Tardis Pinball set.

Time travel is proven possible — but we’ll likely never be able to build the machine, author says

New research from the University of British Columbia, Okanagan comes to validate the nerdiest of your dreams. Time travel is possible according to a new mathematical model developed at the university — but not likely anytime soon. Or ever.

Tardis Pinball set.

Image credits Clark Mills.

The idea of modern time traveling machine has its roots in HG Wells’ Time Machine, published way back in 1885. Needless to say, it has enraptured imaginations all the way up to the present, and scientists have been trying to prove or disprove its feasibility ever since. One century ago, Einstein was unveiling his theory of general relativity, cementing time as a fourth dimension and describing gravitational fields as the product of distortions in spacetime. Einstein’s theory only grew in confidence following the detection of gravitational waves generated from colliding black holes by the LIGO Scientific Collaboration.

So time isn’t just an abstract, human construct — it’s a dimension just as real as the physical space we perceive around us. Does that mean we can travel through time? Ben Tippett, a mathematics and physics instructor at UBC’s Okanagan campus, says yes. An expert on Einstein’s theory of general relativity, sci-fi enthusiast and black hole researcher in his spare time, Tippett recently published a paper which describes a valid mathematical model for time travel.

“People think of time travel as something as fiction,” says Tippett. “And we tend to think it’s not possible because we don’t actually do it. But, mathematically, it is possible.”

Tippett says Einstein’s division of space in three dimensions with time as a fourth, separate dimension, is incorrect. These four facets should be imagined simultaneously, he adds, connected as a space-time continuum. Starting from Einstein’s theory, Tippett says that the curvature of space-time can explain the curved orbits of planets around stars. In ‘flat’ (or uncurved) space-time, a planet or a star would keep moving in straight lines. But in the vicinity of a massive stellar body space-time curves, drawing the trajectories of nearby planets and bending them around that body.

Tippett proposes using such a curvature to create a time machine. The closer one gets to a black hole, he says, time moves slower. So if we could find a way to recreate that effect and bend time in a circle for the passengers of the time-machine, we can go back or forward in time.

Tippett created a mathematical model of a Traversable Acausal Retrograde Domain in Space-time (TARDIS). He describes it as a bubble of space-time geometry which carries its contents backward and forwards through space and time as it tours a large circular path. The bubble moves through space-time at speeds greater than the speed of light at times, allowing it to move backward in time.

But although it’s possible to describe the device using maths, Tippett doubts we’ll ever build such a machine.

“HG Wells popularized the term ‘time machine’ and he left people with the thought that an explorer would need a ‘machine or special box’ to actually accomplish time travel,” Tippett says.

“While is it mathematically feasible, it is not yet possible to build a space-time machine because we need materials–which we call exotic matter–to bend space-time in these impossible ways, but they have yet to be discovered.”

The paper “Traversable acausal retrograde domains in spacetime” has been published in the IOPscience journal Classical and Quantum Gravity.

17 thoughts on “Time travel is proven possible — but we’ll likely never be able to build the machine, author says

  1. dannyR

    "Tippett says Einstein’s division of space in three dimensions with time as a fourth, separate dimension, is incorrect."

    "These four facets should be imagined simultaneously, he adds, connected as a space-time continuum." <— This, in fact, is exactly what Einstein said. I have to assume you've misunderstood something Tippet said about Einstein's space/time concept.

  2. Alex Micu

    To clarify, Tippett doesn't say Einstein is wrong in his division of spacetime in four dimensions, but rather the math that describes this division is "a first order approximation to a more sophisticated relationship."
    I'd love to be able to explain it to you more clearly and simply but truth be told, time-travel math falls a little out from my area of expertise.

  3. Alex Micu

    Honestly we don't know — we're always tweaking it but it never seems to work fine for everybody. Is it still popping up in every article? Make sure you enabled cookies from ZME. If those are enabled and it keeps popping up let me know so we can try and fix it on our end.

  4. dannyR

    I'd like to read the whole thing, but my academic pay-wall rights evaporated on graduation.

  5. dannyR

    OK, now I've got the real story. This paper is just an old paper published 4 years ago, and republished:

    Traversable acausal retrograde domains in spacetime
    Benjamin K Tippett1 and David Tsang2
    Published <b>31 March 2017</b> • © 2017 IOP Publishing Ltd
    Classical and Quantum Gravity, Volume 34, Number 9 [emph. added]

    Now look at that date carefully, and think about it.

  6. Shankar

    Fascinating insight into Einstein's theory of relativity!! If it is theoretically possible today, it will become a reality one day in the future.

