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What Happened When We Tried to Publish a Real Paper Investigating Time Travel (thewinnower.com)
335 points by jmnicholson on June 20, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 181 comments



The biggest issue that I see with publishing this work in a physics journal is that although time travel is certainly a concept in physics, the research involved here is not physics research. I'd describe it as sociological(?) research intended to shed light on a problem of interest to physics. That may seem like splitting hairs, but there's a real question of competence here: as a physicist, I don't feel especially qualified to assess the methods they used or the reliability of the conclusions they draw. If they were instead describing an experiment to look for anomalous travel times of neutrino pulses or something, I'd know where to start: measurement apparatus precision, clock synchronization, etc. But here the observations are based on natural language and the conclusions are based on theories of how information spreads in social networks.

Like most physicists, I have zero formal experience in this. It honestly doesn't feel like a topic for a physics journal even though a reliable positive result would have profound implications for physics. In the same way, I wouldn't expect a technical article reporting measurements of carbon flow in the environment to be published in a political science journal, even though climate change might have profound implications for global politics. [Discussion note: the validity of climate change has nothing to do with my point here.]

All that being said, I also don't find their negative result to be particular compelling. If their two search terms were "Pope Francis" and "Comet ISON" as described, well, Comet ISON was a dud (and thus won't be much of a topic in the future), and it's easy to imagine scenarios in which future time travelers would not have a particular interest in Catholic history. And that's quite apart from the possibility that time travelers would make some modest effort to avoid asking their neighbors about future events. Maybe that's all accounted for in their paper in a compelling way, but I honestly don't see any way they could ever argue for more than a very limited negative result. And I'm not convinced that's publishable in any sort of competitive journal.


I agree. His attempts to get his type of paper being published in established physics journals are sort of explained in his last paragraph though. He thinks that there's "room in the world of publishing for science motivated primarily BY public interest, instead of IN THE public interest". Certainly there's no reason why such a journal to exist--free speech and all.

I'm not a physicist, but certainly saying that such a journal does physics is a bit of a stretch? Ignoring the fact that he hopes such a journal could accept hard sci-fi (of which I am a fan), how could such a journal be maintained properly if it was driven "BY public interest, instead of IN THE public interest"? The general public is ignorant about science, especially deep science -- which is absolutely fine. Funding agencies (as I understand them) are here to help us decide what to do so that not all of us have to go through graduate school to get an idea about the state of science. Moreover, it sounds to me that he wants a more "democratic" process of science. Democracy makes sense in politics -- we vote on politicians because they have the power to change our lives. But scientists, especially physicists, are powerless to change Mother Nature. Regardless of who we choose, as long as the physics is done half-decently, we're going to get to more or less identical answers.


I read him not as suggesting that the public should decide what is good science, but in suggesting that it would be beneficial for more actual science to be done on subjects that interests the public, even if more conventional journal considers it beneath them and funding agencies don't consider them important.

Such as this time travel paper: Clearly it capture public imagination, even if the result was negative.


I'm honestly not sure what outcome he's asking for, though. This paper did capture the public imagination! He put it on arXiv.org (where it was accepted after their very minimal but non-zero peer review), and within days he was doing a whole bunch of press interviews.

What was he hoping to accomplish beyond that? Is this about getting another entry on the peer-reviewed publications list in his CV? The paper probably isn't worth that, at least as work in physics. But he's welcome to add a section to his CV about "public outreach" and talk about it there: he'd probably have a lot to say.


He wants more papers that capture the public imagination?


Can you elaborate on "beneficial"? Beneficial for what? Sure, perhaps the time travel paper captured the public imagination. But so does movies and novels.

Though I didn't see him talk about it at length in the blog, I can see that he might have meant that such a journal would be good for interesting future generations in science. But is this really a good idea? They would come into physics, or whatever, with the expectation that such research actually constituted hard science. It is not.

Interesting future generations about science is hugely important, but this is just a dishonest way of doing so.

And also, this may sound a bit harsh, and I might be out of line here, but I think the point of the paper was really to get some attention. And personally I think there's a trend of this happening in physics' interface with the public -- scientists wanting attention for themselves, apparently for the sake of future interest in the field. There seem to be a lot of popular science books these days, many written by genuinely brilliant scientists, who seem to be trying to sell their own theories as truth, like the various string theories and other GUTs. While I am sure that the authors don't really mean to say that their theories have passed the sniff test of science, and that we can put their theories on the same shelf as GR and QM, my observations from friends and people on the internet tell me that a lot of them just gobble it up as truth.

PS: Not saying that the GUT formulations are in anyway comparable to Nemiroff paper.


Yeah, he described Omni magazine basically didn't he?

Which was pushed by "public interest" into a lot of fringe silliness and ads from outright con artists selling pseudoscience.


>> motivated primarily BY public interest, instead of IN THE public interest

Isn't this what the Discovery Channel or a show like Myth Buster's does?


This is a good question, although if that is the case, it appears that public interest mainly involves fire, guns, explosions, and a risk of self-harm.


Can't edit, so correction: "...no reason why such a journal should not exist..."


Yes, my first thought reading through this was surprise that he didn't try any non-physics journals. I think any number of journals devoted to a topic like network science, internet research, web science, etc., would have found the topic of the study more within their area of interest. They would also be able to provide better peer review of the methodological/modeling choices, which mostly aren't related to physics.


So then why didn't the editors suggest it for a more appropriate journal rather than call it unpublishable entirely?


> So then why didn't the editors suggest it for a more appropriate journal rather than call it unpublishable entirely?

Because knowledge of out-of-domain journals to which an out-of-domain paper might be appropriate is neither the role nor general competency of a journal's editors (OTOH, general familiarity with the published work in the area in which you are attempting to publish, which necessarily includes some familiarity with the venues in which works in that field are published, is part of the role and presumed competency of a researcher in any field.)


I'm not suggesting they should have said, "Resubmit this to the International Journal of Experimental Sociology." Just "Hey, this is more of a question for sociologists; maybe try that kind of journal."

Much like how Sokal criticized Social Text for not recognizing when something was a question for physicists.


Why should they have to give less direct feedback or make suggestions like that? To avoid hurting his feelings? To point him in the right direction so he knows what to do next? The author is a tenured university professor, not some high school student.


Why do you say less direct? The impression I get from the article is that none of the article actually gave a specific reason why the paper was not appropriate for the journal.


Because it is blindingly obvious that his paper had nothing even remotely connected to physics research in it.


EDIT: The second "the article" should read "the editors".


Did you know Sokal submitted his paper to several journals before getting accepted? And that he rewrote it to make it appeal to what he thought the editors would want to read? The paper wasn't even peer reviewed, so the fact that it was published is not significant at all, even though I found the discussion interesting and justified. I just think that the deception he used was not warranted and only served to generate attention and sensation.


