During final episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation Picard is moving back and forth in time and we can see three timelines: current, past and future. Two times during his "visit" to the past timeline he says

that spatial anomaly in the Devron system is much bigger in the past.

How can this be? How can he say "in the past", if he is already in the past, in the chronologically first of all three timelines presented in this episode (with the short exception of "the Paris" motif, but that doesn't count here).

There is no "past" or "earlier timeline" from his perspective, when he is saying that two times. So, shouldn't he rather say "it is smaller in the future" in this case?

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    I can't remember anymore the sequence of events, but he also was once very deep in the past, with Q, where he realises that the anomaly grows in opposite direction of the time arrow. If that was before the scene you describe, it would be very reasonable to say such a thing. – flq May 20 '15 at 18:26
  • @flq: absolutely, although I’m fairly sure he only goes to the distant past once he’s figured out the size thing already. – Paul D. Waite May 20 '15 at 21:26
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    @flq I recall two times Picard uses "past" incorrectly (as in the meaning of this question, because Paul's answer does explains everything) and I'm pretty sure, that first usage of it was before he and Q visited Paris 3,5 billion years ago. – trejder May 21 '15 at 9:06

I think he’s speaking from his own perspective, which is 2370 (i.e. the “present”).

If I lived in London, then popped over to Paris for a croissant, I don’t think it would be considered particularly odd for me to say “Wow, croissants are smaller in Paris” rather than “Wow, croissants are bigger in London”.

Naturally, time travel is treated identically.

For further details, I can do no better than refer you to Douglas Adams:

The major problem [with time travel] is simply one of grammar, and the main work to consult in this matter is Dr. Dan Streetmentioner's Time Traveler's Handbook of 1001 Tense Formations. It will tell you, for instance, how to describe something that was about to happen to you in the past before you avoided it by time-jumping forward two days in order to avoid it. The event will be described differently according to whether you are talking about it from the standpoint of your own natural time, from a time in the further future, or a time in the further past and is further complicated by the possibility of conducting conversations while you are actually traveling from one time to another with the intention of becoming your own mother or father.


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    Dammit, Paul, now I want a croissant... – Nerrolken May 20 '15 at 16:45
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    @Nerrolken: even with the size issue I recommend Paris. – Paul D. Waite May 20 '15 at 16:59

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