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In the movie Star Trek: First Contact, the crew of the Enterprise travel back in time and witness the Borg working to prevent Zefram Cochrane's first warp flight. They then decide to directly intervene with events to allow history to take the course they learned about in school, where Zefram Cochrane's warp flight is a success and the Vulcans initiate first contact with the humans.

My question is whether these events (the Borg attack on Bozeman Montana and the Enterprise crew's efforts to "restore" history) were always a part of history, or if the actual facts of history were changed by the actions taken by the Borg and the Enterprise crew, even if the outcome was the same.

Quite possibly relevant: in the ENT episode "Regeneration," which features the Borg as the featured enemy of the episode, Captain Archer recalls a story that Zefram Cochrane once told of people from the future coming to help him out (an obvious reference to the events of Star Trek: First Contact), but that Cochrane later retracted these statements.

  • are you asking about temporal mechanics, loops, and paradoxes or a 'real-world' history of Star Trek plot and writing question? – NKCampbell Mar 4 '16 at 18:44
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    They were always a part of history after they became always part of history. Before that, they weren't. – Valorum Mar 4 '16 at 18:49
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    Further complicated by the timing of NX-01 Enterprise's launch being influenced by The Temporal Cold War. Sequence, here, is borderline meaningless. – Politank-Z Mar 4 '16 at 18:50
  • Tempted to edit the above to say "NX-01 Enterprise is meaningless" – NKCampbell Mar 4 '16 at 19:09
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    @rosesunhill - Are you seriously suggesting that Star Trek isn't actually a documentary series? – Valorum Mar 6 '16 at 18:17
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According to Seven of Nine (in Voy: Relativity), the whole event was a causal loop. Given that the Borg have a pretty reasonable grasp of temporal mechanics, I think we can take her at her word:

DUCANE: [what is] The Pogo Paradox[?]

SEVEN: A causality loop in which interference to prevent an event actually triggers the same event.

DUCANE: Excellent. Can you give me an example?

SEVEN: The Borg once travelled back in time to stop Zefram Cochrane from breaking the warp barrier. They succeeded, but that in turn led the Starship Enterprise to intervene. They assisted Cochrane with the flight the Borg was trying to prevent. Causal loop complete.

DUCANE: So, in a way, the Federation owes its existence to the Borg.

SEVEN: You're welcome. The Seven of Nine paradox.

  • Star Trek may not use "causal loop" in the same way that philosophers do though--usually it's presupposed that if you have a causal loop something like the Novikov self-consistency principle applies, but that can't be true in this case because we did briefly see an altered history where the Borg had taken over the planet by the 24th century. So it may be that if you go back in time to prevent some event E, and do change history but in a way that still ends up causing E to happen, Seven would call that a "causal loop". – Hypnosifl Mar 4 '16 at 20:13
  • @Hypnosifl - What the Enterprise was viewing was an alternate timeline, not an event in the prime universe. When they went back in time, they returned to the original timeline. – Valorum Mar 4 '16 at 20:16
  • Maybe, but Seven's statement doesn't prove that, since as I said it's perfectly possible that in a universe where the time travel can alter the timeline (unlike the usual assumption of philosophers and physicists who talk about causal loops), she would use "causal loop" to refer to situations where the timeline is altered somewhat by time travelers trying to prevent some event, but in a way that still ends up causing the event to occur anyway. That would be consistent with Seven's definition "interference to prevent an event actually triggers the same event". – Hypnosifl Mar 4 '16 at 20:26
  • @Hypnosifl - As I said in my commentary, the Borg clearly have a far better handle on this than the Federation. I trust her statement implicitly. – Valorum Mar 4 '16 at 20:30
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    @Axelrod - Yes, but with the added twist that your attempt to stop the bootstrap from occurring actually results in the bootstrap occurring. I bet that sort of thing really annoys time travelers. – Valorum Mar 4 '16 at 21:11
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My answer would be no, based on what the Enterprise crew saw before they followed the Borg back in time. History had changed, and Earth was completely assimilated by the Borg. Therefore, going back in time alters history. Picard and company went back to nudge the timeline close enough to their original timeline that any minor differences remaining wouldn't matter in the grand scheme of things.

One can assume in the original timeline, Cochrane made his flight without assistance. Then the Borg came along and prevented this, causing a new timeline where Earth is easily assimilated. Then the Enterprise goes back and creates a third timeline.

  • There only appear to be two timelines, one in which the Borg assimilate the Earth (in the absence of the Enterprise) and one in which they don't (where the Enterprise is present in the past). I don't really see the need for a third timeline. – Valorum Mar 5 '16 at 0:50
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    The need for a third timeline is that first you had Cochrane, then you have Cochrane and Borg, then you have Cochrane and Borg and Enterprise. If the Enterprise was always there, then there is no way Earth could have been assimilated, as seen by the crew. – John Sensebe Mar 5 '16 at 0:53
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    Ah, but that's the point of a temporal loop. Cause can follow effect. – Valorum Mar 5 '16 at 8:27
  • @JohnSensebe : +1, I agree that certain aspects can only be explained by the existence of an additional timeline, e.g. Seven's parents knowing about the Borg before the events of "Q Who" and the Federation having no knowledge of the Borg despite the events of "Regeneration" in Enterprise. These events cannot be explained by a loop alone. See my answer here. – Praxis Mar 5 '16 at 11:16
  • @Richard, but the cause existed already. Cochrane made his flight without assistance. Otherwise the timeline in which the Borg assimilate Earth is impossible. Picard decides to go back in time because of this new timeline. He's not generating the past; he's correcting it. If the Enterprise were always part of the past, the Borg timeline could not have happened, because Data and Picard would have always killed the Borg Queen. – John Sensebe Mar 6 '16 at 15:33

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