Time Travel Science & Technology

Time Traveler Marty McFly seen her with time machine inventor Doc Brown.  Back to the Future, 1985.
Back to the Future image courtesy of Universal Pictures.


Time travel transporter technology is killer...no, really.

Image of Federation crew members materializing on the transporter pad in the original Star Trek series.
An image of the death trap...I mean "transporter" on the original Star Trek series. Image courtesy of Paramount Television.

You're not really going to step onto that transporter platform, are ya?

by Garry Murdock

 

I've been having this discussion...well, kind of an argument, with a colleague at work.  His name is Geoff. He's big into sci-fi, like me,  and we've talked a lot about time travel theories like the grandfather paradox, time travel technology, black holes, movies, books, etc. 

The argument we're having is about the transporter technology on Star Trek.  Have you ever thought about how the transporters work? I mean, really work? It seems simple enough:  The computer scans you, breaks you down, then sends your information through a data stream so you can be rebuilt at a new location...

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A Time Traveler has a lot more than the 'The Grandfather Paradox' to worry about.  Here's why.

Image of Time Traveler Marty McFly starting to disappear.    Image is from the 1985 movie Back to the Future.
Uh oh. Time Traveler Marty McFly's journey back in time has unintended consequences. BTTF image courtesy of Universal Pictures.

There's a theory about time travel, it's often used in debates in an attempt to prove that a journey through time simply isn't possible.  It's called "The Grandfather Paradox".  The theory is this - if I could travel back in time, and I traveled to a year where my grandfather was a young man, and say, I got into an argument and killed him - how could my father be born?  How could I then be born...and then go back in time?

 

Marty McFly faced a similar time travel paradox in Back to the Future.  Only his situation was a bit different - a chance encounter with his mother prevented her from falling in love with his father at the right time. You know the rest.

 

Problem is I think time is a lot less flexible than time travel movies, tv shows and books make it out to be. I can't prove it...but consider this.  We have a time traveler, his name is Glenn.  From the moment his time travel machine deposits him in the past, he's already changing things.  He's bumped into someone, he's bought a drink at a corner store, he's taken a break on a park bench. All of these things don't seem like very much, do they?  But I believe they are.  I believe every one of Glenn's actions would snowball out of control.

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Time Travel TV shows don't explain how their time machines work.  They should.  Here's why.

Promotional Poster image of NBC's Timeless.  Image shows the four main characters.
Timeless premiered on October 3rd and received generally good reviews. Image courtesy of NBC.

Time Travel as a concept for TV shows seems red hot right now.  As of this writing, there's Timeless, Travelers and Frequency on air - with Time After Time on the way for the new year.  Not to mention third seasons of both 12 Monkeys and Outlander have already been greenlit. And Doctor Who has been around forever with no end in sight.  Wow, that's a lot of time travel stories and a lot of PVR recordings to set up, or streaming services to search through. 

 

What all time travel tv shows (and movies) have in common is some sort of machine that will send the traveler(s) back.  Yes, there are exceptions like The Time Traveler's Wife, or About Time (both incidentally, Rachel McAdams movies), where the act of time traveling just sort of 'happens'.  Usually however, there is a physical device responsible for the journey through time.  But as you're probably finding out - especially if you're watching these new shows, once that's determined, there's little else in the way of explanation...

 

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