What we don’t talk about when we talk about time travel.
What we talk about when we talk about time travel: going back to kill Hitler, Back To The Future, treading on butterflies causing irreparable damage to history, Doctor Who, whether or not it’s ethical to use it to cheat on the lottery or sports gambling or whatever, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. What we don’t talk about when we talk about time travel: whether it actually exists. Or will exist. Or has existed. We don’t know, this wibbly wobbly, timey wimey stuff kinda messes with our tenses a little. The idea of being able to travel backwards or forwards through history has appeared in countless forms through pop culture, conversation and daydreams for ages, but how come we don’t discuss whether it’ll actually ever be real?
Does it just seem too beyond the pale? Is the the idea of time travel so beyond the realms of possibility that we don’t even consider that it could be real? Well, we’re here with good news! Not from the future, sadly, just in the grimly predictable present. A grimly predictable present that includes quantum physics, Higgs Bosons and other science-y things we don’t quite understand but apparently have something to do with a conceivable way for us to travel through time. No less a genius than Stephen Hawking spent years looking for a reason that time travel couldn’t exist, only to find the concept didn’t contravene any laws of physics, eventually admitting “time travel may be possible, but it is not practical”.
Plus there’s that history of time travel in our culture has frequently strayed into the non-fiction – so long as you’re inclined to believe the possible crackpots that are discussing it – all of which adds up to some pretty compelling pieces of evidence that prove time travel is real. Ten, in fact.
10. A Tiny Time Travelling Watch
In December 2008, Chinese archaeologists discovered a giant tomb that was believed to be an undisturbed, 400-year-old coffin of Si Qing in Shangsi County. That’s pretty old, you guys. Before they even managed to crack the lid and find out what was inside, however, they came across something even more amazing than a centuries-old bag of bones in the soil around the outside of the tomb: a small piece of golden metal, shaped like a watch, with the time frozen at 10:06, and the word “Swiss” was engraved on the back. A watch that couldn’t have been more than one hundred years old. So how did it end up embedded in the soil of an ancient, undisturbed tomb?
We’ll tell you, pals. It’s time travel. At least that’s the conclusion that the world’s media came to when the story broke a few years ago. We’re pretty interested as to how the watch in question go to be so miniscule – something to do with quarks, we imagine (because we don’t know what quarks are) – but also how a watch from the last century ended up bundled with a coffin dating back to the Ming Dynasty (the 15th-16th Century).
The plot thickens since, apparently, there was a ban on flashy jewelry around that time in Geneva, so the idea it may actually be watch would make sense, because they were considered as an essential, practical accessory rather than decoration. There’s no record anywhere of watches being popular in Europe until after 1780, though, so what’s the deal? Guy with a tiny watch traveled back in time, mucked around with some old Chinese dude’s grave, then dropped his watch on the way out? Also: he was tiny for some reason?
9. The Moberly-Jourdain Incident
Not that all the evidence of time travel is contemporary, mind you. That wouldn’t really make sense. It is time travel, after all, so presumably it’s been occurring for decades. Or will be. Again, the whole thing messes with our tenses. One of the oldest and most confusing, unexplained stories about travelling through time comes from a small château located on the grounds of the Palace of Versailles in France, during the evening of 10 August 1901, with a couple of academics who found themselves untethered from history and hanging out with Marie Antoinette – no word on whether they chowed done on some cake with her or not. Probably busy being freaked out that they were hanging with a lady who died a century beforehand.
Unfamiliar with the Versailles area, the well-traveled Charlotte Anne Moberly and Eleanor Jourdain decided they would swing by and check out the Petit Trianon. They ended up getting lost and more than a little confused, as they passed by an abandoned farmhouse and a woman waving a white cloth out of a window, reporting that a feeling of oppression and dreariness began to come over them. We get that when we’re lost, too. Usually we’re lost geographically, rather than historically, however; Moberly and Jourdain ended up stumbling across groups of people wearing old-timey clothes, a dude suffering from smallpox, and somebody they thought to be Marie Antoinette herself.
“Everything suddenly looked unnatural, therefore unpleasant,” Jourdain later wrote. “Even the trees seemed to become flat and lifeless, like wood worked in tapestry. There were no effects of light and shade, and no wind stirred the trees.” The pair published a pseudonymous book about their time slip, which ended when they returned to their rented apartment. They were widely mocked for what many thought to be a hoax, or hallucination, whilst others suggested they were encountering ghosts; outside of a mistake or something else supernatural, however, nobody’s gave a better explanation than these two old dears had accidentally traveled through time.