Because (for example) I, as a physicist, didn't even know enough to immediately suggest topics like "network science, internet research, web science", and instead said the work was "sociological(?)".

For all we know from this story, the rejection letters might have suggested trying a non-physics journal. But even then, the result reported here just provides weak evidence supporting an overwhelmingly expected null hypothesis ("time travel doesn't happen"). I wouldn't expect physics journal editors to be good judges of whether a possibly novel method would be publishable in another discipline when it did not lead to a noteworthy result.


You don't have to be aware of any of that stuff in order to know the difference between "this can't be published" and "this can't be published in a physics journal".

The latter is (perhaps) good judgment; the former, a poor understanding of the limits of one's expertise.


I can't seem to find the claim in the post where the journal editors actually said "this can't be publishable, period".

I am pretty sure that when the physics journal editor rejects your paper, she isn't even actually saying "this can't be published in a physics journal", she's really saying "this can't be published in this physics journal" (unless she says otherwise, explicitly, of course).


> she isn't even actually saying

Why not go with "they aren't even actually saying" rather than the faux-affirmative-action sexism of using "she" there? This really grates with me, even more so when used with traditionally male-dominated roles, such as physicists or system administrators. Yes, you're freaking out the squares with your right-on craziness, but it's really rather childish. If you (100% rightly) want to be non-sexist, use a gender-neutral phrase, such as in my example above.


You're easily irritated, no?

Maybe I'm a girl and, try as I might to say "he" all the time (to avoid comments like yours), the one time it slips and I say "she" the Internet thinks it's all about some "femi-nazi" agenda of mine?

Chill out and talk to me about sexism/feminism/SJW when it's actually relevant (clue: not here).


Maybe. Or maybe your wording was intentional, politically motivated, and equally as out-of-place as the attention it predictably draws.


I feel bad derailing this thread further, but you know bloody nothing about me.

My comment was on-topic. grkvlt's was not, regardless of what he thinks I meant with that one pronoun (which was wrong, anyway).

Maybe you should realise that sane women, just as much as sane men, don't think pronouns will "solve" sexism. If I'm referring to a specific person, I'll be specific. If it's some random imaginary person, it's none of your bloody business what pronoun I choose.


Sure, but if I were to strip away the inflammatory comments, I'd still be left with the question of why you chose to assume the journal editor was female. Since this is unusual in the physics world, it sort of looks like you have an agenda. Therefore, it would have been more helpful to use gender neutral language, rather than simply flipping the gender over and hoping that makes up for it.


Your trolling is transparent and uninspired. 2/10.


You're assuming they actually read the paper. I'm guessing the editors simply rejected it based on the title / topic. This might be understandable, given that they probably get lots of cranks submitting similar sounding papers.

On a different note, I think you have the responsibilities of authors and editors mixed up: it is up to the author of a paper to select an appropriate journal and weigh their chances, the editor is only responsible for the quality of their own journal. Yes it would be great if they also gave you free advice about other journals, but it's really not their job.


One guess is that the average physicist, which might include both the journal editors and the author of this paper, have no clue about journals outside of physics. :)


Probably because the editors are so siloed in their physics mindset that they aren't aware that there are journals in these fields, or if they are aware, they almost certainly don't know which journals are reputable.


I agree. "How I Tried to Solve a Tough Physics Problem Only Using Google Searches" isn't a classic research paper, and seems to be no surprise that it didn't get accepted in the biggest physics journals.


And I'm not convinced that's publishable in any sort of competitive journal.

I wholeheartedly agree with the vast majority of your comment. However, I take issue with this last sentence. A novel technique is worth publishing even if it is only used in a pilot study of questionable value. Now, anyone can take the technique and expand it to a far greater number of search terms. They can also attempt address potential drawbacks of the technique (as you have done) in future studies.


My decision to use the weasel word "competitive" there was based on very much this point. My reading of the article suggested that this author was submitting his article to fairly prestigious journals: two of the three were "a classic physics journal... [whose rejection letter was] signed by a very famous physicist" and "a really famous journal".

The other was merely "a reputable physics journal" (whose editorial board had to spend time soliciting papers), which sounds like a more reasonable target. I'm not saying he should have been trying to publish work like this in a journal that has no standards and will print anything, but I think it needs to be aimed at a journal whose rejections are primarily for lack of quality rather than for lack of importance.

And a non-physics journal at that level, in particular.


The biggest issue that I see with publishing this work in a physics journal is that although time travel is certainly a concept in physics, the research involved here is not physics research.

To clarify, physics papers about time travel are published from time to time. There was a group at the University of South Carolina that had a hobby of doing this.


The author isn't the first person to think of this, most notably Steven Hawking tried something similar

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/07/02/stephen-hawking-t...


I think the main difference is that this paper outlines a method to possibly find time travelers that weren't necessarily intending to publicize their existence, while Hawking's method presupposed that the time travelers

a) Had access to that specific time

b) could get to his specific location

c) did not mind it being known they were time travelers

d) viewed his party was worthy of their attention.


Can someone explain the different views of time? If someone were to time travel and make the mistake of doing a google search like that, then after they are caught, couldn't they go back and tell themselves not to do the search?


By "different views of time" do you mean a scientific view, or a philosophical view? If it's the scientific view, the idea regarding time and macroscopic bodies -- general relativity -- specifically what you'd need to describe someone travelling in time, explicitly forbids that, so I don't think there is actually any possible scientific answer to your question.

Philosophically, but something vaguely based on physics, there's the Many Worlds Interpretation of quantum mechanics. But as far as I know the "physical meaning" has no bearing on science. There's a good sci-fi novel about a universe where the MWI is true -- Anathem by Neal Stephenson.


For the sake of nitpicking, it was never clear to me that MWI was true in Anathem. In any case, you need much more than that to reproduce Anathem's plot -- it runs on consensus deciding reality.


"In the response, the editor said that (s)he has now sent the article out to another editor, one who is quite famous in this area, but who also agreed that this paper should be rejected without being sent out for peer review. In this reply, the famous editor said:

"I should point out that most stock markets around the planet devote considerable resources to looking for temporally anomalous market behavior --- unusual trading patterns before significant news events. When found, such signals are not typically attributed to time travelers, but more prosaically to insider trading."

