The Ontological Time Travel Paradox in films and TV shows Explained

18 April 2023
The ontological paradox, also known as the predestination paradox, is a common theme in time travel films and shows. 

In simpler terms, it is a situation where something from the future creates or influences its own past. 

Let's discuss this paradox in more detail and look at some examples from popular time travel films and shows.

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The Ontological Paradox Explained:

The example of a man who travels back in time and gives a young boy a famous novel highlights the fundamental concept of the ontological paradox. In this scenario, the novel exists in a loop of causality where it is created and influenced by itself. The novel has no clear origin, as it appears to have been created out of thin air.

This paradox raises questions about the nature of time and causality. If the novel exists in this loop, does it have a true beginning or end? Is it possible to trace its origin to a particular point in time, or has it always existed within this loop? These questions challenge our traditional understanding of cause and effect, suggesting that events and information may not always have a clear cause or origin.

Furthermore, the ontological paradox raises questions about the concept of free will and the ability to change the future. If the novel already exists in the past, then it seems predetermined and cannot be changed. This suggests a fixed timeline, where events occur in a particular order and cannot be altered. 

If this is the case, then do we truly have free will, or are our actions predetermined by events that have already occurred?

These questions have fascinated scientists and philosophers for centuries, and time travel stories that explore the ontological paradox continue to challenge our understanding of the universe and our place within it.

Examples of Ontological Paradox in Time Travel Films and Shows:

  1. Back to the Future (1985): This classic time travel film depicts the ontological paradox when Marty McFly travels back in time and meets his parents. He inadvertently becomes responsible for the event that led to his parents' marriage, leading to the creation of his own existence.
  2. Predestination (2014): This sci-fi film explores the ontological paradox when a time traveler goes back in time to prevent a terrorist attack. However, in the process, he realizes that he is his own grandfather and that his actions have already predetermined his future.
  3. Doctor Who: The Doctor Who series often features the ontological paradox in its time travel adventures. One example is the episode "Blink," where the Doctor's companion receives a letter from the past that becomes the very message she sends to the past, creating a paradoxical loop.
  4. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991): In this sequel to the original Terminator film, John Connor sends a reprogrammed Terminator back in time to protect his younger self from a more advanced Terminator. However, it is revealed that the advanced Terminator was created from technology left behind by the first Terminator, leading to a paradoxical loop.
  5. Interstellar (2014): This film explores the ontological paradox when the protagonist, Cooper, discovers that he was the one sending the messages that led him to the wormhole in the first place, indicating that his actions in the past were responsible for his future.
  6. Dial of Destiny featured a time travel paradox with Archimedes.
The ontological paradox has captivated audiences and writers alike, as it provides a fascinating and complex foundation for exploring the concept of time travel in fiction. Time travel stories that feature this paradox raise profound questions about the nature of time, causality, and free will, forcing audiences to question their assumptions about these fundamental concepts.

The paradox challenges the idea of linear time, suggesting that events may not occur in a specific sequence and that the past, present, and future may be interconnected in ways that defy traditional understanding. 

It also challenges the notion of causality, suggesting that events may not have a clear cause or origin and that the past may be influenced by the future. This creates a sense of unpredictability and uncertainty, as it suggests that events may not occur in a predictable manner.


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About the author Jimmy Jangles

My name is Jimmy Jangles, the founder of The Astromech. I have always been fascinated by the world of science fiction, especially the Star Wars universe, and I created this website to share my love for it with fellow fans.

At The Astromech, you can expect to find a variety of articles, reviews, and analysis related to science fiction, including books, movies, TV, and games.
From exploring the latest news and theories to discussing the classics, I aim to provide entertaining and informative content for all fans of the genre.

Whether you are a die-hard Star Trek fan or simply curious about the world of science fiction, The Astromech has something for everyone. So, sit back, relax, and join me on this journey through the stars!
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