kottke.org posts about time travel
Phil Edwards talks to James Gleick about his new book, Time Travel: A History, and of course the subject of killing Baby Hitler comes up. Turns out, the idea of using time travel to kill Adolf Hitler was first used by writer Ralph Milne Farley in 1941, before the US ever entered World War II or before the world learned the horrifying scope of the Holocaust.
I’m currently reading Gleick’s book and the most surprising thing so far is how recently time travel was invented…it’s only about 120 years old. The idea of progress was not really evident to people before the pace of technology and the importance of history became apparent in the 19th century. Progress made time travel relevant…without it, people couldn’t imagine going back in time to see how far they’d come or forward in time to see how much they’d progress.
In an episode of Doctor Who from 2010, the Doctor and his companion Amy take Vincent van Gogh, who was not a commercially successful artist in his own lifetime, to the Musée d’Orsay to see an entire room filled with his paintings. The resulting scene is unexpectedly touching.
[Spoilers!] This season, Game of Thrones is experimenting with time travel. A few years ago, Harrison Densmore created a chart showing the three kinds of time travel that happens in movies: fixed timeline (as in 12 Monkeys), dynamic timeline (as in Back to the Future), and multiverse (as in Terminator 2). So which kind of time travel is happening in Game of Thrones?
P.S. In addition to the extensive spoilers about what’s already happened on the show, the latter moments of the video also offers some fan theories about what might happen on the show in the future. If that sort of thing bothers you, maybe stop watching around the 4:05 mark.
James Gleick, author of The Information, Chaos, and Genius, is coming out with a new book this fall called Time Travel. William Gibson has given it his thumbs up. Really excited for this one (it comes out on my birthday!) and curious to see how liberally he treats his subject…for instance, cameras are time machines.
In the future, when time travel is a totally normal thing to do, people will use it to do stuff like tell their 10-year-old selves to learn the guitar so their adult selves can impress women.
Tyler Cowen was recently asked how he’d best use a time machine for financial gain. Here was the specific query:
Suppose you had a time machine you that you solely wanted to use for financial gain. You can bring one item from the present back to any point in the past to exchange for another item that people of that time would consider of equal value, then bring that new item back to the present. To what time period would you go, and what items would you choose to maximize your time-travel arbitrage?
Cowen notes some difficulty with an obvious approach:
The obvious answer encounters some difficulties upon reflection. Let’s say I brought gold back in time and walked into the studio of Velazquez, or some other famous painter, and tried to buy a picture for later resale in the present. At least some painters would recognize and accept the gold, and gold is highly valuable and easy enough to carry around. Some painters might want the gold weighed and assayed, but even there the deal would go fine.
The problem is establishing clear title to the painting, once you got back home. It wouldn’t turn up on any register as stolen, but still you would spend a lot of time talking to the FBI and Interpol. The IRS would want to know whether this was a long-term or short-term capital gain, and you couldn’t just cite Einstein back to them. They also would think you must have had a lot of unreported back income.
So establishing present ownership of a past item is an issue…as is authentication via carbon dating. I don’t have a specific scheme in mind, but I would think any general approach would also need to minimize the butterfly effect of your trade so that, for example, your existence in the present is not disrupted. So you can’t trade Leonardo an iPhone 6 for the Mona Lisa. But maybe you could trade $1 for a winning ticket for last week’s $300 million lottery jackpot…or would the numbers change somehow because of your visit? What if you bought 100,000 shares of Apple stock in 2003? How would that action effect the present? What is a large enough action to make you rich but with a small enough effect to keep the present otherwise unchanged? Since I didn’t see any super-compelling solutions in the comments at MR, I’m gonna open the comments here…I know someone has been thinking about this extensively or has a link to a good discussion elsewhere. Please stay on topic, mmm’kay?
In 1997, Max-Hervé George’s father bought a unique policy from a French insurance company that functions like Grays Sports Almanac from Back to the Future II, only for financial markets. The policy allows George to invest in investment funds offered by the insurance company at prices up to a week old, essentially traveling back in time with knowledge of which investments will increase in price the most.
