Lost in Time-Translation

Let’s say that you had the ability to travel back in time and wanted to visit somewhere in the 7th century. Your purpose? You desire to better the future by explaining the true nature of the world (as understood by your superior 22nd century brain) to people in the past.

So, you hop into your DeLorean and travel back 1500 years to desert Arabia. Upon reaching the tormenting heat of the peninsula, you encounter a small group of Bedouin pitching their tents. Astonished at the flash of light and you suddenly materializing, they stand in awe, averting their gaze as though they’ve just seen an angel sent by God.

You calm them down as best as you can (with your nifty futuristic translator) and inform them that you were “sent from the future through a quantum tunnel to better their primitive lives and advance global civilization”.

They look at you in a confused state, wondering what you even mean by your statement.

Noticing their puzzlement, you realize you’ll need to explain things in far simpler terminology so that they might better comprehend your vast knowledge. You remind yourself that your scientific vernacular would not be developed or comprehended in full for another millennia and a half. As such, you need to explain things to them in a language they can easily understand; relying on their own relative experiences as a reference point.

So you begin. Many of the things you attempt to explain they appear largely disinterested in. For example, the moment you start discussing the shape of the earth, they react apathetically. Some of them even laugh, wondering if what you’re saying is even relevant to their lives.

One of the Bedouin even interjects, asking you, “How can I increase the yield of my harvest?”

Another asks, “How can I make better weapons than my enemies?”

And yet another asks, “How can I lead a good life?”

You begin to grow frustrated, but then realize that you’ve taken for granted many of the things people during this time consider a luxury — most of all your 120 year lifespan. Many of the 30 year olds before you are essentially your elders, despite you being a healthy 75.

Still, you attempt to impart to them some wisdom. Maybe, just maybe, if you explained one invention of the future, they might develop it sooner than your timeline.

“Airplanes!” you think to yourself excitedly. You’ll tell them about airplanes.

So you begin to inform them about the invention of maned flight. First, they laugh at you, asking: “Man will fly? That sounds like magic!” You protest, stating that it’s very possible.

They inquire further, “How will this be possible?”

Attempting to break down the language as best as you can in accordance with their 7th century experiences, you explain how an airplane works: “It’s a giant metal bird which doesn’t flap its wings!”

They laugh, wondering how a bird can be made of metal and not flap its wings, but you continue.

“It flies by shooting fire out of its butt!”

They laugh harder.

“And it carries people in its belly!”

At this point they’re on the ground rolling in laughter. Angered by their primitive minds, you announce that you are in fact an angel sent from God and that they should believe you. They pause, reflecting on how you arrived, your strange clothing and means of transportation. Convinced by your claims, they apologize and accept.

Sighing with relief, you bid them farewell, hoping they will eventually take this knowledge and build a better world with it. You then return to your DeLorean and go back to the future.

Upon arriving back home, you realize nothing has changed. It’s exactly the same as you recall. How could this be? Didn’t you impart to them great scientific knowledge?

You begin to wonder what went wrong, so you go on the internet looking for any historical accounts of your visit to 7th century Arabia. Your first search result is a FutureTube video by some kid mocking ancient cultures. The title reads “The Man-Eating Metal Bird Cult of the 7th Century”.

You click the video, listening to the young vlogger describe the myths of these 7th century Bedouin and how they were informed by an angel of the existence of giant metal birds in the future which shoot fire out of their butts and carry people in their bellies. He laughs, eventually concluding his commentary by insulting the messenger:

“Whoever told them these things was scientifically illiterate! What an idiot!”

You close the video, scoffing at the young man’s ignorance regarding how communication and language work.


5 Comments on “Lost in Time-Translation

  1. This is a weak argument. An omniscient God would know how to explain future technology in a non-confusing way.

      • Why should I? Are you doubting God’s omniscience?

    • How do you know that it would work? How do you know that he didn’t already do it? How do you know that a possible world where he does this would be better? I would argue otherwise. It would leave people in more confusion or even wars. The last thing you would want is an ancient warlord with atomic theory. “An omniscient, omnipotent god could do this” is implying you have absolute knowledge of the situation. This is just a non-sequiter.

  2. This is a brilliant analogy mashaAllah.
    But not all the ancient arabs misunderstood the time traveller’s explanations totally right!?

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