DISCLAIMER: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD. READ AT YOUR OWN RISK.
“Dark” is a Netflix sci-fi thriller series from Germany co-created by Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese. I’m not going to fangirl over it but rather use it as an example to discuss a type of quantum phenomenon: time paradoxes (I didn’t put the “time” in the title to avoid spoiling it).
The thing that keeps tickling my mind after watching the second season of this show is the absurd truth about Charlotte Doppler’s mother. Charlotte was adopted as a child, she doesn’t have the slightest idea of who her biological parents are. As an adult she and Peter Doppler got married and they have a daughter named Elisabeth (born in the 2000s). At some point Elisabeth traveled back in time to 1953 and conceived a child (born in the 1980s) with a priest named Noah. Their child, as trippy as it sounds, happens to be Charlotte herself. So, Elisabeth is both Charlotte’s daughter and mother and vice versa.
Setting aside that mind-bender, how are future Elisabeth and past Elisabeth from the same line of descent? How did Elisabeth give birth to herself? How did Elisabeth, Charlotte and Noah get separated?
I thought about this for a while, trying to make sense out of it. It is supposed to make sense seeing the way “Dark” maintains consistency in everything throughout the series. Every scene is consistent with quantum physics theories, there’s no reason this one is not. (The director goes as far as looking for extremely look alike actors to play the younger and older versions of the characters, so that sometimes when the other versions show up for the first time they don’t even need to introduce themselves.)
Then I remembered reading a section about time paradoxes in Michio Kaku’s “Parallel Worlds: The Science of Alternative Universes and Our Future in the Cosmos” that might shed a bit light on this case.
Basically, there are several types of time paradoxes. The first one is the grandfather paradox, which occurs when you go back in time to kill your ancestor (could be your parents, your grandfather, or your great-great grandparent and so on). By destroying your own ancestor, you cannot logically exist, right? But how could you commit the murder to begin with?
The information paradox reminds me of a chapter in “Doraemon” about a manga artist who runs out of ideas. Doraemon and Nobita help him by going to the future to buy a copy of his already published works, and then give it to his present self so he can copy it. Given the work wasn’t created by the artist but only handed to him by Doraemon and Nobita, where did the idea come from? This kind of paradox also applies to H.G. Tannhaus and the time machine he built using the complex blueprints that was given by older Claudia Tiedemann.
In the Bilker’s paradox, you know what the future holds and do something that makes it impossible. Let’s say, you travel to the future and see that you’re destined to marry Anne, but then you go back to the present and decide to marry Louise instead. How come you married Anne in the first version of your future?
The last and the most mind-blowing one is what Charlotte Doppler goes through, the sexual paradox. In this paradox, you give birth to yourself by going back to the past, marrying your spouse and then conceiving a child who happens to be yourself, for instance. It’s biologically impossible, but then there’s a reason why it’s called a “paradox”, a statement that seems self-contradictory or logically unacceptable but is likely to be true. That’s why some physicists brush aside the idea of time travel—because the possibility of time paradoxes is a logical flaw that invalidates the existence of time travel.
So I suppose the answer to this long-winded discussion is simple: it was just meant to be. Elisabeth was destined to be born from this paradox.
Like many other time travel stories, “Dark” raises the theme of determinism, the philosophical belief that all life events have been predetermined (by God, fate, or some other force), which is prominent throughout the series. Ulrich Nielsen tried to kill younger Helge Doppler but somehow failed because it would eliminate Helge’s existence. Jonas Kahnwald time-leaps to change the future, but no matter how hard he tries, his efforts always ended up in the original version of the timeline like an endless loop. It’s the same with Charlotte Doppler, some “unknown hand” decided her fate to be her own mother’s daughter as well as her own daughter’s mother. “Gott ist Zeit. Und die Zeit ist nicht barmherzig (English: “God is time. And time is not compassionate”),” as Adam says. “Dark” proposes (or might propose, depending on how the final season turns out) that free will doesn’t exist, it’s just an illusion.
“Der Anfang ist das Ende, und das Ende ist der Anfang.”
“The beginning is the end, and the end is the beginning.”
Kaku, M. (2005). Parallel worlds: The science of alternative universes and our future in the cosmos. England: Penguin Books