How I keep time travel from confusing me

Recently I’ve been noticing that a lot of people seem to have problems and confusion over time travel. I figured that I would share how I view it based on the various sci-fi stories I have read and viewed over the years. Note that these are not set rules found anywhere and that time travel rules are at the discretion of writers.

The first thing that I’ve noticed in virtually any time travel stories is that no matter where in time somebody is (I’ll refer to this as their temporal location) they always experiance the flow of time in one direction in a linear fashion. You are born, live, and then die. A person doesn’t suddenly regress in age and move into the past (unless a mad scientest does something). Experiancing time is a one way street. The only point in time that a person actually experiances is the Present. We know about the past because we were told about it or experianced it once as the Present. The Past will always be remembered. Now the Future is something that is always cloudy and something that can always be speculated about and changed.
So everybody has their own experience of the Present. When someone travels in Time what is really happening is that a person is only changing their temporal location and the place where they are experiancing their present. That person will also still retain the knowledge of their past. For example if a person travels from 2007 to 1977, when that person reaches 1977 everything that happened pre 1977 is the Past. But, everything that happens after 1977 is now the future even though for the traveler it would be the past (relative to their starting point in 2007). Events between 1977 and 2007 can now be altered because of they lie in the future beyond 1977 and are not set in stone yet.

It boils down to this, the Past can not be changed but the future is maleable. In order to alter an event that to you happened in the past, you would have to travel to a point before it happened so that that event is a future event. But no matter where you go you will always experience the present.

I know I left out paradoxes in all of this. I plan on doing a follow up in a separate post. I hope this clears up some confusion for people, it’s what helps me keep track of things when time travel is part of a story.

Share with fellow Losties

Written by


Lungbarrow, Achalli Number516644 Sit down before fact like a little child, and be prepared to give up every preconcieved notion, follow humbly wherever and to whatever abyss Nature leads, or you shall learn nothing. - T.H. Huxley

28 thoughts on “How I keep time travel from confusing me

  1. I missed this, and am sorry I did.

    I have been reading some of your comments on others posts, and really like what you have to say.

    We share similar beliefs, and I think that we may be on the same path, although there are a few differences in opinion, but that comes with the territory, lol.

    Either way great post, and when you get time, I have a few questions…

    I’ll start with what is hopefully a simple one…

    If you believe in the ability to change the past, by going to a time period before it occured, in which it would then be the future technically (I agree), then the person who did so, would never actually experience that change right?

    Would that constitute alternate timelines, or am I missing something? (Honestly curious)

    Ok, I have a few more, and I know you are steering away from paradoxes, but I have to ask to better understand your view…

    Again great thought here. Some of this has been indirectly discussed/debated here in the past, and I am always curious to another theorists perspective on things!

  2. Thanks for the comment A.E.S. I was starting to wonder if I through out a dud here. I decided no to adress the paradoxes in this post because I felt that that subjec deserved a seperate post to do it any justice. But by all means leave some questions here because it will help guide me in my approach. To just give you a hint about what has influenced my views on time travel, I am a huge Doctor Who and Star Trek (all of its incarnations) fan. I’ve seen a lot of stories dealing with time travel. To be honest I was disappointed that Lost went down the time travel road (or should I say time tunnel). When it did that I felt like I was watching one prolonged Star Trek episode. What kept me interested this season was to see exactly how the writers would treat it and what would happen with our beloved Losties. So stay tuned.

  3. Again I have to ask about the alternate realities, and the idea that a person who “changes the past” in the manner spoken of above does, will not feel the effects upon doing so, and returning to their true time…

    I have a slightly different view on the subject…
    An example being Desmonds returning to the past, using his knowledge of the scene that occurs in the pub, with Jimmy Lennon and the bartender to change what he “knows” happens, thus him being hit with the bat rather than the bartender…

    PS…Right or wrong….I love “change” talk…

  4. BTW….you and I have a discussion coming on a topic you brought up in another post…and theres no getting out of it, lol…it involves a certain book you read, and a theory I have been working on for quite some time.

