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Occasional Writing for T31 – 12 Monkeys

April 11, 2013


If only one photo of Brad Pitt survives the forthcoming nuclear apocalypse, I really, really hope it’s this one.

Anyway, here’s this week’s selection of prompts. Very sorry I’ve been slow to put them up. I’m really overwhelmed at the moment.

  1. Can we change the past? What’s is the films take on this question, and how plausible is it? You might begin to answer this question by paying close attention to Cole’s response when he is asked “Are you going to save us?”

    Save you? How can I save you? It
    already happened! I can’t save you. I’m
    simply trying to get some information for
    people in the present so that someday…
    (sees their eyes)
    You don’t believe me.

  2. One of the sub-themes in 12 Monkeys is insanity, a theme on which we’ve already touched in, for example, our discussion of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Jeff Goines asks us, “You know what crazy is?” He’s got an answer: “Crazy is majority rules. Take germs, for example.” Does Goines have a point? If so, what is it and how good a point is it?
  3. 12 Monkeys makes extensive use of other films to ask its (often philosophical) questions make its (equally often philosophical) points. Among the excellent films it references are Monkey Business (1931, English), Vertigo (1958, English), and La jetée (1962, French). But how does12 Monkeys (or, if you like, Terry Gilliam, its director) accomplish this? How does ask a question or make a point by referring to one film inside another? Try answering by using  one or two particular cases. (Note: This question is only for those willing to do some extra work.)

Please choose one – and only one  – of the prompts to write on. As always:

  • Please limit yourself to 300-500 words;
  • Please post your assignment as a comment to this blog entry;
  • Please do all of this no later than 24 hours before class begins on T31

From → Assignments

  1. kim cory permalink

    I don’t think we can change the past, and the film shows the same response as me. Hypothetically speaking, if we can go back to the past, there will be few things that we can somehow change at the moment. However, things that we change will be only the outer layer of the past. In order to change the “past,” instead of changing the outer layer, the inner core needs to be change. As long as the inner core stays the same, the little change we make will grow back the way it was or grow back in a different way but not that far from what the previous outer layer looked like. The way I take this question is that as long as the people who are involved with events or the “past,” we cannot change the overall outcome. At that moment, it may seem as if we are making changes – like how Cole and the psychiatrist start working together to find out about the twelve monkeys. Cole already knows that things have been happening that he cannot change or save people. He just wants to find out more information for the future, because the information he finds out will give a little boost in order to defeat what would happen in the future. Unless he can wipe out everyone who has been involved with the twelve monkeys, twelve monkeys will exist and will proceed with the original plan; but, he – as an individual – is too small of a factor to make that big of an influence in the past to fix everything for the future. There are many moments that I (or people) wish to go back to the past and change my choices. However, there are too many moments that we wish we could have changed; changing one moment will not make that big of an impact. Unless I can teach my past “me” what I was wrong of and how I would need to change myself as a person, I think I will continue to make the same mistakes as before, and the past will remain the same. The route might change a little bit because of that extra help from the future, but the overall destination will remain the same. It gets more complicated if the part that needs to be change is not regarding to one particular person, but an event that involves many more people in the world. When Cole goes back to the past, he is placed in the mental institution where no one believes him and diagnoses him as a mentally instable patient. Even we can go back to the past, it will take time and lots of convincing in order to make the people to trust the information from future and imply that to their world; and that could be almost an impossible thing because they will not believe what kind of things are possible in the future.

  2. Cory Johnson permalink

    2. My thoughts on the subject are best summed up by a quote from a lecture I heard at CC from neuroscientist Dr. Robert Sapolsky.

    “Crazy isn’t hearing voices. Crazy is hearing the wrong voices, at the wrong times”

    Here at USAFA we do a lot of “crazy” things, but the majority of cadets do them, so they’re no longer crazy. Spending a year as a human alarm clock, hazing for the noble purposes and draconian responses for unmade beds are all quite outside the social norms for your typical college student. Here, however, we’re all under the same code of standardized craziness so no one believes anything is amiss. Thinking of crazy as majority rules is too imprecise for my liking, so I’d like to screw that down a bit.

    In any given social environment the majority does indeed rule. This can change by walking across the threshold from one squadron to another, or by walking down to the field house at practice time. Squadron 22 may strictly adhere to the morning “open door” policy, while right next door squadron 21 is significantly more lax. Sleeping in beyond the mandated time in 21 may be a logical decision, yet in 22 such a choice could be quite “crazy.” This is somewhat of a bad example because it’s not really majority rules, it’s the person in charge—the AOC—rules. Freshman on various athletic teams generally call their upperclassman by their first name while the identical thing in-squadron would be extremely disrespectful. Individual populations define crazy, not the majority everyone out there.

