Date: Wed, 21 Oct 1998 01:48:36 -0700 (PDT)
Hello, I am a media student doing research on twelve monkeys. I recently came across your page on the Internet, about the time travel involved. First I have to say it is an extremely intelligent piece, well thought out and well informed. But that is the problem.
The reason I am doing twelve monkeys is because I feel I understand it impeccably, this includes the time travel. But I have to say I think you are wrong. I really do like the line : "Without a temporal viewer of any type, they cannot discover history without changing it, and therefore the history they discover is the one which they have created. " However the whole point of the film is that the past cannot be change, just observed differently, your entire study is overcomplicated. When watching 12 monkeys it is important to understand that you are not watching a convoluted timeline, a mistake that everyone makes, but James Cole's very own personnel timeline.
The reason he saw the man (himself) shot in the airport is that it did happen. The theory that you cannot go back without affecting the future couldn't be more wrong, if you are to go back, you have already affected the future, that you are in. If you are to go back then at some point in the past (of the timeline that you are in) you appeared there, and anything you do will contribute to the making of the future that you came from, the entire basis on which 12 monkeys is founded.
This also explains the overused "kill your Grandfather" paradox, the point is you can't, as you have already gone back.
The alternate and divergent timelines theory is desperately flawed and probably wrong, so the young Cole did see himself die, Dr.Railly did see Cole in a picture taken in the 1st World War, and therefore had seen him before ( although this is explained later, in the cinema, apparently a reference to "Vertigo", that she knew him from then, a memory from the future.)
I know that the divergent/parallel time lines is probably established scientifically, and me saying it's wrong probably means you are not even reading this, that I am pretentious enough to challenge conventional thinking, but it doesn't mean its right, a few hundred years ago people KNEW the world was flat. (While I'm on the subject, you mention time slowing down as you reach the speed of light, this ones wrong to, and I know its Einstein, but that still doesn't make it true. Either he was seriously misquoted on the theory of relativity or he was just wrong. The point is time is relative to the observer, if at light speed what you are travelling away from APPEARS to remain static, your time stays the same, except from the point you are moving away from, from there you are static.)
One more thing the only internal inconsistency I can see in 12 monkeys is "Bob" (what you have called him), there are 3 theories explaining this one, only one without fault. 1: "Bob" is a figment of Cole's imagination, Cole being as crazy as a loon, both hearing voices in his head, and talking to them, the homeless guy is also nuts and it is happy coincidence he believes he is from the future and that the teeth are how they tracked him (this one raises question on the entire film as Cole could be a class A nutbar.) 2: "Bob" is from the future, a superior who is sent to watch Cole, and is merely pretending to be a whacked out hobo, and somehow he manages to talk to Cole in the airport toilets, either through cranial or wall implants. 3: "Bob"s addition into the film is to raise concern among the audience as to Cole's sanity and is therefore not bound by the constraints of narrative consistency.
I understand that you won't believe a word of this as everyone, especially the knowledgeable, generally refuse to believe that they are wrong. However feel free to comment or even argue, just e-mail me.
Thanks for your note about my Temporal Anomalies site. I welcome the thoughts of my readers, and enjoy the dialogue.
I'm guessing that you read one or both of the 12 Monkeys pages, but little of the other material on the site; there have been a few letters arguing, as you do, that the point of the 12 Monkeys film is that time cannot be changed. As I recently wrote in response to a letter from Holger Thiemann of Denmark, "first, it may be that characters in the film hold an opinion which is not intended to be the point of the film; second, it may be that the film makes a point which is not what the author or producer believe; third, it may be that the author of a story is trying to prove something which is not true." I've expanded that there, and will let you pursue it there.
However, perhaps it will help if I give you an overview of a few things related to my site which you may have misunderstood.
