Thursday, August 07, 2014

Time travel that goes nowhere

I’m a skeptic by nature and don’t believe anything but what I can see or can be demonstrated. Even so I sometimes enjoy those programs that proliferate on cable TV promoting searches for Bigfoot, or the “truth” about UFOs. I think of them as fantasy. But with the earnestness and drama of the presentation, in their own way they can be entertaining.

Take Unsealed Conspiracy Files, ten episodes of which are currently on Netflix. The shows, which are only 18 minutes long, cover a lot of ground in a short period of time. They have elements typical to all of these programs of the paranormal, a deep-voiced narrator, and talking heads from various areas of “expertise” in the subject matter. And, of course, some outrageous claims.

The program on time travel caught my attention. I love a good time machine story, which has been a staple of science fiction since H.G. Wells published The Time Machine in 1895. The Unsealed Conspiracy Files episode begins with a photograph of the South Fork Bridge opening in Gold Bridge, B.C. in 1941. The Canadian government released the photo as part of an archival web site and according to the Unsealed narration it went viral. Apparently people thought one fellow looked too modern to be from 1941.(1)

The comments are about his hair, his clothes, sunglasses, and what looks like a digital camera in his hand.

 My apologies. I took photos with my own digital camera from the TV screen.

I’ve heard outrageous claims about other “time travelers” who show up in old photos, and in order to accept them you would have to accept that time travel exists. I think it is easier to accept that the above photo is what it purports to be: a group of people from 1941, not from 2014 or 3000 A.D. or some other year along the time continuum. Applying what I learned from Occam’s Razor, if I have a choice of believing that time travel exists and this guy was visiting the past, or that this guy, modern as he may look, was just a bystander in 1941 at a bridge opening and not a time traveler, then I choose the latter.(2)

John Greenewald Jr, whose bona fides are apparently that he has a web site,(3) talks about things like the butterfly effect, (a small change somewhere back in time that could have big consequences for the present and future), and also warns that someone going back before humans appeared on earth could make changes that would mean human beings might never exist. Horrors!

Frankly, if someone erased our DNA by killing our non-human ancestors,  humans never existed and we were never here. All our works and technology would never happen, and our planet would be in a completely natural state. But the kicker  is we wouldn’t know because there were never any human beings. So John needs to stop worrying. If someone does just what he prophesies then he won’t feel a thing when we all blink out, because we were never here. (Time paradoxes can drive you crazy when you think of them.)

But, back to the program. A real howler is this picture of a youngster, taken at Gettysburg, supposedly during Lincoln’s address. Seattle attorney Andrew Basiago claims this is a picture of him. He says he has been a time traveler since he was a child. As unlikely as that sounds — why would a black operation like a time travel program send a child? — the credibility really goes out the window when we see that the photo has no face. In those days, with long exposure times for photographs, a turning face blurred, and that is what happened here. Sorry, Andrew. I don’t buy your claim.

So who made time travel possible? Why, the Nazis of course. We can give the Nazis and Hitler credit because they were developing secret weapons to win the war. (P.S., they lost.) Amongst those weapons was one called The Bell (Die Glocke), which could travel in time. This is one of those stories that when started caught the attention of UFO and black ops-conspiracy true believers and has taken on a life of its own. Wikipedia has a concise article on Die Glocke which explains more.

This is a fanciful image of The Bell done with special effects for the program. Some people might believe the show’s producers got film of the actual machine.

 The show did not miss an opportunity to show a photo of Hitler to remind their viewers who might be weak on history that it was Hitler who ordered all of this special weaponry to be developed.

I wasn’t surprised to see William J. Birnes show up to give an opinion on the whole matter. Birnes, who has a Ph.D in medieval literature, would seem a natural to speak of time travel to the past. But it has more to do with his visibility as some sort of expert on UFOs. Birnes is not camera shy. He has a way of finding his way onto television programs that even touch on the subject.

Birnes ties in the story of the Nazi Bell with an event that happened in Kecksburg, Pennsylvania, in 1965. A fireball crash landed near that town. Some witnesses reported it was bell shaped. Birnes merges the two stories. Die Glocke left Nazi Germany in 1945 and showed up 20 years later in Pennsylvania! Wow. The U.S. military showed up, put it on the back of a truck, threw a tarp over it, and hauled it away, never to be seen by the eyes of citizens again.(4)

On its own the Kecksburg incident is a good story, and has an essential element, witnesses who are still alive to talk about it. But is the bell the U.S. forces retrieved the Nazi Bell? Adding that bit of conjecture makes it an even better story, much more exciting.

Conspiracy theories can be interesting, and at times even make some sense. But they can also pile delusion upon delusion. It is an illusory correlation when people falsely perceive an association between two events or situations. If you begin with a shaky premise you believe, an unproven theory  based on wild rumors that time travel exists and that knowledge is kept from us by a super-secretive government, and you extrapolate from that, you have a hell of a story. It doesn’t make it true, it just embellishes the fable on which it is based.

(1) Website with pros and cons on the photo.

(2) From the Wikipedia article on Occam's (aka Ockham’s) Razor: “If we have multiple hypotheses that can explain a thing, we ought to reject the hypothesis that involves agents or processes for which we have no evidence.”

(3) TheBlackVault

(4) Article on the Kecksburg Incident.


Kirk said...

I was just talking with this woman at work about some doc she saw on TV that proved the existence of mermaids, and even showed some actual film of one. I have to say, I'm skeptical about the whole thing.

There's an episode of The X-Files--not a documentary for the uninitiated--in which Mulder and Scully investigate a sea serpent sighting. In Mulder's words: "Where others see a sea serpent, I see hope."

Postino said...

Well, Kirk, giant squids were once thought not to exist, but no matter the "evidence," I doubt there are mermaids...or at least the kind I think of when I think of mermaids: human girls' bodies to the waist, and a fish body to the tail.