Category Archives: Mythology

Includes philosophy, science, religion, physics, metaphysics, and all kinds of speculative wankery.

I spotted a tiny recommendation for the Malazan series, on Twitter, and I got carried away adding some of my unsolicited thoughts to it.

I always said that Malazan is very hard to recommend to other readers. For example it’s a lot easier to recommend Sanderson, despite Sanderson not really needing any help to get known, since now he’s all over the place. But it’s accessible, and pretty good for a very wide range of reader types. You can read 100-200 pages and see by yourself where the qualities are. And know whether it’s your thing or not.

Malazan has this, instead:

To a certain extent, it’s true. But it’s still a narrow explanation. I ask often myself, why am I a Malazan/Erikson reader? What do I find there? Why it’s so important for me? Malazan is recommended a lot, often next to the more popular Martin and Sanderson, but I’m convinced it has a very low “success rate”. I mean readers who accept the recommendation, give it an honest try, but end up not enjoying the read at all. I always asked myself why.

For many, it’s all about a matter of taste and personal disposition. But that’s not a satisfying explanation for me. I always seek a reason, trying to find an objective motivation… that can describe what is that precisely works for me, and doesn’t for other readers. Many others.

I think I grasp at least some of the reasons why it happens. When I recommend Malazan I try to give objective, useful information. It doesn’t mean that I diminish the qualities there, but I do emphasize what the obstacles will be. And it depends on who’s on the other side of the recommendation. Because of the above, and because Malazan is huge, the main dilemma is that the reader doesn’t know if it’s worth committing. Therefore, the paradox: do I commit to read thousands of pages? Where is the threshold where one stops and decides if it’s worth continuing or better stop and read something else more satisfying?

That’s where I draw the line. Do you intend to commit to something huge, from the start? Fine, follow “the rules”. Start at the beginning. But if you are undecided, skeptical, and you want to know what’s there before fully committing, I’d suggest some …alternative, unconventional paths.

Garden of the Moon, the first book, is not a bad introduction to Malazan, but it is a bad introduction to Erikson. Its themes are buried very, very deep. Easy to miss. On the other hand you are buffeted by a million of things thrown in your face, constantly, vehemently. Scenes that seem inconsequential get lot of attention, scenes that are pivotal, or fundamental information end up being omitted only to be referenced offhandedly much later in casual conversation… or just vanish like a dead end. Sometimes things seem pointless, sometimes it all seems coming in the wrong order. Most readers feel confused, or detached from everything.

Eventually, through a lot of patience and a certain devotion, you read a few thousand pages and you have a map. You become the Malazan reader. Knowing where each piece fits, even appreciating the gaps, for they have an use too. You understand what, where, and why (a bit less when, but that’s not so important… Just to make a joke about the often criticized chronology that on occasions is a little wobbly).

Most successful writers use some proven “devices” to seize the reader. The book must have the reader in its center. The book is about Harry Potter, you identify with Harry Potter. The book is about you.

Me, me, me, me. I want the book to be about me.

The focus needs to be all about the reader, feeding this hole of attention. Malazan does some of this, but its greater part is the opposite. Kicks you out: fuck off, get out of the way. Take yourself out of focus, and maybe something worthwhile can be said. Stay quiet, observe. I’ll return to this…

Malazan is not lonely, but it is solitary, brooding, a bit forlorn. Especially now it represents the time. With lockdowns, being separate, and yet it’s now that we’re all connected, more than ever. And we can observe all, everything around us, collapsing. Governments that blindly repeat actions that have failed, imprisoned in a psychotic loop, rewriting and bending science to what’s more convenient. Over and over we know, with clarity, that measures are effective the more they are timely, focusing on prevention, and what we do is the opposite, we wait until too late, feeding onto a pervasive fatalism. We simply accept a number of deaths, making it a norm. Minimizing risks to make believe everything’s fine. Follow these five simple rules for a false sense of security. All because the world doesn’t want to change, and power needs to be preserved. And we can only observe, passively, this slow, progressive deterioration of reality itself. We just observe from our places. Solitary observers of something set into motion. Sorrowful but unable to act, like ghosts.

Malazan is the pain of the world, when it is spoken through a living or unliving mouth. You are meant as the vessel, Itkovian.

That’s why I sometimes I suggest a new reader to start with “Forge of Darkness”. If you are uncertain, whether or not to commit. You could start from the proper beginning, but you’ll have to dig, probably for a long time before you find those themes. Forge of Darkness is not an introduction, but it can be read on its own without prior knowledge. It might feel that you’re missing pieces you’re meant to know about, but you have to trust the text. The book is confusing even for veteran Malazan readers, in some cases even more because it plays around by scattering some expectations. You can go in blind, but read slowly, give it thought. Malazan is not a page turner, even if it has page turning scenes. Mull on the paragraph you’ve just read, not thinking about it only after you’re done. Dig for meaning.

Forge of Darkness is a brooding, mysterious book, but it has its themes on the front, explicit. Impossible to miss. You want to know what it’s all about without reading a million of pages, then it’s all here, wrapped up and well presented. One book, even if part of a trilogy it’s sufficiently self contained. Not an easy read, but it’s there, and you’ll see it.

But I wanted to go further. Condense more, to a point. What is Malazan about?

“Secret… to show… now.”

(This link includes two scenes, one from book 2 Prologue, one from book 7 Prologue. Six pages in total. No spoilers. You can read these without knowing anything else. The images are taken from Amazon previews.)

I read this prologue and this scene many months ago, but I immediately realized… This is Malazan, right here. Just three pages. It’s everything.

A woman walks up to this cliff. For the reader this is a blank page. You get the description of strong winds, the ocean beyond. Agitated waters. You get a mention of a Meckros City that sunk there. If you are new to the series you know nothing about it, but me, Malazan reader, don’t know all much more beside that these people built floating cities on the sea. So they knew how to be out in the ocean, and the fact they sunk here leaves an ominous feel about the place.

Like a painting, a white canvas, you add detail. Brush strokes. This vast open space in the ocean. You follow with your mind a small fisher boat, blown off course to these treacherous waters. Miraculously surviving the experience and reaching the shore. But something is missing from the picture. Something like a shadow, looming on the scene. Depending on what you use, there’s always an exclusive, irreplaceable quality. For example, in a movie you can use some tricks, but you show what you have to. The attention goes where it has to. But in a book, you control everything. You decide what is or isn’t there. Here you believe what you’re told. You have an ocean dominating the canvas, and then your attention is drawn to a tiny boat, thinking it’s the center, when it is instead pushed to the margin. There’s a giant shadow that dominates the canvas… but no perception of it. Just… A sense of urgency. A secret… to show.

The wind pushes her away, she endures. Drawn to this shadow. Some more details seep in, but the scene is interrupted by “a presence at her side”. A distraction. A merchant she completely ignores. He makes his presence known, loudly. He’s ignored again. The shadow is there, like a tear in reality. The wind rushing out of it, from a different world (a warren).


He tries to shake her as if she’s asleep or in a trance. She didn’t turn to him, she didn’t acknowledge his presence. It’s the shadow that draws her. And bit by bit, it is revealed. Half a million people that just vanished.

It’s already all here for me. The way a mystery is shaped, the choice of what is and isn’t shown, the momentum leading to the revelation. The contemplation, and an environment that takes shape to become a character. Telling its story, piece by piece. The sense of urgency that builds up… for something already happened, already over. The scene, beside the wind, is quiet. You don’t need to read 500 pages for the solution, in two/three pages you get both the set up and the pay off. A book of 900 pages, in a series of 10 book, and you get the pay off in three fucking pages. The mystery isn’t inflated and built by pretense, it’s there. Immediate. Fully delivering its awe. And when the answer comes, to fully deliver its promise (what is she seeing, why does the sight chill her?) you get an opening for more. It’s just an introduction.

And, why not? We see a woman, commanding the military, ignoring and then bossing around a rich, probably powerful merchant. There is no emphasis about any of this. It just is.

(imo, this scene already has too much dialogue, too many asides. It could have used less. Erikson, who’s never generous, already gives too much. Erikson works better the more he’s entrenched. Going the opposite way. Say less.)

I’m not commenting the other prologue scene because there’s a lot, and most of it is quite explicit, even if open ended. But it’s ironic that I could write a lot about those first three lines: “What see you in the horizon’s bruised smear, that cannot be blotted out by your raised hand?” What other witty commentary is possible when it’s all so straightforward?

Well, for me Malazan is always about a sense of scale. Big books, each one, ten of them. A sense of history, a large cast of characters, a big world, creatures, dragons. And yet it thrives on the small, intimate. Introspection. Often duos on their solitary journeys, like Mappo and Icarium. The human, more intimate scale (hand) is always the view on the world, on things much bigger, the gods, alien worlds (the horizon). A sense of reality that has to go through the filter of human perception. The world through, or into your hand. Animated. A construct. Maybe even a pretense of control, that is always mocked. Gods that are dragged, taken down. Heboric again. Erikson always plays with scale, and knows what he’s doing.

(btw, Paran – Felisin – Laseen, make an important pillar for the first FOUR books. And it’s omitted. Nothing about it is shown. Imagine reading Game of Thrones… and there’s no chapter on the Starks. The story is the same, you just don’t get any direct view of them.)

Malazan can be summarized in a word, a concept. Malazan is… “contemplative.”

It is all about the voice. If you take Lord of the Rings and you know Tolkien was a linguist, you’ll realize that everything that makes LotR what it is, to its core, is language. Language is the filter for everything, something that Bakker understood really, really well. It’s not one possible angle on that book. It is everything. It’s a dimension. Even the metaphysical/religious aspects are all about language (the elves who represent art, immortality, the god-like power of creation, and the world that begins shaped by music, all is a form of language).

Something similar happens in Malazan. Erikson was an archaeologist. This well known fact is often used to explain why the worldbuilding is so good. Because that knowledge gives Erikson a way to look at things, make them more realistic. But I think that worldbuilding in Malazan is extremely overrated. Even Sanderson that I mentioned above does worldbuilding better and more meticulously. What Erikson does is something else, and it is pervasive in the same way language is pervasive in LotR. An archeologist is someone who walks onto a site. He looks around, observes. Contemplates. He reads the place. In his mind he interprets the signs he sees, connects them. He imagines the people there, the culture, the life and blood. He walks though a place that is no more, and yet still there. Like a ghost, walking through an alien world.

Being an archaeologist, an observer of human culture, isn’t an angle, a point of view. It is an enclosure of the world. A receptacle, a symbol. An almost religious experience. Like Heboric before the Jade Giants.

How to observe the world, species, your people, your life?
How to understand things, how to give them meaning?

The same as Heboric in front of the Priest of Hood, there is a sense of urgency. But it’s about the world, not you. The observer is Felisin, not Heboric. It is not you. Felisin that came from a different world:

“The same city, but a different world.”

Passivity is her theme through the book. The flies crawling on her thighs are the least terrible thing that is going to happen to her, nothing is normal anymore. Her world collapsed, leaving her not even scared. Just numb.

This flow of human events that seems nonsensical, vain, empty.

Like Heboric watching the Jade giants, Heboric and the ghosts of a world that is no more: I observe my time as if I’m outside, but I am in it. And yet outside, observing with an external god-like quality… of inaction (powerlessness). There’s nothing to judge, because it’s like a river. It goes downhill. It’s not its merit, it’s not its fault. You get to understand it only when you aren’t anymore part of it. Because when you are in it, you are swimming for your life. The world is about you. You cannot understand the world until you surrender yourself to it. Until you stop pretending to decide its course.

Silence your ego, lets the world speak with its own voice. You stop deciding, you start understanding.

The secret of Malazan is transforming its readers in… Ascendants. From reader to witness. We are the witnesses, from this outside. Given sight.

