[Paleopsych] NYT: Time Travelers to Meet in Not Too Distant Future
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Sat May 7 10:44:47 UTC 2005
Time Travelers to Meet in Not Too Distant Future
New York Times, 5.5.6
By PAM BELLUCK
CAMBRIDGE, Mass., May 5 - Suppose it is the future - maybe a thousand
years from now. There is no static cling, diapers change themselves,
and everyone who is anyone summers on Mars.
What's more, it is possible to travel back in time, to any place, any
era. Where would people go? Would they zoom to a 2005 Saturday night
for chips and burgers in a college courtyard, eager to schmooze with
computer science majors possessing way too many brain cells?
Why not, say some students at the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology, who have organized what they call the first convention for
Actually, they contend that theirs is the only time traveler
convention the world needs, because people from the future can travel
to it anytime they want.
"I would hope they would come with the idea of showing us that time
travel is possible," said Amal Dorai, 22, the graduate student who
thought up the convention, which is to be this Saturday on the M.I.T.
campus. "Maybe they could leave something with us. It is possible they
might look slightly different, the shape of the head, the body
The event is potluck and alcohol-free - present-day humans are
bringing things like brownies. But Mr. Dorai's Web site asks that
future-folk bring something to prove they are really ahead of our
time: "Things like a cure for AIDS or cancer, a solution for global
poverty or a cold fusion reactor would be particularly convincing as
well as greatly appreciated."
He would also welcome people from only a few days in the future, far
enough to, say, give him a few stock market tips.
Mr. Dorai and fellow organizers are the kind of people who transplant
a snowblower engine into a sleeper sofa and drive the couch around
Cambridge. (If the upholstery were bright red, it could be a midlife
crisis convertible for couch potatoes.)
They built a human-size hamster wheel - eight feet in diameter. And
they concocted the "pizza button," a plexiglass pizza slice mounted in
their hallway; when pressed, it calls up a Web site and arranges for
pizza delivery 30 minutes later. (For anyone wanting to try this at
home, the contraption uses a Huffman binary code. It takes fewer
keystrokes to order the most popular toppings, like pepperoni, more
keystrokes for less popular extras, like onions.)
At the convention, they plan to introduce a robot with an "infrared
pyro-electric detector," designed to follow anything that emits heat,
"It's supposed to be our pet," said Adam Kraft, 22, a senior.
"It needs fur," added David Nelson, 23, a graduate student.
While Mr. Dorai has precisely calculated that "the odds of a time
traveler showing up are between one in a million and one in a
trillion," organizers have tried to make things inviting.
In case their august university does not exist forever, they have
posted the latitude and longitude of the East Campus Courtyard
(42:21:36.025 degrees north, 71:05:16.332 degrees west).
A roped-off area, including part of an improvised volleyball court,
will create a landing pad so materializing time-travel machines will
not crash into trees or dormitories.
To set the mood, organizers plan to display a DeLorean - the sleek but
short-lived 1980's car that was the time-traveling vehicle in the
"Back to the Future" movies.
At first, Mr. Dorai urged people to publicize the event with methods
likely to last. "Write the details down on a piece of acid-free
paper," he directed, "and slip them into obscure books in academic
But Mr. Dorai said the response was so overwhelming that the police,
concerned about security, had asked that anyone who had not replied by
Wednesday not be allowed to attend.
No future-guests are confirmed as of yet, although one responder
purports to be from 2026. But among the 100 likely attendees, there
are those from another time zone - Chicago - and from New York, which
at least likes to think of itself as light-years ahead.
"I'm keeping my fingers crossed," said Erik D. Demaine, an M.I.T.
mathematician who will be one of the professors speaking.
There will also be two bands, the Hong Kong Regulars and Off-White
Noise, performing new, time-travel-apropos tunes.
"If you subscribe to alternative-world theory, then time travel makes
sense at some level," said Professor Demaine, who would like
future-guests to bring answers to mathematical mysteries. "The
universe is inherently uncertain, and at various times it's
essentially flipping coins to make a decision. At any point, there's
the heads version of the world and the tails version of the world. We
think that we actually live in one of them, and you could imagine that
there's actually many versions of the universe, including one where
suddenly you appear from 10 years in the future."
If you can not imagine that, consider Erin Rhode's view of time
"I kind of think if it's going to happen, it'll be the wormhole
theory," said Ms. Rhode, 23, a recent graduate, adding, "If you create
a stable wormhole," a hole in space, "people can go back to visit it."
William McGehee, 19, a freshman who helped build a "Saturday Night
Fever"-like dance floor in his dorm, said, "It's pretty obvious if
time travel does occur, then it doesn't cause the universe to
And Sam McVeety, 18, a freshman, wondered if wearing a tinfoil hat
would be comforting or insulting to future-people.
Mr. Dorai has had quirky brainstorms before: proposing the
imprisonment of Bill Watterson, the retired cartoonist, to force him
to continue his "Calvin and Hobbes" comic strip; and donning the
costume of M.I.T.'s mascot, the beaver, while climbing the statue of
John Harvard, namesake of that other Cambridge college. That incident
went awry when some Harvard men swiped a paw.
But Mr. Dorai's time travel idea seems to have legs.
"If you can just give up a Saturday night, there's a very small chance
at it being the biggest event in human history," he said.
And if it is a flop, futuristically speaking?
Well, Mr. Dorai reasoned, "Certainly, if no one from the future shows
up, that won't prove that it's impossible."
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