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).

Comments: 1214 • Responses: 12  • Date: 

in4real456 karma

So did you find anything?

RJNemiroff794 karma

Fake answer: Actually, we did discover time travelers. We don't want to announce this, though, because we are trying to get them to tell us -- and us alone-- winning lottery numbers. This is the fundamental reason why no search for time travelers will ever claim to be successful.

Real answer: We did not uncover any evidence for time travel. Sorry. As our search was limited, we do not consider this as proof that time travel cannot exist.

karmanaut124 karma

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?

RJNemiroff128 karma

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.

mwguthrie69 karma

Posting on twitter would be a pretty big fucking mistake.

RJNemiroff107 karma

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

2feetorless69 karma

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

RJNemiroff65 karma

Actually, that is one of my favorite Steven Wright quotes. Here are some more: http://www.notso.com/wright.htm

BrainOnTheLoose59 karma

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?

RJNemiroff181 karma

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.


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?

RJNemiroff67 karma

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?

RJNemiroff40 karma

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.

Lucky_Bastard6316 karma

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?

RJNemiroff47 karma

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.

s_mw13 karma

Do you believe in time travel? What future knowledge was posted?

RJNemiroff47 karma

Fake answer: Yes, I believe in time travel. I myself like to travel forward in time by one second every second. I live in fear, however, of colliding with non-time travelers who stay fixed at one moment of time.

Real answer: I don't think that time travel to the past is possible. Time travel to the future is allowed by Einstein's Special Relativity just by going near the speed of light. We found no future knowledge posted during our limited searches of the Internet.

fencerman11 karma

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

RJNemiroff17 karma

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.

BiggerBangTheory3 karma

Your research is just a fascinating read. I love the notion if essentially looking for internet trolls from the future.

Now... being that this is your area of study, your geekdom is a mathematical certainty. So Who then is your favorite time traveler?

RJNemiroff8 karma

Fake answer: Guinan.

Real answer: I guess your italics means you are referring the the British "Doctor Who" TV series. I watched the Doctor a bit growing up while trying to tune out comments from my dad who was critical of the special effects (e.g. "That looks like a salt shaker!") The Doctor I saw most and liked best was Tom Baker. My wife, however, liked David Tennant the best but is very excited that Peter Capaldi will soon be taking over.

Myself, I was actually rooting for the new Doctor to be ... Whoopi Goldberg. No, I am not joking. Yes, she is not British but she was just wonderful as Guinan on Star Trek TNG and even seemed to be a bit of a time lord herself there. I think her serene other-worldliness could light up the Dr. Who universe to an international audience. (But then again I also look for time travelers on the Internet.)