I agree! This is one reason why we did not look for evidence of time travel in stock market trading. Early on, our group had discussed (briefly) this idea. On one hand, I was glad that finally we had a real criticism to address, but on the other hand, this famous editor's comment indicated to me, once again, that the journal editors did not fully appreciate the novelty, power, simplicity, and falsifiability of our approach. Instead, they gave straw-man criticisms that really meant, in my view, that they did not want to consider a manuscript so unconventional. In my reply, I argued in detail against this criticism and again asked that the manuscript at least be sent out for formal peer review"

I think what the response meant may be - even if a tweet about Pope Francis before Pope Francis was pope was found, it isn't sufficient to prove time travel exist - the tweeter could have a uncle who is involved in vatican politics and the tweeter read some of his uncle's notes. The stock market example was an analogy.


> the tweeter could have a uncle who is involved in vatican politics and the tweeter read some of his uncle's notes

That wouldn't explain knowing about the name. Of course it is possible that someone would have guessed at possible names for a pope. Since the name is inspired from the name of Francis of Assisi, it is not inconceivable, so a search would still not be proof.

But the name "Pope Francis" did not exist until Jorge Mario Bergoglio was chosen as pope. Pope Francis has stated that he himself got to think about the name based on an encounter with another cardinal during the conclave. The other cardinal had whispered to him "don't forget the poor" when it was becoming clear that he was being elected. Unless he is lying about how he selected the name, one could thus assume that knowledge of the name prior to the start of the conclave would indicate time travel.

This is one of the reasons the name is a good thing to search for; as is the asteroid name. In both cases we have pretty solid knowledge of a cutoff before which the name was not known because it did not yet exist.

(Of course, the incidence of "pope Francis" in a search would not in and of itself be conclusive proof of prior knowledge.)

The stock market, on the other hand is a bad one because it is so simple to fool: Yes, markets checks for odd large investments right before major announcements. But there's no point in doing that, and the issue of checks for insider trading might deter a time traveler. If you know how the stock market will perform in detail far in advance, though, rather than sit on a single tip about some deal, you can do amazingly well by moving sufficiently small amounts into each of a bunch of shares sufficiently long in advance that it'd be just noise.


Pope names form a fairly limited set. I bet if you asked 100,000 Catholics to guess the next pope's name, > 0 would get it right. I'm actually surprised there isn't tons of speculation about it. Maybe it's not a "thing" or sacrilegious or this sort of speculation is not on the Internet?


> Pope names form a fairly limited set.

Does it? For starters consider that "Francis" was a new name - he's the first pope to use it.

He was also the first pope in a millennium to pick an entirely new name (John Paul I obviously was the first pope John Paul, but he picked two names that has a very long tradition, and that are obviously names with a very special connection to the church; consider also that some disliked that John Paul I broke new ground that way, even though it involved using two very well respected traditional names).

> I bet if you asked 100,000 Catholics to guess the next pope's name, > 0 would get it right. I'm actually surprised there isn't tons of speculation about it. Maybe it's not a "thing" or sacrilegious or this sort of speculation is not on the Internet?

[EDIT: The paper actually mentions that they did find one single mention of Pope Francis, which was then reviewed and found to be overtly speculative, so they did run into this]

Maybe. Maybe not. But there is speculation about pope names. A lot of it. And apparently despite lots and lots of articles that were written about it none of them got it right.

Of course not representative, but here's a poll that was conducted before Bergoglio was elected, with about 5k votes: http://wdtprs.com/blog/2013/02/poll-what-name-will-the-next-...

Of those, 694 picked the "???? the First" option, which was the correct answer. But most seems to expect a name with tradition.

Here is another example of speculation back in 2008, from before Ratzinger was elected:

http://papam.wordpress.com/2008/09/13/possible-names-for-the...

And here is one gives the list of papal names _after_ Francis was chosen, and points out that his successor _could_ choose to do like Francis, but pope Francis was the _first pope to do so since the tenth century_, as mentioned above. So prior to Francis, there was a millennium long tradition creating a strong expectation that Bergoglio/Francis would pick from the list of past names rather than break new ground.

Here's one from before Francis was chosen, which speculates on names, and suggests the most likely names would come from the list of past popes, and gives some suggestions:

http://www.mercatornet.com/articles/view/moving_forward_what...

Here's a blog post reproducing a graph from The Economist with names, coupled with betting odds on the names:

http://www.davidlose.net/2013/03/what-name-will-the-next-pop...

Knowing, as we do now, that he was willing to ignore the list, many might have guessed Francis, but I'm much less confident they would before.. Especially given that from a few searches it appears that even now most appears to expect the next pope again to most likely pick one of the traditional names.

Here's another one:

http://workbench.cadenhead.org/news/3712/predicting-next-pop...

This also lists odds from the bookmaker Paddy Power, giving Leo 3-to-1, Peter 2-to-1, Gregory 6-to-1, Pius 8-to-1. And he gave "Joseph" as his one new name.

One of the commenters then goes on to reference a CNN article on the name choice, that says amongst others this:

> Allen described the name selection as "the most stunning" choice and "precedent shattering."

> "There are cornerstone figures in Catholicism," such as St. Francis, Allen said. Figures of such stature as St. Francis of Assisi seem "irrepeatable -- that there can be only one Francis," he added.

Maybe others would feel differently - that Francis would be a good name exactly because of how important St. Francis of Assisi is to the church, but this is nevertheless an interesting reaction.


> If you know how the stock market will perform in detail far in advance, though, rather than sit on a single tip about some deal, you can do amazingly well by moving sufficiently small amounts into each of a bunch of shares sufficiently long in advance that it'd be just noise.

If, however, you consider the stock market to be a chaotic system, your small trades will change the market's performance.


We should assume that, but that affects your ability to make predictions to some extent past the moment you arrive, and so you may find your knowledge quickly becomes out of date, but you don't need to be 100% right - your knowledge needs to remain "close enough" for you to beat the odds with some reasonable margin.


This point is quite immaterial. If they did find a mention of "pope Francis", then yes, they would have to consider alternative explanations before jumping to the conclusion of time travel. However, they didn't, so it's perfectly reasonably to report that there is no evidence of time travelers talking of pope Francis.


I just googled but couldn't hit it (+at work) but I remember an instance of someone editing Wikipedia claiming some known person had been found dead a day or so before it happened. Police investigated and found it was just a freak coincidence — just some guy vandalising the page. Kind of "a million monkeys" in practice: given there's loads of nonsense additions, at some point over a few years they will accurately predict future events.


This happens a lot on twitter, I follow a number of football (soccer) account and often when a shock result or event happens people search for other that have predicted it, to retweet. Also don't forget paul, the match predicting octopus!

They also often search for people (typically other professionals) predicting the opposite in order to embarrass them.



Just saw this but yes that's it! Many thanks


Correct but if it was before the previous pope had died, that would be very unlikely.


You mean, resigned.


The "Real Paper investigating Time Travel" involved Searching the the Internet for two terms.

