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I just couldn’t help myself …

Time Travel, Warp, Cause and effect

I just couldn’t help myself … I’ve done it again and it’s not just due to a lack of will power.  The problem really does reside outside myself.

Now I know that sounds like classic denial. But, it’s not my fault this time, the internet made me do it. I tweaked my news feed settings to expand my intellectual horizons vis a vis what information I expose myself to daily.

But just as sure as a Presidential tweet, like clockwork here comes another story that challenges our perception of reality and therefore about what is possible and what is not.

For me it’s really a matter of selfishness … as I write science fiction, my life is much simplified when I can ignore the speed of light and not overly worry about relativistic effects. Some people reading this may want to skip over the next two or three paragraphs while I give some examples and background. It might be old news.

The reason we aren’t zipping around the local galactic neighborhood exploring alien planetary systems is because of the incredibly vast distances we have to deal with. So much has already been written on it that I will be pithy. The distances are such that it would take us 20,000 years using available technologies just to get us to the nearest star, Alpha Centauri 4.243 light years away.

That’s almost as long as modern humans have existed.

Now we could be charitable and say that the EM Drive currently being investigated is the real deal. At constant acceleration, it could get us to Alpha C in about 13,000 years.

Even if we allow ourselves to be overly optimistic and assume for a minute that we could find the funding to build an antimatter rocket and figure a way to fuel it … which we can’t from an economic viewpoint … its 8 years one way, 16 years round trip … so my book would go like this … “Day 1: Travelling through space …. Day 2,000: still going … Day 2,555: Next year we will be approaching our destination …” It would not be a page turner, that’s for sure.

And science fiction aside … the costs would be criminally high in a cost benefit analysis. We will likely send a ship in the foreseeable future but it will be a small craft, an unmanned probe.

So that brings us to the need for Faster Than Light travel and this is where it gets ugly. Established scientific knowledge says it cannot be done … For one, anything made of fermions … you me and the ship, will experience relativistic effects as we approach the speed of light. For example, at 99.8% the speed of light our ship and ourselves will be 15 times more massive than we were at rest. To accelerate to this point will require increasingly more and more energy so we exhaust our fuel long before we get there. It’s a circular problem too … the more fuel the bigger the ship … the bigger the ship the more fuel needed … the faster we go ever increasing need for fuel so we need a bigger ship which means we need more fuel … you get the idea.

Also, time gets funny. For every year you and I spend on the ship 15 years have gone by on earth … so we take our nine year round trip out to Alpha C and when we get back 135 years have gone by and the zombie apocalypse has wiped everything we care about out … kind of defeats any rational for going in the first place.

But aside from all that, really the issue is one of causality … Thou Shalt Not Violate Causality. Ever. In any way. Period.

What’s the big deal with causality? Events need to be ordered into causes and effects to avoid paradox’s like the time traveler going back in time to kill his father before his father meets his mother … that whole shtick. For our reality to be self-consistent this seems to be necessary.

And just consider the mess we’d make of being able to conduct ‘time war’. Please try to convince me that if we could go back in time and kill Hitler we wouldn’t give it a shot. And as much as we would say this is a ‘good’ thing, that single act would undo the present … meaning that quite possibly we would not have invented time travel which means we couldn’t have killed him in the first place … we’ve all seen the movies and read the books.

So … We look to science fiction for ideas … warp drives … work holes … hyperspace … for ways to cheat the Universal Speed Limit and not destroy our own reality …  and that is when we are told, sorry, that’s all impossible according to known physics.

And this is where I relapsed.

I just wrote about this last week and promised myself not to beat a dead horse by writing about it again.

My sincerest apologies. But I just don’t believe we can say right now what is possible and what is not … therefore we should not.

I just read this morning this article about a study that looks at two very basic physical properties that we are VERY comfortable with. Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle and Einstein’s General Relativity.

Rather than recap the science in full you can read the full article here.

In a nut shell, they combined the fact that large amounts of energy blur the flow of time and that the larger the energy in a clock the more precise it is … so the most precise clocks actually blur the flow of time in other nearby clocks just by virtue of their precision. Soooo … time is not a constant … and the distance traveled by light over a defined amount of time is? …. We can get into a discussion about the frame of reference of the observer but I’d take the odds in traffic court without a lawyer.

Another experiment … details here (interesting but technical read) showed this week that in a race, two photons both passed through two quantum operations in first and last place at the same time … essentially each one won and lost the same race in different orders! Hmmmm … cause and effect?

Of course, none of this is conclusive … these are studies and need peer review.

But then why is the prohibition on FTL travel conclusive? If our very understanding of time and causality is fuzzy at best I am willing to believe that a Warp drive is in the not too distant future.

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