Science and Trek Experts Weigh In On The New ‘Star Trek’ Movie

Earlier this month in an exclusive interview with, Star Trek co-writer and executive producer Roberto Orci finally came clean and explained how the new Star Trek movie fit in with Star Trek canon, and the explanation involved a bit of Trek science and real science. Today TrekMovie takes a closer look at all of this with the help of some noted experts in both science and Star Trek. [SPOILERS]


Star Trek 2009 and the alternative timeline
(aka what we should have already known)
Earlier this month in an interview, Star Trek co-writer Roberto Orci confirmed that Star Trek starts in the same canon universe that we are familiar with, but that much of the new film takes place in an alternative universe/timeline, which was created when the villain Nero goes back in time from the TNG era and destroys the USS Kelvin (a ship with both of James T. Kirk’s parents on board).

Time travel, alternative timelines and universes are nothing new for Trek and so even though the article launched over a thousand comments as well as coverage across the media, many observers were not surprised. AICN noted that this alternative universe approach is something you could have picked up on "if you’ve been following the film at all" and AMC SciFi Scanner said the solution was "exactly what everyone assumed all along." And for the mainstream perspective, the LA Examiner noted the discussion was something "only the devout need dare care enough" about, and they just hope that JJ Abrams "makes the movie rock." Which is a good point.

The ‘Star Trek’ trailer shows that things are not exactly as we saw them in TOS…hinting at the alternative universe/timeline

The Quantum Physics of Star Trek 2009
But here at TrekMovie we are ‘the devout’ so we like to go that extra step, as does Bob Orci. In the original interview Orci went on to state that even though the new film posits an alternative universe, the ‘original’ universe was left unchanged. Although Orci noted that this is not necessarily something that needs to be understood to enjoy the film, it could have implications with regard to future films or the ‘extended universe’ of Star Trek. For example it would be perfectly within canon for there to be books, comics and games set in either universe, including the ‘original’ universe after Nero and Spock left for the ‘alternative’ universe. It also shows that the film makers do not see the new film as ‘overwriting’ Star Trek canon and history as we know it.

As precedent for this view Orci cited both Star Trek history (such as the episode "Parallels") as well as real quantum mechanics and specifically the ‘Many Worlds Interpretation‘ which posits that every decision creates a new universe. This view not only allows both universes to co-exist, but also resolves the many paradoxes normally associated with time travel. Orci and writing partner Alex Kurtzman did their homework regarding the theoretical science of time travel and quantum mechanics. In a follow-up Orci tells TrekMovie that four books were particularly helpful: "Black Holes and Time Warps" by Kip Thorne, "Parallel Universes" by Fred Wolf, "The Fabric of Reality" by David Deutsch, and "Hyperspace" by Michio Kaku.

In the following video clip, Kaku explains how time travel and the many world interpretation could work.

Quantum mechanics can’t save Star Wars Episode I, but it can work for ‘Star Trek – 2009’

Trek science experts weigh in
We have heard from Orci’s expert (above video), so TrekMovie decided to check in with a couple of Star Trek science experts to see what they thought of all of this.

Andre Bormanis, author of "Star Trek Science Logs" worked as a science advisor for the Star Trek franchise from the seventh season of TNG all the way trough DS9, Voyager and Enterprise as well as some of the TNG feature films. He also was a writer and producer for both Voyager and Enterprise. Bormanis says that he agrees with Orci that quantum mechanics is "the most successful theory in physics" and also notes there isn’t a single interpretation that is considered the ‘right’ solution:

[Many worlds] is one way of looking at quantum mechanics but not everyone agrees that it is the right way, certainly it is not the only way. The many worlds interpretation is fun in terms of science fiction, but it isn’t necessarily how every physicist thinks of quantum mechanics. It is one of several interpretations.

ASU Physics Professor Lawrence M. Krauss, author of "The Physics of Star Trek" and "Beyond Star Trek," agrees, telling TrekMovie that the MWI "is one perfectly adequate approach to trying to understand quantum mechanics in terms of our classical reality." However Krauss also notes:

Jumping back in time and starting a new timeline has been suggested as one way to avoid the time travel paradoxes that would otherwise result. It is probably the only way to avoid this, other than having time repeat itself exactly. Nevertheless I am not convinced this remains consistent with the laws of physics as we understand them. However, it is certainly consistent with the way Star Trek has tried to handle time travel.

