Subject: Metaphysics of 12 Monkeys
Date: Thu, 22 Oct 1998 00:08:06 -0400 (EDT)
From: "J. Seiler"
After reading your articles in depth, I must question your true unbiased-ness in regard to a movie and ITS plotline/timeline. I, along with an entire lecture on MetaPhysics, recently wrote detailed essays on 12 Monkeys and The Terminator. Focusing specifically on 12 Monkeys, we concluded that THIS MOVIE presents a static view of time. The "becoming my own grandfather" aspect becomes possible in this way, in that, time IS. It did not change, for it could not change. There was not an original timeline which morphed into the present one, that which is, simply IS. If I am my own grandfather, then I always was. I had not the choice to NOT become my own grandfather, and if I, as a youth, looked at a picture of my grandfather, I'd have seen myself in however many years. A static view of time, such as presented in 12 MONKEYS, makes this all possible. There needs not be a reason for an action. The action cannot be reasoned. The action simply MUST BE. It always was and always shall be. It cannot be changed.
A simple way of looking at this is to state the following: "If I go back in time and change something, it was always so, and it was necessary for the past to happen as it did.
If you have questions, comments, disagreements, etc. on this matter, feel free to e-mail me. Oh, and be sure to e-mail my MetaPhysics Professor, Dr. Dennis Weiss, while you're at it...Thank you!
Visit my Website: http://coyote.ycp.edu/~jseiler/index-pro.htm
"If a man is bald at the front, he is a thinker. If he is bald at the back, he is sexy. If he is bald from front to back - he thinks he is sexy."
Jason Seiler--with the requested carbon to Dr. Dennis Weiss--
I am flattered that you took the time to examine so much of my web site (however much constitutes reading my articles "in depth"); however, your gentle accusation that my approach is biased suggests that you missed the primary point of it all. To focus that point very specifically: I am not trying to explain the way movies present themselves; I am trying to present a novel theory of temporal anomalies, which I believe provides explanations for time travel paradoxes far better than any I've encountered elsewhere. I originally propounded this theory in an appendix of the Multiverser role playing game (of all places), and from that time to this I have not heard of anyone suggesting this approach before or since in any other publication, although given the information explosion it is possible that I've duplicated someone else's work.
I've just written an extended reply to another letter, in which I again explain my problems with the static timeline approach; that material should be posted in the letters section of my site within a few days, but it's an issue I've addressed in at least one previous letter. In short form, our perception of reality includes not merely that time is linear and progressive, but also that causality and choice are both realities. The static time line theory falsifies all of these perceptions--time is neither linear nor progressive, and causality and choice are both illusions. Does the water boil because you put it on the stove, or did you put it on the stove because it was destined to boil? Could you have chosen not to put it on the stove, and had you done so, would it have boiled anyway?
Even granted that the static timeline theory explains the paradox of the man becoming his own grandfather, you'll find it is destroyed by the paradox of the man killing his own grandfather. Your only solution to this is to suggest that somehow it could not be done. The "somehows" seem to come down to either no one could conceive such a thing (which our discussion alone proves is not so--it could be the most painless and effective approach to suicide ever discovered, since it will make it so that not only will I never be unhappy, but indeed I never was unhappy, either), or that (however you phrase it) God won't allow it. Now, I know that you'll phrase it to suggest that circumstances would prevent you, or you would change your mind, or you would fail in the task, or someone would intervene, but in the final analysis, if a hundred people tried to kill their own grandfather before he could sire a child, and every one of them failed, it would be ludicrous to suggest that it was all coincidence. You must at that moment determine that God has prevented it--and I think history is replete with examples of things people thought God would never allow (and I have two undergraduate degrees in religion).
My point has been to demonstrate that if time travel is possible, there is a theory which maintains causality and freewill, which is based on the premise that time is sequential but not immutable. It does predict that certain actions have the potential to destroy time itself beyond the future terminus of the irregular time event, and in that sense there are some things which are not possible; it also recognizes that many of the fictional applications of time travel--notably intentionally changing the past--may create complicated situations through which they may either fail or destroy time, but are not likely to succeed.
The primary testing ground of my theory has been the time travel presented in popular movies. In each case, by unraveling the time lines as my theory would predict them, I present the limits of my theory in contrast with the limits of the major competing theories. Although I frequently conclude that particular events in a given movie are impossible, it is not because they are paradoxical but rather because they depend on events occurring in a future which can never be reached due to the destruction of time prior to that point. Also, because my theory assumes that history is mutable, it is often the case that a movie shows one history--either the history before the change (as in Flight of the Navigator) or the history after the change (as in Terminator 2)--and that sometimes history will not have stabilized, but will need to be altered again into a third variant, or will become caught in a loop in which each history causes the other, neither able to stand as a history upon which a future can be built (the most common way in which time is destroyed).
Thus your implication that I have failed in my attempt to present an unbiased consideration of a movie's own theory about time is misguided. I made no such attempt to present or support what might be the theory in each movie; in some cases, I was not certain whether the film had such a theory, and in the case of 12 Monkeys I have elsewhere argued that the notion put forth by James Cole might not be the theory of the other characters in the film, nor the theory of Terry Gilliam--it might be presented to demonstrate its flaws. I did in places refer to a movie's theory about itself, especially when that theory breaks down within the film itself; but my intention is to present and illustrate a theory which I believe can be applied successfully to the storylines of most time travel tales, which unravels paradoxes of all types, preserves what we perceive of time, and maintains a reasonable semblance of causation and free will. At the same time, it's rather a simple explanation of things which I think would probably pass the test of Occam's razor.
However, if you put your 12 Monkeys/Terminator essay on the web, I'll be glad to link to it so that my readers can have your thoughts as well.
I apologize if this sounds like repetitious ramblings. I've been up most of the night writing an extended response to much of the same idea. If you'd like to pursue any of this, let me know--I've been given a good run for my money already, but it seems the challenges get tougher as the game progresses, and thus far I've been up to them.
Thanks again for your interest.
By the way, information on the Multiverser role playing game--recently called by one reviewer "unlike anything I've seen before"--is on the web.