For instance, he might have his money in an Aviva fund invested in the French stock market. Lets say the Nikkei 225 rises 5 per cent during the week. He’ll tell Aviva to move his investments into its Japanese fund, at the price before the market moved.
At last report, in 2007, George’s investments were worth €1.4 million and growing at a rate of 68.6% per year. Assuming that rate holds and he continues investing his entire allocation optimally, George will be a billionaire in five years, would be able to buy the insurance company in question by 2025, and be worth a whopping €234 billion by 2030.
See also how you could have turned $1000 into $167 billion by trading the S&P 500 perfectly last year.
How to Build a Time Machine is a documentary about two men on separate quests to build their own time machines. Here’s a teaser trailer:
Ronald Mallett’s reason for his search for a way to travel through time is quite poignant…he shared his story in a book and on an episode of This American Life back in 2007. (via ★interesting)
A pair of scientists recently searched the internet for evidence of time travel.
Here, three implementations of Internet searches for time travelers are described, all seeking a prescient mention of information not previously available. The first search covered prescient content placed on the Internet, highlighted by a comprehensive search for specific terms in tweets on Twitter. The second search examined prescient inquiries submitted to a search engine, highlighted by a comprehensive search for specific search terms submitted to a popular astronomy web site. The third search involved a request for a direct Internet communication, either by email or tweet, pre-dating to the time of the inquiry. Given practical verifiability concerns, only time travelers from the future were investigated.
Spoiler: they didn’t find any. (via @CharlesCMann)
This video dicusses three simple ways to travel through time (all of which you can do right now at home) and three not-so-simple time travel methods.
For more on time-travel, here are some works by physicist and time-lord Sean Carroll:
Rules for time-travellers - http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cos…
Learn more about time and time-machines in his book From Eternity to Here - http://preposterousuniverse.com/etern…
Visualizations of the spinning universe - http://iopscience.iop.org/1367-2630/1…
An engaging talk on the Paradoxes of Time Travel - https://vimeo.com/11917849
Steven Hawking came up with a simple and clever way of seeing if time travel is possible. On June 28, 2009, he threw a party for time travellers from the future…but didn’t advertise it until after the party was already over.
In an effort to improve the chances of the party invite being noticed by future generations, Peter Dean, working with approval from Hawking, has made this gorgeous hand-printed poster of the party invitation:
There’s also a smaller less-expensive version of the poster in grey and a fetching yellow/orange.
Looks like Syfy has ordered a “cast-contingent” hour-long pilot for an adaptation of Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys, with an eye to make it into a proper TV series. One of the producers of Gilliam’s 1995 film is on board, and Terry Matalas and Travis Fickett, who both worked on Terra Nova and Nikita, wrote it. The model here is Battlestar Galactica: a movie reboot that could be a mini-series that could be multiple seasons.
Syfy’s Mark Stern talked about it with The Hollywood Reporter, back when the pilot was 90 minutes long and still waiting to be approved for production while the network and producers figured out what the whole series would be about:
It’s a return to our roots in terms of science fiction: cool, interesting push-the-genre science fiction. Some we’re looking at doing straight to series, because you really want to give them the flexibility and do a closed-ended, arced run. Some of them are going to be traditional pilots, and then we’ll decide and they may be a bit more episodic.
Given the time-travel theme, the fact that the source material (both Twelve Monkeys and La Jetée) are well-known, and the way TV’s changed over the last ten years with jigsaw-puzzle series like LOST and the revived Arrested Development, I’m curious to see if the showrunners might mess around with the timelines a bit, jumping around, giving the audience previews of things the story doesn’t explain right away, and generally making Doctor Who look like it’s for precocious kids (which, really, it kinda is).
Via Adi Robertson at The Verge.
Flóra Borsi inserts herself into historic photos, as though she were there photographing events with a contemporary camera. This is my favorite:
Borsi states she was inspired by “a Charlie Chaplin movie”, which is likely this clip shot in 1928 at the premiere of a Chaplin film which shows a woman who looks like she’s talking on a cellphone. See also Girl with a Pearl Earring and Point-and-Shoot Camera. (via @coudal)
In an interview last month with Esquire’s Eric Spitznagel, Michel Gondry talked about his newest movie, The We and the I, and about how time travel is depressing.
