Often I hear about the scenario of traveling back in time and various adaptation/survival questions related to that, but less often about people in the past traveling forward.

The basic scenario is you take people from the past and you move them forward in time to a more modern age. They can be from the 19th century, 17th, 15th, even older. Alternatively you take a large chunk of “modern” and drop it in the past. I don’t believe my faith in humanity is so damaged to say that every one of them goes crazy believing they’ve all died and gone to hell or something (or even a significant number of them) like I think people like to believe. For example- I don’t think your average person would go crazy being tossed 500 years into the future from now. I don’t believe we're actually smarter than most humans that have preceded us in history, we just know more. So that leaves the question:

How quickly would your average person or small group of people adapt to suddenly being exposed to a for-them-future time? Days? Years? Is this a loosely definable function based on the persons age vs how far they've gone?

Assume they’re mostly completely immersed in the “future,” assume that they're not immediately killed by disease, and assume that they’ve reached an "adapted state" where they can function as you would expect a normal member of society (even if they have decided not to do so for whatever reason). Comments on particular hurdles, and what may be thought of hurdles but actually are not are appreciated as well.

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    $\begingroup$ This is probably going to really depend on how old the time travelers are and how different their destination time is from their original time. Baby Caesar could probably learn to live in the 21st century just fine, whereas an old guy from the 18th century may never get used to it. $\endgroup$ – DaaaahWhoosh Mar 21 '16 at 17:18
  • $\begingroup$ @ DaaaahWhoosh good point, but I think the "old guy" thing really doesn't have anything to do with time traveling (maybe from a certain point of view it does). A lot of older people I know just don't care to learn new things; computers can go take a hike from their point of view usually, and that's a function of being old, rather then time travel (as far as its defined and in-scope for the question). $\endgroup$ – Marky Mar 21 '16 at 17:39
  • $\begingroup$ @Marky, speak for yourself, I know a ton of old fellows that learned how to use a computer and want to learn more and they use to say "pity I wont be here in 20 years". If they could time travel they would do it... Im not that spring chicken myself and when I'll be old enough to need all my joints replaced I would find it handy to have that done with a better technology 200 years in the future... Time has a different meaning for an old guy than a young one that's all $\endgroup$ – Erik vanDoren Mar 21 '16 at 20:10
  • $\begingroup$ @Erik vanDoren thats fair, I was just noting I have personally observed what I believe as a tendency in older people to not care to adapt to "new" things as much or as quickly as someone who is say 15. Its certainly not a "rule" $\endgroup$ – Marky Mar 21 '16 at 20:42
  • $\begingroup$ @Marky, its going very far from your question but you say dont care but you should also consider not wanting, the reasons of adapting to things are just very different that's all $\endgroup$ – Erik vanDoren Mar 21 '16 at 21:00

It's going to depend on the person and their situation

Consider a science fiction writer, a woman who has been considering the future and imagining what it will look like. What would happen if she was sent into the future? Well, it kinda depends on what the future actually looks like. Being dropped into a dystopian future (or even one where progress just kinda stagnated) would be rather depressing for her, which could easily lead to mental health issues. Being dropped into a future where progress has continued and new breakthroughs have been made, and she'll be filled with wonder even if it looks nothing like what she had imagined.

Now consider a peasant in the middle ages working on a farm. He and his family have to work hard to be able to pay taxes and still have enough food for them to eat. To them, heaven is a place where they don't have to struggle each day simply to get food, where they don't have to worry about freezing in the winter, and where they can rest. Hey, that sounds a lot like life today - supermarkets, heating and air conditioning, and ridiculously more opportunities for non-physical work. If you brought them forward to our time, it might take them a little while to not think they'd died and gone to heaven.

However, what if you only brought just the peasant man forward without his family? Sure, he'll still like what life looks like, but there's a lot more going on in his mind this time. To him, his family is alive and he's unwilling abandoned them, and they will be suffering without him. He also has the dissonance of them being very alive to him and yet being told that they have been dead for hundreds of years. The same goes with all of his friends and everyone else he knew.

All of that is going to weigh down on his mind. Some people would eventually crack under that pressure, while others wouldn't. Some people would actually not feel that pressure—if he didn't really like his family that much and just felt stuck, he might not care that he's abandoned them.

So if you're wondering whether or not time travel is going to drive someone crazy, the situation they're leaving is just as important as their destination. Humans are usually very social creatures, so that's where I'd look first. How attached are they to their family? How attached are they to their community? How would the people they know fare in their absence? The answers to these questions will make it a lot easier to tell how well an individual will handle time travel.

  • $\begingroup$ I bet 5:1 that the peasant gets run over by a car in the first couple days... $\endgroup$ – Erik vanDoren Mar 21 '16 at 20:17
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    $\begingroup$ @Erik vanDoren I'd take that bet; cars aren't that silent and If I heard something I didn't understand I would be looking ALL around very quick to find it. Also, if I saw something coming at me very fast I sure as heck am going to try and get out of the way. The danger is in the first time or two he sees a car and hasn't worked out the "rules" for them yet. $\endgroup$ – Marky Mar 21 '16 at 20:45
  • $\begingroup$ @Rob Watts You make some very interesting points, and I like the fiction writer scenario, but the actual question is closer to (assuming they're not going crazy) the time it takes for them to adapt reasonably $\endgroup$ – Marky Mar 21 '16 at 20:51
  • $\begingroup$ @Marky, enough accidents happen to people that know what cars are... its easy for you to say that but if you were a few hundreds years in the future and a bunch of whatchamajigs were barrelling down at you while you are standing on the dohicky you probably wont figure out that you are supposed to run fast onto the thingamabob $\endgroup$ – Erik vanDoren Mar 21 '16 at 20:55
  • $\begingroup$ @Eric vanDoren I would put forward that the vast majority of accidents that happen with cars hitting pedestrians are the result of the pedestrian not paying attention to their surroundings, but I can see the point your making; if my hind-brain cant fit into a framework to understand, I'm boned. I would agree maybe that if they wander onto an airport tarmac they would be in trouble because humans have trouble looking 'up', and they could also run directly away from a moving vehicle which is unlikely to help, but I'm still not convince road + car = death for our time travelers. $\endgroup$ – Marky Mar 21 '16 at 21:11

