cheating your way to future greatness. maybe.

If we ever ended up in the past, it's tempting to think our modern skills would make us rich and famous. But putting those skills to use centuries ago is trickier than it sounds...
time machine

You would think that were we to find ourselves back in time, our high literacy, knowledge of germ theory and a basic grounding in sciences that were still revolutionary several hundred years ago, would have made us the equivalents of Nicholas Tesla or Charles Darwin or Isaac Newton. Today’s textbooks would list our profound discoveries and insights as revolutionary. Sound tempting? Thinking about how to make time travel work and cheat your way into the scientific hall of fame with your modern education? Well, you might want to take a look at Orac’s recent post about time travel and science, and consider the complex reality of this proposition…

When you think about it, all the knowledge we possess today are built on hundreds of years of research, peer review, inventions and immense infrastructure upgrades that took decades upon decades to complete. Stuck in the past, we’d be devoid of tools we’d need to set up the technologies we would need to show our scientific prowess. I know my work would no longer be possible were I to end up back in the 1500s since there would be no such thing as electricity, much less computers.

Even trying to build a simple transistor might not only be a frustrating experience in futility, if I succeeded, I could’ve found myself caught up in the religious panics and political and economic machinations of the day, be tried as a witch or a wizard, and be killed by the Inquisition either to appease the nervous public, or give a nefarious merchant access to my “inventions” and funding. Or take my blogging for example. Nearly all of this blog would be completely incomprehensible to someone born even a hundred years ago since the science and engineering behind the posts is not just recent, but current.

All that said, we haven’t even mentioned the unsanitary conditions and rampant diseases roaming around the major cities and making their way through vast rural expenses. Your body probably wouldn’t have immunity to most of them and vaccines which could help your body adapt, simply don’t exist. The average lifespan, thanks to diseases, malnutrition and parasites, was around 40 or so. And if you get sick, don’t go to anything like the hospital. You’d be far more likely to end up dead by the end of that affair.

Simply put, you probably wouldn’t live through the ordeal very well and at the first hint of a cold or flu, you’d be pining for some modern medicine and the clean, sanitary conditions of your doctor’s office. Same goes for any cuts, scrapes and gashes. Infections would be a near certainty since there would be no iodine or peroxide, gauze and little clean water to wash out the wounds. You’d just need to hope that your body can either overcome the infection or you somehow avoid it by taking a few tips from Orac on a few basic homemade sterilization techniques.

But I do know two groups of people who might be happy to find themselves back in time, well before the world as we know it today took its shape. The first would be young Earth creationists. Since radiometric dating of the planet’s rocks was yet to be developed, the universe was thought to end somewhere just past the last known planet of the solar system and evolution was a largely crude Greek philosophical idea kicked around learned scholars, their views would be considered perfectly normal and the evidence to overturn their notions wouldn’t be around.

The second, for a few months at least, would be alt med activists who campaign against vaccines and modern pharmacology. Since neither would’ve been invented, forget “too many too soon” and “green our vaccines” chants. The supposedly harmless childhood diseases like diphtheria, polio, measles and mumps can roam unchecked, treated with nothing more than herbs and equivalents of homeopathy. Likewise, strains of smallpox and tuberculosis would be free to ravage the land without evil Big Pharma types in the way of the patients’ natural healing. If those patients survive that is…

# science // history / scientific research / technological advancement / time travel


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