  5. Achalli, I also missed this post! Some times they can be overlooked in the ‘Fun’ section, and this is certainly worthy of being in the ‘Theories’ section!

    Very nice theory, clear and concisely written!

    I agree with your thoughts, but would ask you to consider the following regarding changing the past! This is a concept I subscribe to, and believe in, in terms of Lost.

    Retrocausality (also called retro-causation, backward causation and similar terms) is any of several hypothetical phenomena or processes that reverse causality, allowing an effect to occur before its cause.

    Retrocausality is primarily a philosophy of science thought experiment based on elements of physics, addressing the question: Can the future affect the present, and can the present affect the past?

    Philosophical considerations of time travel often address the same issues as retrocausality, as do treatments of the subject in fiction, although the two terms are not universally synonymous.

    The Philosopher Desmond David Hume studied this concept, in addition to Stephen Hawking.

    Star Trek the Next Generation had an episode entitled cause & Effect which I think describes the ‘time loop’ extremely well.

    Also in an old episode of Dr. Who, which addresses the ‘time machine’ was highlighted, during ‘Flashes Before Your Eyes’. The middle name on Charlie’s guitar case read ‘Hieronymous’, and was a shout-out to that episode, in addition to illustrating Desmond’s flashes.

    Nice work, Achalli!

  6. I think thinking through your next theory on paradox is going to lead you to either abandon the idea that the past can be changed or accept alternate time lines. So either change can’t happen or change is meaningless, depending on which way you decide to go with it.

  7. Where to start, where to start? A.E.S. I believe a time traveler would not feel the effects of the change because when they moved in time they actually become detached from time. Their memories will remain the same no matter what happens, especially if they travel in time on a regular basis. As to alternate timelines I believe that the subject can’t be escaped. The future by it’s very nature is just an infinite range of virtual possibilities that exist with only one possibility becoming reality depending on the choices we make and the actions we take (in other words the Shrodinger’s Cat thought experiment). I believe that each possible future has its own frequency and that we are only tuned to percieve one frequency. Any change made to the past will just merely change the frequency that we are tuned to.

    Dabs, I believe that the retro causality you’re talking about comes into play when some one from a differnt frequency travels back and attempts to change the frequency of the past to something more desirable. I’ve seen the Next Generation episode you’re talking about and it is one of my favorites.

    I put this in the fun section because my original intent was to share with others my ideas on time travel that I had picked up from variouse sources over the years. It is actually an expansion of a comment I made to another post after seeing that some other people were having difficulty with the implications that arise, I was hoping to help them out a little bit. The problem with time travel is that it always opens a can of worms and can sometimes bogg down a good story if the writer is not careful.

  8. “a time traveler would not feel the effects of the change because when they moved in time they actually become detached from time. Their memories will remain the same no matter what happens, especially if they travel in time on a regular basis.”

    This is exactly the thing that confuses people about time travel. Why would it be this complicated? If someone is detached from time then where in time is he? If he’s nowhere then how does he have any effect at all on any time, past present or future?

    Why can’t a person who time travels to the past become a part of their own past? Reverse causality, right? The effect comes before the cause. That doesn’t mean that the effect is change. The argument I’m sure is going to be that because the effect takes place in the past the effect can be changed without affecting the cause but wouldn’t the altered effect be just part of the events of the past? So yeah, change happened in a way

  9. I no you have left the paradoxs out but I don’t think you can explain time travel without them, what if you change the past so you don’t end up time traveling in the future to go back and change the past like highbrow said unless you put it all down to alternate timelines you can’t and if you do it would be a waste of 5 seasons

  10. Highbrow, I’ve printed out you comment so that I can go over it and give you a better response. Samson, I agree with you that you can’t have time travel without the paradoxs. I felt that it would be best to deal with them in a seperate post. The comments generated here I will take into consideration with paradox post. Thanks for the comment.

  11. Hi Achalli, that was also one of my favourite episodes!

    I do not want to have a debate about time travel, as it is not the right forum.

