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Time Trip - questions and answers (How widely accepted is the theory that we can travel in time?)
BBC ^ | Friday, December 26, 2003 | BBC

Posted on 12/25/2003 8:12:15 PM PST by Momaw Nadon

The Future
According to Professor Paul Davies "Scientists have no doubt whatever that it is possible to build a time machine to visit the future". Since the publication of Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity in 1905, few, if any, scientists would dispute that time travel to the future is perfectly possible.

According to this theory, time runs slower for a moving person than for someone who is stationary. This has been proven by experiments using very accurate atomic clocks. In theory, a traveller on a super high-speed rocket ship could fly far out into the Universe and then come back to Earth at a time hundreds or thousands of years in its future.

Another consequence of special relativity is that gravity slows time down. So, another way of time travelling to the future would be to go and sit next to a black hole or a neutron star, both of which are very massive and have huge gravitational fields. When you went back to Earth, it would have aged more than you.

The Past
Time travel to the past is more problematic, but there is nothing in the known laws of physics to prevent it. It is accepted that if you could travel faster than light, you could travel to the past. However, it is impossible to accelerate anything to a speed faster than light because you would need an infinite amount of energy.

But hope for prospective time travellers comes from Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, considered to be the best theory of time and space that we have.

In 1948 Kurt Gödel worked with general relativity to produce equations suggesting the possibility of time travel to the past. He showed that a rotating universe, consistent with Einstein’s theory, would allow you travel back in time. Gödel knew that his model was unlike the real universe we inhabit and also that even if we did live in such a universe, time travel would be practically unachievable because you would need a hugely powerful rocket in which to cover astronomical distances. Despite this, Gödel’s work was firm evidence that time travel to the past is, at least in theory, possible.

Since then, numerous other scientists have come up with other solutions of general relativity that allow time travel to the past. Most rely on the prediction of the existence of 'closed time-like curves'. According to these scientists, there are ways of distorting space-time to make it curved in such a way that shortcuts through space-time exist allowing you to effectively travel faster than light and journey back into the past.

Not all scientists like this idea and there are some scientists, like Professor Stephen Hawking, who insist that there must be something that prevents it. In 1990, Hawking proposed a Chronology Protection Conjecture which says that the laws of physics disallow time machines. Basically, such scientists argue that nature will conspire to prevent the building of a time machine - one possibility is that runaway surges in quantum energy would generate massive gravitational fields and turn any time machine into mush. There are no clear answers to the issue because quantum physics and gravity do not sit well together and there is not yet a unified theory of quantum gravity.

Hawking and others have serious problems with the fact that time travel to the past would violate causality and this would have serious implications for our understanding of how the Universe works. A final answer to whether we really can travel back in time may have to wait until scientists find a way to bring quantum mechanics and general relativity together.

What are the different possible time machines we could build?

There are now a number of different proposals for time machines that have been put forward by well-regarded physicists, for example:

Professor Frank Tipler
In 1974, Professor Frank Tipler suggested that you could use an incredibly dense, spinning cylinder that was about 100 km long and 10 km wide. The cylinder would have to be incredibly strong and rigid so that it didn’t get squashed by its own gravity and so that it didn’t get torn apart by the centrifugal forces it would experience when spinning. Tipler pointed out these were 'just' practical problems which might be overcome by sufficiently advanced technology.

To use a Tipler Time Machine, you would leave Earth in a spaceship and travel to where the cylinder was spinning in space. When you were close enough to the cylinder, where the space-time is most warped, you would orbit around it a few times and then fly back to Earth, arriving back in the past. How far back in the past would depend on how many times you went round the cylinder. During your journey, your watch would always work as normal, going forward.

Tiplers work suggested that this could be done using a spinning black hole or neutron star. There are pulsars that have been observed which are spinning at a rate fast enough. However, the mathematics is not really conclusive as to whether such stars could be used for time travel or whether we would need to pile up a few of them on top of each other to form a cylinder.

Professor Richard Gott
Professor Richard Gott has shown that Cosmic Strings could be used for time travel. Cosmic strings are predicted to exist by about half the theories attempting to unify the different forces. They would be thin strands of high density material left over from the early universe. Cosmic strings have no ends so would be infinite in an infinite universe or be closed loops in a finite one. They should have a mass of about 10 million billion tons per cm and therefore they should warp the space-time round them. Gott has shown that if you have two such strings parallel to each other and moving past each other, they would warp space-time sufficiently to allow time travel to the past.

Professor Kip Thorne
Arguably the most likely method for time travel to the past is the wormhole time machine. This was invented by Professor Kip Thorne after he was asked to look into the idea by his friend Carl Sagan who used a wormhole as a plot device in his novel Contact.

If time machines are possible, why haven’t we built one?

Although the time machines suggested by physicists are theoretically possible, all of them would require massive amounts of energy and a level of engineering technology that we don’t have at the moment, and which we are unlikely to have for quite some time.

What about the paradoxes caused by time travel, like going back and killing your grandparents?

There are several problems that suggest that time travel is not possible. One of the arguments that is most frequently put forward is the so-called 'grandmother paradox': if you travel back to the past and kill your grandmother before your mother is born, you will not be born. Therefore, you could not have travelled back to the past to kill your grandmother, therefore you would be born!

