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Time Traveler Convention: My Thoughts

I've been thinking about the Time Traveler Convention which is being organized by MIT graduate student Amal Dorai. For those of you who haven't heard yet, his plan is a simple one, which can essentially be boiled down to the well-known phrase "If you build it, they will come." (cf. the novel Shoeless Joe by W. P. Kinsella which got turned into the movie Field of Dreams, and yes, I'm misquoting). Dorai argues that if we can publicize this event as the one and only time traveler convention in history, time travelers from all throughout the timeline will make a point of attending. To make sure that happens, he's asking people to publicize the event in ways that will ensure the message gets through to the future.

gnomi and I are considering attending, although given the fact that festivities for present-time attendees are now scheduled to start on May 7 at 8:00 PM EDT (8 May 2005 00:00 UTC) instead of 10:00 PM EDT (8 May 2005 02:00 UTC), we might have to miss the beginning due to shabbat.

(For time travelers reading this post in the far future, the location is 42:21:36.025 degrees North and 71:05:16.322 degrees West. But you probably know that already.)

However, I won't be too upset if we miss it. The theory behind the convention is that time travelers will spontaneously arrive at 10:00 PM, and all the present-time attendees will get to see that happen.

But personally, I think the convention will fail to attract time travelers. My reasoning is as follows, based on three different possibilities:


1. Time travel (into the past) is impossible.

Although I would love for time travel to be real, it's hard to argue in its favor when there is so little evidence for it. (And yes, I know that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. But still...) Larry Niven once wrote an essay on the impossibility of time travel, pointing out that time travel renders a universe inherently unstable, as people could keep going back in time and changing history. So what would happen in such a universe in which people can keep changing history? The timeline would change over and over until it reached a point of stability. And the most stable universe, of course, is one in which time travel was never invented in the first place.

(Theoretically, that doesn't necessarily mean that the physical laws of the universe would prohibit time travel, but that history itself would do so. However, one must admit that the most stable universe would be one where physics prohibits time travel.)


2. Time travel is possible, but real time travelers will avoid the thing.

Dorai assumes that if he publicizes the event as the one and only Time Traveler Convention, that the time travelers will make a point of attending. But why should we assume this? Imagine you're a time traveler who has the ability to come back in time and visit this event. Wouldn't you be at all suspicious? Might this not all be a plot to capture you and make you reveal secrets from the future?

And suppose that time travel could change history. The most dangerous thing you could do is reveal yourself. If time travelers are really here, they must be following some sort of Prime Directive, keeping their existence a secret -- or else they run the risk of deleting time travel from the universe, as I explained in point 1.


3. Time travel won't be developed until the far, far future, and they won't get the message.

Dorai needs everyone who wants this to succeed to make sure it happens by publicizing the message about the convention in as many ways as possible, and as indelibly as possible, so that the time travelers of the future will know about it. In short, this message has to be the Ultimate Time Capsule, because it theoretically has to last until the end of the universe. But suppose Saturday night passes without a single time traveler? What would be the impetus then for us to publicize the event, since we already know it didn't work? In that case, the messages referring people to the event will probably fade out and not even last a thousand years. And if time travel isn't invented in the next millennium, then the travelers will never find out about it.

(I refer you to Gregory Benford's nonfiction book Deep Time to find out about the problems of making sure a message makes it through thousands of years or more into the future.)


So does this mean that no one from the present should bother attending? Of course not! Even if no time travelers attend, it looks like it'll be fun; Dorai has organized speakers, music, and food. And one has to give credit to him for going to all this effort. It really is a low risk with the highest possible reward.

See you in the future.

Comments

Also, quite honestly, just because you only need one Time Traveler's Convention doesn't mean they'll only be one. Arguably we only need one Buffy convention too, but we've had dozens, in part because even though it's possible for people to travel to NJ from Australia, it's not easy or cheap.

I don't see any reason to assume that time travel will be equally inexpensive/simple/unstressful to all places and times from all places and times, so it's entirely possible that there will be more than one Time Traveler's convention so that people don't get Einstein Lag, or whatever.

Nonetheless, it sounds like a good party. I'd go if I were in the same state. (I'll be bummed if there really are time travellers there and I missed it, but what the heck, maybe I can thumb a lift back to last week once I hear the good news.)
Exactly. And since time travelers would know that TimeTravelCon VI was the really fun one, that'll be the one they'll want to attend...although time travellers looking for a smaller event will want to attend TimeTravelCon II, just to avoid the crowds (hey look! short registration lines :)

The real question is: would time travellers pre-register?

Actually...

The whole time-travelling convention attendee population requires a new category of membership never before envisioned: "Post-registration."

The question is, do the rates continue to rise in the future, or do you get a substantial post-registration discount for registering more than 100 years after the event?
I might be going.
If you plan to go, they're requiring RSVPs now. Email them ASAP.
I was thinking version 2. This allows me to continue to believe that time travel is possible, and that messages from me will reach the future. :)
As I wrote over on my LJ, if anyone goes, let me know if I was there and damn the paradoxen.
I hope to make it.
If you plan to go, they're requiring RSVPs now. Email them ASAP.
Just remember you can't stay long b/c you have other plans that night... :-)
Someone (I think it might have been avacon) expounded the theory last night that no time travellers will show up because they'll read the reviews, hear that no time travellers showed up, and decide not to bother going.
We're going to be in Florida this weekend, for my sister's graduation, but hopefully, we'll show up for it later on, after we get our time machine.
Yes, I've been thinking along the lines of #2 also.
You know what I love about this whole thing? It's become a community exercize, essentially, in writing a science fiction story, by virtue of the speculation occurring about whether or not time travellers will actually show and why or why not. (I mean, really, we're all travelers in time, we just travel at the speed of time and move forward with it, rather than accelerating forward or backward). Just gives me a kick.
If I didn't already have an RPG that night, I'd so be going.

(Anonymous)

I think the biggest problem with this time travelers' convention is he didn't start publicizing it early enough (or he didn't plan it late enough). I only found out about it last week, so there's no way I can get a notice into Chronicle in time for non-time travelers to make it. Knowing that his present-day crowd is severely limited, how many time travelers will care to make this the one true gathering?

--Ian
Ian Randal Strock, News Editor
Chronicle: SF, Fantasy, & Horror's Monthly Trade Journal
1380 East 17 Street, Suite 210
Brooklyn, New York 11230-6011 USA
chronicle@dnapublications.com
www.dnapublications.com
Well, I can't go to this now. But who cares? I can just show up later...
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