The writer is a jade giant, the reader is a jade giant. We are all jade giants. We watch. Erikson teaches how to tune in. To the hum of the world. We give voice to these otherworldly giants. We are receptacles. We are vessels of the world. We do not find answers, we must answer.

(The buzzing of Hood’s files, they speak. The buffeting wind, it speaks. “The world is very, very old.”)

(In Game of Thrones Martin transforms Bran into a tree. He can do it. In Malazan, he cannot do it, Erikson transforms the reader.)

Disclaimer as usual: this isn’t a review of the movie, this is a review of its conceptual framework.

“Don’t try to understand it. Feel it.”

That’s a direct quote from the movie.

You cannot go back in time and kill your own grandfather (for whatever reason) because if you could you wouldn’t exist and everything in this reality happens for a reason. If this makes sense to you, then this movie is for you.

If that makes sense to you, then it reveals you have a deep set anti-scientific bias.

I’d usually now write to build toward that conclusion, but lets spoil it right away. Science is about testing knowledge, put it through the grinder to see if there’s something left at the end of the process. When you have a theory, a description of something, an anti-scientific mindset would operate to DEFEND that theory. A scientific mindset, instead, works to take it down in every way possible. If you prove the theory WRONG (or a more recent example), then you’ve learned something. An opportunity to move forward.

Most common understandings of science are the exact opposite: you work to prove things true. Nope, science works in reverse: you learn by proving things wrong. By drawing further distinctions and pruning. You move forward when you know you don’t know.

At the foundation of Tenet there’s a common theme I covered already many times. It’s funny because just a few weeks ago I was writing about Dark, and now this movie appears and it’s the same thing, all over again. From Arrival, through Dark, and now Tenet, we see the exact same structure being repeated without ANY variation. The “innovations” that Tenet brings to the table are exclusively “visual” and performative. The concept of time, and time-travel, is IDENTICAL. Just wave away all the obfuscation the movie throws at you, and you’re left with the same structure, and nothing new being said about such structure.

Tenet, just like Arrival and Dark (and Watchmen), is founded on a flawed premise. This is easily proven, and the example I use is a simple one that I’ve already explained. But let’s quickly go through it again.

Tenet is based on a concept of time, and time-travel, where “what’s happened, happened.” That means it pushes away hypothesis of parallel worlds forked by time-travel. There’s only one timeline, everything that happens has to be inscribed in that same time fabric. This consequently means that time is “fixed”, nothing can be changed, and every cause produced through time-travel is always already part of the flow. Nothing is ever being “added” to the time flow. If something appears to change, it only changed because of limited perspective and knowledge of someone observing. It’s illusory change due to perspective and perception. But reality, and time, are fixed. And of course all this opens the philosophical theme of free will and what happens to conscious choice.

As I said, this framework is flawed in its premise and is easily proven with a thought experiment meant to test the thesis itself. As in typical scientific investigation you have an hypothesis (“time cannot be changed”) and conceive an experiment meant to test whether it is actually true or not.

The experiment itself is much simpler than the tortuous machinations the movie throws at you: imagine a simple computer that uses as input two big buttons, labeled A and B. The computer is programmed so that if you press the button A, then the computer outputs a B on a screen, if you press B instead it will show an A. The opposite of the button you press. To contextualize this experiment to Tenet, just imagine sending a “protagonist” in reverse. Being in reverse, he experiences time in the inverted direction, so first he will see the output on a screen, and his memory will record the letter that appears on that screen. Let’s say it’s “B”. His instructions are simple. After seeing the letter on screen he will have to press on the input the letter that he saw on the screen.

That’s all.

If he sees a B on the screen, then he presses B, because that’s what the instructions he was given say. But if he presses B then his action OVERWRITES the future, and the screen will show A, as it is programmed to do. But if he went in reverse and he saw A, then he would press A, but this again overwrites the future. And yet, none of this can happen, because we’ve established as the premise that time cannot be changed. So no overwriting can happen.

It is not about free will, it’s about contradiction. You can replace the protagonist with an inverted mechanical object and the contradiction will take place just the same.

Here’s a new experiment with mechanical devices only. The simplest proof of how Tenet falls apart.

Tenet defeated

Let’s take two devices, one that is wholly normal, and proceeds linearly through time, that we name Billy. The other instead is reversed, and we name it Tom.

Billy, the linear time one, is equipped with a microphone, and programmed so that if it hears one beep, it activates a projector that shows the color red on a wall. If instead the microphone hears two beeps then the projector will show the color blue on the same wall.

Tom, the one that is reversed, is instead equipped with a camera and a sound emitter. The camera is pointed at the wall of the first device, and Tom is programmed so that if the camera sees the color red on the screen, then the sound emitter will produce two beeps, if instead the camera sees blue, the emitter will produce one beep.

Caveat: there’s a small loophole that can be exploited, and that wants that Billy doesn’t show anything, and Tom, not seeing anything on the wall, doesn’t emit anything either. This can be easily patched up with an added rule that if Tom reaches Time 1, as described below, without the camera seeing a color, then it is programmed to emit either one or two beeps randomly. This makes sure than in all cases Tom will see a color at Time 2, and so won’t have to use the random function at all.

Let’s establish then two discrete points in time. Time 1 and Time 2. They are labeled in linear order. So in common linear time first we have Time 1, and then Time 2 follows. Tom, in reverse, experiences Time 2 before Time 1.

Billy (normal), one beep = red, two beeps = blue.
Tom (reverse), red = two beeps, blue = one beep.

Since Tenet establishes that the past cannot be changed, and everything is inscribed already in the same timeline, then it means Tom, at Time 2 will have to perceive a color, because it has always already also proceeded to Time 1 and emitted a sound. But of course this opens the contradiction because if it sees red, then it emits the two beeps that will cause Billy to project the color blue, and so Tom cannot see red, it sees blue. But if it sees blue at Time 2, then at Time 1 it will emit only one beep.

Conclusion: this contradiction cannot be solved, because the fundamental principle Tenet is based on is flawed.

This proves not only how and why Tenet is flawed at its foundation, but that also the theme of free will is completely misleading and misplaced. There’s no free will involved in that experiment. Just two mechanical devices operating with simple rules.

(By the way, I also know the outcome of that experiment if it really took place. For example Tom will see red and emit one beep. This whether or not time is fixed. It will happen simply because either the timeline was changed, so proving the thesis wrong, or a change is still perceived even if it doesn’t really happen. This because it’s a matter of perspective and you are experiencing an inner loop where information is still flowing in a limited, occluded way. If your epistemology is solid then all these apparent contradictions will simply go away. So yes, the experiment will produce a PERCEIVED contradiction, apparently impossible to explain. Either the thesis is wrong, or time is perceived occluded and so partially. I will return on this theme of partial perception.)

Now, even if I proved that the concept of the movie doesn’t hold up to scrutiny it’s still a stretch accusing this movie of anti-scientific propaganda. This goes a step further, so let’s get to that point, since I’ve more territory to cover here.

All that I’ve explained above pivots around what’s generally known as the Grandfather Paradox. This is relevant as the most common solution to this paradox contains meaningful elements that have a lot in common with the movie (but the movie doesn’t propose any solution to the Grandfather Paradox, it quotes it, but it doesn’t address it).

The common solution is straightforward, you go back in time, try to kill your grandfather only to eventually find out that you only believed having killed him, but he somehow survived (Dark offers this exact example). Or maybe he never was your true grandfather.

All these different possibilities rely on one aspect: that the time-traveler’s knowledge is imperfect and incomplete. You think you’re going back and changing something, but that’s a byproduct of incomplete knowledge, you’re proven delusional. Things were always set in a different way, you just didn’t know.

This is where everything comes together. You can indeed write time travel stories, like Tenet, where what you see happening is coherent. Those scenes are thought and built to avoid contradiction. Precisely selected. But this also means that we see what the director decided to show. The concept itself only holds up for those specific scenes, it doesn’t hold up in general.

But what does it also mean? That Nolan came up with an interesting concept, then built a story around it to make it work and deliberately DODGE all the problematic questions it implicitly opens. The movie directly references them, like the Grandfather Paradox and the problem of free will, but these crucial points are left hanging, going unaddressed and untested because the movie selectively shows only what can work.

This “process” is essentially the sublimation of a fallacy: confirmation bias. You come up with a theory and only point at those elements that reinforce the theory while ignoring everything that proves it wrong. You make a movie so fast moving and confusing that no one has time to understand and ask questions. It works through distraction.

Its purpose is mystification. Smoke thrown in the eyes.

“Don’t try to understand it. Feel it,” said the illusionist.

The Prestige.

These are all signs of a bad story and a bad writer. Even if writing is an artificial process, good writers test their ideas and themselves. Writing isn’t simply putting on the page what you precisely know to indoctrinate who’s reading, it’s about discovering it. If there’s something of value for the reader is because the writer is also pushing himself on. Writing as a process of challenge and discovery, to push the boundary. You write to understand, you write to see.

“[Y]ou start working on something, and you find you’re really writing something else. You thought you were going this way; in fact, the text [the muse] is going another way.”

This movie is instead written to flee, to dodge, to hide from, to look elsewhere as soon there’s an hint of a problem. To distract. It’s a movie of mystification so that you fall for the illusion without questioning it. And all transpires for the general public, since you can read everywhere how the movie is convoluted, hard to understand, and no one truly believes it’s worth the effort of puzzling it together. The process is not fun because it’s felt as stilted and artificial. All these aspects surface to be perceived by everyone.

Tenet is a manual of confirmation bias. It shows what confirms the premise, ignores everything else that would undermine it. It explicitly asks you to watch it uncritically. To feel the illusion rather than reveal it. All the important themes and questions are brushed away and replaced by distracting loudness.

If Transformers by Michael Bay is militaristic propaganda, Tenet is anti-scientific propaganda. But where the first is explicit, the latter is devious, shifty, because it tries to sell itself as something else. Something clever, well thought and thought provoking. If Transformers is candidly sincere with its message, Tenet is deceitful. Going as far as choking dialogues with loud music so that you can’t even hear what they say. Because otherwise if you’d focus enough you’d see the sleight of hand, the illusion for what it is. The movie is only parroting complexity and depth.

A scientific mindset is that when you have a theory, you test it. An anti-scientific mindset is that when you have a theory you only look for confirmations while pretending not to see all that goes against it. Tenet is deliberately built to dodge all important questions and only show what’s convenient.

Tenet is built like a BELIEF SYSTEM. They state a holy principle and then go out of their ways to avoid testing it. Just like magic or religion. Characters in the movie either don’t know what they are doing (imperfect knowledge) or deliberately try to replicate it to avoid the risk of contradiction.

Tenet is a RELIGION, founded on faith and fate.

But Tenet is also exemplary of modern mythologies, a product of its time. “Fake news” work because epistemology collapsed and people operate through confirmation bias. They find confirmations for what they already believe and find soothing, convenient. To reinforce belief and identity, because they always come before truth. COVID deniers and Trump’s propaganda are so cartoonish that they wouldn’t be believable in a book. But they are the future.

It’s funny that the other main theme of Tenet is the nihilism of society and collapse, because that’s precisely the future that Tenet builds toward.

We’re driven by culture, to save us. And what do we get, precisely in these complicate days? Mulan, a propaganda for the Chinese regime, whose main actress coherently supported the regime itself. Deliberately a (misfiring) marketing move to win the sympathies of mainland China, following the example set by Blizzard a year ago (money runs further than short-lived boycotts, and Disney is the incarnation of pure EVIL). And Tenet, a movie built on anti-scientific mindset.

At the exact same time, Trump was tweeting…

And what’s this “critical race theory”, that I’ve never heard before and that got Trump so fired up?