The conclusion that these searches, even if they had been found, (which they were not) implied "time traveling Internet savvy people from the future searching for events in their past" is a staggering leap.

Might as well theorize fairies from another dimension materialized into ours to poke fun at internet search analyzers.

I am surprised this thing was even published, given that it was based off a monumental leap that ignored Occam's Razor, did not find anything the authors hoped to find and was failure both on the theorizing and the finding front.

The system (flawed as it may be) worked for once.


"Might as well theorize fairies from another dimension materialized into ours to poke fun at internet search analyzers."

Good point!

Just to be clear, as far as I can tell this work wasn't ever published in a peer-reviewed journal. It was merely accepted as a preprint on arXiv.org, which requires little more than assurance that the author isn't an obvious crackpot (and it sounds like even they reclassified its subject area: almost like moving it into a journal with a different topic).


Is there any actual scientific substance to Occam's Razor?


The meaning has certainly been diluted over time.


How would you explain it, though?


What is there to explain? They found nothing, which does not necessarily explain anything.


I mean how would you explain it if they would find something?

I guess this is another Bayesian vs classical statistics thing. In Bayesian thinking, absence of evidence is evidence (not proof, mind you, but it is information).


Sure, it's information. Thing is you have no idea how informative it is, because then you would have to know how likely it would have been that some time traveler would make one of the two particular search queries they tested. Since we know absolutely nothing about time travelers, I think the information content is negligible.


It's not surprising to me that no physics journals would accept it. Physics journals are, sadly, extremely wary of accepting anything that seems philosophical.

For example, serious people writing serious papers on the foundations of quantum mechanics used to have a hell of a time getting them published. To give a particular example (and I hope I'm not mis-remembering), I don't think Lucien Hardy was able to get this paper [1] accepted. (It now has 215 citations.)

[1] Lucien Hardy, Quantum Theory From Five Reasonable Axioms [quant-ph/0101012], https://scirate.com/arxiv/quant-ph/0101012


>Physics journals are, sadly, extremely wary of accepting anything that seems philosophical.

What's so sad about this?


It's sad because the interpretation of quantum physics is important scientific work. What does a dual slit experiment tell us about our world? Trying to answer that question is where the Many Worlds Interpretation came from, and it likely wouldn't have been published prior to the 80s or 90s.


I wonder if he tried one of the philosophy-of-science, foundations-of-physics, or philosophy-of-physics journals? For example, one of the earlier follow-ups to Hardy's paper was published in Foundations of Physics: http://philpapers.org/rec/SCHQTF-2


Most philosophy journals wouldn't regard this paper as philosophical either. While nobody agrees exactly what the philosophical method is, being a priori is more or less required.


And if that paper had landed on my desk for review in a top journal, I would have rejected it too! Just because it has the top "Almetric score" means nothing other than it was popular in the social media circles. Where was the tangible scientific contribution in this manuscript? This paper did do a wonderful job of gaining attention, though.


I would have taken it as a work of philosophical exploration. We don't encourage enough of this work in peer reviewed venues, and so we deservedly get the crap in the popular press instead.


So, publish it in a journal of philosophy.


I think the methodology of the paper is flawed. Why would a time traveller from the future be discussing "Comet ISON" or "Pope Francis"? According to Wikipedia, comet ISON wasn't ever bright enough to spot with the naked eye, and thus left no significant impact on humanity. It's obviously too early to decide if Pope Francis will leave a deep, significant impact, but odds are against it.

For this methodology to really work, you'd need to look for mentions of someone like Hitler in the 1920s (and that's not even evidence of anything as Hitler was slowly ascending to power during the 1920s). But again, why would a time traveller talk about Hitler then? Presumably a time traveller would either be very, very cautious to not be identified, or not, in which case he'd likely get himself revealed through carelessness.

On the other hand, I find it odd that they brush off analyzing the stock market (or any market, really). A cautious time traveller wouldn't buy into the market just before a sudden movement, that would attract way too much attention from insider trade authorities etc. Identify "black swan" events (dot com crash, 2007 financial crash), and look at people who slowly offloaded their assets prior to it. Identify "underdogs" that became huge (eg. Apple in the 90s) and look at people who slowly brought into it during that period.


> I think the methodology of the paper is flawed. Why would a time traveller from the future be discussing "Comet ISON" or "Pope Francis"? According to Wikipedia, comet ISON wasn't ever bright enough to spot with the naked eye, and thus left no significant impact on humanity. It's obviously too early to decide if Pope Francis will leave a deep, significant impact, but odds are against it.

The problem is that they needed something to search for where we have a clear, well defined horizon before which people were extremely unlikely to mention the name at all.

Both of these meet the criteria because the names are now all over the historical record, but the names were new. In the case of Pope Francis, he was not only the first Pope Francis, but also the first pope in a millennium to pick an entirely new name (John Paul I was the first John Paul, but both John and Paul separately have a long history).

You are right that it might mean that they would miss time travellers. Who knows: If time travelling exists, all travellers might even be warned about this specific experiment.

But they in any case could not prove that we have not been visited by time travellers - all they could do was to pick terms that if they found them would give a strong indication that something odd was afoot.

They were also limited in that they were explicitly looking for something that could be researched cheaply, and by looking at the internet, and so an example like Hitler would not work.

> Identify "black swan" events (dot com crash, 2007 financial crash), and look at people who slowly offloaded their assets prior to it. Identify "underdogs" that became huge (eg. Apple in the 90s) and look at people who slowly brought into it during that period.

The problem is that you will likely find lots of people. People have all kinds of different reasons for investing, many of which leads to looking prescient after the fact.


Also, what if the first rule of time travel is: 1.) Don't talk about time travel


Time travel is all about breaking rules


Surely "obeying all of the rules, just not necessarily in the right order"?


You should sign up and review the paper itself! https://thewinnower.com/papers/searching-the-internet-for-ev...


This paper makes a very fundamental mistake, IMO. If you were to time travel to the future and do a query, you wouldn't query about a past event. You'd query about a present event.

For example, if time travel were created today, we wouldn't go back to 2000 and query about something that happened in 2001. We'd query about Lebron James or Obama.

They should be looking for queries about technology/people/events that are relevant/interesting in the era when time travel is done. Unfortunately, in order to know that you probably need to time travel to the future. :-)


You are assuming perfect knowledge of the past.

The amount of information you could access would be limited to a transportable device (assuming an inability to communicate temporally--probably reasonable). You would have to supplement your knowledge with local information.

With the Internet, maybe perfect information is valid, but I suspect not.

Try hunting down what was once widespread knowledge about Visual Basic 6. Or anything which was mostly exchanged on NetNews. There is a lot of lossage already and we're only about 20 years from it.

