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Cosmic Rubbernecking

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  • Cosmic Rubbernecking

    THE FABRIC of the COSMOS, Brian Greene, 2004
    ```(annotated and with added bold highlights by Epsilon=One)
    Chapter 15 - Teleporters and Time Machines
    Cosmic Rubbernecking
    In thinking about time travel, Hawking has raised an interesting point. Why, he asks, if time travel is possible, haven't we been inundated with visitors from the future? Well, you might answer, maybe we have. And you might go further and say we've put so many time travelers in locked wards that most of the others don't dare identify themselves. Of course, Hawking is half joking, and so am I, but he does raise a serious question. If you believe, as I do, that we have not been visited from the future, is that tantamount to believing time travel impossible? Surely, if people succeed in building time machines in the future, some historian is bound to get a grant to study, up close and personal, the building of the first atomic bomb, or the first voyage to the moon, or the first foray into reality television. So, if we believe no one has visited us from the future, perhaps we are implicitly saying that we believe no such time machine will ever be built.

    Actually, though, this is not a necessary conclusion. The time machines that have thus far been proposed do not allow travel to a time prior to the construction of the first time machine itself. For the wormhole time machine, this is easy to see by examining Figure 15.5. Although there is a time difference between the wormhole mouths, and although that difference allows travel forward and backward in time, you can't reach a time before the time difference was established. The wormhole itself does not exist on the far left of the spacetime loaf, so there is no way you can use it to get there. Thus, if the first time machine is built, say, 10,000 years from now, that moment will no doubt attract many time-traveling tourists, but all previous times, such as ours, will remain inaccessible.

    I find it curious and compelling that our current understanding of nature's laws not only suggests how to avoid the seeming paradoxes of time travel but also offers proposals for how time travel might actually be accomplished. Don't get me wrong: I count myself among the sober physicists who feel intuitively that we will one day rule out time travel to the past. But until there's definitive proof, I think it justified and appropriate to keep an open mind. At the very least, researchers focusing on these issues are substantially deepening our understanding of space and time in extreme circumstances. At the very best, they may be talking the first critical steps toward integrating us into the spacetime superhighway. After all, every moment that goes by without our having succeeded in building a time machine is a moment that will be forever beyond our reach and the reach of all who follow.
    Last edited by Reviewer; 10-12-2012, 07:52 AM.