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Time travel has become an extremely debated and dividing theory in both the field of science and as a general household topic. While many believe it is simply impossible, others describe time travel as just beyond our comprehension but definitely plausible. The physical science and mathematical calculations all point to the very real achievability of moving through time but there are several limitations we face in our current state.

Prior to Einstein’s famous theory of general relativity, most scientists believed that time was a constant. It was thought to travel in a continuous, straight, and forward line. Isaac Newton described time as traveling like an arrow being shot forward. The predominate theories of early science characterized traveling through time as something reserved for imaginative science fiction stories.

Early in the twentieth century, the theory of relativity revolutionized the way we explain time. Einstein characterized time as not like an arrow, but a river which flows around stars and galaxies. Einstein postulated that much like a body of water, time speeds up and slows down as it comes into contact with celestial bodies and gravitational pull. He theorized if one were to scatter clocks around the universe, they would measure time at different speeds.

Kurt Goedel and Albert Einstein. Princton. Photography. 1950. (Photo by Imagno/Getty Images) [Kurt Goedel und Albert Einstein. Princton. Photographie. 1950.]

Usually scientific developments do not quickly enter into the public consciousness until they are very widely accepted by academia. This particular theory, however, was so revolutionary that it brought about completely new notions about space and time. Einstein was just as shocked as the rest of the world when a world renowned mathematician, Kurt Goedel, used his theory of relativity to provide a reasonable method of time travel. In his memoirs, Einstein admitted that he was disturbed that his findings could potentially allow for time travel. Goedel used Einstein’s “river of time” model to theorize that time could wrap itself into a circle or whirlpool and anyone who could travel along it could actually travel backwards in time (http://mkaku.org/home/articles/the-physics-of-time-travel/).

Since the notion of possible time travel entered into the collective consciousness, many have been fascinated by the idea. Humanity has yet to physically accomplish time travel but it has come up with some very real theoretical possibilities. The most common and accepted notion is that if one could travel at a speed faster than light, then the object would move backward in time. Unfortunately, conventional science explains that it would take an infinite amount of energy to move faster than the speed of light and there is no evidence that such a feat could be accomplished.

Wormholes are another popular accepted theory on how to travel backwards to the past. After accepting Einstein’s notion that space is curved, we can imagine light traveling on this curved space. If we were to create a straight shortcut between the starting and ending point then we will have created a wormhole. This space-time tube would allow us to hypothetically travel faster than the speed of light moving along the curved space. Scientists have yet to come across a wormhole, and the technology required to make one is far beyond modern capabilities.

Another interesting theory explains that there are long cosmic strings stretched across the universe which have huge masses and could thus change the space-time around them. If two cosmic strings were to approach each other they may bend space-time enough to travel through time.

Another interesting theory is that we can travel to the future with time dilation. Time dilation can be described as the characteristic of clocks to slow down due to higher speeds. For example, for a rocket ship traveling closer to the speed of light time would appear to pass normally, but time would actually be passing slower than on Earth’s clocks. This is why Einstein’s theory is called one of relativity because time is not constant but relative to whoever is observing it. If we were able to move a ship at the speed of light around a black hole, for example, time would pass much slower for those aboard the ship than those on Earth. Upon his return home he would observe that everyone on Earth has been experiencing time much more quickly. The astronaut may be surprised to find everyone has aged more quickly than he has. In this way, he has traveled into the future.

Though no conclusive time travel proof has presented itself, a number of experiments have proved the theory of time dilation. To give credit to the theory, scientists have shown clocks move at different speeds by measuring clocks on orbiting satellites relative to stationary clocks on Earth. Even atomic clocks on airplanes move more slowly than those on the ground though the dilation effect is much weaker.

The time travel proof as far as the physics and mathematics has a very solid basis. There are, however, some paradoxes which claim to make time travel functionally impossible despite the scientific and technical possibility. A famous time traveling paradox is explained in the extremely popular time travel movie Back to the Future. By going into the past the main character jeopardizes his own birth bringing up the well known “grandfather paradox.” Put simply, if one were to go back to the past and kill his grandfather then he would not have ever been born to come back in time and kill his grandfather. Quantum physics has recently come up with a solution to this blinding paradox by characterizing our universe as multidimensional.

Time travel movies such as Back to the Future and Groundhog Day have only furthered society’s fascination about time travel. To add to the intrigue, physics has practically proclaimed the very real possibility of success with the assistance of future technologies not yet invented. Recently, quantum physics has also confirmed the functional possibility by solving some of the paradoxes related to time travel. The much desired understanding of this process seems only just out of our comprehension and appears to get closer to reality every day.


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