In writing the Multiverser role playing game system, I spent some time considering how that game should handle time travel. I had some ideas forming from the "paradoxes" I'd seen in several time travel movies, but the occasion to put pen to paper on the subject forced me to bring these into focus. I developed a theory of time lines which was unlike any I had encountered elsewhere, and which solved all of the common paradoxes without resorting to the extreme answers which had been put forward by others. Once the game was published, the publishers asked me to be involved in promoting it, and I thought that one of the things which could call attention to the game (especially among the science fiction contingent) was a web site which applied those temporal anomaly theories to well-known time travel stories. This site was the result. Thus a major aspect of what is happening on this site is that I am examining the time travel stories told in popular movies, and using my theories to trace timelines. What I see is that my theories usually explain time better than the theories put forward by others, often including those which seem to be in the minds of the writers who create these films. More importantly, my theories make several fundamental assumptions about reality which if not true would invalidate much of our science and our common sense perception of the world.
The principal thing that I assume relates to the linear nature of time and the reality of causality. Put simply, we experience time as linear, with "before" and "after", "future" and "past" because that is the real nature of time. A person born in the year 2100 has a history which moved from the past to the future. That person cannot go back to 1900 before history has moved from 1900 to 2100 and beyond to the moment of his trip; therefore, at the moment he is born, he has not yet gone back to 1900, and the history of the world is such that he did not arrive in 1900. If in the year 2130 he steps into a time machine and goes back in time, he will suddenly appear in 1900, and so will change history, if only by his mere presence in a time in which he was not and could not have been. Note however that there is a necessary chain of causality. To thumbnail it, in order for him to arrive in 1900, he must leave 2130; in order for him to leave 2130, he must be born in 2100; in order for him to be born in 2100, his parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and previous ancestors back to and before 1900 must have in turn been born, matured, and produced progeny. In short, he cannot be in 1900 until all of the history from 1900 to 2130 has come into existence.
The second thing is like unto the first. I assume that it is not possible for someone to come from the future to the past without altering history. Given that in 2100 there was a history in which this infant had not gone back to 1900, the moment he makes that trip back to 1900 (from 2130), that history is destroyed, and a new history is written. The way my theory handles this is to observe that the trip backward through time must carry all of time with it--the history from 1900 to 2130 is undone, and must be redone; the world must relive those 2.3 centuries to implement all of the effects of that change. By the time 2100 comes around for what from the outside appears to be the second time, but to all who live in that age save the time traveler himself would be the first time in an experiential sense, the child, if he is born, comes into a world in which he did arrive in the past; yet he is not destined to go back in time. If his trip into history has changed something which will affect him in the future, it may be that he will not be born, or that having been born he will not go into the past in 2130, or that going into the past in 2130 he will do and change different things in different ways. In any of these cases, history is altered again, and must be replayed to incorporate these changes. However, if the traveler is born, makes the same trip, and does the same things, he confirms his own history, and time will "stabilize", in the sense that the events in the future now cause their own history, instead of altering it.
You have mistaken my theory for the notion that each trip back into the past creates a new universe, and that any changes made in the past are not made to traveler's history, but to the history of another world; and if traveler moves forward to the time he left, he will be in the future of that new world--but by this theory, the old history still exists in another world, a world which he has not changed at all but that he has left it and can never return. I do not know whether this is plausible; however, I do know that it is not really what we mean by time travel. It is clear that if you and I build a time machine and I enter it, if this theory is true, I will never arrive in your past. I will arrive in the past of that alternate universe, in which an alternate you will exist--and no one has explained to me what happens if in that alternate universe the alternate you and I don't build the time machine, or indeed why it wouldn't be that there would now be two of me in that alternate universe, one of whom grew up in it (possibly was born after my arrival in the past), and the other displaced from the original universe. By my theory, there is never more than one universe; it's just that its timeline doubles back on itself and is rewritten whenever anyone moves to a point in the past.
