If time travelers were real, a la Doctor Who or Doc Emmett Brown style, how would they go about sharing their gift with the world? According to astrophysicist Robert Nemiroff and physics graduate student Teresa Wilson at Michigan Technological University, they would tweet about it. And so, the two began what has proven to be one of the most interesting searches on today’s social media.
To break it down succinctly, the pair began to search the backlogs of Facebook and Twitter for any indications of time travellers posting about the future. This they did by entering search terms for two major events – the appearance Comet ISON in September of 2012 and the election of Pope Francis in March 2013 – to see if there was any mention of them before they happened.
Their theory, as presented in a paper published last month on Cornell University’s Library website, was that if there were any postings containing “Comet ISON,” “#cometison,” “Pope Francis” or “#popefrancis” from before those dates, they may very well be from a time traveler. Unfortunately, their searchers on Facebook turned up results which, in their own words, “were clearly not comprehensive.
Granted, a time-traveler would be quick to delete any status updates that appeared prescient, using Facebook’s new Graph Search privacy features. However, the the time-traveler hunting due had no better luck on Twitter, where a majority of people keep their tweets public. But of course, they went on to say in their paper that just because they didn’t see any time travelers doesn’t mean they don’t exist.
…it may be physically impossible for us to find such information as that would violate some yet-unknown law of physics… time travelers may not want to be found, and may be good at covering their tracks.
Another thing to consider is that time travelers might actively try to erase any mention of their existence. For example, in the first season of the Doctor Who reboot, where the Doctor used a special virus to delete any digital trace of himself before leaving the present age. It’s academic stuff really, and the pair really shouldn’t have expected such careless errors to show up on the internet.
And as Donald Rumsfeld, another man who went searching for something and came up empty, said: “the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence”. Yes, I know, the comparison really doesn’t help, does it? And right now, I’m sure you might be wondering if all those tax dollars that fund research grants might be better used elsewhere.
And let’s face it, it’s something many of us would wonder, and possible check for ourselves, given half a chance…