Time Travel: Grandfather Paradox and Alternate Timelines


We all thought about Time Traveling. We all dreamed about it, contemplated about it, at least at some point of our time. It happens when we regret.

Regrets – we are rueful about something that failed to happen, or something happen beyond our will. We regret for the things that we have done, and things that we didn’t do. Then we thought about going back in the past and do what must be done.

This kind of trope has been ages, since the early ages up to the contemporary. With or without a machine that we sometimes call ‘Time Machine’, that has been popularized by H.G. Wells on his science-fiction novel of the same name, time traveling is always thing on our imaginations and in the science-fiction genre.

Time itself is uncertain to us – what is time? We cannot define it certainly. So there’s a myriad of concepts  and theories about time, and as well philosophical musings about it. Some think that there is no past, present nor future, as it’s all predetermined, or the philosophy of Fatalism or Hard Determinism. Some think that ‘time’ is an illusion, a measurement, but some think that time is the constant change in events and existence, and can be quantified or manipulated, since it is a physical matter, along with space. There are multitudes of studies about time, but until now, there is no concrete fact about it.

I choose to believe on free will. I won’t get too philosophical, but you get my point. I believe that I have the volition to choose my decisions, and that decisions will be the cause of the nigh future. But this belief is crucial to the validity and possibility of time travel.

My favorite story featuring time travel as a plot device was the classic Super NES JRPG game Chrono Trigger. It’s decades since the first release of the said game, and it’s main concept is about traveling through the fabric of time.

This epic game was the thing that made my interest on the time travel concept, because of the heroes’ bizarre adventure and the conquest to change the events of the future.

As a kid back then, I barely care about the concept. I just played it fine, until I finish it; but now, I began to question some parts of it. You cannot just use time travel without its bane – the paradoxes.

There are multiple kinds of time travel – using time machine, regression, or just simply watching the past happen without the possibility of intervention.

In Chrono Trigger, there is free will, but the future has already happened. This insinuates that you can actually travel on the future caused by the past events, but it will change if you change the past, probably. In the story, there are only handful of eras to travel: 65,000,000 B.C., 12,000 B.C., 600 A.D., 1000 A.D., 1999 A.D., and 2300 A.D. This looks like the world here is predetermined, but it is not.

The ‘future’ here is the main protagonist’s future, since they are on 1000 A.D; but for the dwellers of the future (2300 A.D.), their present is the known future of the hero. Seems tricky, but that’s what will happen if you observe the timeline in a far scope. A time traveler must be aware that there is no future when you talk to a man in the future.

This concept is specious, but its filled with paradoxes. Time travel is just that, filled with inevitable paradoxes.

One big example is the Grandfather Paradox. It holds its name because of the explanation about it, and this is really truly paradoxical absurd.

Grandfather Paradox in a nutshell

Time traveler traveled from 2000 A.D. to 1920, the year that his grandfather still lived. He tried to know his grandfather’s early life, but he accidentally killed his gramps. Smooth accident right?

This would be an actual scenario if it’s good enough, but you’ll understand why it’s a paradox.

There are two facts that will happen after it.

We suppose that the consequence of our present is from the past actions, that is, the time traveler exists because of his grandfather. Without the existence of his grandfather, because the past was changed, how would the time traveler exist in 2000 A.D.? He would instantaneously vanish as he killed his grandpa, as if he never existed. The second question would be, who will kill the grandfather if the time traveler had never existed?

In Chrono Trigger, this is what happened, and we can call it the “Marle Paradox” this was according to Chrono Compendium:

When Marle and Crono go back in time, the search for Queen Leene is called off. However, Marle soon disappears; Lucca explains that she phased out since her mother was never found and could not give birth to her other ancestors as a result. This poses a problem in that the Chrono Series does not acknowledge the grandfather paradox, instead falling in line with the Time Traveler’s Immunity theory. As Crono and his crew travel through time, they retain memory of their actions in history, even if they influenced events so that certain people they met never existed or were significantly changed. The clincher is that they defeated Lavos, yet retain memory of the Day of Lavos recording and the ruined future. However, Marle’s disappearance is explained directly as a result of the Grandfather Paradox; she also disappears on a matter of possibility, as her mother was not even dead at the time of her evanescence. Interestingly enough, she was also alive during the entire ordeal, retaining memory of a cold, dark place. Why does she disappear? If her influence had been totally nullified, why would Crono and Lucca even remember her? Does this event contradict everything else laid down on the subject in the Chrono series?

In Chrono Trigger, time travelers have this kind of immunity, that will give them knowledge even they made some changes in the history, but retain the knowledge of the former history.

It’s a paradox, so don’t stretch your mind for plausible solutions. There are some good positions to refute the existence of this paradox, and that is, alternate timelines.

Timelines are the history, and it branches as the world choose a decision. It’s complex, since six billion people decide their own decision simultaneously, so there would be multitudes of timelines lingering the whole world.

We then suppose that the present of the time traveler is at timeline A, and after he killed his grandfather, the world will turn away from timeline A into another parallel timeline, the world where the time traveler don’t exist.

This is a good solution. But it struggles from the sense of changing the past for the present. That solution implies that we cannot change the present we experience

This concept is also applied in Dragon Ball Z anime when there were four known timelines that didn’t interfere from each other.

Dragon Ball Z timeline

The first timeline is 20 years late from the second timeline, as the second timeline is the future of the first timeline, so Future Trunks, traveled back to the first timeline to warn the Z Fighters with his foreseen information and he decided to change the future, and it happened, because of his endeavors.

When he returned to the second timeline, nothing had changed. He expected this, as he knew that nothing will be changed to his timeline, but the first timeline won’t be like the second timeline This is because changing the past will never change the future that was already happened, since the world turns to a different timeline as you change the past.

Chrono Trigger and Dragon Ball Z is different in concept, as Dragon Ball has four different parallel timelines, while in Chrono Trigger, there is only one known timeline, and every time you travel in any era, you don’t change your timeline. Thus the grandfather paradox is effective in Chrono Trigger.

There are still more stories about time travel and changing the past, such as Back to the Future, Puella Magi Madoka Magica, and Steins;Gate. Are these kinds of fiction truly possible? Or would they be forever be refuted by this infamous paradox?


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