“argues that social problems are influenced and created more by societal structures and cultural assumptions than by individual and psychological factors”

Storytelling, counter-storytelling, and “naming one’s own reality”: The use of narrative to illuminate and explore experiences of racial oppression.

“Rather than marshal logical arguments and empirical data, critical race theorists tell stories – fictional, science-fictional, quasi-fictional, autobiographical, anecdotal – designed to expose the pervasive and debilitating racism of America today”

Storytelling, fiction. The culture that drives us. Those stories that tell you what and how to think. Those stories that make you feel before they make you think.

Modern mythologies, like Nolan’s, are the same old. Nothing changed. Modern mythologies are only lazier and sillier.

That’s why I’d support something bolder, like afrofuturism. From the last paragraph:

Afrofuturism has to do with reclaiming those identities or perspectives that have been lost.
“Can a community whose past has been deliberately rubbed out, and whose energies have subsequently been consumed by the search for legible traces of its history, imagine possible futures?”
Afrofuturism involves reclaiming some type of agency over one’s story, a story that has been told, throughout much of history, by official culture in the name of white power.
Because the ancestors of many African-Americans were forcibly removed from their homelands and stripped of their history like most slaves, any culture that has found its way into the Black lexicon is at its roots an Afrofuturist notion. It is at its heart reclaiming a past erased and creating a future based on that reimagined past.

Rasheedah Phillips writes about Black Quantum Futurism, a time-travel device.

A time-travel device to plant stories, mythologies, in the past so that we can have a different future.

Space-Time Collapse is an experimental writing and image series applying Black Quantum Futurism practices and theory to various space-time collapse phenomenon.

This inaugural collection explores possible space-time narratives and temporal perspectives of enslaved Black African ancestors, pre- and post-liberation. The slave ships and plantations themselves are traversed by the visionaries as chronotopes containing layers of different times, imprinted by the experiences of the people held captive therein.

The featured writers and visionaries attempt to visualize, hear, understand, and feel the experience of time overwritten — the rewriting of conceptions of the past, present, and future to a people displaced by the transatlantic slave trade. The works also examine perceptions of time and space in relation to Black memory, historical and societal change, systems and institutions, and technological development, and how these perceptions are sifted through or persist into the present. Some propose ways and tools for shifting the dominant linear progress narrative with alternative concepts and shapes of time.

If you look closely, there are traces here of Land-ian (Nick Land) CCRU accelerationism. Hyperstition: planting mythologies in the past to change the future.

Templexity, in essence, is the inherent nemesis that responds continually to modernism’s hubristically escalating negentropic reversal of the laws of thermodynamics. It is the radical externality of its defiance of the Void. When humanity plays with time, templexity is the whirls and eddies of disorder we leave behind.

All of this is more powerful and meaningful than Tenet’s sloppy time-travel and childish nihilism.

But obviously Nolan doesn’t know.

Part 1: illusion of sufficiency (Dark explained away)
Part 2: what does work (Deus Ex Machina)
>> Part 3: what doesn’t work (bootstrap paradox)

Bootstrap Paradoxes

Here we are at what doesn’t work.

What doesn’t work, then? The knot.

The knot and many (all) of its facets. A good number of those are necessary parts of the plot that go deliberately unexplained. Maybe because they would be too forced and not flow well in the story, creating a too gigantic and extraneous info dump. But there’s also the feel that things were simply hand waves because the thing face-planted against its own lack of coherence. You dig deep enough and find unsolvable problems, so to avoid them, you keep digging, but horizontally. Trying to fool everyone else. Practicing distraction.

For example: who creates the golden ball, the meta-traveling device that Eva uses and eventually ends in Claudia’s hands? Who tells Eva about the loophole, or how does she find out?

The knot itself, is a gigantic bootstrap paradox. Eva’s world (that we called “Beta”) is a world without a Jonas. She invades Adam’s world (“Alpha”) to bring Jonas to Beta, create the “origin” (her son), and through the origin manipulate events in both worlds so that Alpha and Beta would be fused together in a Moebius strip, a time knot that goes across both worlds before completing one cycle (the symbol of infinite “8”).

But how can Eva know of a Jonas in a alternate world, if Jonas doesn’t exist in hers?

Things get too complicate to follow in a really large chain of circular cause and effect like the overall knot, and then think about concepts, so instead of tracking details I’ll try to take out the most simple of bootstrap paradox, and analyze it for what it is.

The simplest version I’m aware of, back in Alpha world and when we didn’t know a Beta existed, is Claudia use of her portable time travel machine to go back in time, and bury the time machine so that her younger self will be able to use it.

This is, very obviously, a bootstrap paradox, and of a very bad kind.

Question: Who gave Claudia the time machine?
Answer: Herself, she took it from the future and brought it back in the past.

The same happens to the construction itself, because Tannhauser in Alpha doesn’t create any time machine on his own. He’s handed the book he’ll write in the future, so he can read it and write it, and he’s also handed the project of the time machine, so he can study it. He’s even handed a broken one, so he can study both the real machine and the plans. Everything he does depends on the same stuff being brought back from the future.

Now lets go through another story to make things simple:

One day, at dawn, Jonas suddenly wakes up in his room. He heard some weird noises coming from downstairs. So he goes to see what’s going on, and finds a big rhino standing in the middle of his dining room. Eventually, after moments of bewilderment, someone will call the fire department and they’ll be able to take that hapless rhino out of the room and into a nearby zoo. No one will ever be able to explain how that rhino ended up in Jonas’ house, though. Especially because the rhino is big, and the door too small. In fact, the firefighters had to take down half a wall to transport the rhino outside: a mystery.

For us, though, as external “readers”, the story has indeed an explanation: Claudia was feeling like playing pranks. A few years later she goes at night into the zoo, where the rhino is kept. Then she uses her portable time machine to travel back in time, and into Jonas’ house, bringing the inculpable rhino with her…

This simple story is functionally IDENTICAL to the paradoxes that Dark creates. The problem is that they come into existence without a real motivation.

Continuing from above:
Question: How was it possible for the rhino to appear in Jonas’ house?
Answer: It was brought there by Claudia, who found it at the zoo, in the future.
Question: But then why the rhino was at the zoo?
Answer: The firefighters brought it there, after they freed it from Jonas’ house.

This is the fucking causal loop. The past has its origin in the future, that has its origin in the past.

Does it make any sense? No. Then why people watching Dark largely accept it? Because you’re hit by a storm of details, as obfuscation. You don’t see clearly the moving parts, so it sort of seems to make sense, being complex enough to give the illusion of coherence. When you strip it bare, it’s obvious, but when you dress it up and put on it a nice bow, it’s …okay.

But that’s of course not enough for me. Why doesn’t it work? Why a circular causal loop isn’t acceptable?

Its function is fine. In general we’re used to a chain of cause and effect, that’s our reality. Within the context of Dark this chain of cause-effect isn’t broken, it simply loops around, but it’s functionally correct and identical in the linear perception of time. If we use a longer loop, we have a series of events, each one caused by another before. We only find out, as a sort of deja-vu, that we continue to return to the same event if the causal chain loops. In reality, where the causal chain doesn’t loop, we still have events linked one to the other, we can backtrack the chain, and continue back and forward to infinity. In the loop, the infinity is in the motion, but from the linear point of view it functions in the exact same way.

This gives us the idea of an hypothetical object that can function. The feel of a weird object, but not an impossible one. That’s why at least some of us accept it, even if it’s a paradox. It seems weird, but not absurdly so.

Now let’s examine what doesn’t work.

As I was saying, the problem isn’t “function”, but “being.” Ontology. The nature of existence. Not a problem of how the object operates, but WHY and HOW it is there. Who, or what, put it there. It CAN be there, because its functioning is fine. But why is it specifically there?

What was hidden in the story I wrote above is its IMPLIED CONSEQUENCE. Until we have bootstrap paradoxes made of common objects like a pocket clock or a necklace, that seems all fine. But what about a fucking rhino?

What I mean is that the moment we accept the existence of “bootstrapped objects” (or people) we accept the magical appearance of ARBITRARY objects. All around us things and people can suddenly appear without cause. Because their nature of being simply requires them being recalled from the future.


Again, they function. It is fine. The question is: why this and not something else? Why Elisabeth and Charlotte, but not Georgina and Ivana? Who decides who appears and who doesn’t?

In the real world it’s A instead of B because of causality itself, but the bootstrap paradox splits function and existence. It creates objects that can function, but why, specifically, are they there? Why this and not that? why not millions of objects, small and large, all appearing without origin?

The consequence of this thesis, the possibility of this paradox, COLLAPSES REALITY. It’s a conceptual black hole that devours everything, because the nature of existence, ontology, becomes ARBITRARY. Ontology (existence) get unlinked from causality. So causality becomes wholly independent, creating objects out of nothing. Arbitrary object. WHO DECIDES (or determines) what does exist and what doesn’t?

“Hey, my name is Claudia. I kind of need a time machine, right now. Thank you. I’ll make sure to then send it back to my past to properly bootstrap its existence, don’t worry.”

This is, in a word… convenient.

And yet, because of the thousands of words I’ve written above, we know what a bootstrap paradox is. Perception. So we know WHY these impossible objects exist within Dark: they are written.

We know that in a fixed time loop change can happen only if it comes from OUTSIDE. External intervention. Bootstrapped objects can logically exist, as long SOMEONE EXTERNAL put them there. The hidden hand. The Deus Ex Machina.

Bootstrapped objects (and people) REQUIRE meta-travel, require external intervention. Something from outside, looking in. Something truly alien (foreign) to the internal dimension.

So ask yourself: who’s external and with the power of intervention, to Dark? The fucking writers of the show. (hello, it’s The OA)

A writer does exactly this. He creates characters and puts them “there.” Writing IS meta-traveling. A writer can conjure things into existence BECAUSE he’s external to the fictional dimension. External intervention.

Things are bootstrapped in Dark because they are… written. And because they are convenient in their appearance.

They can function fine, when they are there. But WHY are they there, in that specific form? For the plot. To tell a story. Because they are convenient.

This is what discloses its nature: this instance of bootstrap paradox isn’t science, it isn’t a philosophical concept, it’s instead a fictional device.

Who created Eva’s world, who told her about Jonas, why the giant family tree generated by the origin produces those specific characters but not others. The whole knot is functionally fine, but has no logical existence. No logical reason that isn’t that it’s being invented by a writer. Since we’ve seen it’s entirely “spurious” from the original world, and can be easily unraveled, it means that it doesn’t exist. IF it exists, and it has that specific shape, is just because that someone wrote it that way. A creation from nothing. Who’s responsible? The only hand in the room that thinks of being invisible: the writer!

And that’s of course not an acceptable solution. If they wanted to go to metafiction, they had to do explicitly, or use a character to produce bootstrap paradoxes because their actual origin was separated from a dimension that ceases to exist, like the finale. But the original “knot”, of Alpha and Beta, Eva’s motivations and the whole spurious family tree… so the largest construction in the show… has no foundation and is CANONICALLY flawed. They simply tell us bootstrap paradoxes are “real”, and being real make them not need rational explanation.

The origin of Adam’s world, Alpha, isn’t explained. The origin of Eva’s world isn’t explained. The origin of the knot, Alpha + Beta, even if it comes into existence all at once, isn’t explained. When they exist, fine. I can see how they function, and the way out. But how were they formed? Why they have the shape they have? Why Alpha and Beta and not a million of others, all arbitrary? Why those people, belonging to an impossible knot, why them and not someone else?

