Skip to main content

Time Travel and Superposition in Dark

I was no more than four years old when our car got stuck on a snowy hill decades ago. Everyone but me went outside to push to get us out of frozen road. More people gathered from other cars to help each other and soon everyone was engaged in a small rescue operation. That certainly didn't mean I didn't help - as well as others pushing the car from the outside, I did the same from the inside. From the back seat, I put my hands on the front and pushed hard. In my defense, deep down I knew that what I was doing was kind of weird and useless. At the time I just didn't know why. I was just ashamed sitting alone and doing nothing. Well, like they say, with age comes the wisdom and now I know that what I did was physically impossible, just like in the case of baron Münchhausen - when he got out himself and his horse he was sitting on out of a swamp by pulling his own hair upwards. And just like in old expression about an absurd and impossible thing one can do - if I were to pull bootstraps on my shoes up, lift myself into the air and jump over the fence.

In science fiction, the word bootstrap is also used to portray the impossible task in all the paradoxes that are always hard to understand. Within time travel, the bootstrap paradox is a theoretical paradox that occurs when an object, information or human is sent back in time and becomes trapped in the infinite cause-effect loop in which it no longer has a detectable point of origin. For a simple example, if I somehow send a copy of this very blog post to my younger self before I write it in the first place, the origin of the text becomes utterly unknown. It exists in the time loop and I become just somebody who typed it in. Yet, the text will still have my own style of writing and my own thoughts written down and not somebody else's. Hopefully, you will not find this case implicitly weird, because weird in this blog post, is yet to come.

I was aware of existence of the Netflix's 'Dark' for a long time now, but due to it's scientific background and complexity, I knew it required continuous binging time to watch it and last weekend I finally decided the time is just right, and I swallowed all three seasons in just three days. Like no other TV show it was solely based on time travel and quantum superposition, and... in a word it was outstanding. With lots of characters to follow through both space and time, it did require full concentration, but thankfully due to fantastic direction, script and performances of all involved it was more than understandable and enjoyable, to say the least. It is impossible to continue this without spoilers, so if you are eager to watch it first, this is the point on this blog post to stop reading and I advise it strongly.

Anyhow, Dark's premise is all about bootstrap paradoxes. There are multiple plotlines in the show heavily embedded in time loops, just like my example of this blog post traveling to the past. If that was weird, imagine what this kind of paradox, involving time travel of real people and their intertwined stories, could do to your sanity only as an observer. On top of that, season one passed with very few or not at all special effects and there was no reason for that either. In Dark, all the post-time-travel effects are already embedded in the future, or the present from where they traveled back in time. For example, Helge already had all visible face scars that were consequence of the Urlich's time travel. Also, the stories about murdered woman on the bottom of the lake were already socially spread even before Katharina was murdered in her own time travel.

Even though, the Mikkel's time travel was the prime story behind the Dark, where he ended being a father to Jonas, the main protagonist, for me the strangest and ingenious bootstrap paradox is Charlotte, who was born in the future, traveled to the past as a baby and became a mother to Elisabeth who in her own future became a mother to Charlotte herself. The endless loop between them lies in the fact that they are both mother and daughter to each other. And even this is not the weirdest bootstrap compared to the entire Nielsen family. Martha's and Jonas' child, who is in the show the strangest character of them all, in his own time travel became a father to Tronte, who was Martha's own grandfather. This practically means that Martha's son was his own great-great-grandfather. In the aftermath most of the members of Nielsen family are practically the result of a direct or inherited bootstrap paradox and have to thank their existence to the time travel itself.

To be honest I was so perturbed and unsettled with all the relations by the end of the season two that I was not sure how they will come out of this at all. There was so many open loops with no indications how it can go any further. At that point I thought that this show will go down the drain very quickly or they must come up with something even more out of ordinary to continue the story. And then, at the very end, in the last episode, came another Martha, stood by the dead Martha and answered Jonas' question from when she came from exactly with "Die Frage ist nicht aus welcher Zeit, sondern aus welcher Welt". Well, I am not fluent in German at all, but I know a word of two and in this case I knew very much the difference between Zeit and Welt. In the outcome, even before subtitle showed up I was left staring at the screen with my mouth wide open.

The final season introduced even more time travelers, both new and doppelgangers but more importantly the story started to unveil now with introducing the cause and affect of the quantum superposition mirrored in the macro world(s) and character's actions. In quantum world, superposition means particles can exist in different states and even multiple places at the same time. The weirdness comes if we try to observe the process. At that instant superposition brakes into just one outcome of them many. Just like with double-slit experiment of light behavior* or in binary superposition with Schrödinger's cat in the show explained by H.G. Tannhaus in one of the episodes.

The difference between micro and macro world, with time travel involved was that in the macro realm it was now 'possible' to act differently in the same time loop, and in one pass to choose one outcome and in the other different one. That allowed in the same superposition collapse, but in two time loops to create two different Jonas' and two different Martha's and to even more complicate the intertwining situations now with three worlds involved. In the ingeniously written ending of the show, as I expected, time travel loops were impossible to untangle and the only outcome was, again with time travel interfering, to save one world at the expense of the other two and by doing so to prohibit any time travels in the original world.

The ending of two worlds disappearing was just perfect and beautiful, and the very last scene explains who of all characters survives existence and which ones were only products of either direct or inherited bootstraps and therefore not possible to exist in the final world.

* Reality of Double-Slit Experiment

Strange world of physics and time travel at MPJ:


Dark refs:

© 2023 Milan's Public Journal