The real problem is that you need a mediocre search that a time traveler would do. Something that would not be indexed in a portable computing device and yet would still be interesting enough to require using temporally local search capabilities.


I'm not sure it's a fundamental mistake. To make a counter-argument, if one travels back to some point in time, but can't remember (or don't know[0]) exactly when a major event happened, one might query it, to see if/when it has happened. Or one might query it because one is mistaken about when it happened. In either case, one might expect to see queries about things in advance of their occurrence. So while this particular work certainly doesn't rule out time travel, I don't think it's fundamentally flawed. Perhaps overly optimistic though.

[0] One might presume historical records are somewhat corruptible, and therefore someone from the future might not have perfect knowledge of when major events in the past actually occurred.


The iPhone 42s contains all the worlds knowledge past present and future and you just need to think about what you want to know and it will send it to you telepathically. Why on earth would I use something as archaic as Google search from the 21st century? Siri is a still humourless cow though.


It could be worse. You could have published a paper on gravity shielding, and be shunned for the rest of time. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eugene_Podkletnov


There is, in my mind, a big difference between a scientist publishing a paper in which they investigate some outlandish science-fiction-like concept (such as time travel or anti-gravity) and find evidence AGAINST it, and one where they find evidence FOR it.

The former is a reasonable result, and although expected the research provides evidence to support the hypothesis. The latter is an extraordinary result and wise scientific practice would require extraordinary evidence.

(It also helps if you don't get disavowed by your own co-author and by other labs you say confirmed your results.)


I see nothing wrong with publishing ordinary evidence for extraordinary things. I mean, I still wouldn't beleieve the extraordinary thing, but it could still be useful.


How about the hit to reputation? Many would level the criticism that publication was too early.


That's a problem that needs to be fixed.


As unlikely as these findings are, has anyone actually replicated the experiment?


Yeah, JPL, about 15 years ago. He measured something, and was conservative with the paper, but a journo got his hands on it from a leak at nature, the papers ran with "Flying cars!!!!", and the rest, like his reputation, is history.


There was a half hearted attempt http://pdf.aiaa.org/preview/2001/PV2001_3363.pdf

However, it wasn't an identical attempt in terms of materials, process, etc...so I'm not sure it really counts.


This might make for some interesting reading: http://arxiv.org/pdf/1312.0958.pdf


Is this what the technology in the movie "Primer" was based on?


No, primer is about time travel, not anti-gravity or gravity shielding.


Off the top of my head, I remember the engineers' initial idea was to reduce the weight of a load in a truck. Then, they realized the technology could be used to build a time machine.


Ah yes, the 'object inside' right. I'd totally forgotten about that, apologies.


Or in the process accidentally invent limited time travel and find that you have better things to do.

[1] http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0390384/


Perhaps no evidence was found because people from the future have seen this paper and therefore know not to reveal themselves this way!


If there are time travellers from a future, it isn't our future, and this isn't their past - otherwise causality doesn't work. Instead if you travel back in time you travel to a point, which immediately bifurcates into a new reality.

I like to think that we're all time travellers, collectively collapsing the universe's wavefunction through will alone... And now I'm onto determinism so I'll shut up.


Causality could be a generalization that breaks down in extreme cases, like Newtonian mechanics.


This is scary.


Why?


>I like to think that we're all time travellers, collectively collapsing the universe's wavefunction through will alone... And now I'm onto determinism so I'll shut up.

I like that. Though I would think it is not 'will' but 'life' that interacts with universal determinism, through physical expression of information over time. How that information will express itself (how gene-information will translate into physical realities in each moment) seems in the realm of the unknowable (like turbulent flow or other instances of Lorenz-y chaos in the Universe), and consciousness as one of those gene-expressions makes this even more loopy.

But I've wandered into Leary-esque fascination with faults of perception lately, which ought to stick to the human-describing world of psychology, so I should probably shut up too.


What's to say that we're not existing in a reality created by a time traveler?

A new-reality model of time travel only affects the viewpoint of the time traveler.


Novikov's self-consistency principle implies that we can change the past as long as we don't know it's been changed. (Well, maybe more accurately, the time traveller has "always" done whatever it was he did in the past.) So even if causality is a requirement, it isn't necessarily violated.

Likewise, lots of time travel in fiction actually has the hidden assumption of a second time dimension. If a second time dimension existed, causality could be maintained along that dimension while seemingly broken in the time dimension we know and love.

And there's always the possibility that causality isn't a given and is simply how we experience the universe. Just because it has always been observed and it makes intuitive sense doesn't mean it is always true. :)


We only have a very firm belief that causality is inviolate. I guess there isn't a way to prove that it is.


Who says your reality is the same as my reality already? :)


It depends on which model exactly time travel works on.

Really, this is good science; it has a low probability of working, but the cost is very low too (literally a hobby-time expenditure), it asks a lot of interesting questions, and has a reasonable method for finding answers. It could also shine light on the question of how time travel works, if it does. Science should include a healthy portfolio of such experiments. (As opposed to low-probability, very expensive experiments, such as I occasionally wonder about our fusion experiments.)


In general, I agree with you, but I think that there is a difference between time travel and (e.g.) fusion.

- Time travel as a phenomenon is not known to exist, while fusion is known to exist.

- Fusion experiments are trying to create human-controlled, energy-generating fusion reactions. We know that energy-generating fusion reactions are possible, we just don't know if we can create them under controlled conditions.

- Fusion-generated energy has the possibility to transform that world. Time travel will transform our understanding of the universe, but seems like playing with fire. Were we to discover time travel, we would now have to 'protect time' from 'evil' time travelers.


>>seems like playing with fire

well, fusion is playing with fire (plasma) almost by definition.


What makes you think that ITER has a low probability of success?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ITER


The low rate of success achieved to date would be my first clue. I try to avoid the trap of letting today's glittering promises of future success distract from the fact that yesterday's glittering promises of future success' dates have actually come and gone (and come and gone and come and gone again).

Cards-on-the-table, my definition of success is full-on commercially-viable fusion, because little else justifies the enormous investments made into this technology. Any other "incidental" benefit you might want to cite, such as "better understanding of plasma physics", could probably have been obtained for orders of magnitude (plural and no exaggeration) less money.

(I also try to avoid the trap of seeing the word "science" and just shutting off my brain and throwing money at the problem because "SCIENCE!". Nonsense. Science is not immune to cost/benefit analysis just because it's shiny, and cost/benefit analysis is always probabilistic so yes, it can perfectly well deal with uncertainties of discovery too. See my previous comment about the value of keeping some cheap longshots in the portfolio. Just think, what other science could we have done with the billions of dollars it has consumed?)