Jonas existence is fine. Mikkel travels back, marries Hannah. That works logically. Jonas doesn’t magically appear, at this level. But if you keep backtracking you see it’s the whole Ulrich family to be bootstrapped, eventually including Jonas. In the end all these things just magically appear, to give shape to a giant knot of characters and events, of Alpha fused with Beta, whose cumulative existence doesn’t make any sense. It’s just so complex that most people give up thinking about it and accept it as it is.

An illusory casual chain: you go back from one link, find another, go back again, find another… it all seems grounded just because the chain is so long you don’t immediately notice the point where it stops working. Most people won’t. Sleight of hand.

They fucked up, because they had an ambitious plan but didn’t have an equally clear vision to support it. The concept they aimed at was too high for their reach. They tried, they failed.

As I wrote in the first part, Dark still is an admirable construction, really well built, majestic even. But it’s like a tree canopy without a tree trunk below. Its central pillar isn’t simply flawed, it DOESN’T EVEN EXIST. Because they thought one was not necessary. That the tree canopy just sat there, suspended on air. Pretending “it just works.” The illusion of coherence.

The end.

After more than 8.000 words I think I’m done. I’ve left 30-40% of my notes out, there are countless other things. But still more than enough for me now. An important part that is left out is linking all these theories back to discuss again Watchmen, Arrival, and everything else (language theory, paradoxes of self-reference like Liar’s Paradox, Godel incompleteness and so on). But that also relies on notes that are months and even years old. It’s an impossibly large argument that I’ll leave for another time.

(I’m writing this after I’m done with the whole thing and now re-reading: the difference between my theory and most theories on the internet is that those theories establish that when a loophole is used two split realities are created. This for example means that the knot continues to exist, we just have two major alternate realities, one where Tannhauser’s son dies and generates the knot, one where he doesn’t and lead to the finale. But all that shit doesn’t simply vanish, it stays there in different quantum states, existing and not existing depending on who’s looking. Aside from the fact this is the product of childish interpretation of Schrodinger’s Cat, my theory instead says that when the loophole is used, the alternate dimension produced is THE ONLY ONE that exists. The reason why Beta doesn’t erase Alpha is because Eva actively knots them, so that this knot makes possible their existence as one thing, where one depends and sustains the other. Otherwise, one is created, the other goes away. That’s why, in the finale, when they create a new origin world, in my theory that world/dimension is the only one that is left in existence. Everything else is gone. Consequently, when in the origin world Tannhauser activates the machine, he erases his world and creates the knot. Then the knot is erased, and replaced by a new origin world. Every time a new world is created, the preceding one is gone. This is a more elegant solution for me, and it’s more coherent with the canon, since the canon implies Jonas and Martha are gone, not simply stuck into some separate, and silly, quantum dimension…)

Part 1: illusion of sufficiency (Dark explained away)
>> Part 2: what does work (Deus Ex Machina)
Part 3: what doesn’t work (bootstrap paradox)

Circular family tree, and its unraveling

I’m not going to explain here the things the show explains well (in the sense that the show’s explanation is fine), there are so many websites and videos that do that job, showing how so much is actually really well made and meticulously put together. Lots of small details, references, links between characters. The overall picture is indeed daunting and impressive, awe-inspiring in its complexity, an overall masterful construction. Like clockwork, opening it and seeing all the small parts precisely built and arranged.

The one that works better for me is the circular shape, and concept, of the family tree at the end of the third season. There’s especially a chart on the wikipedia that is well arranged.

At the end of the second season the biggest revelation was the Charlotte-Elisabeth-Charlotte paradox, but with the third season we realize instead this is not some weird feature happening on the side, it’s the actual CORE.

It creates the concept of a ball of yarn, linking the family trees and the events. With the finale, and the removal of time travel, it’s like pulling one end and see this ball of yarn unravel… almost completely. You realize a number of characters will simply vanish, not just Jonas and Martha.

Part of the implied journey of Claudia would be exactly this: find out who’s “real” and who’s created by the time anomaly. When she realizes that a great number of people are “spurious”, and especially having found out that who she cares about (herself and Regina) are outside this mess, she decides to erase this current reality through the solution that we see happen.

(see me here crossing all those that I think are certainly gone)

At its core this is just a pure Donnie Darko: the current time travel knot is seen as some sort of evil corruption that needs to be eradicated to make things wholesome again. In Donnie Darko, Donnie is eventually “instructed” to sacrifice himself in order to resolve the anomaly. In Dark… Claudia is the bunny (even if moved by more egoistical motivations). She instructs Adam to do what Donnie does. A sacrifice to fix the timeline and make things “normal” again (they aren’t normal, but we’ll see this later).

I’ll examine this more in detail, but I appreciate this construction. The elegant unraveling of the ball of yarn, the way the family tree(s) was all connected, forming this overall giant loop that links all the families together. That’s rather well executed.

Claudia, as a logical and functioning Deus Ex Machina

Here we get to the real deal (and, if you scroll, you see this part being unreasonably long). It’s a mess. It’s a mess not because it’s especially dense, but because it’s made of two parts, and this is what created ripples all over the internet.

The two parts, when fused, become: the bootstrap paradox.

The bootstrap paradox is the meta-narrative knot. Because it doesn’t just represents the time-knot within the show, but it’s also the knot of the discussion here.

ALL OF US who have watched Dark to its end get split into two groups: those who think that the bootstrap paradox needs to have an explanation, otherwise the whole plot has no rational motivation to exist and makes no sense at all, and those who think the explanation of the bootstrap paradox is that… it’s a paradox. The foundation of Dark establishes this is the nature of time, that this paradox is real, and so there’s nothing to explain.

In the previous part I wrote that Dark gives a sufficient feel of depth because someone who studied a bit of philosophy, epistemology and ontology KNOWS that paradoxes do not exist. They do not exist and they cannot be found, without unraveling the whole concept of human consciousness. Human mind, and reality, isn’t compatible with the concept of paradoxes. Yet we use the concept and the word commonly in our daily life. And that’s why Dark can get away with it. It’s a common concept. But it works, for us, because the concept depends on the nature of representation, not reality.

More simply: paradoxes exist within models and representations, not reality. Paradoxes surface to point where our framework isn’t sufficient to correctly represent reality. When we have simplified and abstracted too much.

That’s why when you produce and find a (apparent) paradox that’s a sign you’ve made a mistake. It’s not the signal you’ve discovered something spooky and weird, it’s the signal you’ve messed up.

But this isn’t a philosophical treatise where I demonstrate paradoxes cannot exist and why, the purpose is to show that the bootstrap paradox specifically cannot exist within the context and rules Dark itself has established. It doesn’t work. This one paradox, not paradoxes in general.

One step back, I said all of us divide into those who accept the paradox and those who reject it, but this is also the mess I’ve pointed at: Dark uses two types of bootstrap paradoxes. It’s Dark itself that produces one form of bootstrap paradox that is inexcusable, illogical and self-contradicting, and then another whose solution exists, and is entirely logical and coherent with the given rules. Dark itself shows that the bootstrap paradox CAN be explained, if you do your job well.

In this first part I’ll re-explain what’s essentially an hypothesis about Dark’s finale. Why it can work logically, and why it can work ONLY this one way. It’s still an hypothesis because it’s merely coherent with all Dark established, but still speculation since what I’m going to say… hasn’t been shown. What I say is going to be COMPATIBLE with canon, but is not canonical. Because not explicitly shown.

Since we’ll deal with convoluted stuff, let’s spoil it from the beginning. Dark’s concept of time is like “solid determinism.” It means that time is fixed, and no character within this structure has “free will”, in the sense that every action is already inscribed in. Nothing can be altered.

There’s only one (logical) way to break this cycle: external intervention. This isn’t just one trick we have to break the cycle. It’s the ONLY trick. And it works. That determinism is very easily disrupted the moment you can create an interference. Something coming from the outside that slips in. Chaos theory, on complex systems (reality is of course a complex system), says that even a super-small variable introduced can trigger LARGE upsets all over the surface of the system. One tiny nudge and that fancy determinism goes ALL to shit.

Back to Dark: we need external intervention, even to create the POSSIBILITY of variation…

Let’s stop here a moment for a small sidetrack. In Dark time doesn’t cycle. Even if the canon tells you, again and again, that time DOES cycle. This is just utterly stupid and it’s worth clarifying. If something cycles identically, then there’s no point “ahead” of the cycle. Something doesn’t move onward if it’s always identically the same. Identity opposes variation. There is no motion, no distinction. If we observe a wheel turning identically, we measure these cycles because we reference the movement of the wheel with our external point of reference of time. We know the time, we know the position of the wheel. But in Dark there isn’t any meta-time tracking the progress of time. Time is one thing. We know that when the knot is formed (the two dimensions of Adam and Eva), it forms ALL AT ONCE, already incorporating ALL the actions of ALL characters. Characters within, perceive time linearly, but time itself appears in existence all at once. Without meta-time to track progress, and without progress because rules establish that nothing is different and everything is perfectly immutable, it means that nothing can fucking cycle. To determine a cycle you need at least two distinct points. It needs to move to cycle. But you cannot have two points of a thing that is fixed and identical. This is VERY important because it allows to then find WHEN the thing is kicked onward and the actual cycle happens. Sidetrack over.

Let’s start collecting these basic concepts. We have this universe, that is deterministic and fixed, it DOESN’T cycle. It’s called block-universe, in the sense that it’s fully formed and self-consistent. A syllogism: if we know the block universe is fixed, and the characters inside part of this universe, then no character will have even the hypothetical option to produce a change. How can this block universe be disrupted then? We already know: external intervention.

Here I go for a little story I’ve created to explain how time-travel works. It will feel like over-explanining, but I like to wrestle complex things to make them as simple and plain as possible. You either have patience and enjoy this journey, or not. It will be useful because we will set all the rules, then we’ll play the game.

Let’s use an arbitrary cycle-block of years. It starts in 1950 and ends in 2000. Exactly 50 years. The theory of the “loop” wants that in the year 2000 there’s an apocalypse that resets time to 1950, and then it keeps cycling endlessly.

Let’s take any person who DOESN’T time travel, still part of this loop. Let’s say this guy in 1950 is 20 years old. Then in the 2000 year he’ll be 70 (his initial 20 + 50 of the cycle). At that point, from year 2000 we go back to 1950, but everything resets (this person doesn’t time travel), so he’s back as his 20 years old self, with no memory of the previous cycle (and the reason why we already know that nothing actually cycles, but it’s not important here). This is the standard: when the entire cycle loops memories don’t carry over to the next cycle. It’s a clean wipe.

Now let’s use a time traveler. Take a traveler, with a time machine, whose journey is set like this: a minute before the apocalypse he opens a gate and time travels back to 1990. Let’s also say that, before time-traveling, the traveler is 20 years old in 1990.

At the first go, the traveler is 20 years old in 1990, lives to 30 when we get to 2000. Goes through the first portal back to 1990. Lives again normally from 1990 to 2000, then travels back, always the same.

That means that every time he hits the 2000s he’s 10 years older, because he keeps going through the 1900 -> 2000 segment, over and over again.

It also means that a time traveler can perform “infinite” time jumps, that aren’t strictly infinite, because he keeps linearly aging. So he can only travel and experience the world as long he doesn’t die of age. As long his own personal linear time lasts. A finite amount.

This type of time travel allows the traveler to retain all his memories. All the information he gathers by going around the timeline is information that accumulates. Because these are internal jumps, and are of a different type from the overall 2000 -> 1950 world-time-loop we established above.

Internal time loops let travelers build information, general loops instead wipe that information and restart clean.

Explaining it better in the context of Dark: let’s say that whenever our traveler jumps back to 1990 he meets his younger self. Let’s also say that the traveler, before dying of old age, performs 7 jumps in total (so he gets to 90 years old). Since all these jumps are “internal”, the traveler will meet, already at the first jump as at the last, seven copies of himself at the same time. All of them being there at once. Each 10 years older than the other. Because these are internal jumps and so all coexistent and part of the same overall cycle.