It's hard to say but as long as the time traveler lands in a time of rationality, science, and logic then they can fare a lot better than otherwise.

They face problems such as

  • Solitude and isolation - the inability to relate to others for a while until they can develop the language which has most certainly changed in large time scales and they can comprehend and grasp the reality around them.
  • Discontinuity - See Philip G. Zimbardo's Why and how normal people go mad.

When students were led to wrongly believe that the source of their anxiety was physical, they began to show signs of hypochondria or somatoform disorders. And attributing such discontinuities to social causes created paranoid symptoms.

It's quite possible that sudden changes in routine and environment can trigger similar phenomena. In this case, the issue would be how they interact with people in the future. The anxiety they might have from simply traveling to the future might be exacerbated by their inability to understand social cues and norms. You could imagine a bleak future where their struggles are taken as a form of dimness or disorder by the main population, until the issue snowballs and they can never fulfill their needs for roots, love, compassion, esteem, or self-actualization.

  • Grief - See Rob Watt's great answer on this - The person's family might be left behind. Their friends. Their peers. Everything they knew is going on in their own timeline without their help, possibly suffering or dying without their provider (if they were the provider.)
  • Lack of esteem - How can they get a job or feel a sense of contribution and value if they're so far behind technology or the current job market?

These are all real and valid issues - but they're not the end all be all of their situation.

See, the future citizens aren't necessarily stupid. They know that this person needs help. They know that mental disorders are real. They know that there are disadvantaged people in their midst, from the mentally disabled to the mute to the illiterate.

It'd be a bit unfair to not take the rest of the population's feelings into account. If they're accommodating, it's easy to see how they might push the person's development in a positive direction. This depends heavily on when this is, but if we (2016-farers) went to 2500, we could easily imagine that their psychological therapies, medical science, and neurological understanding (and maybe social programs, depending on culture) could help us adapt.

Not only are the problems not necessarily insurmountable, they could be less negative than we imagine, and the people more welcoming and accommodating than we imagine, helping time travelers become well adjusted members of society.

  • $\begingroup$ Very interesting. So to follow this line of logic, would it be fair to say the time to take to adapt, once an individual gets over culture-shock, would be the similar to if someone was picked up and placed in an alien to them culture and be mostly dependent on how welcoming/head-space-aware that culture was? $\endgroup$ – Marky Mar 21 '16 at 20:55

I think it very unlikely that the time traveler would go insane.

There are plenty of cases of people from very technologically primitive societies meeting people from more advanced societies. For example, when Europeans came to America in the 1500s, or numerous more modern cases where people from modern cultures met people in the jungles of Africa or South America who have not been in contact with civilization. Of course the primitive people in these situations don't understand much of the technology they see. If there's a conflict, their spears and arrows are likely to leave them on the losing end against guns. But they don't go insane.

I just made a comment in this direction on another question, but let me expand here. A few years ago I saw a video made by a group of American missionaries working with some very primitive, stone age people in Ecuador. After some rough spots, like the natives killing five of the missionaries, they established good relations. At one point the grandson of one of the murdered men invited one of the killers to come to America to attend his graduation. He didn't understand a lot of what he saw. Like he understood money, but he didn't understand credit cards: You give them the card, he said, but then they give it right back. And after seeing moving walkways at the airport, he made the delightful comment that now he knows why Americans are fat: they don't walk on the trail, they stand on the trail and the trail moves. But he certainly didn't go insane. He wasn't overwhelmed by the technology he saw. He was just curious about a lot of things.

Ah, I found the video on YouTube: "Beyond Gates of Splendor", https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EWArGUozZok&ebc=ANyPxKpSC2ZzRP_7MNjxSJ8OBeaup6mFtRm_aOavzmLuWkIDuezisT0ixrJbxt2-QSIxV4NpfiQ-BjNe-Dx5FI4jb_8NUfmrnw The part about the Waondani visiting America begins at about 1:20:00.

My point being: That's about as extreme as it gets: Someone from the stone age coming to the 21st century. Sure, he'd have to learn a lot to function and be independent. But given time, I think this fellow could have done it. For someone from 18th or 19th century Europe or America, I think it would be fairly easy. If they wanted to be an engineer or a scientist they would have to catch up on everything learned in the intervening time. But just to function day to day and get a job in a non-high tech field, yeah, they'd have to learn everything from how to use a telephone to how to drive a car. But how long would that take? Months? Maybe a year or two? Cell phones and DVD players and microwave ovens and the Internet didn't exist when I was a boy, but I haven't had any particular trouble learning to use them. Even if the time traveler wanted to become an engineer, most people in such fields learn most of what they need to know to get a start in college, 4 years or so. The person would have to be reasonably intelligent and willing to learn, but, etc.


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