Predestination paradoxes in popular culture

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A predestination paradox is a common literary device employed in many fictional and mythological works, dealing with various circumstances and paradoxes that can logically arise from time travel. Examples include Robert Heinlein's "—All You Zombies—", in which a young man is taken back in time and tricked into impregnating his younger, female self before he underwent a sex change, or The Man Who Folded Himself, a 1973 science fiction novel by David Gerrold that includes a series of similar paradoxes.

This page describes several examples of predestination paradox in mythology, music, and popular culture. For more popular culture examples see Predestination paradoxes in literature, Predestination paradoxes in film, Predestination paradoxes in television, Predestination paradoxes in video games, and Predestination paradoxes in comics, manga, and anime.

Mythology/Self-Fulfilling Prophecy[edit]

While technically not a predestination paradox, self-fulfilling prophecy is a related variant which predates the use of time travel as a plot device.

Two of the earliest and most famous examples are the ancient Indian story of Krishna in the epic Mahabharata, and the ancient Greek legend of Oedipus.


In the story of Krishna in the epic Mahabharata, king Kamsa, afraid of a prophecy that predicted his death at the hands of his sister Devaki's son, had her cast into prison where he planned to kill all of her children at birth. After her first six children had been killed, Devaki gave birth to Krishna. As his life was in danger, he was smuggled out to be raised by his foster parents Yasoda and Nanda in the Gokul village. As a young man, Krishna returned to his kingdom to overthrow his uncle, and Kamsa was eventually killed by his nephew Krishna. It was Kamsa's attempts to prevent the prophecy that led to it coming true. A similar but less complex story is found in the Greek myth of Zeus overthrowing Cronus.


In the legend of Oedipus, it is prophesied that the baby Oedipus will one day kill his father and marry his mother. His father, Laius, attempts to circumvent the prophecy by abandoning the baby in the wilderness. Years later, Oedipus — unaware that he was adopted — learns of the prophecy and leaves home to avoid it. He kills a man and marries the widow, but does not learn until later that they are, in fact, his biological parents. The attempts to avoid fate result in the fulfillment of the prophecy. Had the prophecy not been revealed to Laius, it would not have come true, therefore it was only fate if Laius knew of it.


The Biblical Joseph angered his eleven brothers by what they considered his arrogance, especially by a dream in which he saw eleven stars bowing down before him, which the brothers thought represented themselves. To get rid of him, they sold him into slavery and he was taken to Egypt - where he eventually rose high in Pharaoh's court and became the Viceroy. When there was famine in Canaan, the brothers came to Egypt and bowed down before the Viceroy/Joseph to ask for his help - thus, their angry reaction to his dream was what caused the dream to come true.


• In the Harry Potter Universe, a prophecy by Sybill Trelawney is partly overheard by Snape about the birth of a wizard, with the power to vanquish Voldemort. Snape then informs Voldemort about it. Aware of the prophecy, and assuming the baby to be Harry, he attacks the Potters, killing Harry's parents, but failing to kill newborn Harry, as his attack backfires, leaving him severely weakened and setting up the scenario in which Harry vanquishes him 18 years later.

• The first Terminator movie relies on the predestination paradox. In the first movie, the cyborg T-800, sent back in time to assassinate the mother of Skynet's opponent, is destroyed, but its parts are salvaged, creating a timeline where the creation of a T-800 is possible. Additionally, in order to stop Skynet's assassination plan, Kyle Reese follows the T-800 back in time and winds up fathering the very opponent Skynet was trying to eliminate.

Television shows[edit]

• Star trek: In 2278, the USS Bozeman encountered a temporal distortion, causing it to travel forward in time to the year 2368, where it encountered the USS Enterprise in the area of space known as the Typhon Expanse. When the Bozeman collided with the Enterprise, the resultant explosion, being in close proximity to the temporal distortion, ruptured the spacetime continuum, trapping both ships in a causality loop wherein the Enterprise continually encountered the Bozeman and was subsequently destroyed. Eventually, the Enterprise crew began to realize what was happening due to a sense of déjà vu they kept experiencing, as memories from previous loops began imprinting themselves to persons inside the loop. They devised a means whereby they could send a specific message into the next iteration of the loop via dekyon emission, where it was detected by Data's positronic subprocessors. The effort proved successful, and Data was able to use the transmitted information to avoid the collision with the Bozeman, thereby escaping from the loop. Altogether the Enterprise had spent 17.4 days inside the fragment of time. (TNG: "Cause and Effect"). In 2378, Q Junior trapped the crew of the USS Voyager in a temporal loop in which they kept experiencing the last thirty seconds over and over.


Black Sabbath[edit]

  • Black Sabbath's song Iron Man tells the story of a man who travels to the future and witnesses the end of the world. He travels back to his own time to attempt to warn humanity, but the process turns his body into metal. Because of his appearance, he is mocked and ignored, so he goes on a murderous rampage, causing the very apocalypse that he saw.

Kids' Praise[edit]

  • In The Kids Praise Album! Seven, the last stop on the trip through time is to the home of a young Psalty, who goes into children's ministry (and invents the time machine) because of it.


Machinima: Red vs. Blue[edit]

  • In the machinima comedy series Red vs. Blue, the character Church is sent into the past by a massive explosion on the ice planet of Sidewinder. He attempts to prevent the events of the previous seasons, primarily the deaths of himself and his on-again-off-again girlfriend Tex. Most of his efforts backfire, and it turns out that he not only is unable to prevent Tex's death (and becomes responsible for his own), but also becomes responsible for nearly every main event that occurred during the series including the explosion that sent him through time.

Machinima: Chronicle of the Annoying Quest[edit]

  • In the Time Out Of Mind episode, the groups Blood Elf Warlock Voliostramort Guy performs a spell while inside of the Caverns of Time where it reacted and accidentally brought forth three versions of Guy from his past: back when he was a Human Warlock accolyte, when he was a Ghost, and when he was a Forsaken. All of them completely unaware of what happened and immediately after hearing from Deus the groups Gnomish Magi that the spell displaced Guy from various points in the past and brought the three Guys to the same area, to which the Blood Elf-version of Guy from the present knew what to do because he had already observed this event happening three times before and used a spell that sent the three Guys back to their normal places in the timeline, where they believed that what they had experienced would be nothing more than a recurring dream that Guy would have three times in the past before finding himself as a Blood Elf sending his displaced selves back to their points in time.


Time travel paradoxes appear in video game backstories, such as Bioshock Infinite.