No announcement yet.

Is Time Travel to the Past Possible?

  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

  • Is Time Travel to the Past Possible?

    THE FABRIC of the COSMOS, Brian Greene, 2004
    ```(annotated and with added bold highlights by Epsilon=One)
    Chapter 15 - Teleporters and Time Machines
    Is Time Travel to the Past Possible?
    Most sober physicists would answer no. I would say no. But unlike the definitive no you'd get if you asked whether special relativity allows a massive object to accelerate up to and then exceed the speed of light, Or whether Maxwell's theory allows a particle with one unit of electric charge to disintegrate into particles, with two units of electric charge, this is a qualified no.

    The fact is, no one has shown that the laws of physics absolutely rule out past-directed time travel. To the contrary, some physicists have even laid out hypothetical instructions for how a civilization with unlimited technological prowess, operating fully within the known laws of physics, might go about building a time machine (when we speak of time machines, we will always mean something that is able to travel both to the future and to the past). The proposals bear no resemblance to the spinning gizmo described by H. G. Wells or Doc Brown's souped-up DeLorean. And the design elements all brush right up against the limits of known physics, leading many researchers to suspect that with subsequent refinements in our grasp of nature's laws, existing and future proposals for time machines will be deemed beyond the bounds of what's physically possible. But as of today, this suspicion is based on gut feeling and circumstantial evidence, not solid proof.

    Einstein himself, during the decade of intense research leading to the publication of his general theory of relativity, pondered the question of travel to the past. 10 Frankly, it would have been strange if he hadn't. As his radical reworkings of space and time discarded long-accepted dogma, an ever-present question was how far the upheaval would go. Which features, if any, of familiar, everyday, intuitive time would survive? Einstein never wrote much on the issue of time travel because, by his own account, he never made much progress. But in the decades following the release of his paper on general relativity, slowly but surely, other physicists did.

    Among the earliest general relativity papers with relevance for time machines were those written in 1937 by the Scottish physicist W. J. van Stockurn 11 and in 1949 by a colleague of Einstein's at the Institute for Advanced Study, Kurt Gödel. Van Stockum studied a hypothetical problem in general relativity in which a very dense and infinitely long cylinder is set into spinning motion about its (infinitely) long axis. Although an infinite cylinder is physically unrealistic, van Stockum's analysis led to an interesting revelation. As we saw in Chapter 14, massive spinning objects drag space into a whirlpool-like swirl. In this case, the swirl is so significant that, mathematical analysis shows, not only space but also time would get caught up in the whirlpool. Roughly speaking, the spinning twists the time direction on its side, so that circular motion around the cylinder takes you to the past. If your rocket ship encircles the cylinder, You can return to your starting point in space before you embark on your journey. Certainly, no one can build an infinitely long spinning cylinder, but this work was an early hint that general relativity might not prohibit time travel to the past.

    Gödel's paper also investigated a situation involving rotational motion. But rather than focusing on an object rotating within space, Gödel studied what happens if all of space undergoes rotational motion. Mach would have thought this meaningless. If the whole universe is rotating, then there's nothing with respect to which the purported rotation is happening. Mach would conclude, a rotating universe and a stationary universe are one and the same. But this is another example in which general relativity fails to fully conform to Mach's relational conception of space. According to general relativity, it does make sense to speak of the entire universe's rotating, and with this possibility come simple observational consequences. For example, if you fire a laser beam in a rotating universe, general relativity shows that it will appear to travel along a spiral path rather than a straight line (somewhat like the path you'd see a slow-moving bullet follow if you fired a toy gun upward while riding a merry-go-round). The surprising feature of Gödel's analysis was his realization that if your rocket ship were to follow appropriate trajectories in a spinning universe, you could also return to your place of origin in space before the time of your departure. A rotating universe would thus itself be a time machine.

    Einstein congratulated Gödel on his discovery, but suggested that further investigation might show that solutions to the equations of general relativity permitting travel to the past run afoul of other essential physical requirements, making them no more than mathematical curiosities. As far as Gödel's solution goes, increasingly precise observations have minimized the direct relevance of his work by establishing that our universe is not rotating. But van Stockum and Gödel had let the genie out of the bottle; within a couple of decades, yet more solutions to Einstein's equations permitting time travel to the past were found.

    In recent decades, interest in hypothetical time machine designs has revived. In the 1970s, Frank Tipler reanalyzed and refined van Stockum's solution, and in 1991, Richard Gott of Princeton University discoverer another method for building a time machine making use of so-called cosmic strings (hypothetical, infinitely long, filamentary remnants of phase transitions in the early universe). These are all important contribution; but the proposal that's simplest to describe, using concepts we've developed in previous chapters, was found by Kip Thorne and his students at the California Institute of Technology. It makes use of wormholes.
    Last edited by Reviewer; 10-11-2012, 11:37 AM.