From this we can deduce some general rules: it’s not possible to transfer knowledge from an overall cycle to another. When someone dies, his own memories are wiped with the cycle. But instead as long he lives he can jump internally and retain all he finds out.

(here I start using some conventions. “Alpha” defines Adam’s dimension, “Beta” defines Eva’s dimension. Won’t be used here, but I’ll also use Z1 as the original world and Z2 as the output of the finale)

All this, exactly as written, applies to the character of Adam in Dark. Adam/Jonas is a time traveler, within Alpha, who gathers knowledge by jumping around internally while he ages in his linear time. Of course he cannot send this knowledge to the NEXT overall cycle, because all memories are wiped and nothing carries over.

…But there’s another type of traveler in Dark: the meta-traveler.

A meta-traveler is Eva-Martha. From Eva’s Beta-dimension she INVADES Adam’s Alpha dimension, and “kidnaps” Jonas. She doesn’t simply travel internally within her native Beta, but she crosses over to Alpha.

Another meta-traveler is Claudia. She works for Eva, who entrusts her for the technology to travel to Alpha, and collaborate (or spy) with the other Claudia in Alpha.

Meanwhile in Alpha we have Adam, who between all these three is the only one who doesn’t know about this meta-traveling. In fact that’s why his plan to kill Martha and the “Origin” ultimately fizzles: because he’s not aware of the Beta world and so he doesn’t know there’s another Martha going around and still preserving the knot. He’s only aware of one half of the thing, and so his plan doesn’t add up.

…The other two, Eva/Martha and Claudia, not only travel internally, but also externally between dimensions.

This meta-traveling creates the premise for the “loophole.” We established above that to change this fixed cycle there’s only one way possible, external intervention. Well, meta-traveling IS external intervention. In principle.

Bingo? Nope. What we find out is that this meta-traveling isn’t external, it’s instead… delusional. This is what causes many headaches for a lot of people watching Dark, because they face a contradiction: we see through the first two seasons that some characters (like Ulrich) try to break the cycle only to *produce* what they tried to cancel. Yet we see Eva, as another blatant example, who actively works to PRESERVE the cycle, as if the cycle needed active intervention or risk going off the rails.

The solution to this apparent contradiction is that Eva is just as delusional as Adam (not really, but a complete explanation needs more pieces). what Eva does is PRODUCE the cycle. Because the cycle is not what it seems. We’re led to believe there’s an Alpha-Adam world with its cycle, and a “parallel universe” Beta-Eva, where Jonas normally doesn’t exist, with its own separate cycle. This is false. What we have is instead a Moebius strip (the “8” symbol of infinity). One half is Alpha, the second half is Beta. The actual cycle is Alpha and Beta as ONE cycle made of two parts, fused together as one. That’s why, for example, Eva sends that creature of pure evil that is her son to produce the incident in the nuclear plant, in BOTH worlds. She’s the hidden hand between many important events. She isn’t preserving the cycle, she creates it as it is.

Therefore, meta-traveling between Alpha and Beta cannot count as actual “meta”. It LOOKS LIKE it’s external, because it’s either external to Alpha or Beta (interference in Alpha created by something that arrives from Beta, breaking Alpha’s stillness). But now we know the cycle is the FUSION of Alpha and Beta, so what comes in Alpha from Beta comes still from WITHIN the overall cycle. It doesn’t break any fucking pattern. It IS the pattern. Eva ends up just as caged as everyone else.

So? How’s the finale is possible (since it is logically possible, this is the conclusion I’m driving toward)? If we need external intervention and meta-traveling isn’t it, from where does it come from?

Well… Claudia. Claudia? Claudia is just internal to the loop as everyone else. So logically she’s just as trapped. What gives Claudia an utterly magical status that lets her steps out of the thing, give it a kick, and send it onto a wholly new course? Well, it’s the fun part. It’s also the part that Dark doesn’t show, so we have to speculate, staying within the rules we’re given.

To explain this I’m going to create some premises. These premises might appear arbitrary, but trust me, I only use them to simplify the solution, and they aren’t necessary.

The first premise is to set up the context. In the original world Tannhauser feels sad, this motivates him to create the device that eventually produces the mess as we know it, by succeeding essentially. So we assume that the moment Tannhauser’s machine is activated, Tannhauser’s dimension ceases to exist. Gone. In the part above we assumed (within Dark’s concept) that when a dimension is created, that dimension is created as fully formed all at once. It’s not built linearly, it’s built at once even if its logic still is compatible with a linear perception.

So, Z1, the original world of Tannhauser, ceases to exist. Is immediately replaced by what we identify as the “knot”, or the fusion of Alpha and Beta. You can think the knot as a cycle, but we know this is a superficial perception, the knot appears into existence as fully formed, and it’s stable, static. It doesn’t really cycle because time doesn’t move. The linear flow of time is trapped in there, and we know the only disruption possible needs to come from outside. But outside there’s no disruption because Tannhauser’s world is gone. When the knot is created, that’s the ONLY world/dimension that exists. Outside there’s only the void of emptiness. And so it looks like a dead end: we need intervention from outside, but the set-up establishes there’s nothing outside.

It’s like a locked-room mystery where it’s simply impossible to have a solution. There’s just no leverage.

But we have a Claudia, and we have a loophole.

What Adam believes, is plausible and legitimate. An Alpha dimension, that loops on itself. He just happens to be wrong because there’s this loop, but it’s built by the fusion of Alpha and Beta. Eva knows this, but she wants to PRESERVE this cycle, apparently happy enough of how things turn out. Who’s not happy at all, is Claudia, who knows what Eva’s doing, knows this knot being built of Alpha and Beta. Through her own travels back and forth Claudia also puts together the overall family tree, to find out that both herself and her daughter aren’t caught in that messy web. And that’s why she decides to unravel it… who cares about everyone else if both her and her daughter end up in a better place? She’s just another player of the game who’s been served a lucky hand.

Up to this point I’ve explained why characters do what they do, but I haven’t explained HOW Claudia does what she tries to. So let’s move to examine the loophole.

We know there’s a loophole, because I’ve introduced it above, the meta-travel. Eva can travel to Alpha and kidnap Jonas, creating the knot itself. The knot is created through the loophole that Eva uses. Traveling between Alpha and Beta. But Eva uses the loophole to preserve the knot. Eva then entrusts Claudia to perform various activities, without realizing that Claudia eventually finds out she’s outside the monstrous family tree and there’s a possible alternate dimension where both her and her daughter are much happier. Adam doesn’t know the loophole, Eva knows it, but uses it to preserve it, Claudia knows it, through Eva, who carelessly trusts her, but eventually Claudia has her own wishes, and decides to use the loophole to BREAK the cycle. She is in that unique position because she knows how (the loophole) and wants to (because she’s researched the family tree and understood its anomaly, and that it can be unraveled, returning to her “normal”).

Here we find the first of the two keys needed to open the lock of the locked room. The loophole creates alternative universes. This is an exception to the rules of Dark. We had established that time is fixed, solid, no change possible unless from outside. But during season three we know there’s ONE EXCEPTION: the loophole. The use of the loophole splits dimensions, because it creates real change. Beta is split from Alpha. Adam, who didn’t know of the loophole, was logically believing in Alpha being autonomous. But there’s Beta. Beta is a divergence. An actual change. This is THE FRAUD, the key. Eva could have used the loophole to produce change, but she didn’t merely because she willed the cycle. She worked to produce it. But the loophole doesn’t HAVE TO produce a cycle. The dimensions can be split. Eva split them to then forcefully bend both Alpha and Beta to be fused, but all this isn’t mandatory in the rules, it’s simply produced by her personal will.

Claudia, who’s entrusted to this knowledge by Eva, betrays Eva to develop her own agenda and pursue her own goal. Her own goal being to weed out this time travel mess, because she knows she has a better alternative. She CAN use the loophole TO bring change. Because that’s what the loophole does as it was defined: produce change. Unless that change is produced by an Eva, that simply uses it to generate a larger mess. It could have been just an Alpha looping, like Adam believed, or Alpha + Beta, aka the knot. Or maybe 16 dimensions all entangled together into a giant mess, even if that’s quite hard to motivate.

What I mean is that there isn’t anything mandatory that says there needs to be one dimension looping, or two, or twenty. We just happen to have two, the knot. And then have a Claudia that doesn’t like it, and has reasons to disrupt all of it.

We know what Claudia wants to do and why, but HOW can she escape the loop?

We established above that when an entire cycle loops (the overall fusion of Alpha and Beta, in this case) all the memories the characters have, are wiped. This means there’s no way for Claudia to pass over information to the next cycle, so that 100, or 2000 cycles later she might find out something new. In fact we know that when the second cycle starts, everyone is hammered down into the same roles. So, the second cycle is going to be identical to the 2.000.000 cycle, and so on.

The trigger is the first. And here we obtain the second key, that is already enough to open the lock and explain what we see.

We know that when we are at the second cycle, we’re already locked in. But that leaves a door open in the very first cycle.

Yet, canon wants that when Claudia reaches Adam she tells him that the cycle has gone on and on, and yet again she also tells him it’s the very first time they met at that point. I’ll try to stay within this.

Claudia needs to act at the very first cycle. So she does know (has to) about the loophole before the first cycle closes. And she has to use it, before this cycle closes. What she could do, but isn’t shown, is to use the loophole to do something else rather than immediately go to Adam to close the thing. She needs to know more, first.

So… during the very first cycle, Claudia of the Eva world goes to Claudia in Alpha, collaborates, shares information, including the information about the loophole coming from Eva. She doesn’t need to understand everything at this point, just knowledge of the loophole. As I said, the distinction from Eva is that Claudia can use the loophole for different ends, rather than simply preserve the knot as Eva does.

Claudia takes the meta-travel device, and uses it as information-transfering device. This sounds completely weird, so I’ll explain it better. Before the first knot closes (she would be trapped if she doesn’t act before the end of the first cycle) she uses the device to travel to another dimension, lets call this “Gamma.” This is possible, it’s what Eva does when invades Alpha from Beta, to then fuse the two. But Claudia doesn’t want to fuse anything. When her old self at the end of the first cycle travels, she travels to her younger self, to tell her EVERYTHING SHE LEARNED. Pay attention here. This isn’t time-travel to a younger self. She isn’t doing this through the time travel machine. She’s using the golden ball, and she travels to a younger Claudia of ANOTHER DIMENSION. Because, as we see in the split of Alpha and Beta, this type of travel and loophole creates a discrepancy. The younger Claudia, with all the information revealed to her by an older Claudia, is divergent from a younger Claudia that doesn’t know anything.

What happens at this precise point, when Claudia meta-travels, is that she creates an alternate dimension that copies IDENTICALLY the knot. The (A+B). She creates an alternate dimension where everything is exactly the same, with one single exception: Claudia. She obtains a Claudia that knows all the stuff that the older Claudia told her. Now she’s young, she has another ENTIRE LIFE to go around and learn shit. At the end of the cycle, when she gets old, she uses the devices, makes a new copy and transfers the new knowledge to a younger self. OVER AND OVER, until she’s tired of this shit.

She acquired god-like power, became a literal (and logical) Deus Ex Machina, since she’s external to the machine. Every time she copies the world, she has freedom to act independently (the external intervention I introduced at the beginning).

This world is copied identically as long she takes care to replicate the actions that her older self made, in a similar way as Eva was doing. Trying to preserve the cycle, essentially. But only so that she could continue to gather information, and eventually find out the optimal solution to tear it apart. When(ever) she will find that solution, she will use the device to go to Adam, hand him the mystery ball and tell him: “Take this, and go end this shit.” Game over.

