The time traveler’s challenge.

Jeff Leek

Editor’s note: This has nothing to do with statistics. 

I do a lot of statistics for a living and would claim to know a relatively large amount about it. I also know a little bit about a bunch of other scientific disciplines, a tiny bit of engineering, a lot about pointless sports trivia, some current events, the geography of the world (vaguely) and the geography of places I’ve lived (pretty well).

I have often wondered, if I was transported back in time to a point before the discovery of say, how to make a fire, how much of human knowledge I could recreate. In other words, what would be the marginal effect on the world of a single person (me) being transported back in time. I could propose Newton’s Laws, write down a bunch of the basis of calculus, and discover the central limit theorem. I probably couldn’t build an internal combustion engine - I know the concept but don’t know enough of the details. So the challenge is this.

 If you were transported back 4,000 or 5,000 years, how much could you accelerate human knowledge?

When I told Leah J. about this idea she came up with an even more fascinating variant.

Suppose that I told you that in 5 days you were going to be transported back 4,000 or 5,000 years but you couldn’t take anything with you. What would you read about on Wikipedia?