October 29, 2010

Scientists believe time travel possible, diss writers



The Large Hadron Collider is at odds with pigeons, its future self and now sci-fi writers.

Time travel is not only possible but the most important facet, the time machine itself, already exists. Or so say Russian physicists in an article for the once mighty Pravda.

The machine they’re talking about is the Large Hadron Collider. Remember the LHC? The giant machine that was maybe going to open up a world consuming tear in the fabric of the space-time continuum.

It seems that if the LHC would actually work and not breakdown in extremely comical ways then scientists could learn quite a bit about the universe and in particular what may or may not be on the other side of those possible space-time rifts.

And it isn’t just the Russians who think the LHC can achieve this remarkable feat. Kip Thorne of the California Institute of Technology points out that time travel is so close to being a reality that it is now out of the hands of writers and into capable pincers of science.

Once upon a time, time travel was the exclusive prerogative of writers. Serious scientists were shunning it like the plague, even when they were writing novels under a pseudonym or were secretly reading them. The times have changed! Now in serious scientific journals you can find a scientific analysis of time travel, authored by outstanding theoretical physicists. Why this change? Physics simply understood that the nature of time is too important to give it to the mercy of writers.

Mercy? Were Bradbury and Wells taking it easy on the subject of time travel? Or were they too harsh? Was Wells’ machine not convincing enough for you or were the Morlocks too sinister?

Boy, these guys smash a few rocks together and they think they own the place.

Time travel in literature has never been about invention or even explicitly about the nature of time itself. No doubt science fiction often has elements of technological speculation, sometimes stunningly prescient (more often way off the mark), and in the case of time travel there is nearly always a general theory of horology constructed but only as narrative conceit. None of these things have been the driving purpose of time travel in sci-fi. The question of what if and the caution that question might entail have instead been the hallmark of great science fiction.

So what if the LHC opens a time portal and what if we step through and journey back in time? Someone thought enough to ask the new masters of time travel that very question.

Is it possible to have a paradox described by Bradbury, when a traveler caught in the past accidentally steps on a butterfly, which results in coming to power of a different president in his time?

We expected such issues, says professor Volovich. We came to this conclusion: time travel may change the course of history, but not very significantly.

Right. So no amount of assassinations or manipulations could drastically alter the world’s course? Tell that to the CIA. Here are a few names: John Calvin. Karl Marx. Adolf Hitler. Mark Zuckerberg. Remove any one of those names from history and you have a very different world. Well, maybe not Marx. Sorry eggheads but I’m with Ray Bradbury on this one. Time travel may be the riskiest impossibility going.

The good news for those of us inhabiting this particular narrative of time is that the LHC is fragile and perhaps even at war with its own future and thus will be a long time in opening up any functional wormholes to the past. The bad news is that we’ll have to wait a bit longer to go back and redo the 2000 election.

When the time comes I say we pass out grip strengtheners in Fort Lauderdale.

Paul Oliver is the marketing manager of Melville House. Previously he was co-owner of Wolfgang Books in Philadelphia.