    The famous Rosenhan experiments are highly illuminating on the subject of “what is crazy?” The first part sent nine healthy people into a psychiatric hospital and had them claim they heard auditory hallucinations. After an average discharge time of 19 days, almost all of the participants were diagnosed with schizophrenia in remission, essentially labeling them all as crazy. The second part involved one of the previously used hospitals requesting that he send them more confederates, sure that they would not make the mistake again. During the monitoring time 193 new patients were admitted, with hospital staff flagging 41 potential confederates. Dr. Rosenhan had not sent any. This suggests that even out standards of mental illness in a clinical setting are highly subjective. This dovetails nicely with my previous point. What is right is wrong, and very wrong, can change easily and rapidly. The majority holds the power and as someone who is frequently on the wrong side of public opinion I can attest that there’s little separating myself from being labeled “crazy.”

  3. K.Rengan permalink

    The idea of changing the past is a side note in 12 Monkeys; meaning that changing the past was never the mission, or orders, given to Cole. Relative to the present-future (the world that exists in the post-germic world) time seems to be continuing from t1, to t2, to t3, and ending somewhere with tn…. Relative to Cole it seems that he is stuck in a loop in time never possessing the ability to progress past t3 into tn…. Furthermore, the loop appears to feed itself. As Cole tries to kill the Cassandra obsessed scientist his past-present self witnesses his own death leading to the dreams he will eventually have and what appears to be the inevitable ending of Cole. The movie presents the past as something that already occurred relative to the future, and thus you cannot change it. This is why the mission for Cole was to only gather and collect information not try to stop the Army of the 12 Monkeys. Furthermore, the idea that events will happen is something that is accepted as fact to the characters in 12 Monkeys, and is the main reason why Cole and Railly want to travel to Florida to live out their remaining days. This idea is only relative to the individual; “there is no single, real, objective “now.” The word “now” just refers to the time at which the speaker happens to be located” (Sider, 303). Because the movie is seen through the perspective of those living in the post –germic world the reality is that they currently inhabit the world where events have already taken place and thus any attempt in the past to change events only changes events for those in the past, creating a parallel world where everything is fine, but nothing would change for the post-germic people. The only problem the movie has if there are parallel universes where the world is fine in one, and the world is destroyed in another is when Railly leaves messages to the future and it is picked up. The only explanation for this is that nothing changes and the world is already determined.

  4. I’m going to try and tackle the question about changing the past, because the idea of time travel is absolutely fascinating to me. There’s a lot of weird and unexplainable stuff in this world, and still a lot that even our greatest minds like Hawking cannot answer, so I hold on to the thought that nothing is impossible, and we simply cannot dismiss anything we do not know or cannot explain. I’ve seen lots of movies on time travel (All the big names, like back to the future, the terminator films, looper, etc.) and there seem to be a few prevalent theories, which can aptly be summed up by the internet meme which I’ve provided a link for below. There are multiple outlooks on whether or not the past can be changed to affect the present, but 12 monkeys presents the argument for a “fixed timeline,” the most fatalistic of time travel theories, which states that whatever actions taken by the time traveler are already accounted for in history, and neither the past, nor the future can be changed. This isn’t a new idea. It’s the Oedipus Rex situation all over again. We’ve seen the idea from the earliest and oldest literature, such as with the “Fates” of Greek mythology. I hate to be a pessimist, but since it is so prevalent throughout the human psyche, I think this is the most likely way which time travel would work, if it exists. In fact, the only problem I can foresee with it is the fact that the folks who usually send the time traveler back to accomplish his or her mission (The scientists in the case of 12 monkeys), rarely ever do any deep research into the past. Now, I’ll concede that often times the way in which the traveler affects the past is not documented or cannot be seen by the folks in the future who send him back (What with the world being destroyed and all, they probably don’t have access to an enormous amount of history), but in many other films, travelers are sent back without nearly ANY research into what might have appeared in the past that would give clues as to how the traveler would dork things up and actually CAUSE the catastrophe he or she might be trying to prevent or solve. This of course begs the question – “Why does it matter if the course of time is set?” Talk about feeling helpless. This would mean we’re stuck in a rigid set of consecutive moments with predetermined outcomes. Such heavy implications make me second guess myself, because, like any human, I don’t like to think of my future as outside of my own control… But if I accept this format for the potential of time travel (and I do) this is essentially what I am accepting.

