Saturday, May 31, 2014

"Classic Time Travel Paradoxes (And How To Avoid Them)"

Because the last thing you need is some grizzled old time-traveler looking at you and sneering "Rookie".
(it's all about how to think) 

From Quirkbooks:

Author's Note: I assume that some day, this article will serve as an invaluable guide and warning for our time traveling ancestors-to-be (who will of course be unable to read books and learn these lessons for themselves, either because [a] all the books will have been burned, or [b] kids will have stopped reading books entirely, because grumble grumble, god damn kids, when I was your age, video games, blah blah, detriment to society, buncha hooligans, kids these days, no respect, etc). In the meantime, just enjoy it for all of its delightfully entertaining/convoluted/paradoxical pleasures.

As anyone who’s anyone who’s read any time travel story ever could easily tell you, time travel is a tricky subject. Temporal paradoxes might seem simple and straightforward at the start (no they don’t), but they always devolve quite quickly (linear time-wise) into some sort of trippy, philosophically complicated, timey-wimey conundrum that makes even the most convoluted middle school relationship make sense by comparison. Come to think of it, maybe the reason that all those cool kids in middle school suffer from impossibly complicated and melodramatic romances to begin with is because they’re all too “cool” to read time travel stories in the first place, which would obviously teach them the benefits of temporally linear dating, if nothing else.
I’m looking at you, River Song.

For the most part, any paradox related to time travel can generally be resolved or avoided by the Novikov self-consistency principle, which essentially asserts that for any scenario in which a paradox might arise, the probability of that event actually occurring is zero -- or, to quote from LOST, “whatever happened, happened,” meaning that no matter what anyone does, they can’t actually create a paradox, because the laws of quantum physics will self-correct to avoid such a situation. Still, I’m wary of such a loose explanation for things, and so below, I’ve compiled a list of a few of the more popular time travel paradoxes -- and what to do to avoid them.
ONTOLOGICAL PARADOX: Also known as the “Bootstraps Paradox,” an ontological paradox arises when a person or object is sent through time and recovered by another person, whose actions then lead to the original person or object back to the time from when it came in the first place, thus creating an endless loop with no discernible point of origin. Thus, the original person or object is essentially “pulling itself up by its own bootstraps,” hence the nickname (thanks in no small part to the Robert Heinlein story “By His Bootstraps”).

Example: The Terminator films are a prime and popular example of the Ontological Paradox. In the future, a Terminator is sent back in time to kill the mother of resistance leader John Connor before he is born. While the original T-800 is ultimately destroyed, the leftover pieces are found by scientists who use the technological to...develop and create Skynet, and the Terminator-series robots. Skynet would have never been created if Skynet hadn’t taken over the world and then sent a Terminator back in time to get destroyed and ultimately lead to the creation of Skynet. Trippy, right?

There's also the fact that Future John Connor sends his buddy Kyle Reese back in time to protect his mother from the T-800, only Kyle ends up totally bangin' John's mom (dude high five! I mean, not cool, man) and impregnates her with his buddy John Connor. So to top it all off, if John hadn't sent his friend back in time, his friend would never have had sex with John's mom, and John would never have been born (meaning that Kyle Reese is either the best or worst friend, ever).

How to Avoid: No one’s really sure if a real-life ontological paradox would lead to some massive hemorrhaging of spacetime, or if the closed loop is kind of automatically self-corrected since it all works itself out evenly in the end anyway. Still, better to avoid these kind of complicated situations, and the best way to do that would simply be to stop taking candy from strangers -- “candy” in this case being mysterious or alien artifacts with questionable origins, possibly given to you by mysterious people who may or may not come from the future. See? Maybe all those warnings that your Mom gave you when you were a little kid still mean something today. Or maybe all along she was just trying to prevent you from sending your friends back in time to sleep with her. Or perhaps encourage it....MUCH MORE
Also at Quirkbooks "Worst-Case Wednesday: How to Jump from a Building Into a Dumpster".
(they are the home of Worst-case scenario)

For more on how to think we have on offer:
Logical Fallacies (or How to open your mouth without removing all doubt*)
Infographic: Rhetorical Techniques and Logical Fallacies PLUS How to Win Any Argument
The Greatest Soccer Match Ever!

We've visited the topic a few times because, as I said in 2007's "Supporting ethanol: a profile in courage? Call the Police!":
I am reasonably competent at manipulating language and other symbols, and in recognizing the techniques of rhetoricians and homilists.*
Sometimes though, politicians baffle me.... 
*Sting nailed it in "De Do Do Do De Da Da Da"
Poets, Priests and Politicians
Have words to thank for their position
Words that scream for your submission
And no-one's jamming their transmission
'Cos when their eloquence escapes you
Their logic ties you up and rapes you...
-The Police