Sadly, those of us longing to someday head back to the Roaring Twenties or Swinging Sixties for an evening of retro adventures may feel a bit disappointed following the publication of a recent scientific paper.
A promising young physicist from the University of Queensland has concluded that paradox free time travel is a complete impossibility.
Under the supervision of physicist Dr Fabio Costa, fourth-year science student Germain Tobar used mathematical modelling to examine Einstein’s theory of general relativity alongside classical dynamics, investigating as to whether the two famously opposing systems could be reconciled.
The clash between Einstein’s theory of general relativity and classical dynamics presents a well-known famous flaw within the very notion of time travel, a flaw know as ‘the grandfather paradox’.
If you go with Einstein’s theory, then it would be perfectly possible for a potential time traveller to use a time loop to jump back through time with the purpose of killing their own grandfather.
However, things get a little mind-bending when you take into account classical dynamics, which posits that the events following on from the grandfather’s death would ultimately mean the time traveller wouldn’t have been born in the first place.
Tobar and Dr Costa used the ongoing coronavirus pandemic as a model for figuring out whether or not these two theories could simultaneously exist, calculating whether or not time travel could ever be feasible.
Tobar and Dr Costa imagined a situation whereby a time traveller attempted to go back through time and prevent patient zero from ever becoming infected with coronavirus.
Although Einstein’s theory does indeed allow for time travel to be possible, classical dynamics dictates that there could be no interference with the fundamental sequence of events.
If indeed the time traveller was successful in preventing the spread of the deadly virus, then this would of course eliminate their primary reason for travelling back through time in the first place.
Dr Costa said:
This is a paradox – an inconsistency that often leads people to think that time travel cannot occur in our universe.
Some physicists say it is possible, but logically it’s hard to accept because that would affect our freedom to make any arbitrary action. It would mean you can time travel, but you cannot do anything that would cause a paradox to occur.
However, Tobar and Dr Costa have explained that their research shows that neither of these conditions need to be the case, and it is indeed possible for events to adjust to become logically consistent with any changes the time traveller could make.
In the coronavirus patient zero example, you might try and stop patient zero from becoming infected, but in doing so you would catch the virus and become patient zero, or someone else would.
No matter what you did, the salient events would just recalibrate around you. This would mean that – no matter your actions – the pandemic would occur, giving your younger self the motivation to go back and stop it.
Try as you might to create a paradox, the events will always adjust themselves, to avoid any inconsistency. The range of mathematical processes we discovered show that time travel with free will is logically possible in our universe without any paradox.
Sadly, it might be time to park your fantasies of zipping through time in a DeLorean. However, these findings certainly make for interesting reading.
This research was detailed in a recent paper published in the scientific journal Classical and Quantum Gravity.
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Classical and Quantum Gravity
The University of Queensland
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