Bormanis also points to how the Many Worlds interpretation has the added benefit of resolving time travel issues, noting it "was not intended to address the grandfather paradox, but it just happened to provide an answer to it." In the following video from a Discovery Channel program on time travel, Oxford University physicist David Deutsch (author of one of Orci and Kurtzman’s reference books) explains how MWI resolves the grandfather paradox (the video also features DS9 showrunner Ira Steven Behr on the bridge of the USS Defiant):

MWI resolves that pesky grandfather thing

A clever ‘Star Trek’ solution
Looking at the views of Kaku, Deutsch, Krauss and Bormanis it is clear that quantum mechanics is valid science and that Orci’s preferred flavor is at least acceptable as a possible valid interpretation, but more importantly it is consistent with Star Trek storytelling. Bormanis tells TrekMovie that he feels Orci and the team show "respect for Trek history," but their approach allows them to take liberties, noting "I think it is a pretty clever way to go." The Trek vet even hypothesized that with this view, then the ‘mirror universe’ (first seen in the TOS episode “Mirror, Mirror“) could have been created in the episode “City on the Edge of Forever” in an alternative version “where Kirk and Spock did not succeed in their mission and Edith Keeler survived”.

Bormanis also points out that although there are dozens of Star Trek episodes (and three feature films) that deal with time travel, there has not been a uniform approach:

Star Trek’s approach to time travel has not been consistent. They have played both sides of the street. A lot of people forget, when you look back at The Original Series, there were a lot of inconsistencies…from the beginning. I think that Abrams, Orci and Kurtzman are perfectly within their rights to essentially reinvent The Original Series, yet it sounds to me like they have gone out of their way to be consistent with the established tenants of the Star Trek universe and whatever deviations they introduce are going to be accounted for by a time travel element which is accounted for in the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics.

Some fans have also brought up the question of whether or not the characters in an alternative timeline are the same characters or totally different. This is probably more important than any of the science. Orci tells TrekMovie that their motto for the film was "same ship, different day." TrekMovie asked Bormanis how he sees this issue of characters and alternative universes, and he uses the fan favorite (and alternative timeline) TNG episode "Yesterday’s Enterprise" as an example, noting:

It is a different shade of the same color. So that Picard [in "Yesterday’s Enterprise] — he was recognizably Picard in many ways. He carried himself the same, he had the same character traits and the same was true of the others, but they lived in a different universe and they were shaped by different events. If your characters occupy a different universe and have a different history then it is true they are different characters, but how different is the critical question. I don’t think Picard and Guinan were all that different in "Yesterday’s Enterprise" from the characters that we had been familiar with.

For his part, Orci had previously cited “Yesterday’s Enterprise” as one of the key episodes that they referred to when writing the script and in his more recent interview the writer emphasized that “some things are different, but not everything is different” in this alternative universe.

Are these not the heroes we know — in the closing of "Yesterday’s Enterprise"

Is it May yet?
So there you have it. The Abrams team have used a Star Trek convention (time travel and alternative universes) in order to thread the needle between a traditional prequel and a traditional reboot — allowing them some changes while staying within the canon of Trek history. It also allows them to have Leonard Nimoy’s Spock interacting with the main cast and involved with the plot, instead of having the film just be a big flasback. Of course, the proof will be in the pudding and so far all we have is an approach. The time travel is not the ‘end,’ it is only a means to an end, so we still don’t know why the characters are doing what they are doing and what the consequences are…and for that we will need to see the actual movie.

All of this time travel, paradoxes, and quantum mechanics stuff is fun for science fans, but if it isn’t your thing, then take a hint from Austin Powers and just try to enjoy the movie.

Dive into the depths of quantum mechanics…or maybe just sit back and have fun…whatever works for you.


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I’ll trade away scientific accuracy for good story any day! Nice to have both, though!

One of the props in the background looks like one that’s been in Trek a ton, the little red light tube thingie…maybe.

Sums up my feelings nicely since the release of the new trailer. Having had many discussions with friends on the matter, this fits into the story that has been crafted. Looking forward to May.

A reboot by any other name still smells as…?

I always enjoy listening to Michio Kaku expound on the theoretical.

Wow. Does anyone else ever sit back and go ‘we might all be taking this a little too seriously?’ Let’s just enjoy the film when it comes out.

Here’s my solution to every continuity mistake ever made in Trek: Each episode and movie takes place in its own individual timeline. There. Problems solved. Next?

(Oh wait, that doesn’t solve continuity errors that have happened WITHIN a single episode. Damn.)

