Rules to Follow to Evade Causality Paradoxes or Generally Screwing Your Life Up

Born out of a brief discussion of the TV series Early Edition, in which the main character receives the Chicago Sun-Times a day early and uses the knowledge to change events, a friend asked me what I would do if I was in a similar situation. Would I change things in an effort to help people or use the information for personal gain? Or perhaps even just ignore the information completely?

Answering in a way that was perhaps more pragmatic than the friend was expecting I made the case that ‘changing events’ to help people would be an entirely fruitless exercise because simply knowing how a few events panned out would not suddenly give you mastery over worldwide causality. I could save a man from being hit by a bus but he could then go on to assassinate the president, resulting in a chain of events that resulted in a nuclear apocalypse (an extreme example but it illustrates the point well).

The two options therefore seem to be either to use the knowledge with complete abandon or ignore it completely (more accurately, ensure that you do not learn it to begin with).

This predicament is always one that is amusing in films relating to time travel or precognition as the characters never take either option but instead opt to changes things believing they can ‘control’ causality (they often achieve it too after a bit of trail and error – Back to the Future is an obvious example). One film that addresses this concept of control wonderfully with a genuine sense of logical pragmatism is Shane Carruth’s fantastic debut feature Primer.

There is even a moment in the film in which one character hands another a list of rules he has made to ensure that they don’t change anything.

As Carruth points out in the forum where he posted the rules online, whilst the rules are interesting it is perhaps “the idea of having rules” that is far more interesting.

Rules to Follow to Evade Causality Paradoxes or Generally Screwing Your Life Up:

1. Do not disturb the box after you exit it. You or your double is in it.

2. When re-experiencing time stay away from your double until he/she has started his/her journey backwards.

3. Worry about yourself first. Now is the only moment that has to make sense.

4. Don’t be too curious about your surroundings.

Posted by Shane Carruth in the Primer Movie Forums

(This was originally posted at my old blog in 2011.)