The fusion triple product has improved exponentially, and is 10,000 times better now than it was in 1970. It's a hard problem, but it's not so much "we keep trying and failing" as "we're consistently improving, but the bar is really high."

It's as if computers were useless until we had a 6th-generation Core i7, and people were saying "bah, computers, haven't succeeded so far." We're not there yet, but we're getting pretty close.

It is true that early researchers made some over-optimistic predictions. But they conditioned those on a certain level of funding. For the funding they got, they said it would never happen.


Again, I just can't help but think you've been blinded by SCIENCE! What I see is a curve that is slowing, not speeding, and no particular reason to believe that the curve ever gets over the "commercially-viable fusion" break-even point, ever.

We are not obligated to stop thinking about things because of how awesome the alternate reality where this all works like gangbusters would be. This is science, not politics.

Or, more accurately, ITER is politics, and not science, which is another reason I'm not holding my breath for this. It's not an experiment we're doing because the results are just so darned promising we had to carry on... it's an experiment we're doing because politicians have decided this is the way forward. We pour billions into this, and other approaches have a hard time getting single-digit millions. I do not care to follow along with the everybody-get-happy politics of ITER, I want fusion.

Might I further add that as this is science, should ITER succeed and produce a commercially-viable reactor, I will celebrate them all the harder for doing something I thought very unlikely, not try to argue it away. However, that is my bar for success, and I will not accept something sneaking under it under a cloak of pretty words.


"What I see is a curve that is slowing, not speeding, and no particular reason to believe that the curve ever gets over the "commercially-viable fusion" break-even point, ever."

I think even educated people have a few misconceptions about fusion energy. We have already created fusion, we can do it in our test facilities on command. The problem researchers are currently facing is getting the efficiency to a commercially viable level. Getting out much more energy than they are putting in.

The research they are doing requires 2 things; time and money (and lots of it). They're trying to get the plasma models "just right" to achieve the desired efficiency. And they're not shooting for the stars, their goals are incremental. That's important because there will never be a time where researchers will announce out of the blue "We've done it!". It will be a slow build up due to how their research is taking place.

Harnessing fusion power isn't just theoretically possible, the models are completely mathematically sound. Unfortunately for the scientists, superheated plasma is incredibly unstable, hard to predict, and hard to control. To figure out the best way to stabilize it to maximize efficiency, they have to run countless tests, review the data, then try a countless more tests. It's not impossible, we WILL have fusion power eventually, that much is not in dispute, what is up for dispute is the "when".

If fusion researchers had unlimited funds, we could have a commercially viable fusion plant supplying power to a public grid in less than 10 years. Fusion is likely the only area of science where you can literally throw money at it and achieve your goal of a viable working product. The problem is that nobody wants to spend billions of dollars every year for the next 20 years. Only governments are footing the bill, and they're notoriously unreliable when it comes to scientific research due to the shifting political landscape

There was a great thread on reddit right after the fukushima disaster where several experts were talking about this very issue. I wish I could find it, it was a fantastic read.


I agree that we should support alternate approaches. I actually got that 10,000x number from a TED talk by the CEO of General Fusion.

Other worthy projects: Sandia's MagLIF, MIT's levitated dipole and the Alcator C-Mod, UW's spheromak and FRC, polywell, focus fusion, fast laser, Helion, Tri-Alpha, and probably more that I'm forgetting.

If you want a cheap fusion experiment, the ultimate is focus fusion, which needs a million bucks to finish their breakeven attempt. They've spent $3 million so far, and right now have an indiegogo campaign to raise $200K for a new reactor part made of beryllium.


> Cards-on-the-table, my definition of success is full-on commercially-viable fusion, because little else justifies the enormous investments made into this technology. Any other "incidental" benefit you might want to cite, such as "better understanding of plasma physics", could probably have been obtained for orders of magnitude (plural and no exaggeration) less money.

Perhaps. Perhaps not. The Supeconducting Supercollider drove superconducting magnet technology which then made its way into all manner of other devices. Would anybody have put that amount of money into superconducting magnets without the SSC funding? Doubtful.

If you want to see fusion work, it's quite simple--convince China to announce that they are funding fusion at billion dollar levels. At that point the US will fund it at billion dollar levels and we'll have fusion before 2020.


We are funding it at billion-dollar levels! This is the result of funding it at billion-dollar levels!


This is troubling: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2014/03/03/140303fa_fact_...

It seems like the science is good and promising, but the bureaucracy may be too much to overcome.


Iter is cheap. Its level of funding is many magnitudes lower than the level of funding for other hopeless causes, for instance, arming the US citizenry to the teeth including primary school teachers, giving tax relief to political organizations that are churches, the war on drugs, the war on terrorists. That is a fact of life. The rewards of break even for Iter are a step in the direction of a more stable environment, sustainable energy production, and better public health. It is worth it as was the failure of gasahol, if it keeps keeps the further goal in the public mind.


I claim the opposite: one of the rejections was obviously made by a time traveler who has seen a yet to be shot Doctor Who episode written by the scenarist mentioned by the paper's author. Quite a mise en abyme.


Furthermore, simply the act of publishing this paper likely caused our time line to shift to a point where future travelers are privvy to automated methods to detect their presence in the past.


This sounds like a good candidate for submission to the Journal of Articles in Support of the Null Hypothesis, my favorite journal, http://www.jasnh.com/ .


It has already been published in The Winnower: https://thewinnower.com/papers/searching-the-internet-for-ev...


Method described would work only on Time Travellers that are stuck in our time with no technical means of going back and no detailed documented knowledge of current time [1]. Two queries chosen (pope and some comet) are non significant in daily life. You would be lucky to find 1 in 10000 people that ever in their lives formulated a question about those subjects out loud. In my opinion it would be more prudent to look for signs of prior knowledge about natural disasters. Stranded time traveller will be more interested in avoiding tsunami, earthquake, tornado or a flood, and will most likely know general time frame instead of detailed dates (unless he possesses [1] device).

*1: $25 WikiReader Pocket Wikipedia

http://www.amazon.com/WikiReader-PANREADER-Pocket-Wikipedia/...

Something tells me time traveller from the future would have modernized equivalent.


I see little difference between searching for evidence of time travel on the internet and searching for evidence of pink unicorns on the internet. Current theory predicts that we should not find evidence of either one, nor any evidence of ESP, telekinesis, or a zillion other phenomena. So searching for evidence of these phenomena and failing is about as interesting as searching for evidence of anti-gravity by dropping a few dozen apples and failing.


Confirming common-sense "obvious" results is actually one of the important things science is for. Sometimes it turns out those obvious things aren't actually correct and nobody had bothered to check.