8. Scottish Time-Slip
Sir Robert Victor Goddard was a senior commander in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War who is best known for his later appearances in pop culture, including the fifties movie The Night My Number Came Up – based on a bizarre incident in his career, which was characterized with bizarre incidents – and his later years spent investigating, and lecturing on, flying saucers. Before all of that weirdness started up, however, he was simply an RAF pilot with a pretty impressive war record, fighting in both the First and Second World Wars. Between them he was selected to read engineering at Jesus College, Cambridge and then studied at Imperial College London. So you know he was pretty smart.
In 1935 he became deputy director of intelligence at the Air Ministry, so presumably he was of sound enough mind for the British government. Which might not be saying much but, well, we’re just setting up what a credible source he was before we get into the weird stuff. According to the book Time Travel: A New Perspective, by JH Brennan, Goddard suffered his own time-slip whilst flying over the former Royal Air Force station Drem Airfield. Charlotte Anne Moberly and Eleanor Jourdain literally stumbled into another period of history, whilst Goddard flew into it. Hot damn.
Having left the disused airfield near Edinburgh, and having found it to be in a dilapidated state with cattle grazing on grass that had forced through cracks in the tarmac, he ran into some trouble on the flight home and decided to fly back to Drem to get his bearings. Upon his return the heavy rain abruptly changed to bright sunlight, the airfield was in full working condition and mechanics in blue overalls were presiding over four yellow planes on the runway – none of which Goddard recognised, despite his vast aviation experience. He didn’t land. He just kept on keeping on and never spoke of the incident to anybody. Four years later, the RAF started painting their planes yellow, and the mechanics’ uniforms were switched to blue.
7. The Philadelphia Experiment
The military don’t just come across these things by accident, though. The US army has a long and storied past of looking into some of the most trippy sci-fi concepts totally seriously, including mind control, psychic warfare, and robots – oh, and time travel, allegedly. The Philadelphia Experiment was an actual naval military experiment supposedly carried out at the sometime around October 28, 1943, but the nature of the research being undertaken is subject to a whole lot of hearsay and rumour. Also referred to as Project Rainbow, it was said to involve the USS Eldridge being rendered invisible (or “cloaked”) to enemy radar…but the process may actually have sent the entire ship, and its crew, back in time for ten seconds.
Or longer. The reports are kinda hazy, and in the intervening years the Navy claims no such experiment occurred, and details of the story contradict well-established facts about the Eldridge as well as the known laws of physics. But even Stephen Hawking couldn’t get the laws of physics to disprove time travel, and American governmental organisations lie all the time, so we think we can throw out such criticisms without addressing them with too much credulity. We are talking about evidence for time travel, after all. Open your minds a little bit, people! A lot of people dismiss the Philadelphia Experiment as a hoax, but the stories have been circulating for years, and a lot of them match up.
The basic bones of the time slip tale are that the experiment was based on the unified field theory, a concept coined by none other than Albert Einstein, which sees electromagnetism and gravity into one field. The story goes that, if light were bent, then space-time would also be bent, effectively creating an invisible time machine. Which is allegedly what happened, albeit briefly, before the ship returned and we guess they decided the whole thing was a little too temperamental to use any time soon. Either that or the people who circulated the story initially had an established history of psychiatric illness. Who knows?
6. The Montauk Project Conspiracy Theory
The Philadelphia Experiment is a favorite amongst conspiracy theorists – who we’re starting to put a tiny bit more faith in, after it turned out they were pretty much dead on the money over the NSA surveillance of everyone thing – so it would make sense that it’d spin off into further allegations about time travel research. The Montauk Project is allegedly a series of secret United States government projects conducted at Camp Hero or Montauk Air Force Station in Long Island, looking into “exotic” experiments including time travel. Camp Hero and Montauk Air Force Station are actual places, and secret United States government projects are a real thing that the American military often get up to, so…
The Montauk Experiment stories appear to have started with Preston Nichols, an American author who claimed to have recovered repressed memories of his own involvement with time travel research. Take that with a pinch of salt, we guess, because the idea of repressed memories has been proven to be mostly a load of gubbins, and Nichols is a guy who claims to have degrees in parapsychology, psychology, and electrical engineering. Also he once made a music video about his experiences with time travel which is, ahem, a little special to say the least.
5. The Large Hadron Collider
Look, we’re not going to claim to be experts on the Large Hadron Collider. We can’t even claim that we don’t laugh every time we get the middle word wrong (which happens a lot). But we’re pretty sure that CERN have been building a giant time machine. The LHC is the most complex thing ever built by humans, 17 miles in circumference, 574 feet underground and the most powerful atom smasher ever created, allowing collision of protons at nearly the speed of light. It’s so powerful that scientists and tabloids alike were a little concerned that it could lead to the creation of a black hole or a wormhole, a rip in the universe which could destroy the entirety of existence. Or allow time travel. One or the other, for sure.
