In which The Author finds possible evidence for Time Travel
Before I start, I wish to acknowledge the poet, actor and counterculture hero Heathcote Williams, who provided the title for this entry. He wrote an essay on Kirlian photography in the British SF magazine New Worlds, back in Spring 1979, which had ‘Security leak from the future’ as its title. I’ve used it on many occasions over the years, but this is the first time I’ve given credit where it’s due.
Anyway, this week two interesting articles appeared online, which may or may not be related. See what you think.
The first story relates to a study carried out by two academics at Michigan Technological University (Nemiroff & Wilson, 2013.) Their work seems to have caused something of a stir in the media, and has been featured in several websites over the past few days. I won’t précis their paper, but you can read it for yourself if you’re interested.
Suffice to say that they searched archived web pages, Internet forums, Facebook and Twitter for two distinct phrases, ‘Comet ISON’ and ‘Pope Francis’, to see if they’d turned up anywhere online before 2012. (They hadn’t, apparently.)
The second article appeared as a blog entry on the Smithsonian Institution website a few months ago (Fagin, 2013), but has had a new lease of life following the New Year celebrations. It’s a round-up of Isaac Asimov’s views of what the Earth would look like in the year 2014.
As I’ve pointed out in numerous previous entries, Science Fiction writers were often dead on the money when they wrote about the future development of our species (although they usually miscalculated the dates by a couple of decades or fifty.) Other times, they somehow managed to get the whole thing inside-out (see Predictions (Part 2).) Make of this what you will.
Since Neil R. managed to plug a couple of gaps in my Lending Library before Xmas, I’ve been re-reading the novels of Isaac Asimov himself. I was enjoying The Caves of Steel for the first time in thirty years when I spotted something early on, which readers in 2014 might find very familiar.
To set the scene: we’re on Earth a couple of thousand years hence. Homo sapiens has colonised distant planets, and the settlers have constructed economic systems where robots do all the hard work (see How Many Robots Does it Take To Change a Planet?) Meanwhile, the inhabitants of Earth have decided that introducing robots would put people out of work.
In this extract, the protagonists Elijah Baley (a plain-clothes New York cop) and R. Daneel Olivaw (you can guess what the R stands for) have found themselves at the scene of an anti-robot protest:
Have a look at the dialogue again. There, towards the end of the angry woman’s diatribe, there’s a four-word phrase which should ring a bell with anyone who takes an interest in politics. How many times have we heard David Cameron, Duncan Smith, Nick Clegg, Ed Miliband, and the rest of the Westminster coterie use the words ‘decent hard-working familes’ when they’re talking about immigration and/or ‘benefit scroungers’? Well, here it is, in black and white, in a novel first published sixty years ago.
To my mind, there are two possible interpretations for this. First: the leaders of the mainstream political parties in the UK are plagiarising their conference speeches from classic SF novels.
Second: someone from the present time travelled back to 1954 and tipped Prof Asimov off about certain pieces of rhetoric which would chime with the right-wing citizens of a future Earth.
I can’t help thinking that maybe Drs Nemiroff and Wilson should extend their quest for evidence of time travellers to the novels of SF’s Golden Age. Who knows what other key phrases will turn up, given suitable search patterns?
Then again, maybe we should just read Mein Kampf and see which of Hitler’s buzzwords occur in the next batch of election manifestos. What’s that old saying about people who don’t remember the past…?