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Is Time Travel Inevitable?

Anybody remember the old 60’s TV show The Time Tunnel? I haven’t seen that many of them, but it was the third series created by the father of television science fiction, Irwin Allen. Sure, he created disaster movies like The Towering Inferno and The Poseidon Adventure but before that he created several science fiction TV shows. The most popular was probably the ultra-cheesy Lost in Space, but he also created Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Land of the Giants, and the aforementioned The Time Tunnel.

I mention this only because I recently saw an episode of National Geographic Channel’s Naked Science where they discuss with leading scientists the fact that most of them feel time travel is not only possible, but inevitable. In fact, it’s already happened. Now before you assume I’ve gone X-Files or something, the fact is the astronauts orbiting the in the space station are going so much faster than those of us here on Earth that several of them have returned to find themselves in the future!

Don’t believe me? It is true. Well yes, it is only a second or so in the future, but the future none the less. According to the theory of special relativity, when one person is traveling closer to the speed of light than another, time passes slower for that person than for the one who is relatively stationary. Also, time travels slower at the bottom of a gravity well (such as on Earth versus in orbit.) The further away from it you are, the faster time is for you. What I find fascinating is that time passes differently for different objects in the universe depending on their speed and proximity to gravity, so time is different throughout the universe.

So what will it take for you to travel into the future? Energy. That’s it really, just the energy required to take you to a speed closer to the speed of light and then slow you back down again. Once you’ve done that, you’ve traveled into the future. You might not be able to travel backwards but forwards looks not only possible, but inevitable if you assume that eventually we’ll control enough energy to make it happen.

The bigger question is – if it were possible, would you do it? I’d have to say no. I have no desire to leave my friends and family behind in the past, at least not now. But what about you?

11 Comments on Is Time Travel Inevitable?

  1. I have to agree that it would be pretty selfish to leave all those people behind in the past. But what if they decided to come too? It would be a pretty hard thing to resist if it were really possible.

    You’d just have to hope that you didn’t fast forward into an apocalyptic wasteland and die of radiation and exposure within moments of arriving.


  2. Special relativity is pretty well known, and yes, if you travel, time moves at a slower pace for you.

    If you travel at a large fraction of the speed of light, the effect may even become noticable.

    But there are soulutions that allow ‘closed timelike curves’ – travel backwards in time, at least back to a defined origin. These do require warping of spacetime to an immense degree, using one or more spinning black holes and ‘exotic matter’ – i.e. matter with a ‘negative energy density’ – and no-one has the faintest idea what that might be.

    If you built such a machine, you would then theoretically be able to go back in time – or at least send a message back – upto the point the machine was ‘switched on’.

    Of course, this plays merry hell with causality. From an SFnal point of view, perhaps best to say that when you go back, you trigger the branching of an alternate time line – you *can* go back, but never to *your own* past.

    Looked at another way, you set up your space-warping machine, and send a robot probe off on a relativistic speed survey of the galaxy. The probe returns to the ruins of Earth millions of years in the future, find the machine, and sends its findings back…that data goes to an alternate you, but at the same time, you recieve information from an alternate version of the probe about someone else’s universe…  



  3. Hell yes. In the spectrum of possible futures, there are very few that would not be preferable to now.


  4. …. had to be said.

  5. The Time Tunnel is on Hulu. I’d heard of it, but never watched it until recently. It’s a surprisingly fun show to watch.

  6. Time:

    Time is when humans see things rot or experience it via your own body.



    All past objects have rotted and their atoms have drifted to wherever. Thus any device to travel backwards in time would have to reassemble all of those atoms.


    There is no “time stream” everything is “now” in the universe.


    By “frozen” somehow would seem like time travel to the future. Say a beam could freeze your molecular activity. When you were unfrozen no time will seem to have passed.

    That all there is!

  7. Matte Lozenge // September 19, 2008 at 5:46 pm //

    I’d never heard of Time Tunnel before this post. After watching the pilot on Hulu, I know why.

    The show is stultifying. It’s The Wild, Wild West without the wild. It’s Lost in Space without the space. It’s cheesy TV made with cheese product, not cheese.

  8. It’s an interesting thing to consider: would I travel in time? Only if I could travel back to my starting point. And even then, I’m very unsure. What do I gain by going into the future and living there, aside from losing the handful of grasps I have on the world around me (it would all change, and I would have nothing…and the dint of being from the past would not cause the world to give me money).

    It would be a nest of problems, even if I could travel back. One only has to watch something like “Journeyman” and extrapolate to see the mess it could cause.

    I don’t know. It’s fascinating. As much of a SF fan as I am and a romantic, I’m suddenly very boring the more I think about this.

    Colonization of another world, or at least a visit, without hesitation. Time travel? I pause to consider. And that’s not even a pun… 🙂


  9. Time travel to the past is not possible. If you consider the true effect of ending up in some point in the past, then the idea of somehow discovering a way to do it would have already created a catastrophe.


    For example. Lets talk about what would happen if you traveled back in time. First of all, your mere existence in the present effects all your surroundings. Every breath you make effects the air, organisms, etc. Your presence on a street corner could unknowingly inspire a passerby to follow a future path to greatness. So given your dramatic effect on this world, imagine how that would be if you traveled backwards. Just being there would instantly alter history. It doesnt have to be obvious like in the movies.


    So if someone at anytime into the future were to invent a way to go back, then it would be just as easy for someone with bad intentions to go back as well. And this inevitable disaster would have already ocurred if they went back at any time before today.


    Besides. When time passes, it ceases to exist in any form. We can see into the future just by looking out in space. But we cannot see the past. Its not there. Its not here.


    You could say that the only time travel movie that comes close to reality is Langoliers. Its farfetched mostly. But, the idea that time chips away as it passes is perfectly logical. The black hole and wormhole theories are for future travel only. All you are doing is finding ways to skip over time. You can’t skip backwards.


    Our “creator” knew better.

  10. Actually, we see into the past by looking out into space, JoeJoeJ.   We’re seeing what happened in the past since the light has taken so long to get to us.  Heck, we’re even seeing into the past when we look at the sun (8.3 light minutes) or the moon (1.3 light seconds).  It’s just that we can’t do anything about it – it’s more like watching a video of what happened.  There are plenty of stars that have gone nova but we don’t know about it yet.

  11. i would love to travel forward in time…

    but another thing is although you say traveling forward is possible.. what about going in to the past? surely it must be possible in some way or form if you get power so good that you did it?

    and then when your there you could alter everything that happens now and anything that  ever will happen!

    so yes i would travel…

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