  7. Richard Grigonis

    Tippett has made everything unnecessarily complicated just to come up with his own take on the idea. Wormhole shortcuts through the continuum, for example, do indeed need "negative energy" or "exotic matter," but physicists such as Matt Visser showed years ago that the amount of exotic energy needed can be arbitrarily small: M. Visser, S. Kar, and N. Dadhich, “Traversable Wormholes with Arbitrarily Small Energy Condition Violations,” Phys. Rev. Lett. 90, 201102 (2003)

  8. john meade

    Or they published it now and then went back in time 4 years and pre-published it as a proof of concept :)

  9. Airis Damon

    Stein's Gate touches upon time travel in an interesting way. The main character sends text data through a micro black hole with an assemblage of electronics jerry-rigged together as some sort of particle accelerator controlled by his cellphone. Brain Greene said at a talk I attended a couple of years ago that it is possible to send information of an object to a black hole, but the object itself will be destroyed. Only the information of what went in it will remain, if that makes sense, hence, "Jell-O Man." Stein's Gate fans will get the reference.

  10. Tibi Puiu

    looking into this though it would help if you could tell me if 1) you have cookies activated 2) what browser do you use.

  11. Shiva Rajbhandari

    Well the discovery of gravitational waves pretty much proved the graviton, and if every particle has an antiparticle (be it itself or another particle) spacetime much bend upward.

  12. Xinhang Shen

    ALEXANDRU MICU and Ben Tippett, please be aware that Einstein's relativity theory has already been disproved both logically and experimentally (see "Challenge to the special theory of relativity", March 1, 2016 on Physics Essays and a press release "Special Theory of Relativity Has Been Disproved Theoretically" on Eurekalert website: https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2016-03/ngpi-tst030116.php).

    The most obvious and indisputable experimental evidence, which everybody with basic knowledge of special relativity should immediately understand: is the existence of the absolute time shown by the universally synchronized clocks on the GPS satellites which move at high velocities relative to each other while special relativity claims that time is relative (i.e. the time on each reference frame is different) and can never be synchronized on clocks moving with relative velocities.

    Many physicists claim that clocks on the GPS satellites are corrected according to both special relativity and general relativity. This is not true. The corrections of the atomic clocks on the GPS satellites are nothing to do with relativistic effects because the corrections are absolute changes of the clocks, none of which is relative as claimed by special relativity. After all corrections, the clocks are synchronized not only relative to the ground clocks but also relative to each other.

    Some people may argue that the clocks are only synchronized in the earth centered inertial reference frame, and are not synchronized in the reference frames of the GPS satellites. If it were true, then the time difference between a clock on a GPS satellite and a clock on the ground observed in the satellite reference frame would grow while the same clocks observed on the earth centered reference frame were keeping synchronized. If you corrected the clock on the satellite when the difference became significant, the correction would break the synchronization of the clocks observed in the earth centered frame. That is, there is no way to make a correction without breaking the synchronization of the clocks observed in the earth centered frame. Therefore, it is wrong to think that the clocks are not synchronized in the satellite frame. Actually, on the paper mentioned above, I have proved that if clocks are synchronized in one inertial reference frame, then they are synchronized in all inertial reference frames because clock time is absolute and universal.

    Similarly, all the differences of the clocks in Hefele-Keating experiment were also absolute (i.e., they were the same no matter whether you observe them on the moon or on the space station). Therefore, they are nothing to do with relative velocity caused time dilation as claimed by special relativity. It is simply a wrong interpretation that the differences of the displayed times of the clocks are the results of relativity.
    The increase of the life of a muon in a circular accelerator or going through the atmosphere is also an absolute change which is the same observed in all reference frames.

    The simplest thought experiment to disprove special relativity is the symmetric twin paradox: two twins made separate space travels in the same velocity and acceleration relative to the earth all the time during their entire trips but in opposite directions. According to special relativity, each twin should find the other twin’s clock ticking more slowly than his own clock during the entire trip because of the relative velocity between them as we know that acceleration did not have any effect on kinematic time dilation in special relativity. But when they came back to the earth, they found their clocks had exact the same time because of symmetry. This is a contradiction that has disproved special relativity. This thought experiment demonstrates that relativistic time is not our physical time and can never be materialized on physical clocks.

    That is, time is absolute and space is 3D Euclidean. There is nothing called spacetime continuum in nature.Therefore, it is completely nonsense to have time travels! Please stop misleading the public with preposterous ideas under the name of science!

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