I SAW THE NEW TREK MOVIE LAST NIGHT!!!! my dream! But it was SOO vivid I was watching it on like 3 huge plasma screens for some reason, and I went thru the movie hitting all the points in the trailer lol I wish I can remember the story now but it RAWKED!!!

wish that we could have avoided “the most successful theory in physics” quote.

OrcSter is never going to hear the end of that one.

I’m with the point he was trying to make, though.



I feel more comfortable with the QM & MWI approach to the STXI storyline with all the above caveats noted. The writers have done the work to present an explanation, but aren’t strong-arming the audience to take it all in in order to enjoy the story — those are the right priorities.

I’m ready to enjoy the ride!

9. hitch1969© speaks with wise tongue™. – December 28, 2008
wish that we could have avoided “the most successful theory in physics” quote.

Why? it’s true. If I don’t make that point and people don’t go find that FACT out for themselves, then we get accused of just picking a hippy theory out of thin air.

There is something very odd about fabricating a make believe reason why a make believe story doesn’t match earlier make believe stories. Very odd indeed.

Were I desirous of a “payoff” (to console me for the shattering of my boyhood memories of Kirk, Spock and McCoy???) I’d rather coupons for free admission and free popcorn than gobbledygook.

C.S. Lewis.

12. C.S. Lewis – December 28, 2008

With your name, you of all people should support this. C.S. Lewis is maybe one of the most famous purveyors of parallel worlds!

I’ll also note this: I maintain my contention that relying on the MWI of QM as a theoretical basis for the events in STXI is not fundamentally different from the notion of the Mirror universe. In fact, it’s even better, because I find it difficult to accept that there is just one “opposite” parallel universe. Instead of two black-and-white universes, there are infinitely many “gray” ones, one shade of which is the prime one. Much better.

(Of course, the side of me that cultivates strict rationality and empirical scientific methodology still balks at the notion that causality can “jump” or “tunnel” through different universes, but like I say above, I’m ready to enjoy the ride come May!)

@ #2 “One of the props in the background looks like one that’s been in Trek a ton, the little red light tube thingie…maybe.”

That same prop has been used in a few other films including “The Last Starfighter”.

#13 boborci


That explains my love for the original. I’m the victim of quantum anomaly.

I wonder if some of the tech that is brought back to destroy the Kelvin is used to build a more modern Enterprise.

Boborci – number 14;

Let me just say that i like this idea, whilst i don’t really understand time travel and all that jazz i feel that this has to be the smartest idea you and the other guys could have done – by taking the trek universe and respecting it whilst setting your own course and creating this new franchise reinventing the original series and beginning again.

I’m really looking forward to this movie :D

btw, have you seen any of the toys for your moive? are they gonna please us fans and are the action figures gonna look like the characters there meant to portray?? :D

19. Kirk, James T. – December 28, 2008
Boborci – number 14;

“btw, have you seen any of the toys for your moive? are they gonna please us fans and are the action figures gonna look like the characters there meant to portray?? :D”

One of the most fun meetings we had (this was me, and Damon and Burk) was the day all the toys were presented to us at Paramount for our thoughts and comments. They were already in good shape, but we all singled out the ones that could be made to look more like their real life version. I think you will be pleased.

It’d be cool if Nero’s defeat in the film leaves him in the Mirror timeline/alt-universe with the goatee’d Spock – that’d give us 5 Spocks in the movie!!!

So are there 4 timelines/alt-universe’s to keep track of in Trek now?

Original Universe
Mirror Universe
Yesterday’s Enterprise Universe
The OrciVerse

Sweet Jeebus!

I’m going to assume that the other time-travel occurrences in canon happened in the traditional way and that that is still possible in trek. Or else there’s another Universe where there-be-whales destroying the Earth… And thanks for all the fish.


I hope it does well and I’m looking forward to seeing it, but I LIKE my original TOS timeline just fine. Don’t need a replacement.

I’m afraid this production might have one foot on the shore and one in the boat. It may have been better to stay ashore with the TOS die-hards OR gotten on board the ship and done a fresh unabashed unapologetic reboot for the “general public”. The danger here is the film will fall in the middle and sink.

It’s all academic anyway. The film is basically done and it’s all over except for the waiting.

“Why? it’s true. If I don’t make that point and people don’t go find that FACT out for themselves, then we get accused of just picking a hippy theory out of thin air.”

