Hey Bill Nye! How Will We Know When to Believe a Time Traveler?

If someone comes back from the future, they ought to have packed one thing in their carry on: proof.

Lana: Hey Bill Nye. My name is Lana and I have a question about time travel. So recently I have been searching up various information about a so called time traveler named John Titor who claimed that he came from the year 2036 and wrote about all of this in the early 2000s. So I have a question, can this possibly happen and can time travel actually exist? So thank you.

Bill Nye: Lana, I would say, if I understand this guy's claims, they are false. Time travel so far is not possible. There is a very reasonable theory that you could build a time machine in which you go faster or close to the speed of light, of course that would kill you because you would be accelerated in these very small radii and at very high speeds and you'd fly apart. But that aside, you can only go back in time to when the machine was built, just a complication. The other thing is when people make these extraordinary claims there's generally a way to prove them false, to prove them wrong. And this guy took the trouble to only go the 2036, see if he can tell you who one the Super Bowl. And the other big thing I always ask those guys, why isn't he rich? Couldn't he have invested in certain stocks? Couldn't he have seen certain eventualities, outcomes with the stock market, with certain manufactures, be it the Tesla Automobile Corporation, for example, or the Department of Defense in the United States coming up with some famous new invention? Wouldn't he have invested in certain farmland in the right part of the world to be especially productive? Why? So on and so on. So I really encourage you to look into this guy's claims. Now, in what we call skepticism or skeptical thought, and also it's a very popular phrase right now critical thinking, critical thinking skills, we evaluate claims, we look to see if a claim is true or false. You look at a specific thing this guy says that happens in the future and see if it really happens. In general when people make those claims – I'm 60 years old now. I've been through a lot of claims of the end of the world.

A lot of people who have said they were from the future and it's really easy to meet people who say they're from the past, that they were in some extraordinary war in ancient Greece or that they were - I know a woman who believed or seemed to believe that she was killed in a car wreck in the 1920s and she used to be this beautiful woman who dressed in flapper clothes of that era, very distinctive style of dress and she really believes that until you start asking her questions about who was president? How much money did she have in the bank? What was the price of a gallon of gas and so on? They don't really know these things that are easily researched. So I think if you look into this guy's claims, each claim you'll be able to debunk of them. And this is really empowering, Lana. It will make you feel good, I hope, because you will use your own brain, your own experience, your own outlook on life to determine whether or not someone is essentially lying to you. And this guy sounds like he's lying to you on purpose, but often it's very common I've met these people that are lying to themselves as well. They've gotten their own self caught up in this delusion. But this guy sounds like I don't know if you know the word charlatan, a trickster, someone who's trying to dupe you, take advantage of you. So look into it and be empowered. Let's change the world.

Time travel is the fantasy that humans can’t stop hoping for. Our collective wish for a connection to the future or past floods into our culture through literature, film, television, music, and architecture. But what if it has already been done? What if someone has travelled back or forward and told us their story – would we believe them? Should we? One such case is John Titer, a self-declared time traveler who posted in online forums in 2000, claiming to come from the year 2036 and giving both vague and detailed predictions (which have not yet come true).


When asked about the probability of John Titer being a genuine time-o-naut, science educator, author and soon to be Netflix star Bill Nye serves it up straight with no chaser. It’s highly unlikely Titer comes from 2036, or has ever been there. Apart from the fact that traveling as fast or faster than the speed of light would break your physical body apart into itty bitty particles, Nye says Titer’s claim could be easily debunked with a few simple checks, which can be applied to anyone declaring time traveler status. Can this time traveler tell us who will win the next Super Bowl? What are the winning Power Ball numbers? And leading on from that, why isn’t John Titer filthy rich? He could have purchased the most valuable stocks, invested in the most entrepreneurial companies, and gambled his way to a yacht and a Lamborghini with future information. All these things should be ringing alarm bells.

Nye champions healthy skepticism in the moments when you hear something revelatory, especially if you desperately want it to be true. Some people will lie about incredulous feats intentionally for money or fame, and some others won’t even know they’re lying, they're so caught up in their own delusion. No matter how much you want to believe it, ask questions, do research, discuss it with people you respect, and critical think the heck out of it. It’s mighty empowering, says Nye.

Bill Nye's most recent book is Unstoppable: Harnessing Science to Change the World.

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Yale scientists restore brain function to 32 clinically dead pigs

Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.

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  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
  • They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
  • The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.

The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. Think a dialysis machine for the mind. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.