Tag Archives: Carlos Fonnegra

Continuum and the Bootstrap Paradox

Continuum’s present timeline seems to be littered with objects from the future. This is hardly surprising considering it is a time travel show. Objects like Kiera’s CMR, the Quantum Time Traveling Device, the drug Retrievanol better known as “Flash” and that other mysterious device whose purpose we are yet to learn all exist in a time when they should not as they have not been created.

Alec Sadler (Erik Knudsen) is arguably the inventor of many of these devices. Or, at least, he will be in the future. If present day Alec “invents” these devices by examining them, can he lay claim to their invention? It really comes down to, did he do the work necessary to bring those ideas to fruition? The answer is more complex than you would think and poses some serious problems in physics. This problem is known as the bootstrap paradox.

The Bootstrap Paradox

"By His Bootstraps" by Robert A. Heinlein was originally published in the October 1941 issue of Astounding Science Fiction under the pen name Anson MacDonald.

“By His Bootstraps” by Robert A. Heinlein was originally published in the October 1941 issue of Astounding Science Fiction under the pen name Anson MacDonald.

The bootstrap paradox is a time travel paradox in which an object or information can exist without ever being created. The object or piece of information is sent back in time where it is retrieved and to become the very object or piece of information that was brought back in the beginning.

One example would be a famous author who goes back in time to give his collected best-selling works to his younger self. His younger self sells those works to a publisher and becomes famous. The now older author then goes back in time to give his manuscript to his younger self.

The term originates from the expression “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps” and was used to describe the time-travel paradox in Robert A. Heinlein’s story “By His Bootstraps”. In Heinlein’s story the protagonist, Bob Wilson, recreates a notebook of translations belonging to his future self. At the end of the story, he wonders who actually compiled the notebook as he prepares to give the book to his younger self in the past.

The young and future best-selling author may feel nothing is wrong with this but to some of us, it seems as if he is cheating. Though it can be argued that the young author, left on his own, will eventually produce the work that he becomes famous for, he has not yet created that work. He is not just claiming ownership for something he never worked on but copying it. This is why it seems like cheating.

Bootstrap Paradox

“I think… the Second Law… of Thermodynamics… says these glasses… should not exist. But… they do, Bones.”

All of the author’s best selling work and Bob Wilson’s notebook of translations have no point of origin because no one has actually created any of it. It all exists in an endless time-loop. As matter and information can not exist without being created, it is paradoxical that it would exist inside the loop.

This becomes even more difficult to consider when we consider physical objects. The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that entropy increases over time meaning that any object brought back ages, will eventually break down and decay. This means that no object will be the same when brought back and can not become the same object in the future.

A time loop also poses a problem with determinism. As every action must occur in exactly the same way each time for the loop to exist. No one can act in a way to do something different. There is no free will in this scenario.

Understanding Continuum’s Bootstrap Paradox

Bootstrap Paradox

Head Frelancer Catherine explains the nature of time in Continuum.

Though it seems that the laws of physics conspires against young Alec to prevent him from taking advantage of his older self’s work and inventions, it doesn’t. At least not in the way we understand the show’s physics. We know at the start of Season Three that time is not immutable. It can change depending on a person’s actions to not only give rise to new branches but to eliminate old ones.

This branching timeline idea means that both objects and information can travel between timelines thus resolving the paradox. In an original timeline, Alec Sadler, played by William B. Davis, was the genius that created the inventions of the late 21st century. All the inventions that Alec creates now have a point of origin or creation. It’s just in another timeline.

When someone travels back in time, they can bring any objects or information with them and create a new timeline. This means that a younger Alec can use information from an alternate future to recreate technology in his own time line without violating any laws of physics. He can, for example, use information from Jason and dead Kiera’s CMR to recreate his medical monitoring wrist band, Halo.

Multiple timeline also solves the problem of determinism. In a loop, everyone must continually do everything that happened before without deviation and with no apparent free will. A new timeline means people’s choices will shape the outcome and events in the future.

Who’s the Original?

Hirsute from A.J. Bond on Vimeo.

In “Minute of Silence”, (Season 3, Episode 9), Carlos Fonnegra (Victor Webster) shows Alec the dead Kiera frozen on ice. “You and me. We’re originals,” he tells Alec. But are they? It’s not surprising that Carlos would make such a statement or even think it. We all like to think we are original or special in some way. In reality, neither he nor this timeline’s Alec are originals. They are just copies.

In A.J. Bond’s time traveling short story, Hirsute, a young time traveler tries in vain to solve the problem of time travel. Deciding that if a solution exists, he will simply go back in time and give himself the answer. To his surprise, nothing happens. No one comes to visit. Maybe time travel is impossible.

