(Photo: Alessio Lin)
The probability to travel through time and space is a question of physics and it’s amazing how many theories actually circulate out there about the feasibility attached to it. Many think it’s not possible to travel to the past and offer solutions to intersect the known universe in order to travel to the future.
I for one try to always stay open minded and, personally speaking, believe that all is virtually intertwined and connected — from the observed arrow of time to gravity or the vibrations of energy — it’s all fundamental to our universe and it’s not possible without the other. I also believe it’s a good idea to visualize our ‘universal realm’ as accommodating all pasts — presents and futures — at once, as in simultaneously.
Someone who’s obviously siding with me on that aspect is Stephen Hawking. Do you remember the famous party he held for time travelers back in 2009 — the twist was that he sent out the invites a year later. However, no guests showed up — which basically isn’t as unusual as you might think. After all, it might very well be that there was someone at the party, but ‘our Hawkins’ wouldn’t notice as a parallel universe simply opened up creating another ‘story-line’. In that case, we’ll never know.
So, is traveling into the past a thing of the past and outright impossible? Physicists at least will bring up the argument that you could never travel back before the moment your time machine was built and on the other hand, as we experience and move through time anyway, we are time travelers to begin with.
That’s leading us more into the direction of different paths to time travel. We are experiencing time on Earth, fine-tuned to the circumstances we find ourselves in, in our particular place of the galaxy. But there are so many factors altering the physical aspects, as gravity alone will make for different speeds in different places.
Let’s see, what’s commonly known about the underlying physics of the universe helping us to cheat on any given timeline.
The general theory of relativity was published by Albert Einstein in 1915 and also ‘handles gravity’.
More excitingly, it then allows for the possibility for shortcuts through spacetime itself. These shortcuts are better known as wormholes and might be the easiest way to bridge great distances like a billion light years. Of course, it also spans different points in time.
Born out of the conception of quantum theory, there are many physicists believing in wormholes and not only in a pure mathematical sense. Stephen Hawking is among them and also shares the belief that wormholes are constantly popping in and out of existence at the quantum scale.
Having written that, you’ll also get the idea of what’s the problem with stuff on a quantum scale, which happens to be far smaller than atoms. We’d either need to find and inflate a wormhole or we would need to shrink us in order to pass. That’s quite a feat and requires a massive amount of energy, unless it’s working much in the same way as black holes do — meaning you’d just be stretched into it, which doesn’t sound like a lot of fun.
Anyway, there have been multiple attempts to prove the existence, but as you might know already — not even Einstein could get a grip on both theories — general relativity and quantum mechanics combined.
Dr. Ronald L. Mallett is all about twisting spacetime and he’s pretty serious about proving his idea. A rotating cylinder should create circular patterns of light, hence twisting space and time with it. His colleagues within the physics community might mock him and literally put the whammy on that man by saying his device is plagued by a singularity (meaning not working), but nonetheless, until proven otherwise, his method is still valid and possible.
He’s been creating a spinning laser machinery that theoretically drags anything around in space and in time once its dropped inside a swirling cylinder. According to professor Mallet, it’s just a matter of the right geometry that potentially leads to time travel into either the past and the future.
His theory has been published in 2000 already and is out there for a while now. So far he’s been trying to use neutrons to send a message through time and no humans, but given the fact that there’s an up and down spin to it — sending binary coded messages through time sound like an opportunity worth exploring.
The time within your head and body
If time really is a construct within conscious minds than there’s another way to travel to the future. All you’d have to do, is slowing down your very own perception of time by slowing down (stopping would be perfect) all the processes in your body. Yes, that would actually mean living the life of a bacterial spore that survives millions of years by reverting in a state of absolute or massively suspended animation. Just like the hibernating animals where certain conditions regulate metabolism and all natural requirements.
It all boils down to technology that either allows for hibernation or a Buddha’esque way of life. Living like Buddha sounds an awful lot complicated and somehow uncomfortable to me, but we are indeed advancing on the hibernation front.
