The International Journal of Modern Physics published a strange paper in 2008. In it, the authors proposed that the reason the Higgs Boson, sometimes called the “God Particle,” remained so elusive was that influences from the future had sabotaged its discovery. Though there are simpler explanations for why a project as complicated as the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) encountered problems, the paper proposed an elegant solution to test its bizarre claims:
Take a deck of cards and shuffle them several times. Before distributing the cards, propose that if a sufficiently unlikely event occurs, such as dealing four hands of all royal flushes, you will shut down the LHC.
If influences from the future are preventing the LHC from functioning correctly, then you will deal those hands, no matter how unlikely.
Now, several years down the line, with the Higgs Boson detected, the paper sounds even sillier than it did upon publication, but it does bring up an interesting question: Will scientists one day create a DeLorean, TARDIS or hot tub capable of taking its occupants back in time?
Though one can’t rule anything out, the answer is that they probably won’t. One would expect that, if they could, the world would be inundated with visitors from the future, though maybe they’re just very quiet or uninterested in the time we live in. Additionally, laws of causality (i.e., events from the past can influence the future and never the other way around) suggest major paradoxes for those who choose to go back in time and, for instance, inadvertently impregnate a woman with the future leader of the human resistance.
All of that applies, however, to traveling backward in time. Traveling forward in time is paradox-free and definitely possible, albeit trivially so: Time clicks forward, whether we want it to or not — slowly during this last week of lectures and mercilessly fast during the few months of summer.
This is all perception, however. No matter how much fun or boredom we fill our lives with, we won’t get to see much more than 80 or so years of what our planet has to offer. Barring some major medical breakthrough, it’s unlikely many people reading this will live to see the year 2100.
That is, unless some of them gain access to a vehicle that travels at close to the speed of light.
According to Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity, under certain circumstances, time itself, and not just your perception of it, can slow down.
In effect, whenever you travel at any speed relative to the earth, you age slower than the world around you, though this is completely imperceptible when driving a car or traveling in an airplane. Even the fastest object created by man, the Helios 2 Solar Probe, which orbits the sun at more than 150,000 mph, only experiences a loss of about a second over the course of a year, relative to us here on Earth. In order to feel just a one percent decrease in time, you’d need to floor the accelerator until you reached a speed 500 times faster than that.
The technology’s not nearly there yet, but in theory, if you can get your spaceship moving fast enough, you can travel to any point in the future that you’d like. Want to see the world in 500 years? Spend a day traveling 99.9997% times the speed of light and you can. There’s no guarantee of a return ticket, but maybe they’ll have backwards time travel figured out by then.
Of course, in order to reach that speed, you’ll need to deal with acceleration. And unless you want to endure a substantial increase in G-forces over a prolonged period of time, even just reaching such a spectacular speed would take close to a year. Slowing back down would take just as long and that’s to say nothing about the massive amount of energy required for the process.
So as of right now, depending on how you look at it, literal time travel is either completely impossible or extremely unlikely, especially over the course of our lifetimes. But look at it this way: In 1860, it took California more than a week to learn the results of the presidential election — and this was considered remarkably fast at the time. Today, if someone you barely remember from high school cooks a meal, a picture of it arrives instantly on your cell phone no matter where you are. Put away the tweed jacket and bow tie: We don’t need to travel to the future; we’re already there.