When the results indicate that established theory is not correct then yes, that is obviously important. But confirmations of well established results are only important when they test the theory in previously untested realms (e.g. a measurement that tests general relativity to a greater level of precision or in stronger gravitational fields than previously performed). Confirming the non-exitence of time travelers by failing to find evidence for them on the internet is like confirming the non-exitence of leprechauns by failing to find pots of gold at the ends of rainbows.


I LOVED THIS PAPER! Summarised this paper in my 52papers project! [1] Definitely one of the most interesting papers I've read so far.

I should stop being side-tracked from that project, last post made over two months ago ...

[1] http://swizec.com/blog/week-11-searching-the-internet-for-ev...


Slightly off-topic, but normally HN is scientifically sound when physics or any other science is mentioned. But when it comes to time-travel/FTL, I can't help but feel that half the posters here seem to almost want it to be true. Or at least seem to think that all of our physics knowledge is worthless when it comes to FTL et al. Or is everyone just having a laugh?


The piece is more about the publishing process and less about time travel. See a direct quote from the author:

"First of all, the topic itself is a controversial one, as made clear immediately by the work's title "Searching the Internet for Evidence of Time Travelers" (Nemiroff & Wilson 2014). It is perhaps accepted common knowledge that people who believe in time travelers are crackpots and their ramblings are not to be believed. For the record, I do not believe that traveling back in time is possible, nor do I believe that time travelers are among us."


Yeah, that's why I said that my comment was slightly off topic. It was more concerned with the tech crowd (like HN I guess) treating the possibility of FTL/time travel with such seriousness, which is somewhat out of character for a crowd that is normally pretty well-educated about science.


You can implement "time travel" in the past by running a simulation of a portion of our universe and run it backward and then insert an avatar of yourself in the simulation and freak people out.

That opens up a discussion about the feasibility of such a simulation, but as far as time travel goes it wouldn't break any physical law (And yes, with that setting, you'd have plenty of other ways to freak people out other prescience)


For a paper like that I'd expect to see Haruhi Suzumiya as a co-author.


That and the complete lack of John Titor references were the real reason why it was considered unpublishable.


Or at least Dr. Emmet Brown.


are you an alien, time-traveler, or esper?


I was thinking Dr. Ronald Mallett.


Imagine: Google itself could find proof of this, given that it's organizing the world's information. In fact, Google is one of the only entities that could actually 'prove' this out.

What would they do if they identified the time traveller? Locate him/her? Use his knowledge to further their plans? The knowledge may be potentially world-changing; whoever finds the traveller will be in a very powerful position.

Script idea: Eccentric googler finds proof of this and the company secretly finds the individual. Wild goose chase ensues. State actors get involved. I'd pay to see that.

If this had already happened, would we even know?


Although Google is best placed to find any time traveller, the time traveller is even better placed to go back further in time and correct the situation to prevent the knowledge becoming widely known. Thus if time travel is possible, it's almost a certainty that Sergey Brin is a time traveller.


Neat idea.

But if you were a time traveller, what would you use Google for, and why?

I'm not convinced you're going to be Googling the future pope, because it's trivially easy to Google the current one.

The possible telltales are not obvious.


I would suspect that a time traveller might have all of the world's information searchable, locally stored in his implanted neural lace nanodevice. No Google searching necessary.


It did happen, there is even a movie about it

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1862079


Why do you need Google? Get a web crawler, look for things that relate to your queries and you're done.


I'd be interested to see what arXiv's Impact Factor was if it was calculated like a standard publisher (if possible). I would guess it might be a top ten, based on my anecdotal encounter rate with arXiv (I may self select) and it seems like we're moving into another encyclopaedia situation (open Wikipedia stomps heavily curated Britannica).

Frankly, can't wait. Despite all the editor conflict, Wikipedia is still one of the best inventions of the new millennia and if we eventually evolve towards having all SOTA research publicly accessible at our fingertips anywhere ... heaven.


It's not quite a fair comparison, since a whole bunch of published papers end up on arXiv in some form


It is and it isn't (why I included if possible). As counterpoints I would say that:

- A lot of papers end up in a lot of different official journals in some form. Publishing slightly varied versions of the same work across 3-4 different journals is a time honoured tradition. - Actual journals do effectively the same thing that arXiv does, but theoretically with more 'experts' and rigour. - arXiv provides peer review, but in a distributed manner - References to arXiv have become a thing, particularly for papers that existing journals don't think fits their niche. - In several case, papers have been picked up by places like Nature after they appeared on arXiv and because of the exposure.

Personal optimistic bet is a decade, and journals will be dead in their current form.


Thanks for replying. these are all interesting points, and I'm intrigued by your prediction. If things work out that way I would be quite happy; pay walls in front of science suck!

> - A lot of papers end up in a lot of different official journals in some form. Publishing slightly varied versions of the same work across 3-4 different journals is a time honoured tradition.

Hm. Typically in CS these happens a different scales; e.g. a few papers with the same title (workshop, conference, perhaps another conference paper with a different application or an extension to the theory, ..., journal) but vastly different levels of detail/justification or significant extensions to theory/application. So same idea, but not the same paper and not presenting the same results.

Publishing the same exact results in multiple venues is, afaik, a form of academic dishonesty and a serious black mark. Hopefully it works the same way in other fields.

> - Actual journals do effectively the same thing that arXiv does, but theoretically with more 'experts' and rigour.

I'd remove the theoretically qualifier; getting into top venues in very difficult. Although I'm sure many worthy papers are rejected, the bar is still very high.

For your last three points, I'll cede to your knowledge on the matter.


Both thank you for the reasoned comments, and you're welcome. Also, I cede the "theoretical" point, as that was mostly me being snarky.

I agree that publishing the 'exact' same results is a no go, and that will usually get you a demerit (it's just too easy to discover these days). However, I would argue that the level of detail/justification that people change can vary dramatically. Some people are on the honest end of the scale, like you say, and change each version significantly. In fact, to step away from hyperbole, I would say that probably most trend that way.

However, I feel like the current system also incentivizes dishonesty, particularly with how brutal the associate professor and tenure tracks have gotten for many fields. For example, while CS is a relatively nice field, since its both new, and the job market for its PhDs is hot, others like Physics, Math, most liberal arts, ect... are awful, with 10:1 ratios in some cases between candidates and positions. In those, you'd better be perceived as a rockstar, or you're going to be flipping burgers. And the natural way to be seen as a rockstar? Publish. A lot.

Actually, now that I think about it, that would probably make a good sociology paper. Possible correlations of plagiarism, minor-edit multi-submissions, yatta... to the level of competition for professor spots.


If one did find searches of Pope Francis before his appointment, reasonable explanations would include:

1) A random guess. 2) Unintentional data storage (I.e., the search was made after the appointment but was stored incorrectly as happening in the past.) 3) Deliberate doctoring of data. I.e., a hoax.