The next scene replays exactly as before but this time someone comes back with the answer. Excited to see his older time traveling self, the young physicist claims a victory. Or tries to. His older time traveling self tells him that he did nothing and hasn’t invented time travel. The older and hairless time traveler is the original.

So as much as Carlos would like to believe that he is the original and not some copy, he is wrong. I wonder who is going to break it to him.

The Science of Continuum’s Cybernetic Visual Implants Seeing the Invisible with Night Vision Contact Lens

In the sixth episode of season two, “Second Truths”, we see Kiera go up against the mysterious serial killer known in 2077 as the Ouroboros Killer. Using her knowledge of the case in 2077, Kiera (Rachel Nichols) discovers that there isn’t one but two killers working together. We see Kiera’s cellular memory review/recall or CMR in action and that her cybernetic visual implants allow her to see in low light and the infra-red spectrum

Continuum Night Vision

Cybernetic visual implants allows Kiera to see in low light levels to capture a killer.

We also see a further use of Kiera’s night vision capabilities in the episode “Minute of Silence”. Both Kiera and Carlos (Victor Webster) track a high-tech free running thief who has stolen an invisibility cloak from Hyper Stealth. Though invisible to visible light, Kiera’s CMR picks up the thief’s heat signature and she and Carlos are able to make a quick arrest.

Continuum Night Vision

While the invisibility cloak may bend visible light and make our thief invisible, it doesn’t do the same for infrared.

Night vision isn’t exactly new. It has been used by the military as far back as World War II. Present day night vision devices look like binoculars strapped onto a soldier’s helmet; not like Kiera’s cybernetic visual implants which have been neatly implanted onto her eyes. A device like this may not be that far off in the future. Engineers from the University of Michigan have built and tested a broadband photodetector using graphene, a honeycomb lattice of carbon atoms that is just one atom thick. Their findings was published in 2014 in the prestigious journal Nature Nanotechnology. The study’s authors hope this will one day lead to night vision contact lens.

The Science of Night Vision

Night Vision

Spectrum showing the visible portion of light. This accounts for a very small portion of the entire spectrum.

It should come as no surprise that many animals have better night vision than humans do. They can either see a much wider range of the light spectrum or see at much lower light levels than we do. Humans, instead, use technology to improve upon what nature hasn’t given us. This works in one of two ways: either by image enhancement or by thermal imaging.

In image enhancement, low light levels, that are imperceptible to our eyes, are amplified to a point where we can observe an image. In thermal imaging, the infrared part of the spectrum is captured with an infrared detector and converted into visible light to produce an image.

The Miracle of Graphene

Night Vision

Graphene is an atomic-scale monolayer honeycomb lattice made of carbon atoms.

A futuristic science fiction device could be based on nanotechnology and made using graphene, a sheet of carbon that is just one atom thick. The carbon atoms form strong covalent bonds and are arranged in a hexagonal shape. This gives graphene unparalleled strength not seen in most materials; its breaking strength is over 100 times greater than a hypothetical steel film of the same thickness.

Night Vision

A lump of graphite, a graphene transistor and a tape dispenser. Donated to the Nobel Museum in Stockholm by Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov in 2010.

The material was discovered in 2004 by two University of Manchester physicists, Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov. The two scientist pulled tiny bits of graphene from a lump of graphite, the same material found in a “lead” pencil, by sandwiching a graphite flake between some Scotch Tape. The tape layers was pulled apart to separate the atomic layers. They continued this process several times until a single atomic layer was left on the Scotch Tape.

Photograph of graphene in transmitted light. This one-atom-thick crystal can be seen with the naked eye because it absorbs approximately 2.3% of white light.

Photograph of graphene in transmitted light. This one-atom-thick crystal can be seen with the naked eye because it absorbs approximately 2.3% of white light.

What may come as a surprise to the average non-scientist is that no special equipment is needed to view this single atomic layer of carbon atoms. Graphene is considerable opaque considering it’s only one atom thick. The layer absorbs 2.3% of the light incident on it making it very easy to see with the naked eye.

If this 2.3% doesn’t sound impressive, that is because it really isn’t. Compared to a material like silicon, which is used to make solar cells, it doesn’t absorb as many photons. However, it does have one advantage over silicon–it has no band gap.

Night Vision

The bandgap for insulators, semiconductors and conductors.