Consider the detail: she HAS to preserve the knot. This isn’t like the other cases where the knot is automatically preserved no matter what people do. The difference is that the world is copied identically with one exception: Claudia. And because this is a wholly different copy, it isn’t locked into a pattern. Claudia is external. If she doesn’t work to preserve the knot she can have all sort of major repercussions coming from her own divergent actions. In fact she’s in the position to create INFINITE divergent worlds. RADICALLY divergent. Totally new timelines. That’s what the loophole does, creating divergences every time it’s used. Claudia just happens to believe and desire that her best choice is going back to the “normal” (the “new normal” since Tannhauser’s son isn’t dead and talks about his vision of angels).

In fact it’s a “new normal” because it’s not a return to the origin world, that’s completely false. The origin world is gone. What is created is a copy of the origin world where Tannhauser’s son is alive. Claudia simply decided this was the best choice among infinite options.

In the end Claudia was the ONLY player, since she has been the only one to find a way out before the first cycle ended. The only player on the field. Adam knew jack shit. Eva did, but worked to fuse the worlds and remain happily trapped within, Claudia is the only one who was handed the keys for the lock by a clueless, unsuspecting Eva. She found herself as the director of the show.

Again, the loophole creates divergences. We ended up with the (A+B) knot merely because Eva wanted to save both worlds at the same time, and the fusion was the only way to keep both, so used the loophole for that end (there’s a lot of silly handwaving, but Eva needed Alpha fused with Beta, since Jonas doesn’t exist in Beta natively). But with the device in the hands of Claudia the loophole doesn’t create anymore convoluted artificial knots, it creates new realities. And Claudia has free reign. She can change everything.

Super-summary: Dark gives us a concept of time as a fixed and immutable structure, including internal time travel loops than cannot alter what happens in any way. It’s all fixed and deterministic. But during the third season an exception is introduced, a loophole. The use of this loophole, at a precise moment, can introduce a discrepancy, a real change. And it does so in the classic time travel way of creating an alternate dimension where things take a different path (the classic “Back to the Future” canon). Only two characters know and use this loophole, Eva and Claudia. But Eva actively works to save both worlds and fuse them together, a Moebius strip, making them dependent on each other and creating this A+B “knot.” Claudia instead decides to use it for her own ends and, eventually, to unravel that knot. It is mandatory that the loophole has to be used BEFORE the first cycle completes, otherwise the characters would be already caged in. Therefore the loophole is either used every time, or never. Eva uses the loophole every cycle, to re-create and preserve the knot, with no other possibility to alter its course beyond what it is. Claudia instead can use the loophole first to “copy” the (A+B) knot, and then study it through a number of different cycles, because she can use the loophole to keep everything the same with one exception: herself. She uses it at the first cycle to become external to the loop and seize her agency, repeats this through an unknown number of following cycles/dimensions, then uses it one last time after she’s completed her plan, to instruct Adam and send him to destroy the knot. The finale we see.

We’re far from a complete solution though. This whole ordeal explains the ending, and explains how Claudia can become Deus Ex Machina. It explains how it was possible to break free of the knot, and how to return to the origin. It also explains why the return to the origin ISN’T a bootstrap paradox. It’s just a new divergent reality that begins from a convenient starting point. Aka: before the time travel mess, to prevent it. And it can prevent it, instead of causing it as everything that happened before, because Claudia (and then Adam) didn’t time travel, but meta-traveled using the loophole. If she simply time traveled to save Tannhauser’s son, she would have caused the incident (because time travel is an internal loop, so it cannot produce any real change). And that’s why, again, Jonas and Martha DO NOT cause the incident, as many people instead expected: it’s a divergent word, produced through the loophole, through meta-travel.

In Tannhauser’s true original world, his son is dead. In the “new” world the son is alive. They aren’t the same world. We aren’t back to the origin. This is the same that happens in Donnie Darko: a time anomaly is created, during its development Donnie is trained by the bunny to be an instrument to the solution of the anomaly, and Donnie’s sacrifice “fixes” the anomaly, returning the world back to how it was. But it’s not the same world, because Donnie’s gone. In Dark and Donnie Darko both, the anomaly left a faint trace. It existed, developed, was resolved, and with its resolution it “fell off” subjective perception. As if time was like a tree branch, then a “leaf” develops, is bent around and closes on itself, to eventually excise itself and “fall off”, leaving a faint trace, while the branch continues on its path… slightly altered. A faint trace.

If Claudia didn’t find a way to escape the cycle during its first loop, then time would have hit a “cul-de-sac”, an inescapable dead end. Either continuing forever, or deteriorating as in Donnie Darko (where time collapses if not fixed).

And yet again, we’re far from a complete solution. I’ve said at the beginning the problem is having this part of the bootstrap paradox that can be explained logically, and another that doesn’t work at all. This part I’ve examined here works because it deals competently with the fundamental distinction: perception and reality. The bootstrap paradox APPEARS in perception, but doesn’t exist in reality. It is the limited subjective point of view that creates the illusion of a paradox.

If “characters” are trapped within their own dimension of experience, then they have a limited “cone” of subjectivity and information. Limited knowledge. That’s why things that “magically” appear can do so. A meta-traveler is a traveler from outside. He can step-in unseen and create interference. He can transform reality, because while he operates within reality, he still operates outside the limited perception.

If the rules of TIME AND PHYSICS are the rules of reality, then they can play around perception. Like a toy. A paradox can appear within limited perception, but can also be explained in reality.

A bootstrap paradox can be EXPLAINED by imagining what is there but that isn’t seen. Something that has to exist but wasn’t perceived. We see a paradox, but we see only the limit of our vision. Always the same core concept of Bakker’s Blind Brain Theory.

Now we know that yes, bootstrap paradoxes can be explained logically. No, paradoxes don’t exist in reality. They exist in conscious perception. The paradox is in the map, not the territory, especially when the map (perception and representation) isn’t correctly modeling the territory (reality). We’ve seen Dark creating a bootstrap paradox that can be explained through these patterns, that can be solved. And yet it’s a trainwreck. Because the main paradox is left unexplained and not explainable, with the canon telling us that paradoxes just exist and don’t need a logical motivation.

People confuse this as a problem of cause and effect. A cycle of cause and effect that links past and future, in a loop. Accepting this circular paradoxical pattern. But that’s not how it works. Dark has a serious and deep philosophical problem with ontology. Ontology is about existence, not function. The cause-effect loop of a bootstrap paradox tells us these objects can FUNCTION, but it doesn’t tell us that they can EXIST. This is what I’m going to write in the next part.

>> Part 1: illusion of sufficiency (Dark explained away)
Part 2: what does work (Deus Ex Machina)
Part 3: what doesn’t work (bootstrap paradox)

Spoilers unbounded. (spoilers may also touch other stuff, like Donnie Darko, Watchmen, Arrival…)

This is going to be hard to write, especially because I already know I’m going to be dissatisfied, since I like completeness when I write about this stuff. It’s going to be impossible to be complete here. There are too many angles, and the most interesting ones, like the general philosophical concepts that go beyond Dark itself, are giant sidetracks that would take way too much time to analyze.

I’ll start by saying that Dark is complex even if I try to summarize my personal reaction. I “casually” followed the first two seasons, but I prepared for the third, so that I had a much clearer picture about the family trees and tangle of plot. The first two seasons were still mostly straightforward to follow in their main story beats, but many nuances and minor characters got over my head. This time I did my homework. I had low expectations about the show finding an elegant conclusion, and for the most part it was WORSE than I expected. The solution itself was something I guessed right away from the beginning of this season, and simply because it’s identical to Donnie Darko (the yanking out of the problem: the moment they show Eva-Adam, and their symmetrical goals, you realize they both have to go). Nothing else, when it comes to concepts and ideas, was introduced (aside one thing, but that is very poor). The last episode itself, the one that usually needs to make an impact or at least try for a plot twist, went precisely as expected, and was very dull to watch. Probably the episode I liked the least among all three seasons.

So, the whole thing is a giant failure: it didn’t succeed to provide a logical explanation (for its plot, its concept), but at the same time it’s also not garbage. The show is a really good TV show overall. It’s well executed. And some of its ideas, like the circular structure of the family tree, and how it falls apart in the end, are really, really good. Claudia’s journey, even if for the most part not shown, is really good.

…But, despite some excellent ideas and great execution, Dark pivots entirely around a central concept, and this central concept is fatally flawed. It completely collapses on itself. It’s not just a plot hole one can decide to ignore… It’s the whole framework, the whole structure that sustains Dark as a concept. And it’s a train wreck.

This adds another dimension: for most viewers the finale and overall explanation is going to work. From what I expect, and what I’ve seen, most people embrace the logic behind that finale, and many of them even think it’s a great one, even a PERFECT one. Saying that Dark succeeded where Lost failed (excuse me: DARK and LOST, because ambition is better represented by caps lock). I can see why. Dark gives the illusion of complexity, of deep philosophy for someone who never read actual philosophy, science for someone who doesn’t know how science works.

Dark is “sufficiently” complex to satisfy. Made for an impressionable audience, but in the end no more than pure illusion of depth and meaningfulness. A well made fraud. LOST, despite its many flaws, contains a lot more earnest values, and for me stays on a wholly different level than Dark (and not really comparable as productions, anyway).

A bit like its own conclusion, Dark has that fatal flaw that, when you pull that one string, it unravels everything. And nothing remains.

… but it’s still a great show. One whose concepts, quality of philosophy and science is really bad. But we’ve also seen what happens. The fatal flaw of Dark is also the one shared with Arrival and Watchmen, and these two, even more than Dark receive critical acclaim. (while Arrival is indefensible, Watchmen has a lot more than that concept, so Watchmen’s quality and reputation don’t depend on its concept of time travel)

Since I want to keep this post at a mostly sane length, I’m going to write about only three aspects, but they will touch every most important point.

The good stuff:
Circular family tree, and its unraveling
Claudia, as a logical and functioning Deus Ex Machina

The bad stuff:
Bootstrap Paradoxes galore

The good things outnumber the bad things two to one, if I went in detail to list everything, the good things would hugely outnumber the bad things. So is this good? Nope, because as I said, all the good things “hang” from the single bad one. Everything falls off after that central point fails.

What’s more important to understand is that the writers of Dark didn’t just fail to provide a good “solution” for the Bootstrap Paradox, that then I might have judged as too weak or unsatisfying. They instead decided that the Bootstrap Paradox DOESN’T NEED A SOLUTION. The paradox “just exists.”

One might think: okay, it’s science fiction, time travel doesn’t exist either. This is just a fictional concept where both time travel and Bootstrap Paradoxes exist, at the very foundation of that fictional make-believe. You either accept it for what it is, or you entirely reject, and argue endlessly about, science fiction in general…

The real problem is instead a different one. Once you set up those rules so that the Bootstrap Paradox exists, and doesn’t need a logical explanation, using those same rules in its premise (ironically) everything else ALSO unravels. It’s not simply to accept/refuse the paradox, but that if you accept the paradox also everything outside of it ceases to exist. It’s a black hole, a thing that self-destroys.

So again, it’s not just about accepting its existence, but the fact that its existence causes the collapse of everything around it. Ironically, again, as a perfect metaphor of Dark: an impossible thing that leads to its own ERASURE.

But while on the fictional level the erasure happens in the story, and the finale we see. The Bootstrap Paradox instead erases Dark at its meta-level. As a product that tries to be coherent, and fails. It erases it outside the fiction because it doesn’t work. A thing that wants to exist, but it doesn’t because it’s a giant misunderstanding, clumsy philosophy and even worse “science.”