Anyway, the Collider has been switched on numerous times without reality collapsing, and they managed to find the mysterious Higgs boson particle last year without the world ending, so we guess that’s time travel confirmed, right? Stephen Hawking’s assertion about time travel was that we hadn’t been overrun by tourists from the future yet, but that might be because they can only go back as far as when time travel was invented. Which means that we should all be keeping an eye out for people in shiny clothing, wearing advanced versions of Google Glass and using swear words we don’t understand, because the LHC may very well be our first step to time travel.
“Our theory is a long shot,” admits Tom Weiler, physics professor at Vanderbilt University, “but it doesn’t violate any laws of physics or experimental constraints.” The discovery of the Higgs boson was theorised to create another particle, called the Higgs singlet, which Weiler and partner Chui Man Ho’s theory centres on: these singlets should have the ability to jump into an extra, fifth dimension where they can move either forward or backward in time and reappear in the future or past. Boom! Science! Inventing time travel. Thanks, Switzerland!
4. Mobile Phones In Old Movies
Turns out that Batman isn’t the world’s greatest detective; that title has to go to the internet. Reddit has fingered criminal suspects, Catfish has started a whole grass roots industry for seeking out online fraudsters, and the collective inquisitive minds of the web have managed to find proof of time travel in the most unlikely places. Such as, for example, a short clip taken from a special feature on the DVD version of the Charlie Chaplin film The Circus. When the clip was uploaded to YouTube with annotations, everybody started freaking out. Quite understandably since, in the background of a crowd amassed at the film’s Grauman’s Chinese Theatre premiere in 1928, there appeared to be someone using a mobile phone.
Not that Cage has a monopoly on travelling back through history and having his appearance captured with sepia-toned photographs or textbook illustrations of 19th century Mexican Emperor Maximilian I. There’s also the images of Keanu Reeves in 1570, and 1875, John Travolta in the 1860s, and Alec Baldwin, who is apparently both a recently deceased former Elks Lodge president, and a member of the Norwegian government. We’re surprised these Hollywood stars have the time to make films, considering how often they’re going on vacations to the past. At least we’ve got evidence of them doing it.
2. John Titor
In the early noughties we hadn’t quite advanced to the social media which now rules our online interactions. Instead, we were in this strange hinterland between Twitter and usenet, the weird bulletin boards people used to talk about X-Files way too much at the advent of the internet (yeah, early internet users kinda lived up to every nerdy stereotype). We had message boards, or forums, where people could talk about anything and everything. One such topic that came up on various boards was the story of John Titor, a man who claimed to be from the year 2036, who proved his crazy story with a set of predictions.
Some were vague, and some were very specific. Titor claimed that his future America was much different from the current one, with the country broken into five smaller regions, the environment and infrastructure devastated by nuclear attacks (no duh), and most other world powers had been destroyed. He also gave some pretty detailed information about his time machine, and yet nobody has tried to make their own yet. And none of his predictions have come true, but there’s still time! And nobody has ever stepped forward and claimed responsibility for it being a hoax, so…
1. The Internet
So we’re still not sure that John Titor was a real person, let alone a real time traveller – although we want to believe – but his early online appearances certainly sparked the imaginations of scientists across the world. To the point that some actual, honest-to-goodness, not a conspiracy theory, we actually have evidence of this research has begun to scour the internet for proof of time travel. Over the past couple of years Robert Nemiroff and Teresa Wilson from Michigan Technological University’s physics department have been trawling the web for references to prescient information posted before it should be possible, in the hope of finding evidence of time travellers. Time travellers who use Facebook and Twitter.
The idea is that, if they use some advanced Google-fu to pinpoint their searches to times before events happened, they might find proof of time travellers. For example, the pair searched for mentions of “Comet ISON” prior to its discovery in September 2012, and looked for mentions of “Pope Francis” before March 2013, since he’s the first pontiff to have that title. So anybody who mentioned those words or phrases before they were introduced into the lexicon must have some insider knowledge, right? Say, from the future?
So far the research hasn’t provided any physical evidence of time travellers. Rather than completely resign themselves to the conclusion that time travel doesn’t exist, Nemiroff and Wilson’s Cornell paper instead suggests that “although the negative results reported here may indicate that time travellers from the future are not among us and cannot communicate with us over the modern day internet, they are by no means proof…it may be physically impossible for time travellers to leave any lasting remnants of their stay in the past, including even non-corporeal informational remnants on the internet.”
“Next, it may be physically impossible for us to find such information as that would violate some yet-unknown law of physics. Furthermore, time travellers may not want to be found, and may be good at covering their tracks.” So there you have it: actual scientists reckon time travel might be real. And the reason we don’t know about it yet is because the time travellers are stealthy.