Love Thy Nerd
Love Nerds + Engage Culture + Build Community

The Problem with Time Travel

I recently watched The Umbrella Academy and despite enjoying the show I was really bummed out by the concept of time travel. I know what you are thinking, “it’s the same old problem of timelines and correlation determination; whether it is the casual paradox or the grandfather paradox or the…”—I promise I understand. And it really is fun to think about these things every now and then.

Part of the appeal of time travel fiction is the willing suspension of disbelief it demands of us. We want to see how the creators deal with all the eventualities. And then we love to come together to complain:  

It was good overall, but they really messed up in that one scene which then really brought in some weird inconsistency. And it’s so stupid, because they just didn’t have the guts to make a sad ending, thus needed to somehow find a way out of the misery they created for themselves over the last 80 minutes. But now it’s too late, they really spent all the time and money to shoot these 80 minutes so they cannot go back and must decide whether to be consistent and have a bad ending (which is good) or make it a good ending (which in this case is bad).

You know, standard nerd conversations where we look down on the relics of our culture with crystal clear judgement.

What makes life great and us happy is the ability to deal with everything that is thrown at us, building strength and wisdom to deal with future events and make the best of it, isn’t it?

These missteps, however, are small compared to the real problem with time travel fiction: what I call “The Problem of the Now.” Above I just got started on a rant about all these things that grind my gears, and I really could go on for a while. But I don’t need to—the problem of the now is already in there: ‘[…]they cannot go back now but must decide[…]’ that is. The real problem with time travel is being stuck in the now and having to take responsibility for the future because we won’t be able to turn back time and change things. Further the problem with trying to escape the problem of the now is that we are not really living when we are striving for a perfect version of the now—by organizing all events in time toward the now we are in danger of completely missing the chance to make a difference.

Time travel fiction might have interesting plots that are fun to think about, and it’s almost always a delight to dive into all the eventualities and attempt to wrap one’s brain around the wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff of space-time. However, I would like to suggest that all time travel fiction at its core really is a reflection on how to deal with the problem of the now. It really is about applied ethics—taking personal responsibility and making good decisions. What makes life great and us happy is the ability to deal with everything that is thrown at us, building strength and wisdom to deal with future events and make the best of it, isn’t it?

Joseph Gordon-Levitt as “Joe” in TriStar Pictures, Film District, and End Game Entertainment’s action thriller LOOPER, 2012.

Every time we go on said rant, we are really missing the one point of utter importance, the one point that really means something, and is truly practically speaking to our lives: time travel fiction is telling us that we will always repeat the problems we refuse to take responsibility for. And yet, idiots that we are, we run away from that very thing that could ignite passion in us to grow as people and change how we see the world. Instead, ironically, we are hiding in the apathy of theoretical analysis about the very thing that is telling us to stop doing the useless and start on what matters.

So, what does matter? How do I make good decisions? Why should I take responsibility in a world that is heading south? I could really start preaching here, but I do not think it is necessary. Instead let me challenge both of us:

We are all time travelers, only the direction of time stays the same. Luckily, we have brains to dive into all the eventualities. The one thing these eventualities point to is now. There are many futures but there is only one now. The path of the future depends on our solution to the problems we currently face. If we don’t know how to answer them, we can go and rewatch The Umbrella Academy or Looper or …. Just, please, whatever we watch, could we for once focus on how the questions are answered?

The questions to answer have been in this text several times, but I am lazy when I read articles so I’ll make it easy for you in turn:

  • Why should I take responsibility?
  • What should I take responsibility for? (← What matters?)
  • How do I make good decisions?

In addition, here’s a second step:

  • Is there a principle connecting all good decisions? What is it?

I personally believe there is a hint in the very name of this organization: “Love Thy Nerd” (see Mark 12:29-31).

I would love to see a world full of people living their lives accordingly—my heart is longing to see nerd culture stand as a paragon to all of society! If that, to start with, means as little as writing an article that only a handful of people will read, so be it.

Just let us start … like … now.

Daniel is all about connecting everyone and everything, embracing every aspect of life, and leaving enough room for some stupid fun in all of it. Most of what he does descends from his love for God, his love for nerd culture, or where both intertwine. He is the leader of Main Quest Ministries and Gamechurch Germany, works with an organization to help people with behavioral addictions surrounding digital media, and speaks about the dangers and chances of gaming to pedagogues, teachers, and students. He also is a student of education science at the University of Bielefeld and likes and does plenty of other stuff as well.

Reader Comments

Related Content

Today in Nerd History | September 6

A daily re-cap of this date in the history of movies, TV shows, video games, comics, wrestling and more!

Conflicting Responsibilities in Obi-Wan Kenobi – Episode 1

Commitment means sacrifice, but when does devotion to duty help or hinder us? Lisa Eldred reflects on this with episode 1 of Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Church Nerds 65 | Wanna Talk About Bruno?

Few things rival the feeling of finally beating a game that has made us question our resolve multiple times over weeks, maybe even months - the moment we finally conquer something we thought was beyond us, because the game forced us to level up. But in our spiritual lives, are we too soft? Or are we allowing ourselves to be challenged so we can level up?

Church Nerds 63 | With Great Persuasion Comes Great Responsibility

Do you hear Laurel or Yanny? Is the dress white and gold or black and blue? Green needle or Brainstorm? Bubba & Anna discuss personal interpretation and how outside help can either manipulate or persuade - whether that be in a silly internet trend or in our spiritual lives.

Church Nerds 52 | Time Travel

Bubba & Anna take a look at time travel in our TV and movies and examine the idea and possibility from different moral aspects.

19 Good Things About 2020

Accepting Help in Hilda

The Umbrella Academy: Failing at Family