Recently I've been pondering what to pack if I were given one day to prepare for a one-way trip into the past or the future...
I have to admit that I’m a sucker for stories about time travel. In 1963, when I was only six years’ old, I remember watching the very first episode of the now-world-famous British television science fiction series Dr. Who. I observed this spectacle from a position of safety behind the sofa in my parents’ front room. I was hooked from that point on.
As an aside, if you are a Dr. Who enthusiast, you can still get your hands on those first episodes (Click Here for more details). These early, low-budget programs are now really dated of course, but it’s a great trip down memory lane for those of us who were there at the time.
And what about the 1960 version of H.G.Wells’ Time Machine (Click Here to see the DVD on Amazon) – the one starring Rod Taylor and Yvette Mimieux. I don’t know how old I was when I first saw this; I’m sure my parents wouldn’t have let me see it when I was too young, but I do remember it being a real thrill. In fact I was just checking it out on the Wikipedia; I knew that the lead character was called George, but it’s only now that I discovered it was supposed to be H. George Wells himself (there’s always something new to learn).
With regard to the new Dr. Who, I just finished watching the complete fifth season a couple of days ago - the one starring Matt Smith. What a nail-biter that was toward the end – I was completely drained at the conclusion of the final episode. I was also a little sad, because now I have to wait for the sixth season to come out on DVD. But I was just bouncing around Amazon a few minutes ago when I discovered that there is a Christmas Special called the Dr. Who Christmas Carol – I have no idea how I missed that – I just ordered a copy so now I have (a) something to look forward to and (b) a silly grin on my face.
Do you recall my earlier column What’s the best time-travel book/film ever? In the comments, someone recommended a story called Lest Darkness Fallby L. by Sprague de Camp. Although this tale – which involves a guy from "our time" being transported back to Ancient Rome – was written quite a while ago, it’s still well worth a read.
Obviously I know that the chances of my travelling through time are on the small side (apart from the way we all do it, aging day after day, which isn’t quite the same thing as hopping in a time machine). However, I often ponder what trade goods I would try to take with me if the occasion ever arose (seriously, doesn't everyone?)
Let’s start by considering what would be good to take if you were traveling backwards in time. Thinking about it, you would probably want to take different things depending on how far back you were going. So let’s say we’re going back 2,000 years or so. It’s a one way trip and we have to pick some trade goods to take back with us.
The main thing is that whatever we take needs to be relatively small and light and (in my case) affordable. Let's set some limits and say that whatever we take has got to be something we can carry in backpacks and/or as hand baggage. Also, it’s got to be something that the folks we meet back then will accept as something that could be made by someone somewhere, even if they don’t know how. In particular, we can't take anything get us mistaken as practitioners of evil magic and dealt with accordingly. Having said this, it would probably be a good idea to take a gun and sufficient ammunition to protect our wares until we had established ourselves.
Small mirrors might be good to have, because even the ones you can buy from the “Dollar Store” these days are far superior to anything they had back then. Another thing that might go down well would be aluminum foil. And what about fish hooks?
The thing that started me thinking about this again is that yesterday evening I saw a television advert for the Easy Thread Needle (I just found the same video clip on YouTube as shown below).
This really blew me away. If there was one thing I couldn’t imagine improving it would be a sewing needle – and yet someone has managed to do it. Now, imagine taking these needles (along with a lot of reels of modern sewing thread) back through time. Surely there would be some trading potential here…
Alternatively, what about a trip in the other direction? Suppose we had one day to prepare for a one way trip 1,000 years in the future? We obviously can't plan for every possible eventuality (like being faced with a radioactive wasteland), so let’s assume that we are reasonably confident that humankind won't have wiped ourselves out and that our decedents have actually done quite well for themselves; perhaps they even have colonies on the Moon and Mars and some of the moons of Jupiter.
So what could we put our hands on now that we could take with us that would have value in the future? Any ideas?
With regard to a trip back into the past - in addition to taking trade goods to get us "up and running" -- we would also want to take books on how to make things that would be useful and sell-able back then (like soap)...
Going backward, anything purely mechanical would be a safe bet... such as the hand tools from a typical technicians toolkit... or some of the handy little things sold by Micro-Mark, such as pin-vise-micro-drills and such.
Actually, since the Greeks were apparently pretty clever with mechanical devices, two-thousand-plus years ago ( as in the "Antikythera Mechanism" ), you could probably even get away with taking along your Curta.
