Doctor Who – Bootstrap paradox is no paradox


In last night’s episode of BBC’s Doctor Who, “Before the Flood”, The Doctor posed a scenario and a question:

Imagine a time traveller, who is a big fan of Beethoven, goes back in time to visit his musical hero, and takes his record collection to be signed. Upon arrival, the time traveller discovers that no one has ever heard of Beethoven and that, in fact, Beethoven doesn’t exist.

In response to his discovery, the time traveller decides to transcribe the music from his own collection, onto sheet music, and publish it himself. In essence, he becomes Beethoven.

Now the question is put: Who first wrote Beethoven’s 5th?

This is called the bootstrap paradox and is similar to the chicken and egg situation.

Is this actually a paradox, though? I think not. I think it is resolvable as follows:

If you look at the situation from the point of view of the music and look at time as fixed, all the way from the Big Bang, including where time ends up looping, the solution becomes clear. 

The music became pressed onto records which the time traveller collected over a period. At some point in the traveller’s future, he is destined to visit the supposed time when Beethoven lived. It turns out the traveller is always part of history, having suddenly appeared from the set future, one day.

Upon learning that Beethoven doesn’t exist, he sets out on his destiny to write down the music for the first time and then publish it, which would eventually lead to his younger self discovering a taste for the music.

Who was it who first wrote Beethoven’s 5th? It was always the time traveller.


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