One of my favourite sci-fi novels is Macroscope by Piers Anthony.
Note: Although Anthony is famous for his light-hearted Xanth series. This is a novel for adults, and deals with a lot of serious and heavy historical and social issues, and yes, that means violence and sex.
The macroscope is a powerful transmission receiving satelite that can detect pretty much every wave emitted in the universe. Theoretically with such a device one could observe every event in history anywhere in the universe.
With the device scientists are able to observe the demise of several distant historical alien species (one through personal greed, one through violence, and another reckless abuse of their environmental resources). Scientists also detect another special signal that only the people with high IQ (i.e. most of the scientists) can discern. Unfortunately, everyone who watches this signal turns into a catatonic vegetable. The story follows the one alleged genius who may be able to discover the secret behind this transmission.
The idea of a Macroscope is quite interesting, and is almost what our existing satelites and telescopes do already (receive various forms of radiation as it reaches Earth). So why can’t we observe what happened 40,000 years ago on Earth in real-time?
Apparently, in the 60’s, a Venetian monk, Father Pelligrino Ernetti claimed to have a device that could do just that. The device was called the “chronovisor” and apparently resembled a television.
Instead of receiving broadcasts from local transmission stations, however, the chronovisor could tune into the past to allow the viewer to see and hear events that had occurred years or even centuries earlier. Father Ernetti told [Father] Brune that the machine worked by detecting all the sights and sounds that humanity had made that still floated through space.
That’s right: Catholic scientists invented a virtual time machine. And apparently they saw the crucifixion of Christ, Napoleon’s conquests across Europe, and the penning of Thyestes by the Roman poet Quintus Ennius.
Now here comes the unbelievable part. You can not see the device anymore because the priests destroyed it. It was too dangerous, as it might invade people’s privacy and create a dictatorship. Really? Catholic priests don’t want blind obedience and total information awareness?
Something about that just doesn’t add up.