19 June, 2008

Time Travel

Tyler Cowen responds to a question from a reader:

Londenio, a loyal MR reader, asks:

I wanted to ask for survival tips in case I am unexpectedly transported to a random location in Europe (say for instance current France/Benelux/Germany) in the year 1000 AD (plus or minus 200 years). I assume that such transportation would leave me with what I am wearing, what I know, and nothing else. Any advice would help.

I hope you have an expensive gold wedding band but otherwise start off by keeping your mouth shut. Find someone who will take care of you for a few days or weeks and then look for employment in the local church. Your marginal product is quite low, even once you have learned the local language. You might think that knowing economics, or perhaps quantum mechanics, will do you some good but in reality people won't even think your jokes are funny. Even if you can prove Euler's Theorem from memory no one will understand your notation. I hope you have a strong back and an up to date smallpox vaccination.

Readers, do you have any other tips? Is there any way that Londenio can leverage his knowledge of modernity (he is, by the way, a marketing professor) into socially valuable outputs? Would prattling on about sanitation and communicable diseases do him any good?

The comments are worth reading. Though if I was going to randomly travel through time I don't know if 1,000AD is where I'd want to end up. I always thought the Renaissance would be more my time, or the 1920's (and I apologize for the wiki links - it's Friday afternoon give a girl a break :-) ). But how would one blend into the scenery, especially if one is not dresses properly, cannot speak the language, or isn't supposed to interject?

And what of the fact that you would know what was going to happen? If you ended up in the 10th century things would be primitive and could discover a cure for a disease, or "find" America, or predict when a plague or natural disaster would hit (depending on your knowledge of whatever time you ended up in).

I think the biggest barriers would be language, and the adoption of culture. And then there is the question: would you be able to come back?!?!?

So, what would you do?

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