- Grandfather paradox
The grandfather paradox is a proposed paradox of
time travel, first described by the science fiction writer René Barjavelin his 1943 book "Le Voyageur Imprudent" ("The Imprudent Traveller").cite book | first = René | last = Barjavel | authorlink = René Barjavel| title = Le voyageur imprudent ("The imprudent traveller") | year = 1943; the book refers to "an ancestor" of the time traveller, not his grandfather.] The paradox is this: suppose a man traveled back in time and killed his biological grandfather before the latter met the traveller's grandmother. As a result, one of the traveller's parents (and by extension, the traveller himself) would never have been conceived. This would imply that he could not have travelled back in time after all, which in turn implies the grandfather would still be alive, and the traveller "would" have been conceived, allowing him to travel back in time and kill his grandfather. Thus each possibility seems to imply its own negation, a type of logical paradox.
An equivalent paradox is known (in
philosophy) as autoinfanticide—that is, going back in time and killing oneself as a baby—though when the word was first coined in a paper by Paul Horwichhe used the odd version autofanticide.cite book | first = Paul | last = Horwich | authorlink = Paul Horwich | title = Asymmetries in Time | year = 1987 | publisher = Cambridge, MIT Press | pages = 116]
The grandfather paradox has been used to argue that backwards time travel must be impossible. However, a number of possible ways of avoiding the paradox have been proposed, such as the idea that the timeline is fixed and unchangeable, or the idea that the time traveler will end up in a parallel timeline, while the timeline in which the traveler was born remains independent.
Complementary time travel
quantum mechanicsis governed by probabilities, an unmeasured entity (in this case, one's historical grandfather) has numerous probable states. When that entity is measured, the number of its probable states singularises, resulting in a single outcome (in this case, ultimately, oneself). Therefore, since the outcome of one's grandfather is known, one killing one's grandfather would be incompatible with that outcome. Thus, the outcome of one's trip backwards in time must be complementary with the state from which one left.cite news | first = Julianna | last = Kettlewell | publisher = BBC News | url = http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/4097258.stm | title = New model 'permits time travel' | date = 2005-06-17| accessdate = 2006-05-25]
Novikov self-consistency principle
Novikov self-consistency principleand Kip S. Thorne for one view on how backwards time travel could be possible without a danger of paradoxes. According to this hypothesis, the only possible timelines are those which are entirely self-consistent, so that anything a time traveler does in the past must have been part of history all along, and the time traveler can never do anything to prevent the trip back in time from being made since this would represent an inconsistency. In laymen's terms, this is often called destiny, and it is sometimes unpopular because it contradicts the "common sense" notion that people choose their own fates.
Parallel universes/alternate timelines
There could be "an ensemble of parallel universes" such that when the traveller kills the grandfather, the act took place in (or resulted in the creation of) a parallel universe in which the traveller's counterpart will never be conceived as a result. However, his prior existence in the original universe is unaltered.
Examples of parallel universes postulated in physics are:
quantum mechanics, the many-worlds interpretationsuggests that every seemingly random quantum event with a non-zero probability actually occurs in all possible ways in different "worlds", so that history is constantly branching into different alternatives. The physicist David Deutschhas argued that if backwards time travel is possible, it should result in the traveler ending up in a different branch of history than the one he departed from.cite journal|last=Deutsch| first=David| authorlink = David Deutsch| date=1991| title=Quantum mechanics near closed timelike curves| journal=Physical Review D| volume=44| pages=3197–3217|doi=10.1103/PhysRevD.44.3197 ] See also quantum suicide and immortality.
M-theoryis put forward as a hypothetical master theory that unifies the five superstring theories, although at present it is largely incomplete. One possible consequence of ideas drawn from M-theory is that multiple universes in the form of 3-dimensional membranes known as branes could exist side-by-side in a fourth large spatial dimension (which is distinct from the concept of time as a fourth dimension) - see Brane cosmology. However, there is currently no argument from physics that there would be one brane for each physically possible version of history as in the many-worlds interpretation, nor is there any argument that time travel would take one to a different brane.
Theories in science fiction
Parallel universes resolution
The idea of preventing paradoxes by supposing that the time traveler is taken to a parallel universe while his original history remains intact, which is discussed above in the context of science, is also common in science fiction - see Time travel as a means of creating historical divergences.