  5. Uddit Patel permalink

    According to 12 Monkeys, the past cannot be changed. Everything that has happened has a reason to it. For example, James Cole being picked as a test subject and Cole being placed in 1990 instead of 1996 all have a purpose behind the event. All the events that occurred had a significant impact to the end result of the apocalypse. At first, Cole was trying to understand the apocalypse, but then after some time, Cole wanted to prevent the apocalypse from occurring. Cole did not believe that he could save the people or that he could prevent the apocalypse from occurring. The films take on this question is that all people make choices or decisions are based on the circumstances they are given. James Cole ended up in the mental facility where he was able to meet Dr. Kathryn Railly. Dr. Kathryn Railly made an impact on what James Cole thought, and how he viewed the two different time periods. Would the outcome be different if Cole did not meet Dr. Kathryn Railly? Both of them would not have been wanted for a murder, and been chased by police which ultimately results to Cole’s death at the airport. If they were not trying to escape, Dr. Kathryn Railly would not have booked a flight where they say the real person with the virus, and James Cole would have still been alive.

    However, the real question is, does anyone know of the past or the future? Do other people know the choices that are going to be made in the future? This is also questioned in The Matrix Series and The Minority Report. Everyone can make a different decision based on the circumstances presented to them. Within the 12 Monkeys, Cole was swayed to go a certain way since he was given pictures of things to look for like the pigs head, and a certain building. Instead of seeking the right answer of who created the lethal virus, Cole went on to look for the pictures that the scientists from the future made him. Cole did not make his own decisions or did not make choices for himself. But instead, he let the scientist sway his decisions and the choices he made. The past cannot be changed according to this film, and the things that occurred have already occurred. However, the movie the Butterfly Effect presents a different scenario. This movie leads to the idea that the past can be changed as well as the future. One decision in the past change the entirety of the future.

    In my opinion, the past cannot be changed. This movie brings an idea of time travel but in reality can we time travel. If we can, I would love to try to out. The past is set in stone. Today, there would be many things that people would want to change from the past like 9/11, or the financial crisis. The past is the past and no one can do anything that can change it. Even with a time travel machine, James Cole was not able to change the past, and everything occurred the way James dreamed of. The virus will wipe out the five billion people, and Cole was not able to make an impact like he wanted to. Cole was shot in the back like he initially dreamed. How would it have been different if Cole’s choice was different, and he did not take the gun given to him? Without the Gun, Cole would have had a less chance of being shot and a greater chance of stopping the individual with the virus. Would Cole have been able to save the population from the virus then?

  6. Shelby permalink

    The 12 Monkeys’ theory of time differs from previous movies we have watched, like the Terminator. Instead of going back in time to change the future, 12 Monkeys sees time as a one dimensional concept where you cannot alter what has already happened – or what is going to happen, depending upon which way you look at it. When James Cole is questioned in the asylum he constantly refers to 1996 in the past tense even though he is in the year 1990 because from his perspective all of this has already happened. When he responses by saying, “How can I save you? It already happened! I can’t save you,” he is implying that people are tied to time and that all parts of time (past, present, and future) are all occurring at the same time. If time and the events of 12 Monkeys were more like a flow of time, like river which can change and channel out and has a clear order of events, then James Cole would have the option of changing the future by going back in time. Rather, he cannot because all parts of time are simultaneously happening and he is tied to this one dimensional time concept. I don’t know how plausible this is, it calls into question what is influencing what. When James Cole goes back to 1990 initially, he may have given the idea of the Army of the 12 Monkeys to Jeffery Goines – would Jeffery had even thought of the idea if James Cole hadn’t gone back in time. And the reoccurring dream that James has about his childhood when he seems himself get shot in the airport. None these events would have occurred if it were not for James time traveling – and these events are bound to happen again and again for the rest of time.

  7. Ben Vowell permalink

    I do not think it is possible to change the past. It is impossible to experience two different conditions of time if you directly impact them. By going to the past and interacting with it at any point, you have already changed the future, therefore going to the past would already be part of both the past and future before you realized it.
    In the movie, Cole seemingly goes back in time several times. However, he has had dreams for as long as he can remember of what we finds out eventually is the past that he created by going back to it. His going back in time only seemed to cement the future. The movie seems to make it plausible that time travel backwards is possible but it does not really change the future you are from. Logistically, it doesn’t make much sense; it looks as though his life is on some sort of infinite loop.
    In many ways, the past is simply a record of how energies reacted with one another to be in the state they are now. The past only exists as an imprint on our memories. An individual cannot directly impact the past because one cannot rewind energy exchanges, that’s not how physics works (at least to my limited knowledge). In fact, the only thing that really ever truly exists is the present. Our concept of time is strange because we are able to logically trace back events that have already happened for more predictable objects that we are familiar with. This makes time travel seem more plausible; if we can mentally map the past sequence of events, why should it be so hard to physically be there to audit and change them? Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on who we are, the “past” is only an illusion of our brains, often times different from one person to the next, but required to help us each learn and grow nonetheless.

