Handing Over Details Of The Future

James Oliver says he’s from the future.

AD6941, to be precise. That’s 7694AUC. Or 4,923 years hence.

Which is a goodly long time. As you might imagine, James’ society (and I should point out that as far as I’m aware he’s no relation to popular TV chef Jamie Oliver) has seen some considerable changes since our time. Unfortunately, one of these changes isn’t, apparently, a sort of temporal RAC to come and rescue time travellers who get stranded when their time machines, and I kid you not this is what he actually says, break down.

Oh, fine: maybe it’s not that hard to imagine. After all, the Doctor’s Tardis tends to break down or generally go astray quite often — though the Tardis at least has the excuse that it’s a sapient being with a will of its own.

Still, though, James (not Jamie) has been able to drop some future pearls on us, because apparently his advanced society doesn’t have any issues with people wandering back into the primitive past and handing over details of the future like it Ain’t No Thing. Not for his people all this dithering around with ‘Temporal Prime Directives’ to preserve the integrity of future history, like them trepidatious pussies of the United Federation of Planets.

Although, ooh, yes, I should mention that he does* come from a society governed by a benevolent space federation which keeps the peace — or so says the article about him in the Metro. And in terms of proof of his claims he’s volunteered some info, such as that climate change continues into the future which, as the same article observes, isn’t exactly a leap.

But what swings the whole thing for the hysterically sensationalist and utterly utterly mindless tabloid media — such bags of drivel as the loathsome Daily Mail and the equally loathsome Daily Express taking a few moments away from bashing foreigners and Muslims — is that he’s apparently passed a lie detector test. So there. What more do you need?

An image from ApexTV showing James Oliver, alleged time traveller from the future, undergoing a polygraph test administered by another person. Both participants' faces are blurred out.

Well, ideally, we would need a lie detector test administered by someone other than a conspiracy-theory site with a vested interest. And then, as well as that, we’d need there to be such a thing as a lie detector. Which, as things stand, there isn’t. Seriously, there isn’t.

What’s commonly — and wrongly — referred to as a ‘lie detector’ is in fact a polygraph, which is a device designed to measure a number of physiological processes in human beings. Things like respiration, perspiration, heart rate, and so on. The idea that these traces can, alone or in concert, tell the operator whether the subject is lying or not is, not to put too fine a point on it, pure snake oil.

So James Oliver’s polygraph result, even had it not been carried out by an organisation with a vested interest in him being an actual time traveller, means no more at all than his verbal assurances that that’s what he is.

This does not mean that I don’t believe that time travel is possible. Nor, for that matter, that he himself couldn’t be from 6941. After all, I’ve just spent two posts explaining why I’m willing to take Brian Bethel at his word when he says he encountered two Black-Eyed Kids in Texas one evening.

Still, though, I normally tend to come at claims like this from a fairly sceptical standpoint — though I’m in no way sceptical enough that I’d pass muster at a meeting of the Brights society (are they still a thing?). I like to reason things through before deciding how credible I think they are — bearing in mind my very broad understanding of what ‘reason’ implies.

Certainly, Oliver isn’t the first to have made this sort of claim. In an earlier article in the Daily Record, one Alexander Smith claims to have been sent from 1981 to 2118 as part of a top-secret experiment, and brought back a blurry photo of a city in that year; while the mysterious ‘Noah’ tries to prove he’s from 2030 by predicting that Donald I Trump, King of Gilead, will be re-installed in 2020. Personally, given there seems no likelihood of western society getting over its current panicky retreat into angry, intolerant, self-adulating jingoism, I’d be very surprised indeed if he didn’t. And I’ll be very surprised indeed if he isn’t still in power come 2025.

So what I’m saying, political snark aside, is that “Trump will be elected for a second term” is a prediction along the same lines as “Climate change will continue to be a problem”. All right, it may not be quite that certain, but it’s still too probable to make it useful as proof of someone’s origin in the future.

My personal jury is out on time travel. I can’t say it couldn’t happen. I generally subscribe to the Block Time hypothesis: all possible histories of past and future exist simultaneously and ‘permanently’ as a branching and infinitely complex crystalline structure of static spacetime. We just think that time flows from future to past because of the range of perspectives experienced by the innumerable copies of ourselves that occupy each ‘moment’ along each branch.

I suppose it’s not impossible that some of those branches, some wandering vine off the tree, may lie in some screwy direction and wrap around a different branch, placing a ‘future’ perspective point into a ‘past’ location. It’s possible. And if I’m going to accept Brian Bethel at his word over his meeting with the Black-Eyed Kids, should I not accept the word of these time-travellers just as readily?

What makes me sceptical in this case isn’t the unlikelihood of time travel per se. It’s that these people claim knowledge they’re not demonstrating. In his account of those Black-Eyed Kids, Brian Bethel reported what happened, but has never claimed to know what those ‘kids’ were. He’s never claimed special knowledge or enlightenment.

The time travellers, though, have put themselves in the awkward position of all those experiencers or percipients that are given restricted knowledge as part of their encounter — or in this case, their own nature.

They claim to know more than they should, but nothing they say or do indicates that that’s the case. From prophets to abductees to time travellers from the future, while they say a lot, and imply if not outright claim that they’ve been shown things their contemporary peers can’t know, when push comes to shove they can never produce anything that doesn’t carry a high degree of probability (“Climate change will continue to be a problem”), or which is so vague as to be meaningless (“In the sacred temples scandals will be perpetrated. They will be reckoned as honors and commendations, of one of whom they engrave medals of silver and of gold. The end will be in very strange torments“).

There may well be technologies to enable someone from the seventieth century to come here. They may even have the means to learn, speak and understand twenty-first century English. And there may be reasons why they want to come back here and disclose information about the future. Clearly they have no fear of creating paradoxes. Perhaps their understanding of time has evolved beyond ours — which admittedly is pretty limited. But in that case, why fuck around? Why not give us something that leaves us in no doubt?

Something that doesn’t leave your credibility reliant on the non-existent technology of the ‘lie detector’?

(* Or, possibly, doesn’t.)

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