Restricted action resolution
Another resolution, of which the
Novikov self-consistency principlecan be taken as an example, holds that if one were to travel back in time, the laws of nature (or other intervening cause) would simply forbid the traveler from doing anything that could later result in their time travel not occurring. For example, a shot fired at the traveler's grandfather will miss, or the gun will jam, or misfire, or the grandfather will be injured but not killed, or the person killed will turn out to be not the real grandfather, or some other event will occur to prevent the attempt from succeeding. No action the traveler takes to affect change will ever succeed, as there will always be some form of "bad luck" or coincidence preventing the outcome. In effect, the traveler will be unable to change history from the state they found it. Very commonly in fiction, the time traveler does not merely fail to prevent the actions he seeks to prevent; he in fact precipitates them (see predestination paradox), usually by accident.
This theory might lead to concerns about the existence of
free will(in this model, free will may be an illusion, or at least not unlimited). This theory also assumes that causalitymust be constant: i.e. that nothing can occur in the absence of cause, whereas some theories hold that an event may remain constant even if its initial cause was subsequently eliminated.
Closely related but distinct is the notion of the time line as self-healing. The time-traveler's actions are like throwing a stone in a large lake; the ripples spread, but are soon swamped by the effect of the existing waves. For instance, a time traveler could assassinate a politician who led his country into a disastrous war, but the politician's followers would then use his murder as a pretext for the war, and the emotional effect of that would cancel out the loss of the politician's charisma. Or the traveler could prevent a car crash from killing a loved one, only to have the loved one killed by a mugger, or fall down the stairs, choke on a meal, killed by a stray bullet, etc. In the 2002 film "The Time Machine", this scenario is shown where the main character builds a time machine to save his girlfriend who got killed by a robber, yet she still dies, only from a car crash instead. In some stories it is only the event that precipitated the time traveler's decision to travel back in time that cannot be substantially changed, in others all attempted changes will be "healed" in this way, and in still others the universe can heal most changes but not sufficiently drastic ones. This is also the explanation advanced by the "
Doctor Who" role-playing game, which supposes that Time is like a stream; you can dam it, divert it, or block it, but the overall direction it is headed will resume after a period of conflict.
It also may not be clear whether the time traveller altered the past or precipitated the future he remembers, such as a time traveller who goes back in time to persuade an artist—whose single surviving work is famous—to hide the rest of the works to protect them. If, on returning to his time, he finds that these works are now well-known, he knows he has changed the past. On the other hand, he may return to a future exactly as he remembers, except that a week after his return, the works are found. Were they actually destroyed, as he believed when he travelled in time, and has he preserved them? Or was their disappearance occasioned by the artist's hiding them at his urging, and the skill with which they were hidden, and so the long time to find them, stemmed from his urgency?
Some science fiction stories suggest that causing any paradox will cause the destruction of the universe, or at least the parts of space and time affected by the paradox. The plots of such stories tend to revolve around preventing paradoxes.
Consideration of the grandfather paradox has led some to the idea that time travel is by its very nature paradoxical and therefore logically impossible, on the same order as round squares. For example, the philosopher
Bradley Dowdenmade this sort of argument in the textbook " Logical Reasoning", where he wrote:
However, some philosophers and scientists believe that time travel into the past need not be logically impossible provided that there is no possibility of changing the past, as suggested, for example, by the
Novikov self-consistency principle. Bradley Dowden himself revised the view above after being convinced of this in an exchange with the philosopher Norman Swartz.cite news | title=Dowden-Swartz Exchange | url=http://www.sfu.ca/philosophy/swartz/time_travel1.htm]
Consideration of the possibility of backwards time travel in a hypothetical universe described by a
Gödel metricled famed logician Kurt Gödelto assert that time might itself be a sort of illusion.cite book | first = Palle | last = Yourgrau | title = A World Without Time: The Forgotten Legacy Of Godel And Einstein | year = 2004 | publisher = Basic Books | id = I SBN 0-465-09293-4}] cite news | last = Holt | first = Jim | title = Time Bandits | date = 2005-02-21| publisher = The New Yorker | url=http://www.newyorker.com/printables/critics/050228crat_atlarge | accessdate = 2006-10-19] He seems to have been suggesting something along the lines of the block timeview in which time does not really "flow" but is just another dimension like space, with all events at all times being fixed within this 4-dimensional "block".
Science fiction cartoon" Futurama" comically addresses the Grandfather paradox in " Roswell That Ends Well" when the protagonist, Fry, travels back in time to 1947 and inadvertently brings about the death of his own grandfather. His autoinfanticide leads to a series of events culminating in the discovery that Fry is his own grandfather, having engaged in sexual intercoursewith his grandmother on that same day. This incident proves key to Fry's involvement in saving the universe in future episodes.
Chronology protection conjecture
Time travel in fiction
The chicken or the egg
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