  8. Heather Ireland permalink

    Cole was never sent to change the past, which cannot be done; his mission was simply to get a sample of the pure virus so that in the future they can create a cure. The film argues that the past cannot be changed. The film essentially argues that changing the past would create a causality loop, however identifying events in the past can change the future. As Cole states it, “I have seen it, but I don’t remember this part. Funny, it’s like what’s happening to us, like the past. The movie never changes — it can’t change — but every time you see it, it seems to be different because you’re different — you see different things.” What he is getting at is that by viewing the past, the past never changes, but what you are looking for, what you observe, is different…depending on the way you are viewing it. Put into the context of Cole’s another quote, “How can I save you? It already happened! I’m simply trying to get some information for people in the present so that someday…” makes Cole’s mission in the past make sense. In some ways, this hits on the time travel paradox, which simply positions that if the time traveler goes back into the past and does something that prevents him from going into the past in the future, then he does not go back into time. Therefore, in 12 Monkeys, Cole can go back into time, however if he goes back in time and changes the past, then he would create an entirely new timeline for the future that cannot be predicted. Also, we see when Cole does try “change” the past (when he runs after the man with the virus trying to shoot him) he himself is the anomaly and is shot and killed. However, it was always part of the past (as stated by Cole’s dream of events that occurred when he was a young child). We cannot change the past without changing the future and in the context of 12 Monkeys, they cannot change the past BECAUSE in the present, they want to create a better future.

  9. Seth Rodgers permalink

    I believe the first step to answering this prompt is to define the term “crazy.” Since the word “crazy” can be used within several colloquial and irrelevant contexts, it is more precise to understand the meaning of “insanity.” Merriam Webster’s definition is:

    1. A deranged state of the mind usually occurring as a specific disorder (as schizophrenia);
    2. Such unsoundness of mind or lack of understanding as prevents one from having the mental capacity required by law to enter into a particular relationship, status, or transaction or as removes one from criminal or civil responsibility.

    Focusing on the second definition, insanity, and therefore the quality of being crazy, is related to thinking and hence behaving in a way that is incongruent with reality due to “a lack of understanding.” I would argue that this definition is missing the crucial element of not just lacking understanding but continually acting out on it—otherwise an individual would simply be considered mentally challenged, but not likely insane.

    Unfortunately, in a society that values democratic ideals, determining what is correct understanding and what is incorrect understanding is up to the majority, loosely speaking. Goines’ analogy does a good job of illustrating this often unfair dynamic: while the first people to suggest novel concepts, such as the existence of germs, are often shunned and ridiculed, what was once ludicrous becomes cutting edge knowledge if enough people come to the same conclusion.

    Although the difference between someone of superior understanding and a mere lunatic is often difficult for the masses to discern, there are still ways to prove the truthfulness of an insight without others fully grasping the concepts. For example, a doctor who first understood the existence of germs could have shown he was right by significantly decreasing the number of his patients who contracted infections. Nevertheless, it is still up to the majority—or at least the majority of those with power and influence—to accept his proof. In the case of germs, few people would be motivated to deny concrete evidence that simple measures could drastically improve the field of medicine, however not all ideas are quite so easy to swallow.

    Goines seems to argue that humans simply don’t want to accept that they deserve to be wiped out for the sake of animals’ wellbeing. Although hopefully any viewer would find Goines’ plan absurd, it is still a sticky case to close since it hinges more on issues of morality than scientific fact. While germs represent a threat to our survival, morality is often thought to transcend petty concerns for self-preservation—or even group preservation—and can therefore be largely disagreed upon. Which raises an interesting question: Why exactly can we be so confident that Goines and his 12 Monkeys crew are necessarily wrong? Of course many people could come up with convincing arguments, but nobody starts off by putting lots of thought into the matter. We simply have a very strong intuition about some moral issues. Where does this come from? How reliable is it? How does it change from infancy to old age? These are all questions that require much more than words to answer.

  10. Micah Patten permalink

    Changing the past has always been an interesting idea that a lot of stories have played with. We saw a lot of these ideas in the Terminator and the impact of the Terminator on different characters developments. This film takes a more realistic and yet still limited view on the idea. The only way that time travel would be possible is if events are set to happen a certain way no matter what. This is because of what is known as the butterfly effect; every action causes ripples of reactions in a million different ways throughout the future. Any little thing that is changed in the past could cause the future to change. Looking forward, there is an infinite number of possible futures, but looking back from the present, there is only one possible future that could create the conditions for that present. This means that to travel back in time would only be possible if nothing could be changed by travelling to the past. The film seems to imply this on a bigger scale, such as the virus, but this would include even interactions with anything, material or human. If time travel was possible, that would mean that time itself is not linear, because if it were, there could never be a time when there was not someone from the future visiting at that time, which would mean that there could not develope a time in the future when that person was sent back. The concept may be complex, but it is fairly simple.