Just don't show it to Archimedes... he might get jealous!
And speaking of aluminum... in fact, a few ingots of the metal might be useful ( in lieu of just gathering up a bunch of old-money or gold coins ) . Before the discovery of refining it ( by the Hall Process ) it was actually quite valuable stuff for a time.
Nice blog, I too love time travel stories! My favourite is "The Man Who Came Early", a short story by Poul Anderson. It dispels the (slightly arrogant) premise that a modern person would be naturally superior to those they found in the past, owing to our technology and knowledge. In fact Mr. Anderson's time traveller has a hard time of it.
To answer your question, how about taking back a stack of biro pens, penicillin tablets, reading glasses and a physical map of Europe.
You'd need to brush up on your Latin first, though.
I just did a search on Amazon and found a book called "The Best Time Travel Stories of the 20th Century" that contains "The Man Who Came Early".
Unfortunately the book as a whole got mixed reviews, but I've added it to my Amazon "wish list". Thanks for the suggestion.
I would think that a rudimentary steam engine, electric generator, wire and a few light bulbs would not necessarily be good trading material, but could be the basis for jump-starting the Industrial revolution.
In regards to "The Man Who Came Early", I suspect that most modern humans would be very surprised at how many past life-skills have been lost. Something so simple as navigating between locations could be the end of many of us. The amount of time required to find and prepare food would be staggering relative to what it is now. Likely only a handful of us readers could be self-sufficient without the modern world to support us.
The 1632 series by Eric Flint is one of the most interesting time travel stories to deal with the issue being able to replicate current technology (or not being able to) in the mid-17th century.
If I was going to jump ahead 1000 years, I think the things to take would be items that would be considered collectables with some value in the future--but it would be hard to know what would be popular and still command some value. Would people still collect coins, stamps, baseball cards or any number of other items? Will so much stuff be preserved from this era that anything you take along would be of minimal value? Will gold still be considered valuable in 1000 years? For example, people 2000 years ago didn't dream that salt would be so inexpensive now. Would a US $100 bill be a collectors item or as worthless as hyper-inflationary currency from Weimer-era Germany?
Now if I was going back 2000 years and needed to consider a store of value to take along, I might consider taking some salt, which is where we get the term salary.
Another time travel book I enjoyed is "The End of Eternity", by Isaac Asimov. It seems to still be in print including a Kindle version. It's focused on a group called "Eternity" that endeavors to manage the evolution of society. It's not the only story to take this theme, but it is my favorite. At least it was many years ago when I read it.
That was (and still is) one of my favorites.
A more recent one that really had me on the edge of my seat was Ghost Country (see my recent blog "Running around in ever-decreasing circles" for more details http://bit.ly/kHRE8d)
Going back in time, all the books I can carry on blacksmithing, machinery design, basic metallurgy and basic/farm chemistry. You need to build the tools to build the tools to build the tools. Lindsay's technical books has a bunch of stuff that would be purfect.
Going ahead is much more difficult, trying to guess what might maintain value is a crapshoot at best. If the assumption is that our decendents are doing well, then any technical information will be outdated and of little value. A mix of collectables or art may do well.
As an aside, I'm a Whovian from way back and have infected my family (my daughter, now 18, is thoroughly addicted to the modern series). We keep our current tier on cable primarily to get BBC-America.
I certainly agree on bringing back information to bootstrap technological advancement. Even over a 10 year period, such would probably have greater financial value than a similar volume of material items--and would probably have greater moral value.
If one knew precisely the destination time (and place), some historical knowledge could be useful in helping to establish oneself (by establishing good relationships with people having economic or political power and/or economically by market prediction).
For a far future trip (which does not violate causality), one's own self might be the most valuable. In addition to one's very odd psychology/culture, one's genetic material might be of historical interest. It is possible that a far future technology might be able to reproduce 'artifacts' at atomic detail, so authentication of collectibles might be impossible. (The Twilight Zone episode "The Rip Van Winkle Caper" gives a hint of the dangers of predicting value of items in the future.)
One of my favorite time travel stories is Connie Willis' "Fire Watch" (1983 Hugo and Nebula for novelette)--her Doomsday Book was also touching (1993 Hugo and Nebula for novel).
I recently read Connie Willis' "Fire Watch" and it was "OK" but I wouldn't rate it as being one of the best... I'm surprised so many other folks seem to rate it so highly...