    However, I do subscribe to change. The Butterfly Effect, just like the movie which shares its namesake, makes it possible in fiction, the same way that it does in Lost .

    From Wikipedia ‘The Butterfly Effect’: It is a common subject in fiction when presenting scenarios involving time travel and with “what if” scenarios where one storyline diverges at the moment of a seemingly minor event resulting in two significantly different outcomes.

    You will like what it has to say, as it also pertains to your ‘chaos theory’.

    Not that I am trying to change your mind! lol

  12. Highbrow, on futher consideration I believe the mistake I made was in using the word ‘detached.’ The word I should have used was insulated as that was the basic idea I was trying to convey. I’m still pouring over your comment and should have something that better adresses your concerns soon. As always thanks for the comment.

  13. I think wikipedia should probably alter that to say that the butterfly effect is a common subject in works of fiction which do not make an attempt at drawing in real world scientific fact or theories such as the movie, The Butterfly Effect.

    Movies like the Butterfly Effect tell a story about time travel without even making an attempt at resolving the issues of altering the past. I hope the writers of Lost went further into it than the writers of the Butterfly Effect did.

  14. Achalli, I think Lost is so multi-faceted! The writers are brilliant to say the least.

    The more research I do, the more I see how many different aspects they have drawn upon! My mind is completely open to all aspects of time travel.

    For anyone not familiar with The Butterfly Effect, is a scientific study, supported by the Chaos Theory!

  15. I haven’t seen The Butterfly Effect yet but I agree with you that ignoring the issues of time travel is a let down for any story. Thats why I cringed at the begining of Season 5 when the writers utilized time travel. Its been done so many times in so many shows, books, and movies. Few do it well and resolve the issues in a satisfying way.

  16. Dabs I agree with you on the research. That’s why the paradox companion piece is going to take a little while, plus all the ideas and comments everyone is bringing to this piece.

  17. Also from Wikipedia:

    The term is sometimes used in popular media dealing with the idea of time travel, usually inaccurately. Most time travel depictions simply fail to address butterfly effects. According to the actual theory, if history could be “changed” at all (so that one is not invoking something like the Novikov self-consistency principle which would ensure a fixed self-consistent timeline), the mere presence of the time travelers in the past would be enough to change short-term events (such as the weather) and would also have an unpredictable impact on the distant future. Therefore, no one who travels into the past could ever return to the same version of reality he or she had come from and could have therefore not been able to travel back in time in the first place, which would create a phenomenon known as a time paradox.

    So what does that mean? It could mean several things.

    A) That the writers haven’t looked very deeply into the idea of time travel. This is doubtful.

    B) That time travel is impossible without alternate timelines and everything we’ve seen so far has been pointless.

    C) That time travel within one timeline is possible and but only if change is not. If someone travels back in time (and we know they have) then they have already felt the effect (in their own past) of their actions in the past (their future).

    The idea that events can be changed by travelling to the past and changing something (by causing the butterfly effect) is pure fiction. That’s fine since what we’re watching is a work of fiction. The problem is that if the writers go this way they effectively throw Lost onto the pile as just another work of science fiction with nothing really special about it.

  18. I hope they do give a good answer for the time travel instead of just saying yeah the FDW is a time machine you turn it and move thru time and that’s it. The writers should no a lot of people will be pissed if that’s the answer

  19. So Achali, do you view Desmonds experiences of repeating his life timetravel after turning the failsafe key to the swan?

    I understand if you give two answers, one being his repeating of his past, the other being his “visions” of the future…

  20. And on the subject of the Butterfly Effect, Dabsi is correct in adding that it is used in terms of the Chaos Theory.

    The simple thought behind it is if you take a single butterfly, and add it to a climate/region of the world it does not belong, the simple flapping of its wings would/could cause large weather/climate changes.

    This being said, the idea of time travelers going to a place in the past would cause a butterfly effect by just existing there…all depending on how you actually view the time travel aspects of the show/ story being told.

