Divergent Timeline Theory
Time Travel 101
When it comes to time travel, there are three basic schools of thought: Straight Line, Revisionist, and Many Worlds.
- Straight Line Theory says that there is one timeline, and it is immutable. History cannot be changed: once it has happened, it’s happened. Within the Straight Line school you’ll also find cyclical theory, in which, not precisely the same events, but equivalent events, happen periodically. Time, in this model, folds in on itself and forms an infinite loop. Within Straight Line Theory, time travel is still possible, but relies on the notion of the "pre-destination paradox": whereby, if you go back in time and change something, it is because you were meant to go back and change it. This means that attempting a major change is therefore impossible, because if it were to happen you would already have done so, and thus be unaware that the change had occurred.
- Revisionist Theory is similar to Straight Line, but with one all-important key difference: you can change history. You might be most familiar with Revisionist Theory from the Back to the Future movies, wherein the leading character changes his present situation (but not his memories) by what he does to his ancestors, while visiting the past. Revisionists are split at a few key points: in one ideology, changes to the timeline affect all those except the time traveler, who remembers things differently; in others, the time traveler's own memories are also changed, such that they may not remember traveling or even their motivations for doing so.
- Finally we have Many Worlds. The Many Worlds Theory posits that for every possible outcome, a new timeline is spawned, thus producing an infinite number of realities. This is the most fun to daydream about, but it can also lead to some absurd scenarios, like a universe in which flying doorknobs wear lime-green socks on their ears. Within the Course Books, Many Worlds and Revisionist are the most often believed.
Divergent Timeline Theory
Called Temporal Divergence Theory, it was proposed by Jason Bur'I during the late Sixth Age and argued at The Caucuses. While the physical mechanics are much more complex, it is easiest to understand the principle by imagining time as a straight line, moving from left to right along an infinitely long sheet of paper. In this principle there is one primary timeline, which is the only timeline that "matters". This is the line moving perfectly level from left to right. We could incorporate 3D here, but for the sake of understanding, it will be easier to comprehend temporal divergence on a 2D plane.
In Divergence Theory, not every possibility spawns an alternate timeline. Instead, possibilities create wrinkles, or potential points of divergence. Whether or not an actual timeline is sparked from this ripple has to do with the level of impact the other possibilities would have on the timeline. This means that, in most cases, the event which "forks" the divergent timeline often happens AFTER the timeline actually splits.
- Early one morning, a cab driver enters a coffee shop. While getting his coffee, he has to choose between two pitchers of creamer, unaware that one pitcher contains spoiled creamer. This is the event from which the alternate timeline spawns.
- In one possibility, the driver chooses the spoiled pitcher. Later that day, while distracted by food poisoning, he strikes and kills a young woman.
- In the other possibility, his morning coffee sitting right, the driver swerves and avoids the young woman, sparing her life.
- In this example, the young woman is carrying the illegitimate child of an important political figure. In the continuity where she is killed, her secret dies with her, and said political figure is never even aware, knowing only that his secret lover has died. In the continuity where she lives, her child causes a massive scandal and destroys the career of the politician.
A divergent timeline is thus created; one of which is the "main" timeline, while the other is the divergent, whose events begin to change until it becomes unrecognizable. What mechanism determines which outcome stays a part of the "main" timeline and which becomes a divergent, is not known. It is believed that a great deal of random chance is involved. The notion of predestination is also to be considered; but, again, this is speculation.
Once created, a divergent timeline moves off at an angle away from the main timeline. Instead of spawning its own divergent lines, each event within the divergent line causes the angle to change. Events can bring a divergent timeline exactly parallel with the main line (though this is thought to be so rare as it borders on impossible). They can also divert it directly back into the main line. Note that "differences" are not considered to be at the quantum level; the location of air molecules and other low-impact states are not a large factor.
Things get interesting when events divert the line even further from the main. Because of the difference in angle of the divergent line, it covers more ‘ground’ in a shorter distance. It’s basic geometry: compared to the main timeline, the divergent timeline will go further. Thus, looking into these timelines can give viewers from the main timeline a ‘glimpse’ into the future.
When the angle of a divergent timeline becomes perfectly perpendicular to the main timeline (90 degrees), the divergent line collapses. As it does so, it releases a phenomenon known as Collapsing Probability Waves.
Did you ever find your wallet in the freezer? Are you ever curious where all those lost socks went? Have you ever found a book you were looking for in the library on a shelf you JUST checked? Did you ever see a dragon, in a world where they're not supposed to exist? Collapsing Probability Waves.
The impacts of Collapsing Probability Waves are nearly impossible to measure, and just as difficult to quantify. It could be a Collapsing Probability Wave, or it could just be a huge coincidence.
The impact of Collapsing Probability Waves is much greater on the divergent timelines, as they are further from the main. This can produce downright odd events within these lines, which of course no one will really notice because their line is well on the road to collapse.