We searched for time travelers who inadvertently posted unknowable-at-the-time knowledge to the Internet. Ask us anything!

Jan 15th 2014 by RJNemiroff • 8 Questions • 940 Points

Time travel. Twitter. Pope Francis. What do all of these have in common? They were all components of our scientific search for time travelers on the Internet. Pope Francis? Well that was one of our best search terms! To learn more, read below.

My short bio: Robert Nemiroff 'RJNemiroff' is a Professor of Physics at Michigan Technological University (MTU). Teresa Wilson 'twilson_' is a graduate student in the Physics Department at MTU.

My Proof: Proof sent to the mods.

Main arXiv article

NBC by Alan Boyle

Colbert clip

Science News article

Ask Us Anything!

Thanks everyone! This has been fun. See you another time(s).


Conceptual question:

Does the concept of time travel in any significant capacity rely on the assumption that the past, present and future are all existing simultaneously as events that have occurred already or are currently occurring?

If this is not the case, then how would it be possible to travel forward to something that has not happened yet, or back to something that no longer exists in its previous state?


Fake answer: What?

Real answer: You can only see the past. This is because it takes time for light to travel from me to you, you see me as I was when light left me, a fraction of a second ago. Theoretically, light that swung around a black hole could come back to you years from now, so you could very well see your past self.

You can only visit the future. If you travel out and back at near light speed, you can return to Earth in the far future when your twin is much older and no one remembers Pope Bieber.


I am confused, then, by your article stating that you were looking for time travelers "from the future". If one exists in the future, and visiting the past is impossible, then how would they have traveled to the present to leave evidence of their having knowledge about the future?

Indeed, by your own admission, we should be looking for time travelers visiting from the past. And, since we are in the future of our past selves, we are in the position to know that no time machines have been invented, nor any technology that could allow them to do so.

So what was the point of the study?


Regardless of what I believe, it is currently unknown if time travel to the past is allowed in physics. There are accepted solutions to Einstein's General Relativity that allow this, for example solutions known as "Godel's universe" and Gott's circling of cosmic strings. But many physicists feel that another law, some sort of Chronology Protection requirement, must exist that negates these formal solutions. But no one is sure. That uncertainty was one reason we did this study. To the best of our knowledge, ours was the most comprehensive search for time travel to date.


"I once put instant coffee in a microwave and went back in time."


Actually, that is one of my favorite Steven Wright quotes. Here are some more:


Doesn't your premise only work if you assume that the time travellers would somehow make their presence known, and would be willing to be discovered?

Had you discovered evidence of time travellers using the internet, a time traveller in the future would know that you discovered it, and could just go back to before you discovered it and erase the information. Thus preventing you from ever discovering it.

So, assuming that time travellers don't want to be discovered (which is a safe bet because if they wanted to be discovered they would just come out and say something), wasn't this automatically doomed to failure?


Fake answer: No. Our collaboration with the NSA allowed us to find even shy time travelers.

Real answer: Yes, we can only find time travelers who make their presence known. I myself make many mistakes, though, so if I was sent back in time I would likely make revealing mistakes.


Posting on twitter would be a pretty big fucking mistake.


Yes, but what if my neighbor posted something odd that I had said on Twitter? That seems more likely.


With time being infinite and all, everything that has happened or will happen is happening. Traveling through time is just a matter of perceptual awareness.

As for a question: did you receive federal funding for this endeavor?


Did you receive federal funding for this endeavor?

Fake answer: Yes. We used funds left over from our study titled: "Does Tax Payer Money Burn Any Better Than Regular Money?"

Real answer: No. This was done on our own time and on our own dime. And dime is about right -- we essentially just typed things into search engines. The time travel entertainment industry costs over one billion dollars -- we checked on it for under a dollar.


Wouldn't any time traveller be aware of your experiment, and therefore able to mask their activities by knowing what you're looking for?


Fake answer: Please don't discriminate against extroverted time travelers. Just because they like attention does not mean we should give them any less consideration than those trying to cover their tracks.

Real answer: Who knows how good time travelers would be at keeping a low profile -- even those who want to stay below the radar. It sounds easy, but have you watched a movie with someone who has seen it before and keeps dropping clues about the ending? Same deal.


How did this start? What conversation lead to doing this and how did the first people (like family) respond when you told them your plan?


How did this start?

Fake answer: My medication ran out.

Real answer: I have been interested in this topic for a long time. When meeting with my students here at Michigan Tech over the past summer -- sometimes during a weekly poker game -- I challenged them to come up with a scientific approach to find time travelers, were they living among us. It was a whimsical discussion but the topic was very popular. Soon we all were brainstorming. They had better knowledge of the Internet than me, but I knew more of the classical physics. We had great fun. Teresa Wilson and I then wrote up a manuscript. Three physics journals rejected it, but we posted it to the Internet anyway -- and it quickly went viral.