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Let's say we have a wild rabbit that can see a few minutes into the future. Being a non-sentient animal, it barely registers these abilities, and largely uses it to find food, avoid predators, save time seeking mates, and other such things rabbits do. After several months, some scientists finally manage to capture the thing for study and experimentation.

So after some tests, which determine that there's really nothing different physically about this rabbit, we're left with one incredibly normal yet precognizant rabbit, and a bunch of bored scientists.

So after a while, one of the scientists realized that because this rabbit can somehow receive sensory information from the future, and convey it back to the present, it might be possible to convey a message from the present back to the past! So now the question is: how exactly do we do that?

some limitations:

  • the rabbit is limited to only what it can consciously perceive
  • the present rabbit is aware of what it will perceive in the future, and will react to it accordingly (seek if good, avoid if bad)
  • and you can't kill the rabbit or put it in a situation of unacceptable risk, because we only have the one.
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    $\begingroup$ Teach it to predict which soccer team an octopus will choose before the octopus makes its choice. Vegas will have fits over that one! $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Mar 14 '17 at 1:17
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    $\begingroup$ This scenario doesn't make sense to me. but I've published several articles on time travel. This I can't figure out how it would work. Gave you plus one from asking a baffling and challenging question. $\endgroup$ – a4android Mar 14 '17 at 11:36
  • $\begingroup$ I think this question might be eligible as "weirdest time-travel question so far". and i like it! :-) $\endgroup$ – Burki Mar 16 '17 at 15:59
  • $\begingroup$ non-sentient?? Rabbits are very intelligent, if kept appropriate. Rabbits can open doors, tell you if the want food (by going to the fridge. seriously.) They can differentiate Humans, and understand some important words (like their names, "hay", "carrot", "breakfast" and of course "No"). They understand that something is there also if you do not see it. If you know how to understand rabbit, you can ask a rabbit if it wants to be pet or not (no, they do not always want to). Oh, and they can "knock" (scratch) on doors they can not open by themselves to tell you to open it. $\endgroup$ – Julian Egner Feb 20 at 22:01
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There's not much interesting that can happen in a few minutes, so do you mind if I extend the rabbit's foresight to a day?

This is a smart rabbit, so you teach it a cool trick.

There are 20 open compartments in a box. At the end of the day, you are going to place a one of two colors in each compartment; red or blue. In the morning, the rabbit is let into the box to explore, and is quickly swept back into its cage. For all of the blue compartments that the rabbit visits that day, it gets a treat. For all of the red compartments that the rabbit visits that day, the rabbit gets a treat revoked. You train him every day for a month (how long do rabbits live?) and he eventually learns to quickly run to all of the compartments that he predicts will be blue, staying away from all of those that he predicts will be red.

You, the experimenter, find the best performing stock at the end of each day and convert its 4-letter stock code to binary (5 bits per letter). Then, map every 1 to blue and 0 to red. You put those in their respective compartments. Then, feed the rabbit that made you rich.

You've technically sent a message back in time, but really you've just let the rabbit tell you what he sees in the future. But this the same thing, right?

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    $\begingroup$ A well cared for bunny 8 to 12 years on average. rabbit.org/fun/life-span.html $\endgroup$ – TimothyEbert Mar 15 '17 at 12:41
  • $\begingroup$ You finally realize that you have a special bunny and you want to send yourself a message at a time when you did not recognize the special properties of this bunny. How does the bunny get from its cage to the maze? What was the research question that induced you to set up that particular arena years ago so that it was available? All that aside, you would have to have a red and blue ball in each box and the rabbit would have to remove one. The rabbit must learn a 20 bit code for each stock and there is a best time to buy, so the code alone is not enough. $\endgroup$ – TimothyEbert Mar 15 '17 at 16:25
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    $\begingroup$ Can rabbits see color? $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Mar 15 '17 at 22:47
  • $\begingroup$ @JDługosz Rabbits can distinguish blue and green but it doesn't sound like they can see red. $\endgroup$ – NonlinearFruit Mar 18 '17 at 13:30
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Money Making

Obviously, if a group of scientists are studying a rabbit they claim can tell the future, funding is going to be an issue. So monetizing this rabbit's unique abilities is a must. 60 seconds isn't a lot of time, unless we are talking about the stock market.

Here is the plan:

  • Program a computer to turn on/off LEDs based on stock prices
  • Train the rabbit to push buttons based on LEDs in the future
  • Program a computer to buy/sell stock based on those button presses.

Step 1 - Materials: Build a Skinner Box. Go get a Raspberry Pi, wire, LEDs, buttons and rent a book on Python from the library (total cost: $55.70). Hookup 2 buttons and 2 LEDs to the Raspberry Pi and then attach them to the rabbits cage.

Step 2 - Training: Train the rabbit to press button 1, B1, when light 1, L1, is on and vise versa for B2 and L2. The tricky part is that we don't want want the rabbit to push B1 because L1 is currently on. We want him to push the button if it will be on in 60 seconds. He needs push a button in the present based on the LEDs in the future. See next section for details.

Step 3 - Programming: Program the Raspberry Pi to cycle through your favorite stocks in a predictable way. Then for the current stock, compare its current value to the value it had 60 seconds ago. If it increased turn on L1. If it decreased, turn on L2. Finally, when a button is pressed, look up the stock that will be displayed in 60 seconds. If the pressed button was B1, buy that stock. If it was B2, sell that stock.

