Previously: Karin Catherine Waldegrave.
Okay. I’ve put it off for long enough. We’re finally going to talk about John Titor, time traveler from the future. Or, perhaps — and, honestly, more likely — we’re going to talk about John Titor, time traveling hoax. Either way, though, exactly who John Titor was — is? Will be? — has never been satisfactorily explained; even though we’ve got some pretty solid guesses, confirmation has yet to be achieved. He continues to fascinate us more than 15 years after he first appeared — although of course, he’d say that we’re still in the past as far as he’s concerned — and even though he may not quite has turned out to be the modern-day Nostradamus he was once hailed as, the mystery, as it stands, remains.
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The Faxes And The Many-Worlds Interpretation:
We didn’t always know him as John Titor; the name itself actually came quite late in the game. The first time the man who would come to be known as John Titor is thought to have appeared was on July 29, 1998, when two faxes came into Art Bell’s radio show, Coast to Coast AM. (Remember Mel’s Hole? Same host, same show.) It’s worth noting that we don’t have concrete evidence that the faxes were actually sent by Titor; we don’t even know if both faxes were in fact sent by the same person. Because of the similarities between their content and Titor’s later activity, though, they’re often attributed to him.
The first fax explained that time travel was (or, for those listening to Bell’s show at the time, would or will be) invented in 2034; it functions via a “singularity engine,” which “[rotates] singularities inside a magnetic field.” Travel forwards and backwards in time can be achieved by “altering the speed and direction of rotation.” Getting back to your original timeline involves “[traveling] a split second father back, and immediately [throwing] the engine into forward without turning it off.” The fax also explains that when you go back in time, you create a new timeline — and a new universe.
Now is probably a good time to talk about the many-worlds interpretation.
Originally credited to Hugh Everett, who in 1956 proposed the “relative state” formulation of quantum mechanics, the “many-worlds” name came about courtesy of the 1967 book of physics papers, The Many-Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, which was edited by Bryce Seligman DeWitt and Neill Graham and contained Everett’s dissertation. It goes something like this:
We typically think of history as unfolding in a line, with the paths untaken remaining just that — untaken, and therefore unrealized. By this mode of thought, there’s just one universe, and we’re living in it. The many-worlds interpretation, however, holds that the paths untaken in one universe have been taken in another — that is, that everything that could have possibly occurred, has occurred, just not necessarily in the same universe. Each path exists in its own universe, and all of those universes exist simultaneously.
This is what the Coast to Coast AM faxes seem to be describing: Every action you take creates a new universe, as does every action you don’t take. This is true for literally everyone and everything in the world; ultimately, there are an infinite number of universes, all existing simultaneously, in which each and every possible outcome from a situation occurs. As a result, the typically issues we usually think about when considering time travel — the butterfly effect, for example — may not be applicable in a many-worlds situation. According to the fax writer, when you create a new universe, you can freely alter history within it; it’s also not a problem if you meet yourself, as you’re dealing not with the same you in a different time, but with a different you altogether (think Sliders, not Doctor Who).
The writer of the fax himself claimed to be from 2036 — and also noted that, although travel forwards and backwards through time could be accomplished with relative ease where he was from, “it was also discovered that any going forward in time, from my 2036, hit a brick wall in the year 2564.” Travel to that time resulted in being “surrounded by blackness and silence,” implying that around 2564, the universe literally ended. The fax writer — and others like him — traveled through time trying to figure out “where the line went bad”; as far as anyone knew at that point, he said, it happened around the year 2000. “I’m here now, in this time, to test a few theories of mine before going forward,” he wrote.
He also wrote about what the state of the world was where he was from: Y2K was a “disaster,” the government had collapsed, and the global stage had become… interesting. (Russia, for example, was “covered in nuclear snow from their collapsed reactors” where the fax writer was from.”
The second fax, meanwhile, seemed to have more of a sense of purpose. The writer, who also used this opportunity to proclaim himself a time traveler, stated, “For my own reasons, I have decided to help this worldline by sharing information about the future with a few people in the hope that it will help their future.” Bell was one of those people. “Unfortunately there is no historical reference to your program in my worldline,” wrote the fax author. “I believe you can change your future by creating one now.” What followed were a series of actions the fax writer suggested Bell take in order to ensure survival for the future.
