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Monday, February 26, 2007
Time Travel
Still on the topic of time travelling.... here's how to make people believe you, even if you don't have the capabilities to do so...

  1. Act like you don't care whether people believe you
    A real time traveler would be crazy to try and prove his identity - you'll either end up somewhere in a Internal Security Department sub-sub-basement, or drugged out of your gourd in the Institute of Mental Health. Much better to say you've come to a paranormal discussion board because you know there's no risk of people taking you seriously. Play hard to get!

  2. Don't be afraid to make wooly predictions

    So maybe you don't remember your early 21st century history too well. Or maybe you've ended up in a parallel universe that doesn't quite match what you know of your own world's past. You can still make predictions - just don't tie yourself down! For example, predicting that something interesting was about to happen at CERN: "The breakthrough that will allow for [time travel] technology will occur within a year or so [2001] when CERN brings their larger facility online". But when a giddy speculative article about miniature black holes appeared in 2001, did people nitpick and point out that no breakthrough had actually occurred? Of course not - they were impressed by the spooky prescience. That's the effect you want.

  3. Read up on your physics

    Tensors, closed time-like curves, manifolds, shmanifolds - it's a lot to keep straight. After all, you just push the button, why should you know how the thing works? But if you want to be believed, you'll have to sound convincing about the underlying physics. Here again, an example. Instead of spouting voodoo about flux capacitors, tachyons, or the fifth dimension, revolve firmly around general relativity with talk about electrically charged microsingularities (mini-black holes). Don't forget that quantum gravity isn't understood until... well, you know when. In the early 21st century, time travel through black holes is still an open question.

    But do be careful if you start offering too many specifics. Not only might someone steal your plans and build a time machine decades too soon, but you might even slip up and end up with egg on your face. So don't go all crazy on the details, or you're bound to misremember something.

  4. Cover Your Ass

    What do you do when the World Cup winning Singapore team of 2010 turns out to be a wash? Or when Fiona Xie fails to win the Star Awards, as you predicted?

    Well, the first rule of making non-wooly predictions is not to make predictions if you can help it. "I can't tell you, because it would change the future" is always a useful old standby. So is "telling you would take away your free will".

    If you do have to get all specific, insist on an infinite number of near-identical, parallel universes, so you can never travel quite to the same universe you came from. Remember, our 'worldline' is within 2% of its own worldline, so things like sports scores or stock prices might not match up, even if major historical events do. Nicely done!

    Whether or not the many-worlds theory corresponds to what you know of physical reality, it will make a good cover for accidentally leaving those 2003 stock quotes at the library.

  5. Apocalypse, baby!

    No one wants to hear about the 50% Government Service Tax of 2027, or Kazakhstan's triumphal entry into the European Union. We want nukes! We want plague! We want civil war! If the real future is boring, we'll find out about it soon enough without you.

  6. Dazzle 'em with details

    Every moment people devote to arguing an obscure part of your story is a moment they're not thinking "wait a minute, why should I believe that a monkeybreast on the Internet is a time traveller?". Be sure to pepper your story with verifiable details to help establish your credibility. If possible, allude to things in passing, so readers can do their own sleuth work and create an illusion of corroborated evidence.

    To take one example, lets allude to a "problem with Unix in 2038", which a little investigation will show is real. All Unix clocks on 32-bit architectures roll over in 2038, when the number of seconds since 1970 (Year One for all Unix clocks) exceeds 2^32. Some of us estimate that this Y2K38 problem will cause global devastation of the same magnitude as Y2K.

    Entire megabytes of discussion threads are devoted to parsing out the plausibility of the Unix motive - is an ancient IBM computer really so hard to emulate in 2036? People get so caught up in the fine points that they forget to question the original premise. And someone out there is bound to think "This Unix thing checks out - so he MUST be telling the truth!".

    Don't skimp on the details!

  7. Know your audience

    Do you really want to face down a discussion forum full of paranoid libertarians and tell them that 2025 will see the birth of world government, universal health care for everyone, clean energy and a reduction in Third World debt? Zzzz... Or do you want to tell them to stockpile water, learn to clean their guns, not trust the government, and stay away from cities?

  8. Watch out for paradox

    We all know that the first thing people think of when you say "time travel" is going back in time to kill their grandparents. So be prepared - the theory of multiple universes (or worldlines) will help you there. But do you have a good rebuttal to Hawking's empirical argument? Are you comfortable with violations of causality? Have you been adequately briefed by your commanding officer, pan-Galactic Intelligence, hive mind of Excedrin Theta, or whatever other entity sent you hurtling back into the past? If not, a good place to start is the University of Tasmania's excellent online lecture series on time travel, which helps you deal with those pesky paradoxes and the annoying skeptics who ask about them.

If you're not a temporal visitor, but still find yourself inspired by these best practices, why not pick up a copy of Time Travel: A How-To Insider's Guide to help you with all the technical bits? Or better yet, avoid all the hassle by ordering a ready-made Hyper Dimensional Resonator?


Aailable in navy, chrome, or midnight blue; a steal at $360. Europeans may need an adapter.

You too can become a time traveller!

Incidentally, that link to the book above is worth following just to read the reader reviews, which include this gem:

I wish this book really taught me how to travel through time because if it did, I would go back in time and tell myself not to buy this book.

So I would go with the Hyper Dimensional Resonator. Bon Voyage!

posted by bobby @ 2:32 PM  
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