What is a Retronaut?

“Hey, did you know that I’m always going back in time…?
I am the backwards traveller, ancient wool unraveller”

- “Backwards Traveller”, Paul McCartney

What is a Retronaut?
Would you like to go back in time? Guess what, you can. Yes, I know, I know. But you don’t actually need a time-machine to do it. You need to be a Retronaut.

A Retronaut is someone who goes back in time using just perception. Its a trick they pull on themselves, a psychological ruse. But - it works.

The power of anachronisms
Its all to do with the power of anachronisms - things which seem to be in the wrong time. They can be objects, words, phrases, technology, ideas, fashions - anything we associate so strongly with one time that it seems wrong in another

Wrong associations
And its that word “associate” - that’s the powerful one. Because the strange thing is, real anachronisms do not exist. They can’t. A “thing” belongs to whatever era its in. Its not the “thing” thats got it wrong, its us, and our associations. Time to change what we believe.

But in that tiny, tiny moment, just before we grasp the fact that our beliefs are wrong, we get to be a Retronaut. That’s when time-travel takes place.

The era of colour photography
Let’s take an example - colour photographs. What era do you associate colour photographs with? Most people have some family black and white photographs from the forties, the fifties, the sixties, so, for a lot of people, colour photographs started to become the norm sometime in the decades after the Second World War. That’s the era they belong to.

Except they don’t. Check this out:

This picture was taken by Louis Arthur Ducos du Hauron in Agen, France. In 1877.

Correcting our associations
For those of use who associate colour photographs with after WWII, we need to adjust the information in our heads so that we can get the right associations. And while we are doing that, something very interesting happens in our minds, just for a fraction of a moment. It happens subconsciously, and it goes like this:

“Colour photographs have only existed since about 1945. I am being told that what I am looking at is colour photograph from 1877. There are three solutions that will make sense of this apparent contradiction:

1. Colour photographs have existed for much longer than I believed, and this is a colour photograph from 1877.
2. Colour photographs have only existed since about 1945, and this is not a colour photograph from 1877.
3. Colour photographs have only existed since about 1945, and this is a colour photograph from 1877, therefore this picture must have been taken by somebody with a colour camera from after 1945 who has travelled back in time to 1877″.

The Retronaut’s hit
Am I serious? I am. Sure, almost everyone will choose solution 1, and hardly anyone is likely to choose solution 3. But, in the split second in which our mind attempts to reconcile what we believe with what we are being told about what we are seeing, the possibility is open.

That’s the Retronaut’s hit. You’ll like it.