to randomly find an unrelated video that praises them right off the bat, warms my heart a bit.

    I was going to watch your video anyway, but still 😛

  • Unteradmiralcaptainensign says:

    I think, when one travels back in time to change historical path, is actually the timeline acting on itself and possibly collapsing.
    You see, there are two states I know of that the timeline could be in.
    1. Locked in, written.
    2. In a state of flux.

    1. If the timeline is already written, there’s no going back, no escaping unless the timeline lets you.
    In the Flash, (mass spoiler)the Flash himself attempts to save his spouse from being murdered by taking different courses of action, when these were actually supposed to happen. This is when the timeline is already written and there’s no escape from it, no matter what. Everything you’d be doing was supposed to happen as written in time.

    When the someone time travels and somehow changes it’s path, it’s the timeline automatically collapsing on itself, allowing a new one to be surfaced.

    2. When the timeline is in a state of flux, anything can happen, paths could easily be changed and any minor event can change the entire course of it. So when you time travel, you actually break it. Other timelines could also easily surface and erase this one out of existence.
    Choices would also be matter of “luck” or the timeline choosing a path itself. When you change this you break it entirely.

    I favor the written one, where everything is supposed to happen.

  • it is a shame you didn't mention 12 monkeys (even more convoluted than harry potter) or the arrival the ability of remembering the future

  • ali mohammad kebriadar says:

    Yes that's exactly what I think, for example in 12 monkeys the only thing they need to do to stop the events is stop travelling

  • Daniel MacDougall says:

    Sooo with the harry potter one, my question is: when did the 'first' iteration of harry jump back? Like, the first version of the timeline surely had to exist without the time travelling harry in order for it to reach the point where they travel back in time for the 'first time' (I'm thinking along the lines of the bootstrap paradox)? As I'm typing this I'm realising how difficult it is to explain any time travel concepts so apologies if this makes zero sense…

  • A beam of light only live for 3 years (relatively to it), a trillion of millions of years for anything else, so, travelling at the speed of light won't feel like "days" … it will feel like an instant.

  • You miscategorized Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. One of the major factors is that going back in time DOESN'T change the past. That's how they are able to exploit actions their future selves will do. In fact, the rules for time travel in that movie are the same as those in HP:PoA.

  • harry potter still has questions like: how did they survive to go back and save themselves in the first place? and, if they allready survived then why go back to save yourself again?

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