mabfan (Michael A. Burstein) (mabfan) wrote,
mabfan (Michael A. Burstein)

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.
Tags: science-fiction
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