In the Terminator series (movies and TV show), there are some odd time loops.

  • John Connor sends Kyle Reese back in time. Kyle and Sarah have a son, John Connor. But John sent Kyle back in time only because of Skynet. Without Skynet, John wouldn't exist. The timeline protection hypothesis suggests John can't kill Skynet.
  • Skynet sends a Terminator back in time. The Terminator's arm and CPU are left behind. The technology in that CPU is what Dyson uses to build the beginnings of Skynet. But Skynet sent the Terminator back in time only because of John Connor. Without John, Skynet wouldn't exist. The timeline protection hypothesis suggests that Skynet cannot destroy John.

How did we get into this circular timeline in the first place? I think it's reasonable for the initial timeline to exist without the loop. John could be someone else's son. Skynet could be developed without the Terminator's CPU. But once they start messing with time, they got into this circular dependency, where they only exist because of each other. I'm not sure they can get out of it though. It's similar to the grandfather paradox, except there are two parties trying to kill each other.

The Matrix series, which coincidentally also was about war between machines and humans, might give us a way out of the Terminator paradox. Agent Smith was trying to destroy Neo, and to do so he was willing to destroy the world. Neo sacrificed himself, which meant Smith no longer had a purpose, and Smith was destroyed at the same time as Neo. So perhaps John and Skynet have to destroy each other simultaneously. Or perhaps, as in The Matrix, the humans and machines call a truce, and both John and Skynet stop fighting far in the future, but only after the war that leads to both of them being created.


Eater wrote at Tuesday, November 11, 2008 at 1:22:00 PM PST

Have you seen Primer? If not, you'll love it :)

Amit wrote at Tuesday, November 11, 2008 at 4:36:00 PM PST

Hi Eater — yes, I saw Primer a few times. :)

D Brown wrote at Wednesday, November 12, 2008 at 10:07:00 PM PST

Movies are fun! I think the people who make them like to throw in some inconsistencies to get people thinking hard like this. For instance, Momento seemed to have errors and impossible aspects built-in. That was part of the message of the movie, I think.

Nice to see you back on the blog beat, Amit!

Gaurav M wrote at Friday, November 21, 2008 at 10:51:00 PM PST

r they easter eggs :D

Anonymous wrote at Saturday, January 24, 2009 at 7:42:00 AM PST

This has bugged me as weel and i found this website when looking for the answer, i think it explains it well.

Amit wrote at Saturday, January 24, 2009 at 11:29:00 AM PST

Thanks Dave! That's an interesting page.