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Time Travel - Quantum Strangeness And Spacetime

From: Mark LeCuyer <randydan@wavetech.net>
Date: Sun, 12 Jul 1998 02:05:20 -0500
Fwd Date: Sun, 12 Jul 1998 12:42:23 -0400
Subject: Time Travel - Quantum Strangeness And Spacetime

From: Mark - Alien Astronomer

Source: Strange Magazine
by Sherrill Roberts

There was a young lady named bright,
Who traveled much faster than light.
She started one day
in a relative way,
and returned on the previous night.
A. H. Reginald Buller(1)


This article was originally published in Strange Magazine 14
(Fall, 1994).

While we are no longer so naive as to think that a mechanical device
such as H.G. Wells's Time Machine could be easily built, the "new
physics" offers us tantalizing glimpses of the possibility of time
travel, possibly utilizing forces and entities which exist, at least
theoretically, in our universe today. "The notion you can move
forward and back in time is allowed by some of the new ideas in
physics," says Jeffrey R. Kuhn, a physics and astronomy professor at
Michigan State University.(2)

The scientific premises suggesting a theoretical time travel
mechanism are Einstein's Theory of Relativity and its successor,
quantum mechanics. Einstein's inclusion of time as simply another
basic dimension of physical reality, like width and height, and his
mathematical equations using the speed of light as a cosmic "speed
limit," paved the way for quantum mechanics' description of the
physical universe in terms of black holes, singularities, and "cosmic
strings," concepts which at times defy "rationality."(3) MIT
Professor Alan Guth has given us a concise summary of the Theory of
Relativity: "Space tells matter how to move. Matter tells space how
to curve."(4)

If we envision the concept of spacetime as a bedsheet held at the
four corners, we can immediately see these implications of Relativity
if we place a tennis ball in the center of the sheet; the flat sheet
of spacetime is distorted into a curve with the ball at the center,
matter telling space how to curve. If we place a second ball on the
surface, the new ball rolls toward the indentation made by the first,
curved space telling matter how to move. If we place a bowling ball
in the center of our flat spacetime, the indentation will be very
deep, possibly tearing a hole in the fabric of our spacetime, a black
hole. If we view spacetime from beneath the flat sheet, we will see
the bowling ball as a protruding shape, the black hole has emerged on
the "other side of time" as a white hole or possibly a wormhole.(5)

Keeping this scenario in mind, it becomes clear that what is needed
for time travel is an object which is massive enough to create a
significant distortion of spacetime, something larger and heavier
than a ping-pong ball on the surface of our bedsheet.(6) A brief
review of some of the current concepts in physics reveals several
likely candidates.

Black holes occur when stars of a certain size use up all of their
nuclear fuel. A star in such a situation begins to shrink and become
very dense; the more dense it becomes, the greater its gravitational
field, to the point that nothing, not even light, can escape. An
additional effect is a distortion of spacetime (predicted by
Einstein) with a resultant slowing of time itself. Theorists
speculate that at its heart a black hole must contain a
"singularity," a single point of infinite density where the laws of
quantum mechanics no longer apply, an "edge" of the universe and of
time itself. A person or object entering the singularity would be
subjected to stretching and squeezing (literally squeezed out of
existence), and would not survive to report the experience. However,
there are those who speculate that a free-fall trajectory which takes
a spacecraft close to the black hole, but not close enough to be
swallowed by the singularity, would effectively be a one-way time

"By choosing the right path around the black hole, such a journey,
which might take a few hours according to the clocks on the falling
spacecraft, could be made to take as long as you like according to
the outside Universe. A hundred years, a thousand years, or longer,"
writes John Gribbin in his book Unveiling the Edge of Time.(7)

Physicist John Wheeler has theorized that a black hole produces a
"wormhole" spewing vast amounts of energy into another, distant area
of the universe or into another region of spacetime.(8) White holes
are a similar concept, except that they are postulated to be the
result of other universes' black holes, spilling matter and energy
into our universe. In fact, what we call "the universe" may be a
number of universes connected by wormholes. The time-travel aspects
of wormholes were addressed by a consortium of Russian and American
physicists; their scenario involves using gravitational attraction to
"tow" one mouth of the wormhole until it rests alongside its opposite
end, like laying the two ends of a garden hose together; since time
is a physical property of each wormhole mouth, a traveler jumping
into one mouth would emerge from the other mouth at the corresponding
time in that mouth's region of spacetime. The difference could be a
few hours or milennia, depending upon the disparity in spacetime
between the two mouths.(9)

The most exotic theoretical cosmic "objects," and the most difficult
to visualize, are the "strings" of energy which may be remnants of
the original Big Bang. Strings are "thin loops of ultradense energy,
far narrower than the nucleus of an atom, but stretching across vast

Princeton physicist J. Richard Gott has calculated that cosmic
strings warp spacetime sufficiently for a spaceship to outrace a
light ray, and that two strings moving past one another in opposite
directions would change the shape of spacetime to such an extent
that, "a spacecraft looping around the pair of strings could return
to its starting point before it had left."(11)

"Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future."
T.S. Eliot, "Burnt Norton"

Paradoxes inherent in time travel have provided inspiration for
numerous science fiction tales. Assuming that a civilization has the
technical capability to orbit black holes and move wormhole mouths,
there is still the question of the time traveler's journey into the
past and his possible influence on his own present existence. This
issue has been called the "granny paradox,"so named because a time
traveler in the past could cause the demise of his/her own
grandmother and would cease to exist in the present. One attempt to
resolve the granny paradox is Hugh Everett's "many-worlds"
interpretation of quantum mechanics.(12) Everett's hypothesis is
that, at the quantum level, all possible states potentially exist and
that a universe confronted with a choice brings both realities into
being.(13) Everett's theory is consistent with certain experimental
findings that photons (light particles) exist simultaneously as
particles and as waves, so the possibility of an infinite number of
parallel universes is not as far-fetched as it may seem. Other
speculations on the time-travel paradox hold that a person traveling
back from the future would not be "allowed" by circumstances, to do
anything which would jeopardize his or her future existence.(14)
Given the massive distortions of spacetime involved in time travel, a
person would need to think very carefully about the possibility of
returning to find all his friends long dead, his apartment rented,
and his job nonexistent. Perhaps Stephen Hawking is correct in
assuming that the laws of quantum mechanics preclude time travel, as,
"we have not been invaded by hordes of tourists from the future."(15)


1.Martin Gardner, The Relativity Explosion (NY: Vintage Books, 1976),
p. 131.
2.Paul Overeiner, "Time Travel: It May Be Possible, But Don't Buy a
Ticket Yet," Jackson Citizen Patriot, 4/1/92.
3.John Travis, "Could a Pair of Cosmic Strings Open a Route Into the
Past?" Science 256, 4/10/92, p. 179.
4.John Gribbin, Unveiling the Edge of Time (NY: Crown, 1992), p. 219.
5.Gardner, pp.102, 173.
6.Hughey, op. cit.
7.Gribbin, pp. 147-149.
8.Ibid., p. 153.
9.Ibid., pp. 206-208.
10.Ibid., p. 230.
11.Travis, op. cit.
12.David Deutsch and Michael Lockwood, "The Quantum Physics of Time
Travel," Scientific American, March 1994, p. 72.
13.Gribbin, p. 188.
14.Deutsch, p. 71.
15.Travis, p. 180.


This article was originally published in Strange Magazine 14 (Fall,