Time travel experiment demonstrates how to avoid the grandfather paradox (Update)

This graph shows that, as the accuracy of the quantum gun increases (from 0 to 180 degrees) so that it is more likely to flip a qubit’s state, the probability of successful self-consistent teleportation (red dots) decreases. While the theoretical probability of teleportation of qubits in opposite states is zero, the experimental probability of qubits in opposite states (blue diamonds) is about 0.01. Image caption: Seth Lloyd, et al. ©2011 American Physical Society.

By Lisa Zyga

(PhysOrg.com) — Among the many intriguing concepts in Einstein’s relativity theories is the idea of closed timelike curves (CTCs), which are paths in spacetime that return to their starting points. As such, CTCs offer the possibility of traveling back in time. But, as many science fiction films have addressed, time travel is full of potential paradoxes. Perhaps the most notable of these is the grandfather paradox, in which a time traveler goes back in time and kills her grandfather, preventing her own birth.

In a new study, a team of researchers has proposed a new theory of CTCs that can resolve the , and they also perform an experiment showing how such a scheme works. The researchers, led by Seth Lloyd from MIT, along with scientists from the Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa, Italy; the University of Pavia in Pavia, Italy; the Tokyo Institute of Technology; and the University of Toronto, have published their study in a recent issue of . The concepts in the study are similar to an earlier study by some of the same authors that was posted at arXiv.org last year.

“Einstein’s theory of general relativity supports closed timelike curves,” Lloyd told PhysOrg.com. “For decades researchers have argued over how to treat such objects quantum mechanically. We believe that our theory is the correct theory of such objects. Moreover, our theory shows how time travel might be accomplished even in the absence of general relativistic closed timelike curves.”

In the new theory, CTCs are required to behave like ideal quantum channels of the sort involved in teleportation. In this theory, self-consistent CTCs (those that don’t result in paradoxes) are postselected, and are called “P-CTCs.” As the scientists explain, this theory differs from the widely accepted quantum theory of CTCs proposed by physicist David Deutsch, in which a time traveler maintains self-consistency by traveling back into a different past than the one she remembers. In the P-CTC formulation, time travelers must travel to the past they remember.

Although postselecting CTCs may seem complicated, it can actually be investigated experimentally in laboratory simulations. By sending a “living” qubit (i.e., a bit in the state 1) a few billionths of a second back in time to try to “kill” its former self (i.e., flip to the state 0), the scientists show that only photons that don’t kill themselves can make the journey.

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