You have defended the theory which you state is the theory of the movie (which I've addressed), that the events of the timeline are fixed, that James Cole must come back in time and be shot because he saw it happen when he was young. You also state that because the timeline is fixed, it would not be possible for me to go back in time and shoot my grandfather, because I've already been born in the future, so I must fail in that effort. I'm afraid that you have in one fell swoop demolished both the concept of causality upon which all of our science depends and the notion of free will on which we base our perception of choice in life. If what you are saying is true, then the pot of water which boils on the stove does not boil because you put it there and applied heat; rather, it was destined to boil, just as you were doomed to put it there and turn on the heat, and to be deceived into believing both that you could have done otherwise and that your actions had consequences. If that is so, you wasted your time writing to me about it, because you could not change my opinion unless my opinion was going to change, in which case you did not change it; but then, you were destined to write to me, and could not avoid it, because you had already written. The research project on which you are now working will either be completed or not completed, but nothing you can do will make a difference as to whether it is or is not--but then, if it will be completed, then you will be unable to stop working on it, and if it will not be completed, your labor is vain; and if you stop your work, it is because you were doomed to stop. You have no control over anything by your theory. You do what you do because you are doomed to it; but the consequences are not effects of your actions, but entirely independent events which were destined to occur but which have the illusion of having been caused by what you do.
You're confused. Stop and consider it again. In order for James Cole to go back into the past, he must be born, and he must grow up, and he must be selected for this mission. Cole, who has a partial first grade education, perceives himself as being in the past, in a time which is fixed and cannot be changed--yet in gathering information, he does things which any reasoning person would realize must change the past. He is not merely an observer. He is a recorded mental patient whose name is on official police and hospital records. He is an interactor with other persons who trade ideas and information with him. He informs a number of people that the plague is coming--and although they don't believe him, they have received information about a future which has not yet happened and which they could not have before Cole steps into that time machine in the future. He swallows a spider, reducing the arachnid population. If you want an account of all of the minute changes which he must make, take a look at the discussion of Millennium, where we talk about how impossible it is to go back in time without changing the past. No, Cole is changing the past with every moment he is within it.
You have limited the ability of man to do what it seems he should be able to do. You say that were I able to go back in time, I could not kill my own grandfather--yet you cannot explain to me why I would not be able to do that, other than to suggest that that's not the way it happened. Nothing I will do in the past has happened before I step into that machine; once I do, all of that begins to happen. So what is to stop me from going back to Mississippi in the early part of the century, finding my grandfather, and killing him with the high-powered scoped rifle I brought back with me? Would you say also that I could not kill Lee Harvey Oswald before he shot President Kennedy, even though I know where he was and when? If I make an attempt to kill either of these people, will I be thwarted by some unlikely sequence of coincidental events--which to my mind can only mean that God will Himself intervene to stop me? Or will I be stopped by the local police or other people? And if so, won't my mere attempt to kill one of them do as much to alter history as would have been done by my success? "Then there was the time some nut came after your grandfather with a rifle unlike any that had been seen before. Government took it, used it as the model for those guns they shipped to France at the beginning of the Great War. Those Germans were really slaughtered--that gun was probably the main reason why the war only lasted four months." You cannot explain why it would not be possible for the past to be changed by someone coming from the future without once again undoing causality and free will.
Yet I've found a way to explain how causality and free will can be maintained, by having history roll back and rewrite itself until it stabilizes. From the perspective of the future, it will ultimately appear that it was always that way; but that's because the way it had been has been forever erased, replaced by the altered history. However, this is already a long letter, there is more to your comments to address, and much of what you would need to know is already up on the thirty-some-odd other pages on the web site. If you'd like to understand it, look there.
I should summarize this by saying that whether or not Terry Gilliam was trying to say that the time line is immutable, I believe that it is mutable, and that my theory explains his movie better than that theory does.
Concerning "Bob", I believe I treated him quite properly as what he appears to be. He is another member of the team of independent time travelers being sent into to past to try to learn what happened and where. Cole is not crazy, and Bob is highly neurotic but not psychotic; their timelines interlock in complex ways, such that of two conversations they have, one is Cole's first with Bob, and the other is Bob's first with Cole. Bob is not Cole's superior, although he could have been sent to watch Cole on at least one of his missions; he's also not a nut case--he's actually right about the tooth, or else they would not have needed the phone call to track Cole's location at the airport. No, Bob actually works quite well taken exactly as he presents himself, with the caveat that you understand that his sequence of events does not match Cole's.