The "Lest Darkness Fall" story mentioned in my blog does involve the main character taking technology back, although it's just what's in his head...
Well, there is no arguing taste. I admit that I have read relatively little science fiction (and almost no time travel SF) and that I am not an engineer (though I have analytical tendencies of mind). I am also a sentimentalist ("a man who sees an absurd value in everything, and doesn't know the market price of any single thing"--Oscar Wilde, Lady Windermere's Fan), so the emotional/moral content of "Fire Watch" may have been more important to me than to you and other engineers. I did like that the story taught three lessons: history is about people's lives not facts and figures, human triumphs must be continually preserved (not "saved forever"), and judging people by one aspect of their beliefs easily leads to misjudgment especially when not recognizing the full context (the Communist was a hero). That is a significant amount of content for a novelette.
By the way, thank you for the time you give to your readers. Just the blog entries are a significant gift, but you seem to make considerable efforts to respond to comments as well.
OK, you have me here -- "Fire Watch" did have the emotional and morel content you mention ... and the context of saving St. Pauls in WWII was good -- I just found the story to drag a bit -- also the premise that in the future they didn't have the time to fully brief the student before sending him back in time ... hmmm
If you get the chance, I would love for you to read "The End of Eternity" by Isaac Asimov.
Also thank you very much for your kind comments -- that really means a lot to me.
Kindest regards -- Max
So who was your favorite doctor? I quite like the latest one -- Matt Smith -- but I think David Tennant is my overall favorite.
I also used to like Tom Baker from way back when -- I thought his long scarf was so cool.
How many times can the doctor regenerate. I thought there was some limit like 12 times ... in which case we're getting close because Matt Smith is the eleventh doctor (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_actors_who_have_played_the_Doctor)
The fourth doctor was always my favorite. In the modern era, I'm partial to the ninth. Kind of looks like an angry Lance Armstrong.
If I recall correctly, there was a limit on regenerations but I suspect that the limit will somehow be circumvented at some point. :-)
My favorite doctor would be Tom Baker; it is a truism that your first doctor becomes your favorite. I also like Pertwee and Sylvester McCoy was a hoot to watch.
My least favorite would be Colin Baker. I've seen him in other things and he's a fine enough actor but his version of the doctor was one thing the doctor should never be: mean spirited.
I don't believe I ever saw the Paul McGann version but I do remember the Peter Cushing movies. I also seem to remember a television version on network TV but I don't recognize anything in the Wiki list.
The original series indicated, I think, 9 regenerations, something the new series did away with. There was also much speculation whether one of those regenerations would lead to the Master, something else the new series resolved.
I agree -- I also liked Pertwee and Sylvester McCoy -- and I think Peter Davison was pretty good also. To be honest I'd forgotten all about Colin Baker until you reminded me, but here's a link to a picture that brought it all back http://bit.ly/olXTig (now there's a look you don;t see very often these days :-)
I have good news for you Max, you already have traveled back in time. You have spent plenty of time jetting from here to there. The high speed of a jet is plenty fast enough to measure the slowing of time for its occupants, thus, relative to us surface dwellers you have travelled backward or forward in time. A 50 ns gain here, a 100 ns loss there, they add up.
Here is a link to the experiment:
Here you can find a formula to put in your frequent flier miles and find out how many nanoseconds you've gained and lost:
Come on Jay -- that's not what I mean and you know it (grin).
It's like I said in my blog - we're all traveling into the future the old fashioned way :-)
Did you see my review of that book "In Search of Time" http://www.eetimes.com/electronics-blogs/other/4208975/Book-Review--In-Search-of-Time--Dan-Falk
The things to take back 2000 years would be woodscrews, nails, and aspirin. The first would be excellent to trade for basics like food, and the aspirin would certainly be a benefit to all, besides which, somebody could probably figure out how to make it, and the world would become a different place. Of course, Tom Baker was my favorite Doctor, although I have liked most of them. That show should be shown as reruns instead of so much of the current stuff that is so incredibly STUPID!!!
Aspirin is a good idea -- I had thought about penicillin, but you can't get that in bulk. In the case of Aspirin I think you can make that easily enough (but taking a bunch of it along with you would be a good idea).
Isn't it strange how each doctor has his followers and each has folks who don't like him... I thought Peter Davison was OK, but then I'd already seen him in other stuff and liked the characters he portrayed...