C’mon, Hitch, don’t be a Herbert. Who loves ya, baby? >:-)

13 Bob,
I believe I just laughed very hard. Dreaming about other possibilities and other streams of existence is something that humans always have, and always will do.

My question with the alternate universes and spawning the new universes. If the all actions spawn a new universe, then why would spock care to go back in time??? Wouldn’t it have to affect his timeline for him to care? (In no way am i talking bad about anyway that it has been written, just posing a question as a member of “the devoted”; also I understand that posing this question will have alot of people on the interwebs going ” he’s an idiot”)

@ 22. Cpt Pike,

Sure there will be TOS die-hards that don’t like it, but then they shouldn’t have liked the Mirror-Universe introduced in…wait for it…. TOS! So it’s nearly impossible for them to cry canon violations in my opinion, without calling the Mirror-Mirror Episode anti-canon as well.

Nice move JJ. You have defeated the canonistas with sheer logic like a bunch of Nomad space probes.

I’m willing to extend creative license just this one more time for time travel and alternate universes and clever storytelling tricks…

But for Pete’s sake, Star Trek can stand on its own without this…there’s plenty of room to tell a story without having to resort to jumping into the ”lifeboats” of time travel.

I’m not advocating anyone’s particular canon or slavish devotion to it. Canon had been the blessing and bane of Star Trek for a long time. But I do think there’s a bunch of very creative individuals out there with great stories to tell that are neither ”old school” or ”new school”, but rather unique and interesting and compelling…and human.

Star Trek is a ”band of brothers”, and in this case they are the ”originals” (Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, Uhura, Sulu, Chekov etc.). They are a futuristic Jason and his Argonauts on a human quest.

Story first. Clever writing mechanics, tricks, razzle-dazzle, tech-talk gibber-jabber and gadgets way down the list. Well, okay, I’d be fine with losing the tech-talk gibber-jabber entirely. That always felt like ”cheating.”

Star Trek is a ”human adventure”, not a ”hardware adventure” (yes, one more time I say this).

Basically, based on the latest theories of quantum physics and mechanics, since Kirk could not get to the Enterprise, the Enterprise came to him.

25. Blake Powers – December 28, 2008
“My question with the alternate universes and spawning the new universes. If the all actions spawn a new universe, then why would spock care to go back in time??? Wouldn’t it have to affect his timeline for him to care? (In no way am i talking bad about anyway that it has been written, just posing a question as a member of “the devoted”; also I understand that posing this question will have alot of people on the interwebs going ” he’s an idiot”).

No on should call you an idiot. It is a logical question with 3 possible answers. Either 1. We have ignored the contradiction. 2. Spock is not aware of the LATEST AND GREATEST THEORY OF SCIENCE! or 3. The plot is not what you think!

I think it’s excellent that Orci finally came forward to explicitly confirm that it’s an alternate-timeline story (something we pretty much knew all along) and eagerly await the day he comes forward to explicitly confirm that it is, therefore, a reboot (something we’ve pretty much known all along) :)


I’m thinking 3) the plot is not what we think.

We are so programmed with the traditional time-travel plots that we’ve just assumed this to be the same.

I for one welcome our alt-universe/timeline overlords and am ready to be surprised.

30. S. John Ross – December 28, 2008

Define reboot

I still think its a bunch of BS to do what they want.

@30. John Ross,

I agree. It seems odd for JJ to allow such a thing to come out, but it has quieted a good portion of the canon nitpicking and TOS comparisons; only to be replaced discussions of “the most successful theory in quantum physics.”

I’d define “reboot” as the most successful, most tested franchise-reinvigorating technique in the history of filmmaking.

#29. Boborci

clever tactics.

34. Harley3k – December 28, 2008

I didn’t exactly check with anybody before talking about this.

35. S. John Ross – December 28, 2008

LOL! Nice dodge.

Planet of the Apes to me was a “Reboot” – or I think Burton called it a “Reimagining”. It didn’t help that the story sort of sucked.

Every time they change lead actors in Bond or Batman is like a “reboot”.

The concept of Star Trek 2009 doesn’t seem at all like a reboot to me so far. But maybe the end result is similar to “do what they want” as some say.

It’s hard to call it a Reboot if it has clear links to canon like Elder Spock being in the film, and plot history to be revealed in the forthcoming comics that include Picard and B4/Data/Lor/Whomever-that-guy-is.

A complete reboot to me, wouldn’t include any of those, but proceed as if none of them even existed.