ES: In your real life. If you, Michel Gondry, found a time machine and could go anywhere, to any period in history, where would you take it?
MG: I would travel back a few years ago and fix some screw-up I did.
ES: A personal or professional screw-up?
MG: In my personal life.
ES: Can you be more specific?
MG: I would come back and say yes to a girl. That’s all. Actually, I find the whole idea of traveling back in time to be profoundly depressing.
ES: Really? Why so?
MG: Because I know the future. Living in the past, it would feel weird to know what’s going to happen next. You couldn’t escape it. That future’s already in your head. You know it doesn’t get better.
ES: You’d rather not know about the future?
MG: The future is about hope. If you travel from the present to the past, you don’t have that hope anymore. You know how everything turns out.
ES: There are no surprises.
MG: No surprises, exactly! To me, that just sounds so… depressing.
Remember those time traveling neutrinos that they found in Italy? It is likely that a faulty connection between the GPS and the computer collecting data is to blame for the time travel illusion.
According to sources familiar with the experiment, the 60 nanoseconds discrepancy appears to come from a bad connection between a fiber optic cable that connects to the GPS receiver used to correct the timing of the neutrinos’ flight and an electronic card in a computer. After tightening the connection and then measuring the time it takes data to travel the length of the fiber, researchers found that the data arrive 60 nanoseconds earlier than assumed.
Neutrinos? More like Nintendo…they forgot to blow in the cartridge. (via @tcarmody)
Mesmerizing Zapruder-esque footage that seems to show a woman talking on a mobile phone at the 1928 premiere of a Charlie Chaplin film at Mann’s Chinese Theatre.
According to this guy, the simplest explanation is that the woman is a time traveller. Stick that in your Occam’s razor and shave it! (via geekologie)
[I would] grab all the modern technology I could find, take it to the late 70’s, superficially redesign it all to blend in, start a consumer electronics company to unleash it upon the world, then sit back as I rake in billions, trillions, or even millions of dollars.
Fantastic. Much more here. (via df)
According to Stephen Hawking, there are three good ways to do it.
If we want to travel into the future, we just need to go fast. Really fast. And I think the only way we’re ever likely to do that is by going into space. The fastest manned vehicle in history was Apollo 10. It reached 25,000mph. But to travel in time we’ll have to go more than 2,000 times faster. And to do that we’d need a much bigger ship, a truly enormous machine. The ship would have to be big enough to carry a huge amount of fuel, enough to accelerate it to nearly the speed of light. Getting to just beneath the cosmic speed limit would require six whole years at full power.
Are the problems that have plagued the Large Hadron Collider and previous high-energy efforts (SSC, I’m looking at you here) a result of the Higgs boson travelling back from the future to meddle in its own discovery? A pair of scientists think it’s a possibility.
“It must be our prediction that all Higgs producing machines shall have bad luck,” Dr. Nielsen said in an e-mail message. In an unpublished essay, Dr. Nielson said of the theory, “Well, one could even almost say that we have a model for God.” It is their guess, he went on, “that He rather hates Higgs particles, and attempts to avoid them.”
This malign influence from the future, they argue, could explain why the United States Superconducting Supercollider, also designed to find the Higgs, was canceled in 1993 after billions of dollars had already been spent, an event so unlikely that Dr. Nielsen calls it an “anti-miracle.”
That’s heavy, Doc.
Update: Bread from the future halted operation of the LHC again.
As stated previously, I love this kind of thing:
If you were to travel 2000 years into the past, how useful would you be in jumpstarting technological advancements? This 10 question quiz will help you figure out your technological usefulness.
I got a 6/10, which is probably more than I deserved…the invention of “new” technologies is not multiple choice. I wouldn’t have the faintest clue where to begin in actually making concrete or steel from scratch. (via ettagirl)
Update: Phew, I’ll just wear this shirt when I go back. (thx, runyon)
Sean Carroll lays out the rules for time travel for movies (but also more generally) based on our current understanding of physics.
