If we were forced to suppose that there have been a few secret time-travelers in history, suspicion would naturally fall on people like Leonardo da Vinci, Jules Verne, maybe Marcel Duchamp.
How were these guys so far ahead of their time? Maybe they were ahead of their time, literally. Maybe they weren’t great geniuses so much as plagiarists of the future—they took good notes and then came back and tried to take credit.
My candidate for secret time-traveler is Ibn Khaldun (1332 – 1406). Several hundred years before the West reinvented anthropology and sociology, Ibn Khaldun invented, by himself, an incredibly modern “science of culture.”
Intellectual achievements normally attributed to Europeans of the modern era (i.e., after c. 1492) can be found throughout Ibn Khaldun’s Introduction to History, written in North Africa in 1377: the economic law of supply and demand; the labor theory of value in economics; the “Laffer Curve” theory of taxation and revenue; the impossibility of alchemy; the spuriousness of astrology; the necessity of a sociological understanding of history; etc.
Strangely, Ibn Khaldun made all these discoveries against the historical background of the intellectual decline and fall of Islam in the 14th Century.
Because of this, Ibn Khaldun left no intellectual legacy in the Muslim world and was not rediscovered by the West until the 19th Century, too late to have any real impact.
And that really reeks of time-travel!
Think about it—it’s as if Ibn Khaldun tried to cheat Time by producing, in advance of its eventual occurrence, a fully modern science of culture, but Time went on ahead just as if Ibn Khaldun had never made his discoveries at all!
It’s like the solution to the “kill your grandfather” paradox!
Anyway, in his Introduction to History, Ibn Khaldun also describes a method for seeing the future in your sleep. He also attests to its efficacy.
This is from pages 83-84 of Franz Rosenthal’s horrible translation of The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History:
“In the Ghayah [ascribed to the famous 10th Century Spanish scientist Maslamah ibn Ahmad al-Majriti] and other books by practitioners of magic, reference is made to words that should be mentioned on falling asleep so as to cause the dream vision to be about the things one desires. These are called ‘dream words.’ [One of these is] the following non-Arabic words:
tamaghis ba’dan yaswadda waghdas nawfana ghadis.”
These words seem to be Aramaic according to Rosenthal.
Feel free to try it and report back to this blog. In the future.