    • Micah Patten permalink

      The concept is complex, the reality is simple, sorry for the paradox lol

  11. Monica Hottle permalink

    In response to prompt 1, I believe that you cannot change the past. As we exist in the present, there is not tangible day (currently) to go back in time, alter what has happened, and return to the present for a different outcome (although I’m sure that there are plenty of us that would love an opportunity like that…). However, how else will you learn? We tend to learn from the past, whether it be historical events or even small mistakes we make ourselves. What we learn from the past is what we need to use in order to change our ways for the future, or change what is occurring in the present to yield a variant outcome of a future (versus the past). In the film, is Cole able to “change the past?” Or is that what he is trying to do in the first place? He is not sent to the past to stop the Twelve Monkeys, rather he needs to obtain a pure sample of the virus to bring back to the future so that a cure could be made. Even though Cole is not out to change the past, the film supports the idea that the past cannot be changed. Even in the future, the scientists give Cole the wrong information concerning who started the plague; so even though Cole makes an attempt to find the initiator of the plague, he ends up getting killed in the way that he dreams about in his re-occurring films of the future. The prompt gives a very distinct quote from Cole when people from the past ask if he is going to save them, he blatantly responds: “Save you? How can I save you? It already happened!” So even Cole knows that he cannot change the past. The past is something we learn from the develop the present and the future; it is not something that can be changed.

  12. Taylor Warren permalink

    1. Firstly, this film was crazy in and of itself. I was surprised that I’d never seen it or even heard of since it has Bruce and Brad—loved Brad’s crazy eye, it made the film for me. Anyway, it seems pretty clear that the past cannot be changed. If any time-zone can be changed it would be the future… if James Cole could have somehow stopped the crazy red-haired guy, then that would have impacted the future. But the quote included in this prompt is spot on in a deterministic/fatalist sort of way. This movie takes on an interesting perspective about time travel and changing events from different time-zones. Usually, people are sent back in time to change the future somehow or fix something that happened in the past. These scientists from the future, the ones who keep sending people back in time to supposedly gather information about the twelve monkeys and the germ that offed the entire planet, don’t care about the past. They don’t believe they can change it, or don’t want to. All they seem to care about is the future and how they can correct the world they currently live in. As far as what’s real, what’s crazy, and what’s in James Cole’s head is beyond me at this point. I don’t know if the scientists were in his head or if they were real, but his reoccurring dream, what happens to be the last scene in the movie, seems to have a lot to say about the past and the future. James watches himself get killed, but he doesn’t even know it. I’m not sure what that aspect of the scene is trying to say, but I know it’s there. If anything, this scene reinforces the theory that we cannot change the past—he has this dream over and over again…he knows it is going to happen, he just doesn’t remember and can’t fill in the details. But in trying to change the future, by running after the guy with the germs, James Cole fulfills what is already going to happen, a lot like the Oedipus theory.

  13. John Decker permalink

    I think what Goines is trying to get at here is that majority rule may be insanity because it is not based on what is surely correct, but what the majority of a constituent, voting population believes is the truth and the correct way of doing things. It is the sort of concern that the founding fathers thought about when they choose to implement an electoral college system as a way to safeguard against the possible insanity of majority rule. Germs are an excellent example of the danger of majority rule. Some germs are good for the human body and necessary for life, while some are life threatening. However, it is not the morality of the germ, good versus bad, that decides which will rule, but the strength of the germ population; the same threat that majority rule in democracy poses to a nation. Therefore, Goines certainly does have a point and an interesting one at that if I may add. As far as the points validity I say that it is valid. The reason for this I believe can be shown in historical example. It is the reason that the founding fathers, as said before, put in place an electoral college and why most organizations, no matter how democratic, generally have officers elected to filter decisions. Also, there is no country in the world that is purely majority ruled democratic in the world, and I do believe that such a country would have massive human right violations and would be a failed state economically as well. Pure majority rule is dangerous and Goines does an excellent job of conveying its potential insanity with and interesting example.

