I don’t know whether to file this one under “WTF?”, “How cool!”, or just “sad”. An article was submitted right after Christmas. I’m tempted to file this under “How cool” because it’s one of the few peer-reviewed articles I’ve ever seen that mentions Doctor Who.
The article is titled “Searching the Internet for evidence of time travelers“. This quote from the abstract sums it up nicely.
No time travelers were discovered. Although these negative results do not disprove time travel, given the great reach of the Internet, this search is perhaps the most
comprehensive to date.
The thing is, this is actually a good idea and it appears to be executed reasonably well. To me, the best way of finding a traveler from the future would be to monitor stock purchases and sales. It wouldn’t take too much future knowledge to turn a couple of bucks into millions. Since that information isn’t readily available, the authors proposed ideas might be workable.
First of all, this isn’t nearly as wacky as it sounds. There are definite possibilities (I’m talking about mathematical solutions to various relativity equations here) for travel into the future. But when we start talking about travel from the future, we start getting into weird physics. This is where physics people start talking about captive cosmic strings rotating at faster than light speeds creating wormholes.
Second, several people (including Stephen Hawking) have attempted to find people who are time travelers.
Third, our society is captivated by the idea of time travel. Doctor Who, probably the longest running TV series ever and certainly the longest running science fiction, prime time series, centers around a mad man in a blue box who can travel through time and space. If you are at all interested in science fiction and haven’t checked out Continuum then you are missing a real treat.
The authors conducted several internet searches for information that would be considered prescient. For example, a reference to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster from 2010 might indicate a time traveler since the incident occurred in March of 2011. One of the terms they used was “Pope Francis”. Since Jorge is the first Pope to ever use “Francis”, any mention of Pope Francis from before he chose his reign name would be prescient… possibly indicated some information from the future.
No such information was found except for one blog post that was deemed to be overly speculative instead of prescient.
The authors conducted two other surveys. Sadly, no evidence of a time traveler or even information from the future (the authors state that physical time travel may be extraordinarily difficult, but information may be easier to move).
The authors claim that this was the most sensitive and comprehensive study on the possibility of time travelers from the future. I have no reason to doubt this claim.
I think some people would consider this frivolous or a waste of time. Shouldn’t physics researchers be figuring out how to build a fusion power plant or how old the universe is or something?
I don’t think it is though. First of all, people have hobbies. Often, science people have hobbies that involve science. I know scientists who do falconry, breed rare aquarium fishes, write blogs, and other equally interesting things for fun. If a hobby turns into an actual project that is publishable… why not publish it.
Second, even negative results have value. This is a fundamental problem with the public perception of science vs. the reality of science. One drug researcher I know was talking about how his boss came to him with a question. The guy spent several thousand dollars and a week’s worth of effort and the answer to the question was “No, we can’t do it that way.” Well, now they know what doesn’t work… and probably why it doesn’t work. This kind of information can be valuable to other people doing the same kind of work. “Hey guys, don’t bother with this… it doesn’t work.”
Third, it’s creative and silly and fun. Scientists aren’t all work 24/7. They need a chance to do something for the hell of it. Some friends and I once sat down with a CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics and developed a metabolic system based on ketones instead of ATP. It was late, we were bored.
No, this isn’t Earth shattering research. But I wonder… how many things do we know to be true now that, in the past, were so obvious that no one bothered to research it? You know, things like the sun revolving around the Earth and air not having any mass or weight.