What Happened When Stephen Hawking Threw a Cocktail Party for Time Travelers (2009)

Who among us has nev­er fan­ta­sized about trav­el­ing through time? But then, who among us has­n’t trav­eled through time? Every sin­gle one of us is a time trav­el­er, tech­ni­cal­ly speak­ing, mov­ing as we do through one sec­ond per sec­ond, one hour per hour, one day per day. Though I nev­er per­son­al­ly heard the late Stephen Hawk­ing point out that fact, I feel almost cer­tain that he did, espe­cial­ly in light of one par­tic­u­lar piece of sci­en­tif­ic per­for­mance art he pulled off in 2009: throw­ing a cock­tail par­ty for time trav­el­ers — the prop­er kind, who come from the future.

“Hawking’s par­ty was actu­al­ly an exper­i­ment on the pos­si­bil­i­ty of time trav­el,” writes Atlas Obscu­ra’s Anne Ewbank. “Along with many physi­cists, Hawk­ing had mused about whether going for­ward and back in time was pos­si­ble. And what time trav­el­er could resist sip­ping cham­pagne with Stephen Hawk­ing him­self?” ”

By pub­lish­ing the par­ty invi­ta­tion in his mini-series Into the Uni­verse With Stephen Hawk­ing, Hawk­ing hoped to lure futur­is­tic time trav­el­ers. You are cor­dial­ly invit­ed to a recep­tion for Time Trav­ellers, the invi­ta­tion read, along with the the date, time, and coor­di­nates for the event. The the­o­ry, Hawk­ing explained, was that only some­one from the future would be able to attend.”

Alas, no time trav­el­ers turned up. Since some­one pos­sessed of that tech­nol­o­gy at any point in the future would the­o­ret­i­cal­ly be able to attend, does Hawk­ing’s lone­ly par­ty, which you can see in the clip above, prove that time trav­el will nev­er become pos­si­ble? Maybe — or maybe the poten­tial time-trav­el­ers of the future know some­thing about the space-time-con­tin­u­um-threat­en­ing risks of the prac­tice that we don’t. As for Dr. Hawk­ing, I have to imag­ine that he came away sat­is­fied from the shindig, even though his hoped-for Ms. Uni­verse from the future nev­er walked through the door. “I like sim­ple exper­i­ments… and cham­pagne,” he said, and this cham­pagne-laden sim­ple exper­i­ment will con­tin­ue to remind the rest of us to enjoy our time on Earth, wher­ev­er in that time we may find our­selves.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch Stephen Hawking’s Inter­view with Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Record­ed 10 Days Before His Death: A Last Con­ver­sa­tion about Black Holes, Time Trav­el & More

Stephen Hawk­ing (RIP) Explains His Rev­o­lu­tion­ary The­o­ry of Black Holes with the Help of Chalk­board Ani­ma­tions

The Lighter Side of Stephen Hawk­ing: The Physi­cist Cracks Jokes and a Smile with John Oliv­er

Pro­fes­sor Ronald Mal­lett Wants to Build a Time Machine in this Cen­tu­ry … and He’s Not Kid­ding

What’s the Ori­gin of Time Trav­el Fic­tion?: New Video Essay Explains How Time Trav­el Writ­ing Got Its Start with Charles Dar­win & His Lit­er­ary Peers

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.


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