  14. The question of whether or not we can change the past depends greatly on what theory of time travel is used. For instance, No matter what James did, he could not change what happened. Everything happened just as he remembered it happening when he was a child. Therefore, in this reality, we cannot change what happens in the past. Now, one could argue that James could have called the number back and told them the identity of the creepy guy with the bio weapon, but the fact remains that he did not. Therefore, nothing will change, five billion people will die, and there is nothing that could have been done to prevent it. This is because everything that is happening has already happened, as illustrated by James’ memory of watching himself die as a child, and even the voicemail of the psychiatrist which was made in 1996. When he tried the number in 1990 it did not work, so when he went to the future and heard a voicemail left in 1996, he assumed it was a hoax; but once he met the psychiatrist and knew she left the message, he knew that the world would die no matter what he did. This is plain from the phone call he makes telling the future to forget about the Twelve Monkeys because they had nothing to do with the virus. This shows that no matter how many times they send someone back to the past, they will never stop the virus, because they do not know who released it, and will never find out with enough time left to stop him successfully.
    Personally, I like the twist at the end where he sat next to the crazy scientist lady, and she sold insurance, which obviously qualifies her to send people to the past.

  15. Simeon permalink

    I think that 12 Monkeys counters the movie we watched previously, Minority Report in the concept of time and fate. In Minority Report the whole concept is that we can, with foreknowledge, prevent actions from occurring. Using this ability, bad things are prevented. 12 Monkeys takes the opposite approach, that no matter the desired effect on some past action, it cannot be altered. I like the way the concept was portrayed because I think it is meant to say how fated life already is. Cole was present in two ways for his death, he witnesses it as a child, and he is there actually dying in the end. I thought that this made his life seem like a point A to Point B scenario, and though time travel allowed for him to try and interfere between the two, his Point B was already set in stone and the time travel was already accounted for in his seemingly predetermined life span. It is also additionally amazing that with all the scientist retrospect, the man who put the virus out could not be stopped. I would wonder if that was the point, that the scientist knew it could not be changed but at least it could be fixed later on. Cole had motivation to stay in the past and alter his future, so in order to do that he needed to stop the apocalypse nut sadly for him, it seems the end of the world was fated to occur. I would hope that the future can be changed just in case something horrid does occur to the world and the chance to correct it is possible. However, the concept that time is unchangeable even with the capability to return to some other time means to me that the future is preserved by some greater power that has already accounted for any attempts to repeat and correct. That, to me is admitting we have no control at all, despite efforts and even technological advances, the path of our futures is set.

  16. Theodore Kruczek permalink

    On point #2, I disagree with his contention that majority rules. Those with the most power rule. What would be a more correct statement is that, the collective power of the commons can topple a king and having power as the basis for right or wrong is crazy.

    This is a product of our evolution as survivors rather than analytic thinkers. Given enough time, this may change, but there is currently 50,000 years of instinct that says to assimilate to the group in order to gain protection. If the group says it is acceptable to be cannibals – then it is acceptable, because it is better to be safe and accepted than to have the morally superior position. The reason I mention instinct is because this is usually done subconsciously. I don’t even recognize my decision to join in with the groups in hopes of acceptance.

    Applied to modern day – if the group decides it is acceptable to fear all Muslims for the actions of a few, then it is better to join in on that insanity and being accepted by the group than to analysis the situation and see the flaws in the argument. If pushed hard enough, then some of us find a different group to fit into that agrees with the counterargument that stereotyping is bad.

    So in response to the prompt, it is not crazy – it is survival. Once we reach a peak in society when free speech cannot result in social exclusion, then people will move past the need to have a safety net in a group and analyze questions rationally.

  17. J. Lucky permalink

    1. Certainly in the film there appears to be a very strong argument for not being able to change the past. Hence, no matter what actions Cole takes he simply follows what has already happened. Interestingly enough though this seems to either suggest that events in time are either fatalistic or that Cole always did those same actions and was always in the past or as a third alternative, Cole’s input on the circumstances surrounding the event were insufficient to cause a change in the outcome. The third alternative might be what is being suggested by having the chairwoman from the future sitting next to the man on the airplane at the very end of the film.
    For me though it seems that if I were to go to the past that my presence alone would then change some aspect, however small, of the future. The only argument that seems to be plausible against this is that I and already living in a present in which I went to the past. But there must have been a first time and in that instance at the least something about the future was changed. So I would argue that the first time it changes the future though I will admit that there is the possibility of simply throwing yourself into a loop effect in which you always go to the past and fulfill your own present. The fatalism argument I find no reason to accept as it seems to negate the effects of changing input on the situation and circumstances.

  18. Amy Vander Wyst permalink

    Can we change the past? 12 Monkeys would argue that no, we can’t. Battlestar Galactica would argue that All of this has happened before and all this will happen again. Back to the Future would argue that of course we can change the past, we have to make our parents cooler! Harry Potter, How it Should Have Ended is another win for changing the past. Doctor Who… well, who the heck knows what’s really going on anyway?!