Physicists have managed to come up with solutions to this. Some have proposed the Principle of Self-consistency: you can visit the past but are physically unable to change it. So, if you tried to shoot your grandmother, the gun would jam or you would be prevented in some other way from killing her. This is well illustrated in the film Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. This seems to go against notion of free will but philosopher David Lewis made the point that free will does not allow you to do something logically impossible, such as instantaneously turning yourself into a tomato.

Another solution is suggested by Professor David Deutsch. He says that quantum mechanics tells us that parallel universes exist. So if you travelled back to past and killed your grandmother, you would simply end up being in a parallel universe where you had killed another version of your grandmother and were a time traveller.

One of the most famous arguments against time travel is that if time travel is possible, why haven’t we been visited by lots of time travellers from the future? Again, people have come up with ways round this objection: we may be inundated with time travellers and not be aware of it. Maybe that's what UFOs are. Perhaps civilisations don’t last long enough to develop the knowledge and technology required to build a time machine. And most convincing of all, general relativity says that you can only go back to the time a time machine was created. Since no one has built a time machine yet, no one can come back to this time.

TOPICS: Culture/Society; Front Page News; Miscellaneous; News/Current Events; Technical; Unclassified
KEYWORDS: cosmicstrings; deutsch; fasterthanlight; finite; freewill; future; generalrelativity; godel; gott; gravity; hawking; impossible; infinite; light; mass; paradox; paralleluniverses; past; physics; possible; quantumgravity; quantummechanics; relativity; sagan; solution; space; spacetime; specialrelativity; technology; thorne; time; timemachine; timetravel; tipler; travel; universe; wormhole
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To: Momaw Nadon
Science fiction writer Larry Niven pointed out an interesting concept: Time travel is "unstable".

For example, if someone invents a working method of time travel on January 1, 2004, then there will be lots and lots of time travelers going back to visit past years prior to 2004.

With all the changes they'd inevitably make to the past, sooner or later someone is going to end up making a change that will alter January 1, 2004 enough that time travel *doesn't* get invented. For example, they might accidentally interfere with the birth, life or ancestry of the inventor, or start events in motion that sent him into a career in painting rather than physics, or they might interfere with earlier inventions which the time machine used as parts, or... Any number of things.

So eventually the past will happen to be altered in a way that "uninvents" the time machine that would have been built on 1/1/04, and *poof*, no time travel after all.

Then in the new timeline, someone else will eventually invent the time machine on some other date -- until *it* gets "uninvented" by people twiddling with the past.

Rinse, repeat.

So Niven's conclusion is that even if time travel into the past is possible, it'll keep preventing itself from being invented (for long, anyway).

On a similar note, I saw a trailer for an upcoming film ("The Butterfly Effect") which seems to be based on a somewhat related idea. A guy figures out how to travel into the past by sheer concentration, and he tries to prevent his dead girlfriend's death in the past. But every time he goes back and makes a change, the "ripples" of unintended consequences keep making the big picture even worse... It looks like a good film.

21 posted on 12/25/2003 9:20:25 PM PST by Ichneumon
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To: Iowa Granny
I currently have a 2 hr commute and it just sounds so tempting to walk out the front door and in the blink of an eye to have arrived at my destination.

I'd be happy if they would just fast-forward to the Jetsons. Wouldn't it be great to fly to work everyday in your own personal car plane?

22 posted on 12/25/2003 9:20:39 PM PST by Reaganwuzthebest
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To: Consort
Makes me think of the movie Slaughterhouse-Five. Anybody heard where Paul Lezaro is?
23 posted on 12/25/2003 9:20:56 PM PST by greydog
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To: Momaw Nadon
The 5th dimension. The realm where time does not exist. the entire universe from creation to judgment in a twinkling of the eye.
24 posted on 12/25/2003 9:23:26 PM PST by gdc61
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To: gdc61
This article seemed very good until:
"This is well illustrated in the film Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure."
25 posted on 12/25/2003 9:34:17 PM PST by baltodog (When you're hanging from a hook, you gotta' get a bigger boat, or something like that.)
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To: gitmo
Traveling back in time could probably be ruled impossible because you are not only traveling back in time, you are traveling back in space. If you are in cleveland right now, and want to visit cleveland 100 years ago today, you have to take the following differences in position into account:

Rotation of the earth.
Earth revolving around the sun.
Our solar system moving around in the milky way galaxy.
The milky way galaxy continually moving away from the center of the universe.

So basically, if you are in cleveland right now and zap yourself back 100 years, you'll have to wait 100 years for the earth to catch up with you, because it's a loooooooooooooooong way away.

