I realized something this morning about time travel. Certain causal-loop paradoxes would serve the purpose of anchoring a stable time branch. Anyone want to discuss some hypothetical physics?
I woke up this morning contemplating the problem of making a decent follow-up to Terminator 2: Judgment Day. The studios have desperately tried to turn Terminator into a franchise and when one idea doesn’t work, they shake off the failure, mutter “I’ll be back”, and try again. So, what would make for an interesting Terminator universe?
The current approach is simply retreading the original idea with a few spins. The creators worldbuild and figure out timelines and craft their stories, but my realization this morning was they didn’t go back far enough. There exists (or exited) a John Conner Prime we’ve never met.
This John Conner had a normal childhood. His mother was a waitress and was never chased by a Terminator, and she met and married a man who was not Kyle Reese. Their son, John, became the leader of the resistance after the singularity when Artificial Intelligence took over the world and set about to destroy mankind. When Skynet (the AI) sent a Terminator back to kill John’s mother before he was born, John sent back his friend, Kyle Reese, and that was the end of John Conner Prime’s universe.
Or not, depending on how you view the nature of time branching. One could argue that when he sends Kyle back he creates an alternate universe and both continue simultaneously. Here, we’re narrowing our focus on branching time, and we’ll ignore the simultaneous universe theory for simplicity’s sake. When John sends Kyle back, his universe (his timeline) ends.
I’ll explain why and what happens in a moment, but first, let’s imagine that The Terminator follow-up I dreamed up this morning.
When John Prime sends back Kyle, there is simultaneous malfunctioning of the device that separates John from the timeline. He exists outside any normal timeline and awakes in a recreation of his childhood home with a view of time where a yard should be. He is joined by a shape-shifting machine who resembles his mother, Sarah Conner who explains to him where he is and what’s happened.
“The timeline in which you existed is gone,” she says. “When you sent Kyle back, he saved your mother, but in the process they fell in love and she became pregnant with a son she would name John. He’s not really you, more like your half brother with the same name, but he thinks he’s you. His mom goes off the grid and raises him with the idea that he will grow up to become the leader of the resistance. He mimics your life because that’s what he expects to be. He is John Conner alpha, and his timeline was doomed from the moment it was created. It could not survive, and once again, it was Kyle Reese who would destroy it.
“The Kyle Reese you sent back knew John Conner Prime,” she continues, “but the Kyle Reese John Conner alpha sends back never knew you. JC alpha sends him back knowing that Kyle will become his father, and the moment he does, the alpha universe ends.”
John Conner Prime hangs his head in despair. “It will continue like that forever. Every time Kyle goes back, the universe ends.”
“No, it won’t,” she says. “When this Kyle goes back, he becomes the father of the John Conner he knew. The major change is in Kyle himself, and the rest of the beta universe is fundamentally the alpha universe, only now it’s stable.”
John Conner Prime thinks the claim of stability is absurd and says so.
“The branch in time is a self-affirming causal loop that gives it stability. The paradox of going back in time to become your father is not an impossibility, but a stable loop that allows a time branch to continue existing. Let’s assume that Oedipus Rex became the leader to human resistance. When Skynet sent back the Terminator, Oedipus goes back in time to stop it, not knowing the Terminator was send to kill his mother, Jocasta. Oedipus saves Jocasta and they fall in love, and they conceive a son. Jocasta names her son after his father and raises him to become the resistance leader. In this case, Oedipus has gone back instead of sending Kyle, but the results are fundamentally same. Oedipus Rex Prime had a different father, so Oedipus Rex alpha is more like his half brother. When alpha goes back, Prime is no longer his father, so there’s a bigger change to the timeline, at least as far as Oedipus’s genetics are concerned. The stability sets in when Oedipus beta goes back and becomes his own father… because he always was his own father.”
John wonders if some paradoxes act to perpetually doom a time-branch, such as Skynet sent him back to kill his own mother. If he succeeded…
“That would be no different than if the Terminator succeeded. The Prime universe would again end, but the one that replaced it wouldn’t have you as the resistance leader. The branching nature of time solves the paradox problem the same way the simultaneous universe theory does. Without that branching mechanism, then you would have an unsolvable paradox.”
That’s it as far as branching-theory turning causal loops into a stable base, allowing for the continued existence of a branching timeline, but let’s close by getting back to my morning daydream about the Terminator Universe.
John Conner Prime has begun to understand the nature of the timeline outside his door. What he doesn’t understand is why his childhood home is here or why this shape-shifting machine looks like his mother. He demands to know where she came from.
“You sent me,” she says.
This John Conner, is actually John Conner Prime-variant-alpha. The real John Conner Prime popped out of the timeline into the void beyond, no childhood home and no mommy robot to guide him. Over the years, he solved the riddles of time himself, but he also went slowly mad. Time became his enemy, and one he meant to destroy.
This desire came with emotional conflicts, and the only way to free himself to act, he decided, was to create an agency to resist him. If he built the capacity for reality to be saved, then he could be morally free to set about destroying it.
His solution was to intercept himself at the moment he left the timeline. He would provide a context for this John Conner to learn without following his path into madness.
Because he now existed outside of time, he postulated that he could interfere with this John Conner without erasing himself from existence.
Then he needed to decide which of the branches he wanted to isolate. Left to its own devices, with so many Terminators being sent back and so many branches created, everything felt degraded. In some branches, John Conner was evil. In others, he died as a youth. This simply would no do. Before he intercepted himself, he set about returning the timeline to one he fought worth fighting over.
The fist branch stabilized after he sent Kyle back to rescue his mother. That John Conner grew up to send a re-purposed T-100 to save himself and his mother from a new generation, shape-shifting Terminator. This worked and Cyberdine was defeated, but the singularity remained a perpetual threat. Skynet this time sent back the T-X to fight an adult John Conner and his Terminator-turned protector, and this is where John Conner Prime got bored of the whole thing.
He plucked T-X out of the timeline and reprogrammed her to be the Sarah Conner lookalike who would guide and instruct his nemesis. In an instant, he had restored what he thought of as the “Judgment Day” timeline and killed all the subsequent branches.
If any timeline and its battle between Skynet (or whatever the AI would become) and the human resistance were left unchecked, the madness would begin again, but now John Conner Prime and John Conner Prime-variant-alpha would face off in cosmic battle that could finally end everything, forever. Amen.
Mommy robot finishes her exposition and gives John Conner Prime-variation-alpha a moment to absorb it all. Then she reaches out her hand and says—because it has to be said: “Come with me, if you want anyone to live.”
See you next time,
image by Mohamed Mahmoud Hassan