The Innovation of Time Travel

By Jakob Christy

*Spoilers for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Groundhog Day, and Back to the Future Part I.

“There are really four dimensions, three which we call the three planes of Space, and a fourth, Time.”

-H. G. Wells, The Time Machine

Although the idea of time travel has existed for an eternity, it was The Time Machine by H.G. Wells that really kicked off the whole idea. Time travel is still complex a million times over. There are hundreds of different forms from different fictions and theories, different consequences and rules made from scientists, and worlds imagined around this idea. To learn about each one is one of the most interesting topics a person could learn about. Beyond this article, if you do continue to read on, please research even more and more into this topic in your free time.

The best way to describe a timeline based on by which our choices choose what comes next, you can call on the butterfly effect. The butterfly effect is described as a small choice that can lead to huge results, such as a butterfly flapping its wings starting a tornado on the other side of the world. And this is, of course, something you should take to heart because it is very true.

Here’s an example. You are deciding a board game to play with a friend or two. If you played Monopoly, part way through the game – a game with thousands of choices, something as simple as how you swing your hand before rolling – one of your friends will get sore from losing too much, and is quiet throughout the rest of the night. If you play Clue, you could have a fun game, trying to learn who could possibly be the murderer. Each choice you make could change the outcome of the day. A choice is presented in ways you don’t even consciously think about, and how you deal with it may not even come to mind.

With each new story, a new form of time travel is made. An example of this is from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

In this book, Hermione is given a Time-Turner, a device that allows the wearer to travel back in time. This device then becomes essential for Harry and Hermione, when they go back in time to save Sirius. This method of time travel used was a fixed timeline. Events, such as throwing a rock at a window, happened before and after using the time machine. The first time around, the present Harry is attacked by dementors, when a blurry figure farther away uses a spell to ward them off. Harry believes that this figure was his father, but when he sees past Harry being attacked, he realizes that this was simply his future self protecting his past self. If this seems a little complicated, just imagine it as a loop on a rollercoaster.

Another example is the movie Groundhog Day. In this story, Phil Conners finds himself stuck in a constant loop, where everything repeats once the day is through. In order to escape this loop, he has to use the repeating day to his advantage so he can finally choose the right timeline. What is this right timeline? To truthfully start dating his coworker. Time and reality decided to be his wingman?

Phil, learning that no matter what, he will never continue on to the next day, or see an ending to this loop. To achieve the right timeline, he has to pay attention to what happens throughout the town, what choices that he makes will have an impact, and to gather information. One notable scene in Groundhog Day is when Phil and his co-worker are in a café. Phil goes around, proving his statement, “I am a god.” He tells her that every day, no matter what, he wakes up without a scratch.

To prove it, he goes up to supposedly total strangers. The waitress, Doris, has worked there since she was seventeen, and her brother-in-law owns the diner. Debby Kleiser, and her fiancé, Fred are supposed to get married that afternoon, but Debby is having second thoughts. Bill has been a waiter for three years since he left Pence State, and needed to get a job. He likes the town, he paints toy soldiers, and he’s gay. Phil continues to do this with more people and even predicts when a waiter drops a tray of dishes. He claims that “maybe God isn’t omnipotent, and maybe he has been around so long he knows everything.” And, although not true, she finds it hard to argue against.

The most popular form of time travel by fiction writers is featured in Back to the Future, a great example. This form of time travel uses the butterfly effect to its advantage. Marty McFly goes to the past to talk to that version of Dr. Emmett Brown so as to be able to save the modern Doc from being shot up by a gang. But, in doing this, he… accidentally has his own mother fall in love with him? He then has to have the two of his parents go back together again, or he will cease to exist because his mother will then never have children with his father. You get the point. Once he does this, because he used Marty’s jerk of a neighbor as a ploy to their father’s get together, he now lives in an amazing life with rich parents.

This is all due to the fact that Marty tried to do one thing after another, and changing time at a rapid speed with every choice. In fact, one detail in the movie is when Marty accidentally runs into a tree the first time he goes back in time. This then changes the mall in his present time from Twin Pines Mall, to Lone Pine Mall. A really awesome detail that highlights the importance of every item that has and will exist in our reality, even if it changes one small detail.

With all these choices that can lead up to one momentous moment, it can be an important reminder of the impact you are making. Your mere existence can change the outcome of hundreds of lives, whether it be for good or evil. How you write, what you say, think, and choose will affect hundreds, even thousands of people. Watch out for the future, learn from the past, and live in the moment.