There are going to be spoilers here that while vague and abstract might give a good hint about how the first season of the show develops.

Before I write what’s left in my memory about the new Twin Peaks I thought I’d write down about the “mythology” behind Dark, a recent miniseries on Netflix that I watched when it aired (so this too has been a while). I’m only writing on the mechanics of time travel.

The aspect I want to focus on is that Dark is built on the same conceptual mistake that can be found in “Arrival”. Both of these try to reach up for some sophisticate science/mythology that awes the average spectator, but that breaks completely down with careful analysis. When I saw Arrival I ended up writing SEVERAL walls of text to analyze it from every angle possible. This time, thanks to that heavy lifting I did back then, I’ll go straight to the point without being too pedantic.

Both Arrival and Dark (or Dark limited to its first season) are built on a fundamental principle of “time travel” that set itself apart from the tradition of time travel mechanics in fiction and movies like “Back to the Future”. In that case a modification of the past creates a new timeline, so the output of that method is a branching reality like a multiverse of possibilities. Every small change creates a brand new universe. And this way of seeing time travel is so widespread in popular fiction that all of us are able to conceptualize and understand it without any problem. It’s part of us now.

But Arrival and Dark use instead a new concept: time is a solid. That means that even if time travel happens, it only “causes” events to happen in that precise determined way. Change is always “apparent” because things are (pre)determined to go only in a certain specific way. Time as a solid means that time is fixed and unchangeable. In Arrival information can travel through time, from the future to the past, but only to make so that events happen exactly as they are “meant” to happen. Time as a solid means there’s only one timeline and it all happens “at once”. There effectively are no “loops”, and no branches and alternative timelines.

What happens in Arrival is that a woman starts experiencing events in the future the same way we would normally have memories of our past events. As if her memory stored past and future events both. Eventually even letting her reaching for information only available in her future to use this knowledge in her “present” time, effectively making that information travel through time. This of course possible because the concept at the foundation, as already explained, is that time is fixed. It can be “known” (hypothetically) because it’s already determined and so, in a certain way, always available.

This leads to a kind of paradox or counter-intuitive scenario where this woman would have in her “present” time a memory of a future event, and then when the times comes she would have to live again that event as if she was an actress tying to mimic exactly that scene the same way she remembers it.

Since thinking about this stuff can be very confusing and mind-bending, I’ve shaped an example that’s extremely simple and intuitive, and still retains all the features we’re examining here.


– Let’s reproduce the same scenario. The hypothesis that time is fixed, and there’s a woman who can see the future because that future is already determined.

A room, two chairs, me (just a normal being who can’t see the future) and this woman (who can indeed see and know the future). I simply ask the woman to decide and then say aloud between two options: A and B. Letting her know that if she says A, then I’ll say B. And if instead she says B, I’ll say A. (and that’s exactly what I want to do as soon she speaks)

Here’s the trick: before the woman makes this choice I ask this:
“This experiment is meant to prove to us that you can indeed see the future, and that the future cannot be changed. So I simply ask you, what is the next thing I’ll say, A or B?”

This is the experiment. It goes without saying that, if the thesis is right, then time is fixed and the woman knows EXACTLY the next thing I’m going to say. Time cannot be changed, so there cannot be any other option beside what she already knows. BUT, this experiment is built so that as soon the woman offers her answer of what I’m going to say next, I’LL SAY THE OPPOSITE. Because that’s exactly what I told her. If she says I’m going to say A, then I’m going to say B, breaking her prevision.

I’ve now offered this thought experiment to quite a number of different people to see if someone offered a new angle and prove what I’m saying has some kind of flaw. But the reaction is generally always the same. Usually people suppose there’s something wrong with the way the experiment is built, so they’d generally say, for example: she can’t answer because she knows that then it would produce a contradiction, so she’s in a position where she just will stay silent.

The problem with this explanation is that people want to cling to their intuitive model instead of realizing that the model itself is broken. This thought experiment has a solution, instead. The solution proves there’s a fallacy at the presumption the thought experiment is based on.


The paradox is easily solved. The concept of time as a solid is built on the premise nothing can be changed and so follows a complete description, set in stone. There’s nothing incorrect in this premise. The mistake is built on the next aspect: the presumption that the state of this system can be “known” from inside the system (like this woman who can see future events) without this knowledge producing any effect on the system itself.

What happens in this scenario, when built correctly, is that whenever the woman receives memories from future events, those memories are new information that is going to ALTER the system. This means, in ALL cases, that every information about the future WILL alter the future.

I repeat: if time is truly a solid there’s nothing wrong. But if time is a solid then it cannot be possible to take information from a future moment and give it to an agent (this woman) in a different moment leaving the system unchanged. This creates a recursion where information in the past has to account for itself in the future, then goes back in the past, causing the future to shift again, and so on and so on. In technical terms this system never closes and continues to grow without reaching a final state. So creating an infinite recursion where we will never obtain a fixed state. And so a system where future events can’t be known because the time is always shifting, which is the opposite of the premise “time is fixed”. It cannot be fixed if it can never reach a closure and so a final state.

Applied to the thought experiment above the result is that when the woman receives information from the future (for example that she says A, and I’ll say B), and then she correctly predicts and say B, by saying that she ALTERS the flow of time, so that I’ll instead say A. But this will alter again the future, so she’ll instead know I’m going to say A, and so she says I’ll say A, altering AGAIN the future and making me say B, which will change again her vision of the future, and so on and so on.

“Time is fixed” presumes there’s a final state, and that this state is then recorded and unchangeable. But what I’ve proven is instead that if you build this system under those rules what you obtain a system that is caught in a recursive loop similar to the concept of “infinite regress” so that this system can never possibly close, so denying the possibility of eventually reaching a fixed final state.

So you’ll ask, how does “Dark” fit in this picture? Dark (trying to not spoiler too much) shows characters who see themselves doing things in the future. Then the time comes, and they do EXACTLY what they previously saw.

It’s stupid. Because as I’ve explained here knowledge of the future necessarily changes it. In fact Dark seems built on the premise everyone’s an idiot. It cannot afford thinking characters because there’s no way to make it work that way. They have to somewhat wave all that away and “make believe” in a clumsy way and convenient Deus Ex Machina. That guy couldn’t make 1 + 1 and so ended up doing the same thing he tried to avoid. Because time is fixed? Nope, because he’s stupid and because if he wasn’t the plot wouldn’t work.

Both Dark and Arrival take a concept that is quite valid. The hypothesis that time might be “fixed” is a good one. That’s why people naturally accept it, and it’s already famous because it’s part of Nietzsche’s Eternal Return. The point here is that Nietzsche wasn’t an idiot and he didn’t make THAT mistake. The mistake of imagining time as fixed AND giving that information to entities that are part of the system without realizing that doing so creates an infinite regression.

If we imagine a system where time is fixed, all is correct. There’s nothing “paradoxical” about it. Just as long the information on how this system evolves can only be known when you observe the system without interfering with its process (like observing from outside). But if you take this information and you push it INSIDE the system, then this information HAS TO account for itself and alter the system. Because it’s brand new information that perturbs the system and sends it in a new state. And having done just that means that time isn’t anymore fixed: you created a recursion that never produces a fixed closed system.

Recursive systems are a bitch. Please handle with care, especially if you don’t know what you’re dealing with.

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