    12 Monkeys takes the approach that anything that exists in the past has always existed and that self-fulfilling prophecies of a sort, have in a sense always been there. The young Cole watches his older self die in the film, which is when we realize where all those weird dreams were coming from. Therefore, every time Cole lived his life, he was experiencing watching himself die, and when he grew up he was destined to be involved in time travel so that Young Cole* could watch grown-up Cole die. Without witnessing this event, perhaps he never made the life choices that led him to become involved in time travel, however convoluted and spider-webby that chain or events may be.

    This film takes the approach of fatalism. We have no choices to make but the ones that we are destined to make. No matter what happens, the outcome will always be the same.

    I can find an inherent flaw in this argument. We, as the limited rational beings that we are, perceive time as linear. Therefore, in order for someone to *want* to change the past in order to change the future, we must have perceived the timeline in its original form. Without perceiving the initial timeline, we would never have desired to change it, therefore would never have set in motion the chain of events that led to us gaining the capability to change it. Therefore the past would never be changed, so the initial timeline would prevail, within which there is some event that we want to change in order to change the future, so we would then develop the technology and chain of events that leads us to travel back in time to change a certain event… I digress. We would have to perceive the original timeline in order to want to change the past at all. One can only unravel this mess when viewing from the perspective of the FIRST iteration of the timeline, where everything happens naturally, then in the future we go back to change it. This then creates quite the conundrum.

    There are so many takes on time travel, I’m not sure which one I’d rather side with. The more radical ideas come from Isaac Asimov’s novel, The End of Eternity, and the recent film Looper. The Grandfather Paradox should kick in full force with these two, and I wonder how the second iteration would turn out. But how could a second iteration even exist if time is linear? Isn’t there just one timeline? This can easily be solved with a theory of alternate universes. If each time someone goes back in time and changes something, a new universe is created…problem solved, mostly. Alternate universes somewhat destroy the concept of the self-fulfilling prophecy.

    I think I’ll take the easy way out and side with the tenth doctor. “People assume that time is a strict progression from cause to effect. But actually, from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint, it’s more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey…stuff.”

    Also, if time travel is invented in the future, I find it quite impossible that no one chose to take the opportunity to go back to 2003 and stop Fox from cancelling Firefly. Therefore, we will never invent time travel. The end.

  19. By paying attention to Cole’s response when he is asked “Are you going to save us?” I understand that he does believe that we can change the past. First of all, even though he was enrolled in a mental hospital, he seems to understand well enough that his mission was to go back in time to prevent the disease from ever globally spreading in the first place. If Cole did not, at least a part of him, have the belief that we could change the past to prevent this epidemic then I think there would have been more of a violent fight to save himself from being sent back in time. Also, I believe that Cole is able to see the hope in the people’s eyes for some savior because he is able to pick up on the fact that they do not believe his answer about being sent back in time to merely gain new information to prevent something like this from happening ever again in the future. If Cole did not believe that the past could be changed then I do not think that he would have been able to pick up on the disbelief in the people’s eyes as he was speaking; he knows he feels the same way as they do. The film’s take is that, yes, we can change the past.

  20. In response to the prompt about being able to change time: I think it is possible, but in doing so we inevitably create an outcome we expected. It’s like the case of Oedipus: his foresight tells him not to sleep with his mother or kill his father, so he goes far away thinking he can change the prophecy, yet fulfills it as completely as possible. So I guess what I believe is that it’s okay to change small details of the past, but they won’t necessarily change the future, at least not in the way you’d like. The Terminator series demonstrates this as well: the first Terminator seeks to kill Sarah Conner in order to prevent her from giving birth to the futures savior of the human race. But this fails, because they couldn’t change history in the same way. Additionally, in the second film, it seems that everything the trio does to change the past in order to change the future will be successful, yet, Skynet is still created and the date of Judgment Day is merely pushed back, not prevented. In the same way Cole tries to aid the future by changing the past, only securing the future.

    This dichotomy seems to prove that it is possible to change the future but only if you have complete omniscience of the world, in order to be able to manipulate time outside of time itself, like looking at a puzzle as someone watching the person putting it together: you notice things they don’t because they’re hyperfocused on the piece they’re trying to place immediately. From your vantage point you can see the whole board, but still have enough clarity to know where it should go (based on shape, color, amount of detail on the piece, etc.). In this same way I think that would be the only way to manipulate the future. It didn’t necessarily work in 12 Monkeys because there wasn’t someone operating in a perspective not just out of Cole’s travels to the past, but also outside of the future the scientists are operating from.

