Time Travel, Part 6

As I stumble from the bathroom, I am reminded that after being on a strict diet for so long my stomach will punish me for cheating on it.  Any little fried or greasy thing that I eat now will cause much suffering for the rest of the night.  When I ate food like this regularly, I didn’t have any problems with them, but after long enough I’m just not used to eating food like that anymore.  You might be asking yourself what any of this has to do with Time Travel.  Well this story (that might be over-sharing) illustrates one of the potential difficulties for a Time Traveler.

When people travel to Mexico the most common warning given is not to drink the water.  This is because we are used to much cleaner water that has been heavily filtered.  There are regulations regarding how food is prepared to ensure that everything eaten is safe for consumption.  There are still places in the world where these standards are not followed.  For the most part the citizens there do not have any issues with their food, because they are accustomed to it and have the needed bacteria in their stomachs to handle it.  Travelers, however, are not prepared for the parasites and bacteria contained by the food and water.  The human body can adjust in about 6 months, but until that time it would be unpleasant.

A Time Traveler would be used to the food and water standards of their home time.  If they were to travel into the past these standards would be much lower and thus the food and water would likely cause them similar distress as to what I am feeling when cheating on my diet or travelers experience when they drink the water in Mexico.  It is possible to die from improperly cooked food, but much more likely that these wayward travelers would simply fall ill.

A larger concern would be the diseases that are carried into the past or future timeline.  Much like traveling to less developed countries, a trip through time would require inoculations to ensure that the traveler does not come down with the diseases of the time.  Long extinct diseases could easily wipe out a traveler who is unprepared for them.  There is nothing, however, that can protect the other time from the Traveler.  Viruses and diseases would be a concern both ways.  A Traveler would be at risk of contracting something, but they are equally at risk of releasing a virus that has mutated into a much stronger strain by having been fought for years.  A Time Traveler could very easily release a plague that could cause irreparable damage to the time they are visiting.

These concerns are generally overlooked in Time Travel stories.  I suspect the reasoning is that bathroom trips are not major plot points outside of comedic value, though certainly the traveler wouldn’t find it particularly funny.  The virus outbreak is a particularly difficult concern to deal with so it is generally glossed over.  These are concerns and not necessarily major plot points.  There are easier ways to tell these stories with factory created viruses than to introduce the potentially confusing aspect of time travel.  The easiest way to deal with these concerns is heavy testing of the individuals traveling, a strong round of inoculations, and a period of adjustment to the food preparation methods present in the destination time.

Comments (3)

EbNInjaMay 20th, 2010 at 10:37 am

You are assuming several things, Master Wayne.

First: That “in the future” the technology/medicine has evolved to a degree in which disease is not a problem, and they got rid of the technology.
Second: That the traveler is vulnerable to the disease in the first place. Hey it’s the future, so they might have just suuuuuupercharged our immune systems.
Third: That, (again) “in the future” there are no nerds to over think things. Do you really think ANY kind of large, time-intensive, high-tech project wouldn’t be swarmed by nerds, all thinking about this like we do? They would have thought of this. Heck, the government might have put out a RPG in which gamers play a group of time travelers and the government uses their results to better the chances of the Time Traveler. (Stargate Universe anyone?)
And Finally, Fourth: You are assuming the method of travel is encapsulated. ( that the traveler is using an bathysphere, pod, etc.) Why couldn’t time travel involve swimming the time stream directly, or some kind of permeable space-time barrier, or a million other things.

Assumptions are dangerous things Master Wayne. I would hope you are more careful, and pop a pepto-bysmal before you chow down on the fast food

WayneMay 22nd, 2010 at 7:53 pm

I am not at all assuming the first one. I’m assuming that they have their own diseases to deal with. They would likely have the knowledge of how to deal with these diseases, but have not used that knowledge in years. It would be equivalent to a smallpox outbreak now. I have a hard time accepting that all disease could be wiped out.

The second is an interesting concept and I might explore that in a future blog. With the current trend in medicine I don’t personally see that as the outcome. I would expect everything to become so hyper-sanitized that the immune system would actually get weaker.

I can accept the third premise and if it were mentioned in the story or setting that would be a nice addition. People can’t think of everything though.

For the fourth you are correct. For this to be an issue that would need to be the travel method. It would not be an issue with some of the other travel methods such as projection. Any method that leads to a physical movement in time would inherently have to deal with these issues.

LopezAugust 4th, 2010 at 1:26 pm

i agree with Wayne on this subject. There isn’t a way to completely clear a human of all virus and bacteria. Even in the future. There still won’t be a way (aside from making us robots). The reason is we use this bacteria for everyday functions of our bodies. As food standards and environmental factors change, so does the bacteria that is naturally occurring in our systems. So 300 years ago, someone might not be able to handle the same bacteria we currently have.

As for a bunch of nerds in a room, does anyone remember the Chalanger? Bunch of nerds in that room. how did that turn out. it is impauseable to assume that every possible seniero could be accounted for in a time travel. you know what they say, the devil is in the details.

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