Documenting the Coming Singularity

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Everything You Thought You Knew About Time Travel is Wrong!

It's Saturday afternoon. You are perhaps, at this moment, engaged in some outdoor frivolity, while I sit before my computer screen straining to force some cogent ideas out of my head, through my hands and into digital life. Although I am envious and resentful, I will, in fact, write something. However, it will be quite fanciful and silly, I am certain, so be prepared. Yes, everything you always thought you knew about time travel is wrong. A bold statement, no? I'm prepared to defend it.

In particular, I'm referring to travel into the future. If you've seen the original movie, "The Time Machine," or any of scores of scifi flicks featuring this trick, the mental image you have is probably of a scientist climbing into some sort of machine. After he (or she) gets comfortable, he takes a final, emotional look at his laboratory, not knowing if he'll be able to return to this time. Then, he gingerly moves a control stick forward, and the machine begins to throb and pulsate with power. As we look on from the point of view of someone standing in the lab, the machine, with our intrepid scientist strapped in, suddenly vanishes. If we shift our perspective to that of the scientist, we see things around us moving faster and faster as time is accelerated.

Well, I don't think that's how it would happen at all. Here's how I see it.

In fact, the scientist and his time machine would not disappear. As he accelerates through time, he would seem to us to have become a statue, frozen and moveless. He would remain in that seeming stasis until his machine's mad dash through time decelerated to its normal rate. If you are very patient, however, and willing to peer closely at the frozen scientist for long, boring days, you will see him move, ever so slowly. He blinks his eyes, but that takes a week to accomplish. Amazing!

Out of a sense of loyalty, you and your friends do your best to protect the scientist from any changes to his physical circumstances. His mortgage must be paid. His home must be maintained. For there he sits, as seemingly unchanging as a sphinx.

Why must it be this way? Simple. Our scientist had simply found a way to slow down the passage of time in his immediate vicinity, relative to the rest of the world. The result is that the world around him moves through time much more quickly than he. Thus, he appears (to you) to stand still, while you appear (to him) to fly about almost too quickly to be visible at all. Until his journey ends. His timepiece tells him that only an hour has passed, and yet, the clock on the table tells him that years have gone by. He has arrived in the future!

In a way, when you go to sleep tonight, and your consciousness closes its eyes, you will regain consciousness in the future. (This isn't usually the way it feels because we are somehow aware of the passage of time even when we sleep.) But if you were to be knocked out, or if you fall into a particularly deep sleep, when morning comes it will seem to you as if you went to sleep just a moment ago, and here it is, time to get up.

Think about it. If you disagree, leave a comment. I hope you enjoyed your Saturday!


Pavel said...

I always imagined it would be just like teleportation, except instead of folding space, you're also folding time.

With your hypothesis, what would travel backward through time look like, then?

cephyn said...

You're right, if that's how the scientist did it. But maybe that's not the way s/he did it.

The above commenter is right - how would it look to be going back in time? Clearly there would have to be a different mechanism at work there.

We think of time being special - and in many ways it is, but in some ways it's not. We think of a wormhole as a shortcut between two places - but that's not entirely accurate. In theory, a wormhole could be a shortcut between times as well as space. It's all connected. So a time traveler might just punch a hole through to some other place or time - and in that case, they'd disappear from the origin point and reappear wherever, or whenever, they were headed.

Barry Mahfood said...

Thanks for the comments, pavel and cephyn.

Going backward in time? Everyone knows that's impossible. (Grin)

The wormhole thing at this point seems like a bust. They say it would take more energy than the universe contains in order to keep one open.

If it is possible, we should be having some time travellers here now. Perhaps the alien abductions are evolved humans from the future come back to replenish their gene stock. What do you think?