Dark is an impossible story. One that shouldn’t exist, as long we care for logic and coherence. A story killed by its own ambition. A recursive loop of NIHILISM, where what is created destroys the possibility of its existence. A BOOTSTRAP PARADOX.

(and yet, we know what paradoxical objects really are: the product of misunderstanding. Nothing so fascinating.)

This was my overall “take” about the show in general and its concepts. Now I’ll go more in detail about the three points listed above.

– Who watches the watchmen?
– How to avoid what’s unavoidable?
– How to kill a god? (not everything that shines, shines)

These are three notes I scribbled down after re-reading Watchmen and watching the TV series. It takes me some effort to go back and remember what I meant at the time… The first is straightforward, the second comes from the comics, the third is from the TV show (third or fourth episode?). All three represent a similar kind of self-referential loop.

The second one is framed by the plot in the comics: there’s a crisis that’s brewing and reaching the tipping point. As in a simple causal system, humanity is driving toward its annihilation. How to avoid this, how to avoid the inevitable? That’s Veidt’s plan.

The third comes from a weird metaphysical story told by Laurie in a phone booth. You can interpret the story narratively, since each character in that story is meant to represent those classic Watchmen characters and their moral conundrums, but I was interested in the metaphysical workings. The grinding cogs that made it move. We’ll return to this later in this twisted commentary…

I could have probably written something wiser about this, at the time, but I forgot. The point is, at that third episode I thought that maybe Lindelof came up with something good, after all. Some good answers to tricky metaphysical problems. The potential was tangible, because of that one scene.

…Sadly this wasn’t the case.

I’ve only seen the show once, haven’t dug anything from the internet as I use to do, and when I watched it wasn’t even in the best of environments for undivided attention. This to say I might as well miss the big picture. It also applies to the comics, that I read many years ago. After a recent re-read I do think it’s impressive quality, and very, very complex, with many layers that can go entirely ignored (and it’s also a rather heavy read, not particularly enjoyable as a form of entertainment). I certainly missed a lot in it, and these days my mind goes for its own sidetracks that I only can see, but I lose track of main avenues. One that I found recently through another tangent is that Rorschach was conceived as a satire of objectivism, this also being conformed by Moore in interviews. I couldn’t even make the connection after I read it because it doesn’t make any sense, but now I understand better the angle. I did see the right-leaning extremism and absurdity. This is not the place for me to explain how I see Rorschach (not positively, for sure, but not uniquely bad either), I just wanted to point out I missed something BIG, like this link to objectivism, I’m guilty, and I might miss other stuff too.

Watchmen defies a simple treatment, it soars above. And so it can be read at different levels. Even if you pick little from it, it’s still quite significant and satisfying. There’s just one aspect that doesn’t work well, and that is also inelegant, and that’s what I wanted to write about because it’s a recurring theme here, linked to previous things I wrote about Ted Chiang and Arrival. It’s related to Alan Moore’s metaphysical (or physical) position that I think he calls Eternalism, and that imagines reality as a solid where time is experienced linearly by humans, but that is all already fixed, like strong determinism. This concept is also what links his recent monster of a book that is Jerusalem, to Watchmen.

Now… The TV show is so devout to the source material that everything it does is already in the comics, including mistakes. This means that what I see as “wrong” in the TV show was already present in the comics. And unless I’m missing some elephant in the room, it’s also conspicuously wrong. Not a tiny detail you can gloss over. I haven’t checked, but I cannot be the only one writing about it, it’s gigantly macroscopic.

I’ve written before that I don’t have any problem with the proposition of eternalism, as long some rules are followed. Moore doesn’t follow them, though. One important rule is that you can, in theory, observe time as a solid, and so perceive it in one immediate instant as Dr. Manhattan supposedly does… but only if this observer remains PASSIVE. Dr. Manhattan in the comics is NOT passive in multiple occasions, including scenes where he describes to others facts that are going to happen in the future (often just dialogues about to happen… to the dumbest character in the comics, this is quite convenient as I’ll show later). This interference creates logical holes and makes the narrative frame fall apart. Moore somewhat goes around this problem, at least at the crucial point. At the climax of the story Dr. Manhattan is confused and his ability to perceive the future is unreliable, because the teleportation of the squid monster to New York created some sort of interference (the tachyons that intrigued also Philip Dick, see one of the “recent” posts).

This idea was readily adopted in the TV show too. The reason why Dr. Manhattan can live a normal life, at least for that segment, is that he was able to create a “blind spot.” A portion of time unknown to him, unseen. Yet, as the TV show explained, he was still able to fully perceive what came before and after. He knew that story would end in tragedy, and he says as much at the beginning (to Angela, he even tells her how long it will last, the blind spot).

All this was well done because nothing in the TV show was “baseless,” all the most weird ideas were simply taken from the comics and used faithfully in a very creative way. Competent sleight of hand. Good.

The problem is that along with the cleverness they also inherited the stupidity… and then made it WORSE. That one spot where it all falls apart. Unraveling with just one tug.

Let’s move closer to this critical point. In the TV series when Dr. Manhattan meets Angela he repeats one of the tricks he showed often in the comics: he tells her that she’s the one who is going to tell him, in the future, information he shouldn’t know yet. And then she does, somewhat proving that his powers are real, after all. This is… fine. The trick is delivered through distraction, essentially. The claim is made, then the conversation goes on a while, and by the time the crucial point is reached Angela has forgotten the initial point. Nothing that happens here contradicts the thesis, the thesis being that Dr. Manhattan sees what will happen, and so none of the participants gets to “act freely”, especially in relation to the ultimate vision. When you deal with something like this it is quite convenient to write the scene so it doesn’t contradict your thesis. The problem is: a thesis is valid when it works logically, not when you sidesteps the contradictions conveniently. It means that I can easily propose, instead, a number of logical experiments that would PROVE, unambiguously, that Dr. Manhattan’s power just cannot work the way it works. These experiments are valid because there’s no logical way around them. The only way is AVOIDING them, writing scenes that do not engage with scenarios that present contradictions. But again, it’s just a convenient trick to avoid facing the fact that the thesis just doesn’t work and isn’t coherent with the premises it itself set.

In a controlled scenario, with no convenient distraction, Angela could easily contradict Dr. Manhattan’s predictions.

Yet, this isn’t totally airtight: you could still assume that Dr. Manhattan uses sleight of hand to introduce his predictions only in those limited cases where the information on the prediction doesn’t end up screwing the prediction. So, he can only tell Angela when he knows Angela will be tricked into the same behavior, and will avoid other cases where a contradiction would be triggered. This way around is still imperfect, to a very close examination, but it’s fine. Within the context of a TV series it is an acceptable compromise.

The problem is that Dr. Manhattan is conspicuously NOT PASSIVE. In the comics there’s the fact he’s confused and, in the end, he cannot do anything to prevent the main event, but in the TV series Dr. Manhattan is the main vector, not a passive observer. He’s the one who sends Veidt, Laurie and Wade away, to perform what they will perform. He is active in the timeline, acting on the basis of what he knows, manipulating events.

The real contradiction isn’t this one, but another that is quite macroscopic. On twitter, before the last episode aired, I asked Jeff Jensen: “I wonder, does Watchmen blindly embrace time paradoxes and contradictions within, as tropes and homages, or will it have something to say of its own?” He didn’t reply.

I was honestly curious because I still thought maybe they had figured out something to find an answer to this problematic core. It turned out they didn’t, and even the final scene was only a retread of The Leftovers: just tickle the audience with an ambiguous finale, open to interpretation. I’ve already seen that. On twitter I commented: “Watchmen ends the same as The Leftovers. With Lindelof still looking for answers.”

In this case “the question” isn’t whether Angela got the powers or not, that’s misdirection. The question is about the contradiction. The giant, gaping logical hole at the CORE of the whole TV series. Again, this hole was already in the comics, but in THAT case it wasn’t the pivotal point, it wasn’t the main vector. Morally, in the comics Dr. Manhattan might be worse even than Rorschach, and he does kill him. All his aloofness is a fraud and Moore certainly painted him very negatively. He’s inhuman and selfish, he gets a treatment (from the writer) that’s very similar to Rorschach himself. No one in the comics is spared, no one comes out in a positive light. They are all creeps and frauds.

This is the one point betrayed in the TV series, that is in love, instead, with at least some of its characters and wants them be GOOD. Especially Dr. Manhattan, who becomes both very human and a benevolent god. The classic trope of self sacrifice done for the loved ones.

And nope, Dr. Manhattan is still a fucking criminal, in the TV series too, despite the misdirection. And here we comes to the contradiction (and maybe me missing some elephantine detail). If I understood it correctly, the main mcguffin of the whole story is that the sheriff is killed. Why is he killed? (whodunnit and why?) Because Angela in the future sends information to the past, through Dr. Manhattan that has this power, to her grandfather. The grandfather who misunderstands the information, wrongly deduces the sheriff is a criminal, and eventually gets to kill him.

Where’s the responsibility? Well, clearly Angela’s not to blame. She was unaware of the implications and only realizes them when it’s too late. She has no power on the whole situation, no choice. But there’s still DOCTOR FUCKING MANHATTAN present on the scene. The same Dr. Manhattan who doesn’t give one fuck if one innocent is murdered for a misunderstanding (or is it guilt for sins of the fathers?). The same Dr. Manhattan who instead intervenes when it comes to save his loved ones.

The Dr. Manhattan who steps in and out the story as he sees fit, while blaming others for HIS actions. And even ending morally celebrated because he saved the day (and loved ones).

The same Dr. Manhattan who loves women and drops them like sacks of potatoes when he’s done with them, replacing them with younger, more attractive ones. Two in the comics, one in the TV series. The same Dr. Manhattan who should be above the instincts of men, and hormones. But what’s clearly a CONDEMNATION of a shitty god *in the comics*, becomes a fucking celebration of a benevolent god who loves his family in the TV series.

What a great way to fuck it all up, Mr. Lindelof.

We still haven’t got to the contradiction. When Angela tells his grandfather about the crime he himself will execute in the future, she makes it happen. Creating the worst kind of time loop. But fine, causality in a time loop gets warped, the problem is that in this specific instance it’s not just causality that goes to shit, but LOGIC TOO. Yes, Lindelof has done this in LOST too, a bad idea stays just as bad. When reiterated it just shows malice.

The is no logical way to explain this scene. It’s just outside logic. And there’s no a-logic metaphysical possibility. Moore’s eternalism isn’t made on illogical premises. It still wants to be a coherent system.

Paradoxes DO NOT EXIST. What we consider paradoxes, or contradictions, are the visible sign that we fucked the interpretation. That we got something wrong in OUR description. The contradiction is never foundational for reasons that should be obvious to anyone who cares to study philosophy (when not immediately evident).

There needs to be a source for Angela’s information. It doesn’t matter where and when, or if time goes around, but it still needs a logical trigger in order to exist. There’s nothing remotely similar to a source shown in the TV series. There’s no single explanation that can verify what happens.

I was really curious before the last episode because it was so blatant. I was expecting they had an ace up their sleeve and found some clever trick to make it work. There was nothing. Lindelof was just content enough by employing a typical sci-fi bootstrap paradox without understanding how it works (there are bootstrap paradoxes that are logical, the origin being just hidden away). Like a nice homage. He couldn’t be arsed to make sense of it, or use it intelligently. Nope, he had to make the paradox itself the pivot and main vector of the whole series, right from the first episode.

He uses as pivot the most stupid of paradoxes, no question asked (hello, The Leftovers, we see the same superficial mistakes again!), and then even ends up rehabilitating Dr. Manhattan as a good guy. The one who’s truly responsible of it all.