The Message Boards And The Mission:
After that, we heard nothing for over two years. Then, in the fall of 2000, a thread was begun at the Time Travel Institute (now Curious Cosmos) discussing time travel paradoxes. User Paul proposed essentially what the Coast to Coast AM faxes had described — that time travel didn’t exist on one continuum, but as part of the many-worlds interpretation; additionally, he laid out some idea on exactly how a time machine could be built, referencing work by Frank J. Tipler (the Tipler cylinder), Roy Patrick Kerr (rotating black holes), and J Richard Cott (cosmic strings).
At that point, a user going by the handle TimeTravel_0 jumped in to say:
“Wow! Paul is right on the money. I was just about to give up hope on anyone knowing who Tipler or Kerr was on this worldline.
“By the way, #2 is the correct answer and the basics for time travel start at CERN in about a year and end in 2034 with the first ‘time machine’ built by GE. Too bad we can’t post pictures or I’d show it to you.”
Bam. How’s that for a cold open?
TimeTravel_0 went on to answer a wide variety of questions in the thread about exactly how time travel worked in the worldline he was from. The exchanges were mostly practical in nature: Folks asked him what actually happens while you’re traveling through time (the singularity engine is contained not within a DeLorean, but within a 1967 Chevy; as you drive, “you feel a tug toward the unit similar to rising quickly in an elevator and it continues to rise based on the power setting the unit is working under”); whether he worked for GE (no; he was a soldier); and, perhaps most importantly, what 2036 was like. Here’s what he had to say about that:
“It is difficult to describe 2036 in detail without spending a great deal of time explaining why things are so different. In 2036, I live in central Florida with my family and I’m currently stationed at an Army base in Tampa. A world war in 2015 killed nearly three billion people. The people that survived grew closer together. Life is centered around the family and then the community. I cannot imagine living even a few hundred miles away from my parents. There is no large industrial complex creating masses of useless food and recreational items. Food and livestock is grown and sold locally. People spend much more time reading and talking together face to face. Religion is taken seriously and everyone can multiple and divide in the heads.”
Interestingly, though, in TimeTravel_0’s worldline, things don’t seem to have turned out as “futuristic” as you might expect; as he put, “life is much more rural in the future but ‘high’ technology is used to communicate and travel.” People farmed a lot of their own food, he said. Additionally, what we think of as the typical life path is dramatically different than what the norm was for TimeTravel_0 — when asked about what the average day is like for him, he said:
“A typical day… hmmm. Life has changed so much over my lifetime that it’s hard to pin down a ‘normal’ day. When I was 13, I was a soldier. As a teenager, I helped my dad haul cargo. I went to college when I was 31 and I was recruited to ‘time travel’ shortly after that. Again… I suppose an average day in 2036 is like an average day on the farm.”
And what about this great war? Well:
“There is a civil war in the United States that starts in 2005. That conflict flares up and down for 10 years. In 2015, Russia launches a nuclear strike against the major cities in the United States (which is the ‘other side’ of the civil war from my perspective), China, and Europe. The United States counterattacks. The U.S. cities are destroyed along with the AFE (American Federal Empire)… thus we (in the country) won. The European Union and China were also destroyed. Russia is now our largest trading partner and the Capitol of the U.S. was moved to Omaha, Nebraska.”
(For the curious, those pictures he said he was sorry he couldn’t post? He did eventually manage to get them up elsewhere, with the help of a Time Travel Institute user. You can check them out here.)
But remember how TimeTravel_0 said he was a soldier? That’s important: He was here on a mission. His first stop during this trip, you see had been 1975; he was sent to retrieve an IBM 5100, which apparently was essential for debugging “various legacy computer programs in 2036.” UNIX will have a problem in 2038, he said — which is, in fact, something that’s already on our radar: The Year 2038 Problem is expected to be sort of like what we thought was going to happen with Y2K, only worse.
The thread is long; you can read the whole thing here, or head on over to the fan-run site JohnTitor.com to read TimeTravel_0’s posts isolated from the rest of the thread. There’s plenty more to dig into throughout the course of November and December of 2000 — and beyond.
The time traveler later appeared on the now-defunct Art Bell forums — and this time, he posted under the name he would become infamous by: John Titor. Between January and March of 2001, Titor would continue to elaborate about his situation and answer questions. Many began to take the details he revealed about his worldline as predictions for our worldline: That a huge war was coming, that the Olympics would cease to occur after 2004, that Mad Cow Disease would become an epidemic, and more. His last post went live on March 24, 2001 at 3:53 pm; in it, he noted that he would be “leaving this worldline shortly,” answered a few final questions, and signed off with this piece of advice: “Bring a gas can with you when the car dies on the side of the road.”
