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Thursday, September 05, 2013


This is Steven Petrick posting.

"Rewind" was a busted pilot for a proposed TV show in which our heroes would travel back in time to "make changes to fix problems in the present." In a sense it was a remake of "Seven Days."

One of the concepts for "Rewind" is that they had a massive database which would enable them to search not just for what was needed to be changed to fix the current problem, but also to look for "ripple" effects that our intrepid heroes might cause by accident in the past.

The plot for the two-hour pilot had our heroes going into the past to kill a man so that he would not, a few decades in the future, kill a woman who was the wife of a man who would plant a nuclear weapon in New York city. Thus they would kill one man to save nine million.

You see, our heroes cannot control their time portal, but have to look for opportunities in the random windows it provides. So they cannot go back to the day before the bomb is planted (say November 16th, 2012) and stop the bomber, they have to use the opportunity presented by the random opening of a window into August 23, 1929, to effect the change. Thus, they cannot kill the bomber while he is a child (or his parents or the parents of his wife before either was born and met), but they can kill the man who would eventually murder the wife.

Now, this is where I run afoul of this "prevent ripples" thing.

The man they are going to kill committed a number of other crimes in his life. He interacted with other people. There is no computer program in the world that is going to tell you how important any one of those things in his life was. There is no way of knowing every single detail of any random individual's life is from just a criminal record (or a military record or what have you). He may have shown a random act of kindness that caused someone else not to do some act. His being caught and imprisoned may have kept someone else from going down a life of crime. He may have had an illegitimate child of which there is no record, but who grew up to be an important legislator. The possible ripples of his death are simply not something you can account for. Even his death could cause problems in that there is an unsolved murder that some police force's attention was diverted to.

Further are the effects of our band of heroes.

While in the past they cause an accident in which truck full of illegal booze is wrecked. We are assured there will be no ripple effect from this because it will not be reported to the police.

But wait a minute.

The booze was not delivered. Money did not change hands. A new truck for running the booze would have to be acquired, meaning money went in a direction it did not go previously. People did not drink the booze, other people did not make a profit over selling the booze in their speakeasies. Some individual did not get drunk and get into a fight. Another individual did not get drunk and have an accident. Various people did not meet and interact.

There is just no way for a modern super computer to have enough data to compute the possible ripple effects of truck accident. There is no telling how much effect even a few seconds delay can have on anything.

I have said before that all of us live in seconds, but are not aware of it. A few seconds delay, or departing a location a few seconds early can be all that is between us and death. Just today I narrowly avoided a traffic accident  only because I am relatively attendant to the road. The light turned green, and I am aware that because it is such a fast light that often a car will run the light, so I did not pull forward when it turned green, and enough a pickup truck went through, obviously on the tail of the light turning yellow (since, as noted, my light had turned green already). After the pickup went through I started to move forward, only to have to jam on the brakes as another car "ran the red." A few seconds delay in hitting the brakes (because I had that green light) and I would have hit the car running the red light.

Our heroes made their trip from their point of entry into the past to where they needed to kill their victim and back by borrowing a car. They made a point that they needed to borrow a car that would not be missed while they were using it. Again, there are going to be ripple effects. The owner has a couple hundred more miles of wear on his car, which means it will wear out sooner, the tires will need to be replaced sooner. He will have to refill his gas tank sooner, meaning the pattern of his life is temporarily interrupted. The car's engine was tampered with to get it to start without a key, and our heroes had no time to undo the tampering when they returned.

And, of course, in the event, they did not kill the man, but rather changed his life. Instead of becoming a career criminal, he went on to be a hero in World War II as a Marine. What effect did that have? People who should have died did not, others who should have lived (albeit not Americans) died. What else happened in his changed life? What happened to people he influenced as a criminal?

Ultimately I would not have watched the show as I could not get past the concept that the ripple effects could be predicted and managed. Not just the sheer unimaginable (for the apparent purposes of the show's background) that they were just going to randomly have a hole in time open up that would enable them to go back and fix a particular problem. (And the pilot made implications that they would be able to go back even further in time to "fix" problems in the present when there were even fewer records on people and what they did than for the pilot episode.)