Two scientists from Massachusettes Technological University put their skills to use in an effort to track down evidence of time travel via Twitter and other social media sites.
A physics professor, Robert Nemiroff assisted by a graduate student, Teresa Wilson, conducted the study titled “Searching the Internet for Evidence of Time Travel” that is set to be presented at the American Astronomical Society Meeting next Monday. The premise for the somewhat tongue-in-cheek study was an assumption that time travelers who had visited the future might give away their secret by posting information about the future to social media websites.
The researchers primarily looked at Twitter, because some other social media networks, such as Facebook, allow users the option to back-date their posts.
As a part of their search for proof of the existence of time travel, the researchers focused primarily on two search terms, comet ISON and Pope Francis, that they believed would have lasting significance. Their searches looked for occurrence of the terms between January, 2006 and September, 2013.
The pair was unable to find any mentions of comet ISON prior to its identification in 2012, nor did they find any mentions of Pope Francis that would indicate the existence of time travel prior to the time that he took the official name in 2013.
Their research also involved a Twitter campaign that attempted to get time travelers to expose themselves by using the hashtags #ICanChangeThePast2, and #ICannotChangeThePast2. Alas, no time travelers took them up on their offer.
Project leader Nemiroff says that their study was the largest attempt ever conducted to find this sort of evidence for time travel. However, others have previously tried to coerce time travelers into revealing their secret identities, among them the renowned Stephen Hawking, who once hosted a party for time travelers, though no one answered his invitation.
Of their findings, Nemiroff spoke as a true scientist saying, “It’s not proof, but it’s an indication to me that it’s not possible.”
Those who still want to believe in the existence of time travel, or at least its possibility, may argue that this research simply focused too narrowly or that the wrong terms were used. Believers may also present the position that time travelers simply would not post to social media sites to give themselves away, for fear of being identified and caught.
Other scientists weighing in on the study have called it “clever” and “fun,” but, like Nemiroff, are not inclined to take it too seriously. Sean Carroll, also a physicist, commented that past research into the possibility of time travel has resulted in similar findings that it is simply unlikely to be a reality.
Nemiroff says the idea for the study originally arose from banter with students and, since it wouldn’t take much money, time or effort to perform, he decided to go with it. He says he’s never been a believer in time travel and he is even less inclined to be one now.
Nemiroff desires to assure the public, and perhaps the parents of his other students, that this is not his normal area of expertise. The physicist has previously studied a wide range of subjects and has even collaborated on project with NASA.
By Michele Wessel