Band gaps exist in both insulators and semiconductors and is the energy needed to get electrons flowing in either material. Metals conduct easily because their valence and conduction bands overlap and require no additional energy to get them moving. Semiconductors can get this energy from light. If a photon with enough energy strikes the surface of a semiconductor, it knocks and electron loose and the material starts conducting. If there isn’t enough then it remains an insulator.

If a photon has more energy than the required amount, then the extra energy is lost unless it has twice the energy of the band gap. In this case the photon will liberate two electrons. This is the reason why, under ideal conditions, the silicon based solar cells maximum efficiency is about 30%; they can only absorb photons with energy in a tiny range. Graphene has, what is known as, a zero band gap which means they can absorb photons of all energies. So while it doesn’t absorb as many photons as silicon, it makes better use of the much wider range of photons that it does absorb. This is of considerable interest to scientists as they could become highly efficient solar cells.

Kiera’s Cybernetic Visual Implants

Kiera Cameron's Cellular Memory Review being installed during her first day as a Protector for the City Protective Services.

Kiera Cameron’s Cellular Memory Review being installed during her first day as a Protector for the City Protective Services.

Kiera’s cybernetic visual implants form part of her CMR or cellular memory review. The CMR is based on a liquid chip technology that interfaces with the visual implants to give users a Heads-Up Display. The visual implants also allow its users to see beyond the visual range, to detect infra-red radiation and see in low light conditions.

Present day night vision devices are clunky. Devices that can see in the low-IR region typically requires detectors to be cryogenically cooled to reduce their atom’s thermal vibrations as much as possible. Neither of these characteristics are ideal for the future of law enforcement. Future City Protective Services’ (CPS) Protectors will need to carry liquid-nitrogen cryogenic backpacks for their visual implants to work effectively.

Graphene may solve this problem as it is also able to absorb infra-red photons at room temperature. The problem is that it doesn’t absorb a whole lot of infra-red photons. Its sensitivity is about one hundred to one thousand times lower than any commercial device on the market; any signal it produces will be too weak to produce an image. Researchers at the University of Michigan, led by Zhaohui Zhong, have found a way to capture and amplify the signal into a device smaller than a pinky nail.

Night Vision

An insulating layer is sandwiched between two sheets of graphene to create an optical transistor.

The IR detector is created by sandwiching an insulating layer between two sheets of graphene. A tiny electrical current runs through the bottom sheet. Electrons are released as infrared photons strike the top graphene layer. These free electrons quantum tunnel through the insulating layer where changes in current flow in the bottom layer is measured and observed. Zhong and his team were able to use this to determine the brightness of light striking the upper layer and create a viable method of detecting infra-red radiation in something that could, one day, fit inside a contact lens.

We have seen Kiera monitor physiological function and identify chemicals using her CMR. This graphene-based device could also, one day, go beyond military and law-enforcement applications to use IR-wavelengths to monitor blood flow as well as identify chemicals from their heat signature. Could the tech we see on Continuum become a part of wearable electronics that will expand our vision and provide us with another way to work and interact with our environment?

Continuum, Time Travel and The Grandfather Paradox

The last episode to Continuum’s second season (“Second Time”) sees a grief stricken Alec Sadler (Erik Knudsen use the time travel device to go back in time to save the life of Emily (Magda Apanowicz). A shocked and distraught Keira (Rachel Nichols) looks on as Alec disappears from the time line in a flash of light. What is everyone’s favorite Protector to do now that the time travel device no longer exists? Is she forever trapped in the present unable to do anything about Alec’s betrayal?

If you were hoping to find out what Kiera would do now that she is stuck in the present then don’t hold your breath. Alec reemerges in the past–one week in the past to be exact–to create a new timeline while Kiera is captured by the Freelancers. The original timeline, as explained by Head Freelancer Catherine (Rachael Crawford) no longer exists. The intense roller-coaster ride and the jaw-dropping events of the last season, from the pinning of Agent Gardiner’s (Nicholas Lea) murder on Kiera to Carlos Fonnegra (Victor Webster) leaving the Vancouver Police Department to join Julian (Richard Harmon) and Liber8 never happened.

So what are Continuum fans to do? Are we simply to ignore the last episodes of Season Two as if they never happened? That remains an open question.
The Season Three premier certainly continues with the same action packed intensity from which the last season ended but it does something else–it explains the time travel rules upon which the show is based. It also appears that the show’s writers have put a lot of thought and effort into ensuring that these rules are as consistent as possible, especially where the issues of paradoxes are concerned.

The Paradoxes of Time Lines

Continuum Time Travel

Head Freelancer Catherine explains that time travel is not immutable and is like a brancing tree that needs to be pruned.