Ad to this conservation of matter and conservation of energy, and you cannot travel in time without breaking those two laws. Basically, if I do manage to drop back into the same spot cleveland was in 100 years ago, I have instantly added a whole bunch of matter to the universe as it existed then. And taken a whole lot of matter out of our present day universe. Now, the present day might be easy by converting myself to energy, but finding a way to convert energy out of thin air into matter 100 years ago is going to be a doozy of a problem.
26 posted on 12/25/2003 9:34:41 PM PST by flashbunny (The constitution doesn't protect only the things you approve of.)
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To: baltodog
Actually, bill and ted's excellent adventure does show some good representation of time travel actions and consequences, but absolutely nothing like he commented on.
27 posted on 12/25/2003 9:43:21 PM PST by flashbunny (The constitution doesn't protect only the things you approve of.)
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To: Momaw Nadon
" . . . instantaneously turning yourself into a tomato. . ."

Haven't tried that yet.

Once tried to boil an egg using only the power of thought.

After focusing for several hours I did manage to get the egg up to room temperature.

28 posted on 12/25/2003 9:48:30 PM PST by BenLurkin (Socialism is Slavery)
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To: Momaw Nadon
I can almost see the outside of Plato's cave on this one. I was going to post something in an attempt to be funny but post 13 killed that. It speaks to time, loss, regret, love, life, and hope.
I approach time different. Time is our concept of being. It doesn't really exist. There once was no space, therefore there was no time. The universe is expanding, therefore it isn't infinite. There is something outside of space. So there is something outside of time. The whole existence of matter, dark matter, super strings, mass distribution of the universe (visible so far) speaks to an analogy of the smoke left after a fourth of july firework. It was bright and shiney, now it is just a memory.
I think that we are on one little planet, not yet convinced that we should venture out into the neighborhood, much less the great beyond. Time travel? I would just guess that someday post 13 will get the chance to talk with her dad, get a hug, and catch up.
Time? not too worried about it. The human mind and soul really aren't connected with time. Time is just something we use to tell when dinner is ready.
29 posted on 12/25/2003 9:48:45 PM PST by IrishCatholic
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To: Momaw Nadon
I never understood the 'grandmother paradox'. I see no reason that one couldn't go back and affect history to the degree of eliminating your own existence. The real question would be, would you actually cease to exist? I tend to think no. I believe one would make oneself an 'anomoly'. The key is the past that created you would not be altered, only the past when you came back.
30 posted on 12/25/2003 9:54:00 PM PST by I_dmc
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To: Husker24
From what I recall of "The Philadelphia Experiment", it invovled time travel, which wasn't a desired result. It also involved spatial displacement, which may have been coincident with time travel.
31 posted on 12/25/2003 9:55:47 PM PST by I_dmc
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To: Momaw Nadon
As early as tomorrow, Coast to Coast show host George Noory plans a time travel experiment under the supervision of physicist and hypnotherapist, Dr. Irving Glotch.

"George has submitted two time periods he is interested in traveling back to: Roswell, NM July 1947 and to the mid-6th century to see if an asteroid hit caused the Dark Ages."
32 posted on 12/25/2003 9:58:17 PM PST by Lucy Lake
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To: 11B3
This is a disturbing thing to experience. I've been in other places in dreams, only to discover that what happened there, in my dream, did, in fact, happen there.
33 posted on 12/25/2003 10:00:52 PM PST by I_dmc
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To: I_dmc
I see no reason that one couldn't go back and affect history to the degree of eliminating your own existence.

The original Star Trek did an excellent episode on that possibility, which is anyone who traveled back in time could not alter any events without running the risk of affecting their own existence.

It might explain why if there is in fact those from the far future who managed to go back have done nothing to prevent a Hitler or a Stalin.

34 posted on 12/25/2003 10:02:41 PM PST by Reaganwuzthebest
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To: IrishCatholic
I was thinking about Plato's Cave as well. It is possible to see the past but not interact with it.
35 posted on 12/25/2003 10:06:31 PM PST by ffusco (Maecilius Fuscus,Governor of Longovicium , Manchester, England. 238-244 AD)
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To: Reaganwuzthebest; IrishCatholic
The Squire of Gothos episode. Man I am a NERD!
36 posted on 12/25/2003 10:08:32 PM PST by ffusco (Maecilius Fuscus,Governor of Longovicium , Manchester, England. 238-244 AD)
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To: IrishCatholic
Mankind's greatest weakness is the necessity to define things in order to understand them. There is no space, there is no time, no dark matter, etc, etc. All those things are man's attempts to define what he cannot understand, in a way so that he may understand. "Seeing isn't believing, believing is seeing".
37 posted on 12/25/2003 10:09:10 PM PST by I_dmc
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To: Momaw Nadon
38 posted on 12/25/2003 10:09:44 PM PST by Captain Beyond (The Hammer of the gods! (Just a cool line from a Led Zep song))
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To: gitmo
If it's possible to build a machine to travel back in time, then where are the time-travelers from the future? Maybe they're investing in the stock market.

If it's possible, they could be here. Or it's possible that in the grand scheme of things, this part of history is not significant enough to warrant any attention by historians. Now I could buy that last part. I've spent 20 years trying to pretend the 1970's never happened. ;)

39 posted on 12/25/2003 10:09:52 PM PST by Orangedog (Remain calm...all is well! [/sarcasm])
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To: Orangedog
Quick. Does anyone actually remember the 1970's? Maybe they didn't happen.
40 posted on 12/25/2003 10:12:33 PM PST by I_dmc
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