We haven’t heard from him since. And more than 15 years later, people are still questioning whether it was a hoax, or whether John Titor was actually a time traveler from 2036.
Real Or Hoax?
Personally, I fall into the “hoax” category. There are too many inconsistencies with the story, beginning with the faxes and threading their way through every single one of Titor’s postings, for me to buy it. The faxes mentioned Y2K being catastrophic; however, by the time TimeTravel_0 began posting on the Time Travel Institute, Y2K had, in fact, failed to occur. What’s more, the “blackness and silence” in 2564 — which seems like the time traveler’s whole reason for time traveling in the first place in the faxes — isn’t mentioned again; and the IBM 5100 which features prominently in the story later on is completely absent in the faxes from 1998. As Stranger Dimensions put it, “Perhaps the mission changed. Or maybe just the story.” Furthermore, Titor’s predictions have largely not come to pass. A civil war didn’t happen in 2004, andWorld War III didn’t occur in the 2010s; the Olympics are still going strong; Mad Cow Disease, while concerning, was not an epidemic; and so on and so forth.
What believers will tell you is that of course the “predictions” Titor made didn’t end up happening; they weren’t predictions at all. He was just telling us the facts of what it was like in the world he had come from. Because of the actions he had taken while time traveling, he had prevented those things from happening in our time — and in our world. Our worldline is not Titor’s worldline; as one commenter put it in a thread about Titor’s faxes on Imaginative Worlds in 2006, “The further away (in time) we get from the point where Titor first entered, the more ‘divergent’ this worldline gets from the one that Titor originally came from.”
I think, though, this explanation is unsatisfactory. Under it, Titor’s story is unfalsifiable, which is a logical fallacy. Logically Fallacious defines unfalsifiability as, “Confidently asserting that a theory or hypothesis is true or false even though the theory or hypothesis cannot possibly be contradicted by an observation or the outcome of any physical experiment, usually without strong evidence or good reasons.” The definition continues, “Making unfalsifiable claims is a way to leave the realm of rational discourse, since unfalsifiable claims are often faith-based, and not founded on evidence and reason.” This is what the many-worlds interpretation itself demands of us: That we believe in the existence of these other worlds based purely on faith, since we cannot possibly see them for ourselves.
Unless, that is, we’ve got John Titor’s time machine. Which we don’t. So… here we are.
What’s so fascinating to me about the whole thing, though, isn’t the story told by John Titor himself, but the fact that we still don’t know conclusively who’s behind it. Some believe it’s Oliver Williams, who runs JohnTitor.com; others believe it’s lawyer Lawrence H. Haber; others thing it’s Lawrence Haber’s brother, John Rick Haber; and, indeed, investigations point strongly towards the Habers. (Pretty much everyone who is suspected of being Titor denies it.) But no one has ever stepped forward to take the credit, and I’m doubtful they ever will.
Concerning The Man From Taured:
I’ve drawn similarities between John Titor and the Man From Taured in the past, but what I think separates them is that we saw the John Titor story unfold in real time. The Man From Taured is more like a classic urban legend; its transmission relies on people saying, “Well, I heard that this thing happened, isn’t it bananas?”, which obscures the fact that we don’t have any record of anyone actually observing the events the tale describes.
John Titor, though? We watched that happen. We saw him posting all those messages, even if we don’t have any proof he was who he said he was; what’s more, we saw it all happen during a very particular moment on the internet — before fake news was fake news, at it were. And that, I think, helps explain his longevity: Like Fox Mulder, we wanted to believe, and at the time during which the story was unfolding, we had the ability to do so.
As Rick Paulas at Pacific Standard pointed out in 2013, these days, it’s not about whether or not John Titor was actually a time traveler. It’s about the Ziegarnik effect:
“When something’s not wrapped up, it preoccupies our memory. Our skepticism needs a party responsible, a grand designer that allows it to make sense. When we find out — think the wizard behind the curtain in Oz, or whoever Jacob was supposed to be in that final season of Lost — the mystery ends. No one has claimed Titor, so the story continues.”
I’m pretty sure it’s going to continue continuing, too — possibly for the rest of time. And that, in a way, is a sort of time travel all its own, isn’t? The idea of John Titor will still be here, long after the rest of us are not.
Maybe he never really went back to his own worldline after all.