More news from the crazy world of time travelling: it’s still impossible.
A team of intrepid researchers have trawled the Internet looking for references to Pope Francis that preceded his becoming a pope (i.e., the Catholic one; there are others) or to Comet ISON prior to its being named “Comet ISON.” Both phrases would have been meaningless prior to 2012. Therefore, if somebody had tweeted about them, it must mean one thing and only one thing…they came from the future, with special knowledge (and, perhaps, instructions to tweet about popes and/or comets).
These important findings were presented yesterday at the 223rd Annual Meeting of the American Astronomical Society, in Washington DC. Here are the results:
Yes. They found nothing.
This ought not negate the fact that several investigators (well, Daily Mail journalists and assorted bloggers) have already found pictures of a woman using a mobile phone in a 1928 Charlie Chaplin movie, a 21st century hipster appearing at the opening of a bridge back in 1941, Jay-Z photographed back in 1939, and a replica of a Swiss wristwatch found in a 400-year-old Chinese tomb. And don’t forget the guys who have ‘evidence’ that President Obama travelled to Mars back in 1980 as part of a top secret space/time-exploration US DARPA mission called “Project Pegasus”.
But searching Twitter for evidence of time travel falls short on at least two fronts. First, it seems a bit narrow. Maybe the time travelling fraternity just don’t like organised religion and so refuse to utter a pope’s name, even as part of a hashtag (my personal favourite was #exBenedict, after the last guy walked). And maybe they couldn’t care less about the comet ISON. Think about it. If you travelled here from the future, you might have other things to say.
Secondly, searching for anachronisms essentially seeks to confirm a hypothesis (namely, “time travel exists”), rather than to falsify it. Presumably any search for specified terms cannot be truly comprehensive: it cannot feasibly cover every tweet ever tweeted, every update ever posted, every contribution made to every discussion board and comments section, and so on. While the researchers have failed to turn up anything so far, there always remains the possibility that they might do so in due course. In essence, their hypothesis is non-falsifiable.
Am I saying that this Twitter-citing, press-release-driven, conference-presented, slow-news-week study of time travel might just be a little unscientific? Maybe I am.
Finally, I just thought I’d mention the following, apropos of nothing in particular: the future Pope Justin, the future Pope Miley, the future Pope Barack, the future Pope Tony, and the as yet unstudied comet ARSOL. I’ll just leave those there, if that’s okay.
Brian Hughes is an academic psychologist and university professor in Galway, Ireland, specialising in stress, health, and the application of psychology to social issues. He writes widely on the psychology of empiricism and of empirically disputable claims, especially as they pertain to science, health, medicine, and politics.