#38: I’ve been observing you and studying your technique, sir, so I’m flattered to have pleased the master ;)

And not to worry … in several months I’ll probably give a direct answer. Until then, I’ll occasionally leak photos of glimpses of a possible answer to my website, and we can discuss whether the answer would look better from a different angle (or if older, simpler answers had no possible bad perspectives).

In the meantime, it’s likely that there are entire universes where I’ve _already_ given a direct answer, and those universes _in no way invalidate this one._ I’m not discarding or even really contradicting those universes, simply letting us explore one very dramatic alternative to them – and in ways that might surprise you.

@37 boborci,

Oh, didn’t mean to imply that you did get permission or that the release of the information was tactical in any way. But it has changed the conversation and I like it. The old conversation was becoming as tired as traditional time-travel plots in sci-fi movies.

Frack, I think the filter just ate my very clever post about rebooting and I didn’t save a copy. Oh, well. I did want to add this:

Mr. Orci, I got Prime Directive for Christmas this year, thanks to your recommendation, and I just wanted to say that it was a real blast. I read it in ten hours flat, and it was far and away the most pleasant experience I’ve ever had with a Trek novel. Thanks a bundle. I’ll definitely be rereading it in the future, something I haven’t done with a Trek book since I was ten years old.

Star Trek: Zero, as boborci has himself has suggested it be called. Reboot, an in-continuity reboot, but a reboot nonetheless.
And #35, that remains to be seen.

Turns out I have a few spare minutes, so, to heck with it, here’s my rewrite of my Lost Post. (TrekMovie tooltip: save copies of your posts! You never know when the WordPad Spam Filter piranhas will consume it to feed their ravenous hunger for verbal energy!)

All S. J. Ross’s extreme cleverness aside, I’d take Wikipedia’s definition as a good guide. Because if Wikipedia says it, it *must* be true:

“Reboot, in serial fiction, means a discarding of much or even all previous continuity in the series, to start anew. Effectively, all previously-known fictive history is declared by the writer(s) to be null and void, or at least irrelevant, and the series starts over.”

Now, everyone acknowledges that the very great cleverness in using the MWI for this movie is that it allows major changes without making previous canon null and void. But it *does*, from where I’m sitting, appear to make previous canon *irrelevant*, at least for the purposes of this movie, and possibly for every time travel story in the history of Trek. That does worry me.

But I am keenly aware that “where I’m sitting” is “in the dark.” I have not seen the movie, I haven’t even read most of the spoilers, and some of the things Mr. Orci has said have made me realize just how little I know–and how completely wrong I could very well be.

Not that this awareness is going to make me shut my mouth. I’m a Trekkie; it’s in my nature to say what I think about everything in-universe. :P

I don’t mean to go off subject but this is in line with the article as far as “Trek XI Science” goes.

If it is worth anything, the other “science” thing that some Trek fans were quick to criticize and point out was the supposed “impossibility” of the Enterprise being built on the ground.

So I checked with a NASA Forum I am on where the question had been brought up. The general consensus, from a NASA forum, was “why not?” They even gave quick ways it could be done. They also pointed out that if we think something is “impossible” such as getting a ship off the ground, then we should also be quick to pick on the currently “impossible” sciences of artificial gravity, faster than light speed, etc.


You’d still have to define-reboot to make the case.
Some would say that an ‘in continuity reboot’ as you called it is not a reboot (by their definition). It’s as contradictory as saying someone survived their own death.

I don’t know of another Rebooted movie franchise that explains the rebooting through an alternate timeline. Trek, being heavy on the “science” in its science-fiction, has the luxury of being able to explain changes in a scientific way. It may all be a plot device to tell the story they wanted to tell, but then isn’t alot of trekno-babble used for this? I mean, just how many atmospheric disturbances can there be to prevent the use of the transporters?

Now I must go reboot my computer.

Sooooooooooooooo Bob your saying that in an alternate timeline Kirk could be an Elvis impersonator and have a gay nephew? Theoretically that is?

48. Anthony Pascale – December 28, 2008
“And yet the ‘canon’ Star Wars perquels spawned


boborci — It is fun that you are on the site interacting with fans but by know means do you need to defend your work. None of the explanation was really even needed. People who are already fans like Star Trek and should give it a chance. Lets hope that you bring in new fans… All the techno-mumbo-jumbo while I find it interesting only scares the more common viewers away. Thrill me in May I wish the movie was in theatres now as originally intended though.