“Time travel is my favourite thing in all of sci-fi.”
Who doesn’t love a great time travel story? Whether it’s classic films like Back to the Future or Tom Ridgewell’s Time Trouble, some of TenEighty’s favourite science fiction involves a casual pop to a different timeline. But what exactly are the rules of time travel, and why do they keep changing? Eddie Bowley explains all in his latest video essay, with a helping hand from our favourite sci-fi – okay, mostly Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Eddie starts off by explaining how Quantum Leap originally got him interested in time travel, although it’s been popularized more recently by Animal Crossing. (Who can blame us for wanting to get the better of Tom Nook?) He then goes on to point out the confusing and conflicting morals of time travel stories. “With every time travel story, it always comes with a set of rules, but what are the rules?” Fortunately, we’ve got Eddie to go over the three most common types of time travel for us.
After an elaborate Quantum Leap-inspired title sequence, Eddie dives straight into our first type of time travel: the mutable timeline. “This is where if you change something in the past, the future will change accordingly,” he explains. Using an example from one of his “favourite tv shows”, Star Trek: The Next Generation, he shows us how altering the past can affect the present, also known as The Butterfly Effect. With a major principle of chaos theory under our belts, we feel smarter already.
Eddie goes on to talk about the immutable timeline, our second type of time travel, which follows the idea that “no matter what you do in the past, the future is still inevitable”. This is where things get a bit more complicated, and we have to dust off parts of our brain we haven’t been using much in lockdown to understand “The Bootstrap Paradox”. Luckily, Eddie has another Star Trek example to clear things up for us.
We make a brief detour in order to appreciate fixed points in time (accompanied by a beautiful performance of A Christmas Carol… In Klingon) and understand why small scale, personal changes to the timeline are usually allowed, while big historical events have to remain unchanged. We’ll take advice from Stephen Hawking any day on how to avoid a paradox.
Finally, Eddie explains the concept of multiple timelines. When travelling back in time creates an alternate timeline, this provides an “easy out for any complicated questions about paradoxes”, which we’re certainly grateful for.
After yet another Star Trek: The Next Generation example (this show really covers everything), we’re officially into quantum mechanics, which we’re hoping will make us sound clever at parties. Eddie introduces us to the “Many-Worlds” interpretation, where “an infinite amount of worlds exist with every possibility”, unfortunately making even deciding what to have for breakfast a bit headache-inducing.
Eddie quickly covers time loops, time dilation, one-way trips and time loops again before finally concluding that time travel can’t have a set of indisputable rules… Because there are no rules. “Everything is theoretical, which I guess is why I find [time travel stories] so exciting!”
This video expertly proves two things: that time travel creates great “unpredictable stories with endless possibilities”, and that there’s a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode for every occasion. Knowing both those things, we’re excited to watch some more mind-bending and rule-breaking sci-fi, and maybe impulse buy a Klingon dictionary.