Complexity and the single Time Lord

Today’s schedule: Wake up, research Soviet Foreign Ministers, read blogs, write half a blog post, talk on the phone for three hours, eat dinner, write the rest of the blog post, watch Doctor Who, watch Numb3rs.

Oh, the exciting life of the grad student. Anyway, here we go.

Three possibly-not-entirely-unrelated things:

1. I’ve been reading about Josephson arrays and the development of chaos theory. Yes, for fun. I’m hoping to work it into my research somehow, but I think that’s just an excuse. Especially given that my research, at the moment, is pretty much dead in the water.

2. Yesterday’s Bunny cartoon.

3. I woke up in the middle of the night with an idea for the following post, which is almost entirely not about social science. This is the less-obnoxiously geektastic version, with possibility four eliminated for being overly jargonish-and-full of meta-goodness.

When chaos intrudes on your life, when you are overwhelmed by a crisis, you can collapse with fear or you can transform with joy.

At these moments you may retreat into addictions, depression or psychosis, or you may transcend your old boundaries and limits - defined by your beliefs.

Phase Transition

"Father’s Day" is weird as far as the Doctor Who universe is concerned. Rose is right when she argues that the Doctor changes history all the time. His argument that he just knows what he’s doing (with the implied assumption that this is a learned skill) is, as she fully comprehends, pretty weak.

There are alternate possibilities that would fit the way the current series approaches the Doctor’s interference in time and space. (Obviously, I’m not going to be talking about the earlier series. And not just because "The Five Doctors" does very strange things to the basic assumptions here.)

Possibility one: Physics works differently in Doctor Who. Hence the Bunny cartoon. This possibility isn’t much fun, and I’m going to ignore it. Because I can. Even if a universe with large-scale superconductivity is pretty damn amusing.

So, possibility number two: The universe of Doctor Who, like ours, is a chaotic system. Time Lords are part of that system. Think of it as single-payer temporal care.

The Doctor, because he can see all possible permutations of time and space, is able to predict far beyond a single instance of Lyapunov time. The sort of measurement detail this would require, given that the necessity for accuracy increases exponentially, is scary. This is the case even with the relatively long Lyapunov time applicable to astronomy.

Sure, this fits with the Doctor’s response in "The Long Game", as well as his statements in "Father’s Day" and "New Earth". And ordinarily, as the simplest explanation (I mean, other than the explanation that it’s only a television show, which has the same failings as possibility number one and is clearly not an option here) I’d just go with it. But there are also serious problems with this reading.

Problem number one: unless the Doctor has some kind of dimensionally transcendental head, Christopher Eccleston’s ears are too big for that kind of processing power. Also, he’d topple over every time he tried to look both ways before crossing the street.

Granted, it could be a biological equivalent of quantum computing (and how cool would that be in relation to the end of "The Parting of the Ways"?), but that moves into the realm of “complicated additions to fit a simple theory to uncooperative data.”*

Second problem: the Doctor doesn’t seem to be particularly good at piloting the TARDIS, and he’s awfully surprised in "Bad Wolf" when his previous actions lead to very bad results. It’s only a hundred years later; his next line should be about how something is very, very wrong, not that he created this new world.

Inconsistent characterization bothers me more than the possibility that there’s a third explanation for the line “I know what I'm doing, you don't. Two sets of us being there made that a vulnerable point.”

And there’s our third problem: in a chaotic system, the Doctor and Rose shouldn’t have been in the same place at the same time. If the whole of the universe is the same system, the Doctor is part of that system. He doesn’t move outside of it, and no matter his path he won’t retrace his steps.** Even if he could, that point shouldn’t be any more vulnerable to changes because of that fact. Note that this doesn’t argue that there are no vulnerable points, just that those points aren’t going to be the result of his actions, and that the distinction between when he changes the timeline and Rose’s actions is a false one.

That leaves us with possibility number three.

Let’s start with the premise that there are two nested systems. The first, the universe, is a periodic attractor. Things repeat, and patterns can be detected based on that periodicity. So the Doctor expects the Fourth Great and Bountiful Human Empire, because that’s the way history cycles. It’d have to be a fairly robust system, one that tends to bounce back into the expected path after temporary distortions. Can't be a point attractor, because it doesn't always bounce back, and it doesn't move toward a single event. As far as we know, at least.

The second system is the one within which the Doctor and Gallifrey operate. It’s a complex system, with no predictable patterns and a tendency toward major shifts with minor changes. It isn't, however, chaotic--there are rules that it follows. This system, the Doctor’s timeline, is what Rose altered in "Father’s Day". It’s what the Daleks interfere with in the Bad Wolf arc. And when things are changed in it, even small things, Bad Things Happen.

Or, I guess, Good Things. Something for all the “hey, Gallifrey’s back!” ficcers to keep in mind.

Where was I? Oh, yes. Bad Things. Because, in the case of Peter Tyler, a change could make the difference between Rose meeting the Doctor and the Nestene Consciousness putting David’s Bridal permanently out of business. It isn’t the world that’s changed, it’s the potential timeline of our favorite non-couple.

And that’s where the difference comes in. The Doctor knows not to screw around with his own timeline. Rose doesn’t, because, as far as she knows, they’re all the same system, with the same rules.

Right, I think that’s enough for now. I’m off to watch the first episode that features the fabulous John Barrowman. "The Empty Child" is seriously creepy, and great fun.

* Must remember to write a fanfic about the quantum computer in the Doctor’s head getting a virus. Sure, viruses are too big for quantum computers, but if they can have subatomic nanogenes…

** Yes, I know that it would really be a complex adaptive system. Yes, that changes the rules. But remember the thing about Josephson arrays? Think of this as simplification that turns out to be correct.


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