According to some scientists we could soon be achieving a short-term hibernation state, albeit lasting only hours. But even this might not be enough to travel through time in your current state and form, but it has implications for any kind of medical emergency needing super-fast reaction times to save lives.
More than 10 years ago, American scientists demonstrated a way to slow the metabolism of none hibernating animals like mice, effectively dropping the core body temperature 13 °C. Their metabolism decreased 10-fold and the hibernation lasted for six hours after which the mice could be reanimated without any ill effects. Similar experiments on sheep and pigs were not successful, though, showing you’d need another method to work for larger animals.
The latest attempts now use something that seems to come right out of Wayward Pines. By replacing the blood with a cold saline solution, efforts were successful on pigs and currently there are human clinical trials in Pittsburgh.
Before we rely on hibernation technology, we should have a look at ‘real’ time traveling again. According to Einstein’s theory of general relativity, the stronger the gravity you feel, the slower time moves, right? This can already be shown on Earth, where the strength of gravity increases further when nearing the center of our planet.
This effect can be measured of course and in 2010 physicists at the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) placed two atomic clocks on shelves, one 33 centimeters above the other to measure the difference in their rate of ticking. That’s so easy, but effective, as the lower one indeed ticked slower because it feels a slightly stronger gravity. That’s the reason why current GPS systems have to account for that slight time dilation effects, also.
However, we only need to look out for regions of strong gravity to travel to the far future. The best way to do that would be the black hole at the center of our galaxy, but getting close to the event horizon has only been done successful once… and it’s in a movie. Interstellar shows a risky way of slowing time down to a point where you could access past events, land in the future and escape without further harm.
But if we assume to travel the vast distances to reach our black hole, we’d also experience a time dilation (again technology to do so provided). This dilation alone might be enough to push us far ahead in time.
Use the Speed
Certainly, the easiest and most practical way to get to the far future is to hurry up… not like the Flash does it (even though this could be a very cool experiment), but considerably faster.
Once again, Einstein’s theory of special relativity is the foundation for traveling through time. The tricky thing is to speed up approaching the barrier the speed of light is setting. According to Einstein, when traveling at such high speeds, time slows down for you relative to the outside world.
This is by no means a simple thought experiment and it has actually been measured. Atomic clocks obviously come in handy as one part of a twin set has been placed and flown in a jet aircraft, while the other remained stationary on Earth. Lo and behold — physicists proved that a flying clock ticks marginally slower, because of its speed. The difference in time you’d get in a spaceship traveling at 90% of the speed of light is dwarfing all of that. Close to the speed of light you’d experience time passing roughly 2.6 times slower than it was back on Earth. The closer to the speed of light, the more extreme the divergence and the time travel effect would become.
I don’t know if we can actually achieve this, but we are working on it in Cern, Switzerland, using the Large Hadron Collider. The physicists, who consider themselves as the ones who literally accelerate science, use everything they have at their disposal and zip around particles at — I need to recount that — 99.9999991% of the speed of light.
Put in a special relativity perspective it means, that a second for single proton accelerated by the LHC is equivalent to almost 28 million seconds for us — which is almost a full year — wow!
That’s only particle physics, I know, and we need to try harder to achieve the goal for a spacecraft full of people, but it definitely shows, that it could be possible. There’s always the problem with increasing mass at such high speeds due to almost infinite energy consumption, but we still have space to work with… out of spacetime. Overcoming space and outmaneuver time through other means is where people get all creative.
British inventor Roger Shawyer was recently able to patent his application for a next-generation superconducting thruster, meaning that we could use his EmDrive in the hopefully not so distant future.
Any way you slice it, traveling through time might have already occurred, but just opened up other dimensions or parallel universes in order to not interfere with the universe we experience right now.
One last thing you should always keep in mind — only do it, when you’re sure no one’s waiting here for you…