“Destiny is not set. Time is not immutable. The continuum is like a tree. It can grow wild or it can be cultivated.”

In the premier episode, head Freelancer Catherine explains the concept of timelines and the physics of time travel to Kiera. While there is only one timeline, it can be changed. Go back far enough in time and you can change everything to create an entirely new and different timeline.

This answers some of the paradoxial questions of the last two seasons, if Maddie (Olivia Ryan-Stern) was really Kellog’s (Stephen Lobo) grandmother, then why didn’t he pop out of existence in the current timeline. One idea put forward by Alec was that she may not have been Matthew’s grandmother. It turns out she could have been and to understand why, we must look into how Continuum’s physics of time travel resolves the Grandfather Paradox.

The Grandfather Paradox


The grandfather paradox is one of the more well-known time travel paradoxes and was first described by the science fiction writer René Barjavel in his 1943 book “Le Voyageur Imprudent(Future Times Three). In this scenario, our time traveler goes back in time before his grandfather is married and kills him. The paradox is that the time traveler is never born and can not go back in time to kill his grandfather. His grandfather is free to meet the grandmother, get married, have kids and our time traveler is eventually born. When the time traveler gets older, he steps into his time-machine and goes back in time to kill his grandfather. This cycle continues ad infinitum and without resolution.

Recognizing this vulnerability, in the Season One episode “A Test of Time”, Kagame (Tony Amendola) decides to test this paradox and possibly get rid of their “Protector problem” once and for all. Liber8 start by killing young women with Kiera’s grandmother’s name–“Lily Jones”. During the course of the episode Liber8 take additional insurance by planning to kill Kellog’s grandmother; revenge against Kellog for helping Kiera. Travis (Roger Cross) shoots Kellog’s grandmother and everyone sees that Kellog does not disappear–the grandfather paradox does not apply to them. Or does it?

According to Catherine’s explanation of time travel, killing Maddie creates a new time line. In this new timeline Kellog will not be born and many of the events in Kellog’s life, from his meeting Kiera to his part in Liber8 will never happen. In a sense the very timeline that Kiera so desperately tries to protect no longer exists but this doesn’t mean that Kellog’s absence changes things so completely that the future Kiera and the Freelancers are trying to protect never happens. Kiera’s primary concern is her family but everything can still go according to plan even though Kellog no longer exists in the new timeline.

Catherine and the Freelancers appear to subscribe to the Great Man Theory, a 19th-century idea in which history can be explained by the impact of “great men”, or heroes. As Kellog is not one of these supposed “great men” then many key events, such as Alec’s rise to power and discovery of time travel, will still happen. This means that Kiera’s family will still exist in the future. As they don’t know who Kellog is, they will also be completely unchanged by the ripple effect of Maddie’s death. The reason Catherine and the Freelancers aren’t too concerned of Maddie’s death is because her impact on the future is negligible–her life or death changes nothing. Talk about a major blow to one’s ego.

Resolving the Grandfather Paradox

Continuum’s time-travel physics provides a logically consistent way to resolve the Grandfather Paradox. A time traveler who kills his own ancestor or whose ancestor is murdered won’t vanish from existence. Rather, the timeline he came from will disappear to be replaced by a new timeline in which he will never be born. As our time traveler is a refugee from the previous timeline that no longer exists, he won’t pop out of existence and is safe from the ramifications of the Grandfather Paradox.

This single and mutable timeline idea not only overcomes the logical paradox and inconsistencies of the Grandfather Paradox but others as well , such as the Bootstrap and Predestination Paradoxes–something we will examine in future blog posts. It also highlights how dangerous time travel is in the series. As time is not immutable, a nefarious time traveler can use a time machine as a weapon to mold the future to achieve for personal gain. Jason has hinted that the Freelancers have meddled with humanity’s history before. The extent of this meddling remains to be seen.

The Freelancers have the power to monitor the continuum and stop people from making these changes to the timeline but this doesn’t mean they are the good guys. Catherine has admitted they see themselves as guardians to the continuum, in essence, the ones who “prune” the tree. This makes you wonder whose interests they represent and whether those interests are the best for everyone. This is interesting because the series has yet to really identify who the good guys and bad guys really are.

While we may at times root for Kiera, as the series progresses we may discover we never should have. We have two Alecs in this timeline. In the last timeline we have seen hints that Alec could be turning to the “dark side” and become the man to usher in a totalitarian and dystopian future of 2077. All that may have been changed with Emily’s death. It is amazing the difference a week makes. Could we see Alec Sadler fight on both sides of this temporal war? Your guess is as good as mine.