And probably a few other cases I'm not thinking of, all of which would be more reasonable than 'It's a man from the future.'


I know this isn't the point of the article, but surely if you were a time traveller you wouldn't bet on the stock market and risk being found out or have your cash confiscated? Surely you'd research a financial instrument that has existed for a long time before your now and go back and make a modest investment in it.

You could do a number of things that are more subtle to establish ways for the investment to not be noticed, by moving the money around, etc., but I expect that your main concern would be how to fly under the radar while compounding works.

In fact, perhaps people in the time-travellers world who want to invest into their future would be chiefly concerned that time travellers in their future are coming back and dominating all the investments without ever plowing the proceeds back into their present ..


Best Quote: "Possibly publication could be coupled with a small amount of Kickstarter-like funding. Cain and I have not discussed the idea further -- we are both too busy -- but if anyone out there on the Internet wants to explore this idea further, consider me a supporter."


I disagree. This is the best quote:

" On the money-wasted angle, when doing a Reddit interview about the manuscript, I respond to a question about how this research was funded with the fake answer that we used money left over from our study "Does Tax Payer Money Burn Any Better Than Regular Money?" (Nemiroff & Wilson 2014). In reality, this was an unfunded project."


Here's another bit from the reddit interview[0]:

> Do you believe in time travel? What future knowledge was posted? > Fake answer: Yes, I believe in time travel. I myself like to travel forward in time by one second every second. I live in fear, however, of colliding with non-time travelers who stay fixed at one moment of time.

[0] https://pay.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/1va4vq/we_searched_fo...


I liked the fact that someone paid him $100 to option the movie rights.


I somehow hoped the blog article would say that the submission was rejected because it was not novel because someone just published a similar article a few weeks before.

Now that would have been a refutation of time travel...


I went to a conference* in 1994 in which Kip Thorne gave a talk on time travel. He made an offhand comment about evidence that backwards time-travel does not occur that was along similar lines. 2 points: 1) Not inconsistent for 'real' physicists to think about these issues. 2) I don't think this work is as novel in concept as the author thinks.

* Was for Carl Sagan's 60th birthday... was intended for serious audience of big time scientists but was intended to entertain.


Whenever I mention my skepticism of the peer review mechanism, someone is always quick to claim how important and special it is, and that I should have faith in it.

Here, they reject a paper and refuse even to peer review it. They refuse to explain why they feel it unacceptable. It comes from a scientist who has already published, and in the relevant fields.

If they'll do this because of the slight risk of someone making fun of it, what will they do when the paper is politically inconvenient?


"They refuse to explain why they feel it unacceptable."

I read the paper. It's unacceptable because it's LITERALLY a "here are some things we Googled, and there weren't any time travelers" with a bibliography attached: there's no detailed explanation of experimental procedure, no detailed data. It's roughly equivalent to sending a middle-school book report to a literary journal.


Were that true, why the reluctance to say as much?

If anything, I would expect that to invite stinging, painful criticism and sarcastic explanations.


This is precisely one of the reasons The Winnower (where it was published) was founded. Peer review is becoming increasingly shown to be faulty at identifying mistakes. It is better at holding back controversial or unorthodox ideas, which are what ultimately drive science forward!


Onarbor, https://onarbor.com, is a peer-reviewed journal that would certainly let you publish this.


Of course it might be Precognition as opposed to Time Travel. The paper makes no attempt to differentiate between the two, just assuming Time Travel.

They have also not factored in the obvious assertion that given the publicity of the paper, any 'time travellers' to this time obviously do not want to be detected and as such probably spend their time writing scientific papers debunking their own existence.


From a physics point of view, the really interesting question is whether information can move the wrong direction in time. Physicists wouldn't much care about that difference.


I almost posted a response along these lines: how distinguishable are precognition and time travel from a fundamental physics perspective, anyway? It's all about information flow.

But then I realized that precognition has an alternate possible mechanism: rather than extracting information from the future, it could operate by sensing the initial state/initial wavefunction of the surrounding universe and integrating the equations of motion forward in time to predict the future state (perhaps probabilistically). That would presumably require some amazing new physics just as significant as time travel, but it wouldn't be the same new physics.


Concept attenuation.... don't think many 57th Century Ultra-monkeys (or drones, or praeter-singularity-humans or whatever) will know or care anything about the Pope. Brilliant thought experiment though, and love that it tests the bounds of discipline and rigour!!!


Essentially, it must be noted that physics and any kind of science is driven by concrete data and mathematical analysis. This work is speculative, in very speculative at that. What he wrote is not a "paper", its probably an interesting article.


Did they consider facts about events added to Wikipedia before they actually happened? :) [1]

[1] http://xkcd.com/978/ - 'Citogenesis'


Great article, but I was annoyed that in an online science publishing platform, this article contained no links, but textual references that the reader had to look up manually.


well if anything its easily proved that time travel is not possible within the lifespans of those searching for it for would they not try to reveal that to their past selves?


This reminds me of xkcd's "what if" Project.


Mandatory XKCD Time travel Comic http://xkcd.com/716/


this one fits too http://xkcd.com/675/


"Does Tax Payer Money Burn Any Better Than Regular Money?" (Nemiroff & Wilson 2014). too funny...


Seems a bit unfair as "The Endochronic Properties of Resublimated Thiotimoline" was published in 1948.


I wanted the punch line to be, "The Time Lords showed up and insisted we halt all experimentation."


I wanted the punch line to be about how that producer resold movie rights to Steven Moffat so he could make that Doctor Who episode.

Or if these rights were non-exclusive Nemiroff could contact Doctor Who staff himself.


Interesting but an obvious result to be honest.


> I mentioned this to my wife who surprised me by saying that she herself has seen -- or knew about -- every Dr. Who episode since the modern reboot in 2005

Keeper.


Anyone have a TL;DR version?


Sure. Physics professor is short of a paper over a slow summer. Said professor decides to write up an idea he and his poker buddies dreamed up that has the twin benefits of being trivial to research and having a guaranteed negative outcome. Unfortunately, all the physics journals our hero knows have standards so he ends up pushing a draft to arxiv.org in the hope of getting at least a conference poster out of it. The draft goes viral, it is an amusing idea after all, and our professor achieves minor celeb status from it. Eventually he gets published in a journal that not even he has heard about so all is good with the world.

Something like that.


Thank you. Best tl;dr I've read in ages. If I'd read this before the article it would have saved me a lot of time.


TL;DR version: Physicist thinks time travellers are obsessed with one particular Pope and/or some non significant comet.


dicey subject area, and it's probably not God playing the dice :)


I'm from 1843. Nice to meet you.




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