Training the Rabbit

We need to immediately reward the rabbit for pushing the correct button, but we won't know if it is the correct button for 60 seconds. How does that work?

To train the rabbit, use the same stock market setup only with fake (predictable) data instead of real data. At first, use a 0 second delay and reward the rabbit if he pushes B1 when L1 is lit. Once he has the hang of this, introduce a small delay. If he pushes B1 when L1 will be lit in 1 second, then reward him. Keep increasing the delay, until you get to his max precognition distance of 60 seconds.

The reason this training works is because of the fake data. We know what light will be on at what time, so we know if the rabbit is giving the correct answers. Gradually start introducing real data. The downside is that we don't know if he has given us the correct answer when we use real data. So I would use fake data 90% of the time to make sure the rabbit is staying accurate.

Extending Precognition

Making money and teaching rabbits cool tricks is fine and dandy but we're scientists. Can we see further into the future? Yes, we can.

There may be a more clever (i.e. better than O(n)), but this should extend our grasp of the future by a couple minutes. Simply add some buttons B1a, B1b and B2a, B2b. The teach the rabbit to push B1a, if he sees himself pushing B1 (in 60 seconds) and to push B1b if he sees himself pushing B1a (in 60 seconds). Once you have done this, you will be able to see 3 minutes into the future.

The reason for this is that when L1 is turned on, the rabbit will see it 60 seconds before it happens and push B1. Then the rabbit will see this 60 seconds before it happens and push B1a. Then the rabbit will see this 60 seconds before it happens and push B1b. This button press is observed and we know that in 3 minutes, L1 will turn on.

Conclusion

Since a computer is being used, the rabbit can push buttons at his leisure because an active observer is not necessary. The rabbit can push the buttons as frequently as he wants and the computer will respond accordingly. In this example, we are asking whether to buy or sell a certain stock but in general we can ask the future any binary question. The only requirement is that we ask in a predictable way. For instance, we could ask "Is the president alive?" and the rabbit could give us as much as a 3 minute warning of the president's assassination. All the computer would need is someway to judge whether the president is currently dead or alive.

When making important decisions based of the behavior of a rabbit, there are uncertainties. For example, in order to get a 3 minute heads-up we need the rabbit to see the L1 and feel like pushing B1. Then we need the rabbit to see himself pushing B1 and feel like pushing B1a. Then we need the rabbit to see himself pushing B1a and feel like pushing B1b. The larger the heads-up distance, the less likely it will happen.

When making decisions based of information from the future, there are even more uncertainties. For example, what if the rabbit tells you the president will die in 60 seconds. Then in the midst of precautions taking place, an assassin gets a Ferdinand-style opportunity and takes it. Thus the president died because the rabbit told you 'the president will die'.

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  • $\begingroup$ +1 the kit is essentially a skinner box, also you probably want a breeding population of these rabbits so you can study how they get their precognition without killing the goose that lays the golden eggs $\endgroup$ – jk. Mar 16 '17 at 12:40
  • $\begingroup$ In this scenario how do you get your 60 second self to not react as the signal is passing to your 180 second self? For the chain to work the bunny (who only gets 60 seconds) must do something at each step. I suppose that in a precognition you might suggest that the bunny knows what you will do and can adjust accordingly to sneak the message through. You can also have problems if the bunny can now send a message to itself from a time before it was trained. $\endgroup$ – TimothyEbert Mar 17 '17 at 19:23
  • $\begingroup$ @TimothyEbert The computer does everything. If the rabbit chooses to push a button, the computer will check the schedule to see what it was planning to do in 60 seconds. If it is planning on using fake data, it will verify that the rabbit pushed the correct button. If it is planning on using real data, it will buy/sell stock accordingly. $\endgroup$ – NonlinearFruit Mar 17 '17 at 20:12
  • $\begingroup$ If the computer is able to check what it was planning to do in 60 seconds then the computer is also precognizant. Yes? Then I get lost in determining if "it" refers to the rabbit or the computer. $\endgroup$ – TimothyEbert Mar 18 '17 at 23:20
  • $\begingroup$ @TimothyEbert The computer has scheduled when it will use live data and when it will use fake data. When the rabbit pushes B1, the computer checks the schedule. If the schedule says "60 seconds from now, we are going to use fake data and L1 will be lit", then the computer knows that the rabbit pushed the right button. $\endgroup$ – NonlinearFruit Mar 18 '17 at 23:33
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You are, in essence, talking to yourself. So you need to make a set of rules that you'll follow. Let's say we have the rabbit in a long cage, and we use Morse Code to communicate with ourselves. We can convince the rabbit to go to one end of the cage or another - And designate one end as a dot, the other as a dash.

Now, we get to timing. How do you determine when the rabbit is lying around, or when it's starting to "Transmit" or finishing "Transmitting"? Well, you teach it tricks. Teach it to roll over for starting, and stand on its back legs for a few seconds for ending. On the plus side, luring the rabbit to one end or the other can be done with an all-positive method, without any negative/fear things involved.

Then, you set aside a good length of time, where you wait and do nothing to the rabbit. This time is your receiving time - you want to make sure you don't get interrupted while receiving something.

Once this time is done, do the trick, and start transmitting. In the past, you'll have your observation time interrupted by the rabbit transmissions.

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