As far as challenging conventional thinking, please continue to do so. But don't confuse my theory with that. As far as I know, I'm the only one currently defending it, although several other individuals have acknowledged it as a viable alternative not known to them before they encountered my pages. I don't believe that anything has been established "scientifically" regarding divergent or parallel timelines; however, I do think that my theory creates the first cohesive framework for explaining how someone can alter the past of his own world while maintaining these basic critical concepts of reality.
Concerning the slowing of time, I'm afraid that Einstein is correct, and your conventional common sense notion is mistaken. The reason time slows down as you approach the speed of light mechanically has something to do with the motion of vibrations and orbits, but that's more than I would dare try to explain. The theoretical proof has to do with the nature of the speed of light under Relativity--no matter how fast you go or in what direction, any light shining in any direction will be measured by you as traveling at 186,000 miles per second. Were you able to move at 185,000 miles per second in the same direction as the beam of light, it would appear to be moving at 186,000 miles per second relative to you; it would be moving at the same rate relative to those back on earth whom you left behind. The way this is possible is that your seconds slow down as you speed up. Unfortunately for you, this is a critical part of a theory which predicted many things which did not then exist or were not known but have since been discovered, including nuclear fission, nuclear fusion, anti-matter, lasers, and a host of others--none of which could exist if Einstein's theory was wrong on this point. Also, it has now been proven directly. The reason we build particle accelerators is because the theory works. There are a number of sub-atomic particles which come into being and live for infinitesimal fractions of seconds--too short for us to observe them. A particle accelerator moves sub-atomic matter at upwards of 80% of the speed of light. At these velocities, the particles become increasingly massive, and for them time slows down, so that what they experience as a life span of a tiny fraction of a second we observe as several seconds, long enough for us to learn about the nature of these short-lived particles.
And you have a very jaded view of intelligent and educated people. That's unfortunate, because I suspect that you are well on your way to becoming one of us. I'm no physicist; I'm a philosopher, really, with degrees in theology and law. But I've tackled a lot of the science and the fiction, and I've changed my views in the past, and will do so again in some ways in the future, most probably from encountering a scenario or idea from someone else which requires an explanation I don't have. Granted, there are people who will not accept that they might be wrong. Long after the A-bomb destroyed Hiroshima, and fission power began heating homes, and stellar radiation was understood through spectral analysis to be the result of fusion, and lasers became playthings of the entertainment industry, and particle accelerators slowed time for sub-atomic structures, and positrons and other anti-matter particles were identified, there were people writing that Einstein's Theory of Relativity had produced no evidence to support itself--you said nearly the same thing yourself. It is possible that my theory of time lines is incorrect; it is possible that Relativity is incorrect. The proof of that will be that something will come up which the theory should explain and can't, and then we will be looking for a new theory which explains all that the old theory explains plus this new information. It was once thought that Newton's Laws of Motion explained all motion in the universe. We have since discovered that the motion of light and the motion of subatomic particles unknown to him were not explained by that theory. However, Einstein's theory does explain the motion of those things, while at the same time it shows that the inclusion of the velocity factor as a fraction of the speed of light necessary in all these calculations is such a small number when applied to the objects known to Newton that the difference in the outcome is too small to measure. I'm sure that whatever theory explains whatever we have not yet discovered about the universe that Einstein cannot explain will include Einstein's work as a starting point (and Newton's as well), and modify it in a drastically new way which will apply in all cases, but be insignificant in those which Einstein already explained. As to my theory, I'll not be so bold. I will say that the two theories which seem prevalent--the immutable timeline and the alternate world--are both entirely inadequate and unacceptable. But I think I'll stick with mine for a while, at least until a) some temporal anomaly is suggested which can't be unraveled and/or b) some other theory is proposed which does at least as good a job as mine.
Again, thanks for your note. I hope you can follow mine, and look forward to whatever reaction you may have--although I should warn you that many intelligent objections such as yours find their way to my web pages now; I expect to add yours there within a few days.
P.S.--I should mention, in case you missed it, that the Multiverser role playing game--recently described by one game critic as "unlike anything I've seen before"--is described on the web. Given that it was the inspiration for all this, I would be negligent in not pointing you to it.