Because in the end there is one solution to this paradox, even if it’s the one NOT intended by Lindelof (and very clearly). Dr. Manhattan is not swimming in the aquarium, he’s not “one of us”, living the same life as everyone else. He’s the fucking writer. He sits right next to Lindelof arguing what should happen next. He WILLS the plot, because he writes it, the way he wants. That’s why he’s able to step in and out. That’s why he can carefully shape scenes so that they cannot contradict the thesis. That’s why he can make Angela give his grandfather information that doesn’t exist, anywhere: because it’s Dr. Manhattan who planted that information, who wrote the scene, who made a paradox a paradox. He wrote the dialogues. He makes sure that everyone follows the script because he wrote the script and he wrote those characters. He admired Veidt and plays with dolls. And he ends up writing the story where he ends up as a hero. Because he’s full of shit.

Moore made his own mistakes with Dr. Manhattan and eternalism. But they were minor and he didn’t fuck up the overall concept at the core: that all these heroes were all fucked up, Dr. Manhattan more than everyone else. Lindelof studies and mimics everything so carefully that it’s all a labor of pure love… Only to fuck it all up.

How it is possible that a show so well put together, down to the smallest detail, doesn’t have a problem founding itself on a blatant, enormous contradiction? I don’t understand.

and… only after writing this whole thing I realized that Dr. Manhattan, might be completely in the dark, literally, about the whole deal with the sheriff, because that whole event could be encapsulated within the blind spot of his life as a human. So he might be entirely unaware of all that happened to the sheriff, so that he didn’t know that an innocent would die. Angela understands, but then doesn’t inform Dr. Manhattan of anything. I’d have to rewatch the scene to see if the part in the future makes sense. Still… there’s the bootstrap paradox.

Here we are again.

Ted Chiang has recently released a new short stories collection, and within it he has repackaged and repurposed the exact same faulty concept of time and free will. The difference is that it has been pared down to just ONE page, so it’s all the more easy to handle (and debunk).

I’m referring to the story with the title “What’s Expected of Us”. I haven’t read more than that, and I’m also discouraged for doing so.

I’m sorry but I can’t take Chiang seriously anymore, and I can’t take seriously anyone who considers him a decent writer, either. You cannot drag an idea for so long without noticing how deeply faulty it is, and keep preaching as if it’s gospel. Okay that you dressed it up nicely in “Story of Your Life”, but here it’s stark naked, and I’m astonished that you have no shame showing it.

I’ve written a few comments recently about Dark and its bootstrap paradox. And even this short story by Chiang is a variation on the same theme, and generally amounts to a simplification of the more interesting and articulated Newcomb’s Paradox. This just to reiterate there’s nothing new under the sun, just another coat of obfuscation by Chiang, that for some inexplicable reason people seem to mistake for insight and great sci-fi.

The concept here is a “Predictor”, that is just a basic box with a button and a light. The premise is that free will doesn’t exist, and the predictor works by flashing the light one second before someone will press the button. The device being of course infallible.

Let’s start here: I absolutely accept the premise. The premise no free will exists, and human behavior can be deterministically predicted with absolute accuracy by this device.

The real problem isn’t determinism and free will, the problem is that Chiang makes this device operate in a completely dishonest way, in order to HIDE and dissemble the magical trick it is based on. This is what he writes to describe the practical use of the device:

But when you try to break the rules, you find that you can’t. If you try to press the button without having seen a flash, the flash immediately appears, and no matter how fast you move, you never push the button until a second has elapsed. If you wait for the flash, intending to keep from pressing the button afterward, the flash never appears. No matter what you do, the light always precedes the button press. There’s no way to fool a Predictor.

The first example doesn’t seem very plausible. The idea is you’re trying to press the button as fast as possible, but “the flash immediately appears”. It still takes a whole second, so the thesis is that you cannot press a single button faster than a whole second. And that’s already hubris, but let’s move on.

The second example is more interesting because it actually describes what it would REALLY happen if such device existed: you want to fool the device, so you wait for the light just so you WON’T press the button. And the consequence of this “deliberate choice” is, correctly, that the flash never appears.

This example is more interesting because it reveals something hidden. If the predictor never makes a prediction, then it can never been proven wrong. The device correctly functions by avoiding the one state that would compromise its function, by proving the prediction wrong. Without a prediction there’s no possible confutation. This is just like saying you cannot disprove something that doesn’t exist (argument from ignorance or variations).

The solution to this is to avoid this dishonest way of shaping the conundrum that Chiang uses, and instead see what happens if the prediction is FORCED (instead of evaded), so that it can be appropriately tested.

“Most people agree these arguments are irrefutable, but no one ever really accepts the conclusion. What it takes is a demonstration, and that’s what a Predictor provides.”

And that’s exactly what I’ll do: demonstrate that Chiang’s concept is logically faulty and produced by misleading premises. To do this I’ll create an experiment, just like what Chiang did in the story, with a few variations so that I can properly test the predictor with the sensible data.

As I said, this has nothing to do with free will and determinism, so I can prove the fallacy by removing even more variables. Instead of predicting human behavior I just need the predictor to be connected to a computer, and still prove that it will fail. The predictor simply has to predict whether on a screen the letter A or the letter B will be shown. The basic function of the predictor is the same as in the story (“it sends a signal back in time”). So the predictor sees which letter is shown on screen, in the future, and sends it back in time the result for the prediction.

The new trick in this experiment is that the computer that executes the process that will show either the letter A or the letter B on screen, takes the predictor’s prediction as INPUT. So that if the predictor predicts that the letter A will be shown, then the computer will display the letter B on screen, effectively contradicting the prediction. No matter what the predictor predicts, the process is built to contradict it.

In every single case possible the prediction is going to be invalidated. Hence, the logical fallacy that is at the core of Chiang’s concept. There isn’t even a single case to make this work, and the reason is exactly because of the logical fallacy.

Explanation: what happens in this example/experiment is that the moment when the prediction is sent back in time, that information is new information that alters the global state of the system, and so shifting it to a new, different state. It’s not that the predictor “doesn’t work”, it’s that every hypothetical prediction that is made triggers a change of state of the system.

For a better comprehension: the problem here isn’t again about the plausibility of determinism, and so the possibility of prediction. Predicting the behavior of a deterministic system is of course logically possible. The real problem we have here isn’t about determinism and it isn’t about prediction either. It’s INSTEAD about a process built on self-reference and recursion. The prediction here informs the system it tries to predict, and doing so recursively alters itself. We can imagine to ideally get to the end of this process, as if hammering down these time loops in their ultimate state, when all it’s done. But the point is that the process we are observing is one of infinite regression. So that it never closes, and so that, without a closure, can’t be predicted. Unless the prediction is itself separated from the system, without informing it directly and without triggering the self-reference.

This works EXACTLY like the liar’s paradox. In this well known example we have a phrase that alternates between two states, true and false, that recursively feed on themselves, with self-reference, so that they endlessly shift between those two positions. Until human beings observe and heuristically classify this as a “paradox”. It’s not, accurately, a paradox, it’s just a recursive, self-referential system without closure, and so we make up our own human simplification by assuming that a system without a closure “doesn’t make sense”, and so it’s a paradox. Something that cannot be hammered down logically in a fixed position, since it’s built to shift endlessly.

So, you can predict the evolution of a deterministic system where the prediction itself is separated from the system being predicted. But you CANNOT create a self-reference within the system without facing the consequences. That self-reference recursively altering the behavior, triggering an infinite regression that, by avoiding closure, makes the prediction impossible too, since the idea of a prediction implies that the system being predicted assumes some fixed final state that can be mapped.

This is also the reason why what Chiang writes next is even more absurd and ill informed:

“People used to speculate about a thought that destroys the thinker, some unspeakable Lovecraftian horror, or a Gödel sentence that crashes the human logical system. It turns out that the disabling thought is one that we’ve all encountered: the idea that free will doesn’t exist. It just wasn’t harmful until you believed it.”

This is just magical thinking: the idea that a “belief” can trigger some special, unprecedented effect. This happens just as consequence of the logical fallacy at the foundation of the whole concept. What actually DOES happen is that a logical system “cannot crash”. Because it’s built on logic, it observes and operates on logic, and whatever hypothesis of something non-logical would be simply unseen by such a system. And if something is unseen and unperceived, it doesn’t exist. It never becomes experience. It never enters or even interacts with the environment (hence we pass the threshold and step into pure metaphysics, that Chiang obviously can’t deal with, being blind to what he’s observing).

The idea that “free will doesn’t exist” is locked off, out of experience. Because you cannot become aware of something embedded. The awareness of lack of free will doesn’t bestow free will, so it produces no change at all. No emancipation.

Chiang continues tripping on this, since he started from a faulty proposition:

“My message to you is this: Pretend that you have free will. It’s essential that you behave as if your decisions matter, even though you know they don’t. The reality isn’t important; what’s important is your belief, and believing the lie is the only way to avoid a waking coma.”

The truth is the exact opposite of what he says here. Nothing is “essential”, and especially “your belief” is completely irrelevant. The truth is that there’s no escape from this system, so no matter what you believe, the result is immutable.

He partially admits it in the following paragraph:

“There’s nothing anyone can do about it”

So, logically, it’s really not important what you “believe”, because beliefs aren’t magical, they aren’t transcendental, and so they cannot help in any way out of this process. What you believe is irrelevant.

The opposite is true: you have no freedom to exit the belief in free will, because you cannot act on the premise of the absence of it. You cannot be exempted from what we can generally call the “human condition”, and the human condition is built around the *perception* of free will. Whether this perception is fundamentally and truthfully “free” or just an illusion, is irrelevant, because we are chained to this state, and its truth-ness or false-ness are both unverifiable and with no consequence. Hence they do not exist (we can assume “as if” they don’t, since it’s indifferent relative to our present state, as good epistemology would dictate).

Human beings are structurally chained to free will, because the nature of human beings is perspectival, partial. Caged within the system that builds them. In a similar way, you cannot predict determinism from within the system you’re trying to predict. Free will, like determinism, can only be factually proven by exiting the system (of reality). Until we remain caged within, we continue to submit to (perception of) free will, and the nature of self reference that doesn’t allow closure and so accurate, complete prediction (as to say: the Laplacian demon can only exist outside the system it is observing, otherwise it’s also bound to self-refence and incompleteness/non-closure).

That said, not all bootstrap paradoxes are logically faulty. I always thought that Wittgenstein’s Tractatus is a form of metaphorical, and logically valid, bootstrap paradox. There are ways to hide the origin, that’s the trick. Not so much, as in Dark, that origins don’t exist. But there can be patterns where origins could be “missed”, or unperceived. Unseen. There are ways for the world to “fall off” from its root, and so appear as if suspended. Independent. Just like consciousness.

It’s all about perception… and truth. Because so, if we value truth, we cannot value Ted Chiang, whose work is like that of an illusionist who tries to obfuscate so much more than reveal. Appearing to be smart and deep through the use of misleading intuition pumps.

EDIT: After writing this I searched online for other comments about this specific story and found one in particular that matches mine but that more directly ties with the example of the story:

“Consider the Free Will Device, put next to the predictor. Free Will Device is actually entirely deterministic, and doesn’t have any free will of its own. It consist of photocell which watches the LED on predictor, timer, which gets reset to 0 every time light hits photocell, and actuator which pushes the button when timer reaches 2 seconds. If predictor blinks within those 2 seconds, there won’t be a button press, and if predictor doesn’t blink, there will be a button press.”

EDIT2: I noticed later that the story here is from 2005, so I now have no idea if it pre-dates Arrival or whatever. But maybe Ted Chiang could be forgiven for dredging up some faulty old story. Still, this is Ron Hubbard type of quality, and so it’s fairly condemnable for its poor philosophy, regardless of when it was written.