1. Traveling into the future is easy. We travel into the future all the time, at a fixed rate: one second per second. Stick around, you’ll be in the future soon enough. You can even get there faster than usual, by decreasing the amount of time you experience elapsing with respect to the rest of the world — either by low-tech ways like freezing yourself, or by taking advantage of the laws of special relativity and zipping around near the speed of light. (Remember we’re talking about what is possible according to the laws of physics here, not what is plausible or technologically feasible.) It’s coming back that’s hard.
I spend far too much of my life daydreaming about scenarios like this:
I wanted to ask for survival tips in case I am unexpectedly transported to a random location in Europe (say for instance current France/Benelux/Germany) in the year 1000 AD (plus or minus 200 years). I assume that such transportation would leave me with what I am wearing, what I know, and nothing else. Any advice would help.
To which Tyler Cowen replies:
Find someone who will take care of you for a few days or weeks and then look for employment in the local church. Your marginal product is quite low, even once you have learned the local language. You might think that knowing economics, or perhaps quantum mechanics, will do you some good but in reality people won’t even think your jokes are funny. Even if you can prove Euler’s Theorem from memory no one will understand your notation. I hope you have a strong back and an up to date smallpox vaccination.
The comments are full of informative and entertaining options. I side with the commenters who feel that the most likely outcome is death within a few days. Unless you’re skilled at wilderness survival, finding edible food, shelter, and potable water in a time when those things were much more scarce than now will prove difficult. If you do manage to survive, maybe you could set up shop selling goods that people could use:
I’d start a shop that did nothing but boil water and then sell it. I’d market it as “de-spirited” water and sell it to midwives, priests, doctors - anyone who would be charged with the health of another. The boiled, micro-organism free water would dramatically improve the health outcomes for anyone with cholera or plague or infection. Even marginally better outcomes using clean water would bolster my reputation and business. Of course, barriers to entry would be pretty low in my business, but if I were widely copied, I’d start a health revolution. For that quantum timeline anyway.
Again, assuming you survive, other commenters suggest that you “invent” something, sell it, and become rich so that your wealth will insulate you from further problems, stuff like gunpowder, mass production, long bows, guns, soap, steel, the printing press, double-entry accounting, whiskey, capitalism, and hot air balloons. I’m skeptical of this approach…how many people living in the US know how to make gunpowder from scratch? Given enough time, I guess I could build a hot air balloon that actually flies and carries human passengers but anything involving chemistry would prove tougher.
How would you survive if suddenly transported back to 1000 AD? Leave your suggestions for survival in the comments.
Temporal anomalies in time travel movies, an investigation of how time travel is represented in movies like Donnie Darko, 12 Monkeys, and Back to the Future. (via joshua)
Intro for Voyagers, a TV show from the 80s about time-travelling do-gooders. I loved this show when I was a kid, but it seems to have not aged well. (via cyn-c)
I know I’m going to get mail about my five-star rating for this movie, but it cannot be helped. One summer when I was a kid, a friend and I watched Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure — no joke — every single day for a span of 2 months. I still know every line by heart, the timing, inflection, everything. If there were a Broadway production of this movie, I could slide effortlessly into the role of either Bill S. Preston, Esq. or Ted Theodore Logan, no rehearsal needed.
In my high school physics class my senior year, we had to do a report on something we hadn’t learned about in class — which, I discovered when I got to college, was a lot — and I did mine on time travel. I went to our small school library and read articles in Discover and Scientific American magazines about Stephen Hawking, Kip Thorne, quantum mechanics, causality, and wormholes. To illustrate the bit about wormholes, I brought in my well-worn VHS tape of Bill and Ted’s (a dub of a long-ago video rental) and showed a short clip of the phone booth travelling through space and time via wormhole. I got a B+ on my presentation. The teacher told me it was excellent but marked me down because it was “over the heads” of everyone in the class…which I thought was completely unfair. How on earth is Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure over anyone’s head?