A Philosopher's Blog

The Time Traveling Bacterium

Posted in Humor, Science by Michael LaBossiere on January 31, 2010
Cyanobacteria, NOAA, http://www8.nos.noaa.
Image via Wikipedia

While my dreams sometimes seem to derive their content at random, often I know the exact inspiration of the odd nightly workings of my mind. A while ago I happened to see a segment on CNN about a young lady who almost died from H1N1 and then that evening I read Heinlein’s recursive time travel tale “By His Boot Straps.” That night I had a rather odd dream about a time traveling bacterium. Yes, I do know that H1N1 is a virus, but even in a dream I somehow knew that only a bacterium would work. So, here is the story of the time traveling bacterium.

Imagine, if you will a mutant bacterium that might well be an impossibility. While normal bacteria divide, this bacterium cannot. Instead, it travels backwards in time.

Naturally enough, after it goes back it will then move ahead  in time at the normal pace and will (let us assume) eventually met up with itself. Then the pair (or rather the one) will also go back in time. Once more they (or it)  will go forward in time at the normal pace and the pair (or one) will meet up with itself once more. The four (or one) of them will then go back once again, only to travel forward again, and thus there will be eight (or one). The eight (or one) would, of course, go back again and then there would be sixteen (or rather just one).  And so on.

Now imagine that this bacterium dwells within the body of a human being. Naturally, the immune system of the body will attempt to destroy the bacterium. Unfortunately for the host, the bacterium simply travels back in time when it is threatened with destruction. This, of course, merely multiplies the bacterium. It keeps traveling back in time, multiplying and multiplying via this method. Of course, eventually the bacterium will reach half the population that would kill the host. When it makes the next jump back in time and the forward trip to meet itself, this will result in the death of the host. Horribly, the host will seem to die instantly as the lethal population suddenly appears in his/her body.

The bacterium will, of course, end up in other hosts and repeat the process over and over again. With enough time, it would seem that the bacterium would eventually destroy all susceptible organisms on earth and perhaps crowd out everything else-thus resulting in an earth with a population of one.

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3 Responses

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  1. Becky Duncan said, on June 15, 2010 at 3:59 pm

    Incredibly great post. Truely!

  2. Ian James said, on August 6, 2014 at 7:53 am

    A bacterium traveling back in time may also have to solve the problem of distance travel, amongst other things.

    If the bacterium went back in time 1 hour then the host would be at a point in space some thousands of miles from the point where the bacterium is now, due to the rotation & movement of the planet along its orbital path through space. Not to mention the rotation of the solar system, galaxy, etc.

    The bacterium would then either have to somehow traverse this distance or wait around for an hour until the host is back to where it will be 1 hour from now. Either way, it still has the problem of re-entering the body of the host.

    This spacial aspect of time travel is often overlooked, but a certain practitioner of the art got it right back in 1963 with his Time And Relative Dimensions In Space machine. There was also an episode of Red Dwarf in which the crew enjoyed the dubious delights of medieval deep space. However, they lacked a suitable propulsion system to get them very far, so they could go any-when but not any-where.

    Of course, in a higher realm, Time & Space may not exist at all…

    All Life is Yoga.
    ~ Sri Aurobindo.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on August 6, 2014 at 5:26 pm

      Well, yeah-one classic problem that time travel tales always leave out is that if you go back in time without moving in space, you’ll most likely not end up at the same street address you left from.

      But, if we are allowing time travel, we could also allow that it includes (as a bonus) space travel. The TARDIS solves this by being both a space and time machine. So it presumably shifts its spatial location as needed as it travels through time.

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