  21. ricardochavez permalink

    Cole in the movie shows the impossibility of really understanding the effectiveness of time travel. Unless a certain goal is supposed to be accomplished and its projected outcome in the future is desired, then going into the past to change something will be pointless, unless you specifically accomplish that objective. The time travel thing here is a little different than most movies on time travel because usually something in the future must be altered, and therefore going back in the past is necessary (assuming the person is absolutely positive that doing that one thing will solely accomplish that certain objective for the future). However, you can’t really change the future with 100% satisfaction because you would also be going back to a state of mind you were previously in. The person travelling would have to have an external mentality separated from the present moment of the past, in order to be conscious of why they are in the past in the first place. The movie shows one of the many complexities of changing the past, merely for the reason that the past has already shaped the future and going back will just bring you back to square one unless you had a sure-hand guarantee the action you did in the past led to one thing you were trying to change in the future. The possibility of time travel in this movie also touches little on the possibility of butterfly effect or other inadvertent outcomes that altering the past may bring. The time traveler theoretically does one thing that brings about a different and usually desired outcome in the future, however the possibilities of multiple outcomes can easily be disregarded, so ultimately going back in time to change the future should supposedly bring about a whole bedlam of possibilities. However, the movie pretty much accounts for the altering of specific moments, and the reality of that type of time travel seems a little too cookie-cut. However, Cole’s time travel seems even less productive because if he supposedly gets the future outcome he wants, he would have never had a reason to go back into the past which would have made the whole time traveling job non-existent. However, the mere thought of going into the past runs itself into the ground unless another form of yourself can alter the past for you in the future, however one person doing it all by themselves makes it a vicious cycle of time traveling and unexpected consequences.

  22. Caroline Martin permalink

    Prompt #2:
    Initially considering this statement, I could not see the connection between the concept of “majority rules” and “being crazy.” I think it’s the way that Goines states it: “Crazy is majority rules.” He creates a metaphor when, in my mind, majority rules is more of a means to an end. The end being crazy. Goines makes a better connection when he states, “Look, hey—if all these nuts could just make phone calls, they could spread insanity, oozing through telephone cables, oozing into the ears of all these poor sane people, infecting them.” If you think about various pressure induced events such as Abu Ghraib the idea does not seem too far-fetched. Human beings seem to be so driven by how they are perceived that they will, unless overcome by a higher sense of morality, succumb to conformity. However, to return to my original thoughts concerning Goines’ metaphor, it’s completely understandable in the other sense too. When talking about germs to James Cole, Goines introduces a hypothetical situation:
    “I go into this hellhole—I go in to order a burger at this fast-food joint, and the guy drops it on the floor. James, he picks it up, he wipes it off, he hands it to me like it’s all OK. ‘What about the germs?’ I say. He says ‘I don’t believe in germs. Germs is a plot made up so they could sell disinfectants and soaps.’ Now he’s crazy right?”
    In this case, the single burger joint guy seems to be crazy, right? He is called “crazy” by societal standards because he is acting in a far-fetched minority. So what is the commonality here? “Far-fetched.” Perhaps I could find better word choice, but the only true way to determine whether something is crazy or not is by the nature of it, not in size, but in pure sanity. The size only determines the following or the timing behind the “crazy.” However, if you consider Goines’ statement as the means to an end, then the concept of “Crazy is majority rules,” is not so difficult to comprehend.

  23. John Yang permalink

    Within the lens of 12 Monkeys, we cannot change the past even with the ability to travel back to it. We can alter our fates in the future with knowledge from the past, as Cole describes when he says “I’m simply trying to get some information for people in the present…” implying that the information he seeks can save lives in the future, or provide a better life for them. The timeline of 12 Monkeys is fixed, and does not change despite Cole’s best efforts to change reality, fate seems to simply take into account his actions in an organic manner that still allows for major events to take their course. If Cole had not attempted to stop Dr. Peters, the viral outbreak and subsequent pandemic would have occurred, simply without his resistance. And even though Cole had figured out Dr. Peters’s scheme, he was still unable to prevent this outbreak and pandemic from occurring, as he is fatally shot by airport police. Further evidence shows this as one of the lead scientists from the future merely sits down next to Peters, introducing herself as “Jones” and saying she works in “insurance,” and the film heavily implies that she is present to study the virus to develop a cure for it. The next logical deduction from this scene is that the lead scientists have accepted the reality that they can affect the past, so they have now moved on to affecting the future. I believe that this is a plausible possibility when discussing the effects of time travel, but we can never rule out the possibility of an organic timeline that shifts with new changes brought with time travel, or the possibility of alternate timelines being created outside of the original timeline with the advent of time travel. The film Looper also brings up the capability of preventing atrocities by traveling in the past within an organic timeline (versus the static timeline of 12 Monkeys), but still arrives at the same conclusion: one can attempt to change the past, but even with new actions the past will still arrive at the same ultimate events.

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