    If you follow a “what happened, happened” approach, then it wouldnt affect anything, because the time travelers HAD to have been there in the past the original time it took place, therefor canceling the thought of a B.E. by simple logic that nothing changed.

    But if it is to be shown that the Losties travelling to the past did NOT occur in the original scenario, then not only is the butterfly effect a possibility, but forced or chosen change is allowed to exist as well.

  21. The point of the quote I added in my last comment is that if the butterfly effect does apply and change is possible then the people who have travelled to the past can never return to their original time in their original reality. So what exactly would be the point of all that? Basically there would have been two different realities to begin with, one where the Losties crashed on the island, left, came back, travelled to 1977 and committed suicide in the most creative way possible (a nuclear bomb) and another where they didn’t crash on the island.

    So they still wouldn’t have changed anything. If that is the case then what we witnessed in the season finale was the end of the Jack, Kate, Sawyer, Juliet, Miles and Hurley that we’ve known and we’ll have to start watching a different Jack, Kate, Sawyer, Juliet, Miles and Hurley in season six (in a different reality).

    What we actually saw was a series of events which quite nicely sets up the situation we’ve already seen in 2004. The Swan Station with the protocol and the failsafe. Neither would be possible without the events we saw in the finale. This is the true butterfly effect that we saw. The Losties went back in time and their presence and their actions caused certain things to happen which caused other things to happen… In the end their actions were absolutely a huge part of all the things that caused them so much of the grief they were trying to prevent. If they ever had a chance to actually make a change in their past they missed it when they got on flight 316. None of this would have happened if they hadn’t gone back in time.

  22. Highbrow, I’m glad you brought up the creative suicide bit as it will pertain well with my next posting. I’ve come up with a possible scenario that may be plausible with in the frame work of the show. At the very least it will generate some interesting comments.

  23. AES sorry I didn’t respond to you questions regarding Desmonds experiences. I would say that I view Desmond’s visions of the future as being similar to driving a car and looking ahead on the road. Desmond is seeing what is approaching and can take the needed actions to avoid the event. But this would be different from traveling to the past with knowledge of the future. As to the question of reliving his past I believe his mind did travel to his past body in a similar way that Sam Becket was doing on ‘Quantum Leap’. The past Desmond would just swap places with the future Desmond. But this would still raise all the same problems as if he had traveled to the past physically. I think it is worth pointing out that the time travel we have seen on Lost is all accidental and the Losties are just taking advantage of their situation. If someone were to actually build a time machine to intentionally travel in time I would hope that they would have the foresite to incorporate some sort of device that locks out the time periods that would give the traveler a chance to affect their own timeline. I believe this was an explaination once given on Doctor Who, that the TARDIS would scan its occupants’ history and lock out all the temporal coordinates where they could change their personal past (but as always with the TARDIS it doesn’t always work the way it is supposed to). I’m not sure exactly where in Doctor Who I heard that.

  24. Achalli, no need to apologize, I was kind of curious is all.

    The reason I ask is because if what Desmond does when reliving a part of his life is in fact a form of time travel, the scene I spoke of previously holds a lot of merit in my opinion.

    For one, by yelling for the bartender to duck, Jimmy Lennon hits Des on the head instead of the bartender, small change, but change no less.

    The other part of the reasoning for the question pertains to the logic in your theory that the time traveller remembering the present…I may be confused, but regardless, I feel this info may help you.

    When Des awoke naked in the jungle after this experience, the scene followed the “bar” scene. And when Desmond awoke, he was rubbing his head in the same place that he had been hit with the bat during his time traveling experience, but not during his first normal experience that he remembers.

    Again, I may be slightly confused on your views (your next theory will help more), but I feel that this may help you in whatever direction you are headed.

  25. AES when I wrote this theory I was only considering physical time travel at the time, I didn’t think to include Desmond’s experiences. I may consider doing a seperate post for Desmond, I belive I have some books lying around that deal with mental time travel. The paradox post is up but I accidentally stuck it in the fun section. It’s called Schrodinger’s Island.

Leave a Reply