The Speculist: CERN, the Russians, and Time Travel


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CERN, the Russians, and Time Travel

Here's a bit of a potential mind-blower:

The world's first time machine? Tunnel to the past could open door to future within three months, say Russians

Time travel could be a reality within just three months, Russian mathematicians have claimed.

They believe an experiment nuclear scientists plan to carry out in underground tunnels in Geneva in May could create a rift in the fabric of the universe.

The European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) hopes its "atom-smashing" tests - which aim to recreate the conditions in the first billionth of a second after the "Big Bang'" created everything - will shed invaluable light on the origins of the universe.

But Irina Aref'eva and Igor Volovich, of Moscow's Steklov Mathematical Institute, say the energy produced by forcing tiny particles to collide at close to the speed of light could open the door to visitors from the future.

Interestingly, Aref'eva and Volovich claim that the wormhole they believe the CERN experiment will open up will not provide us with the means to travel through time, or at least not back through time. Our end of the rift in time would be the day that the experiment is conducted -- and that is the farthest back anyone could travel using the wormhole. They talk about visitors from the future potentially coming through the wormhole to our era, but the linked article doesn't say whether we would have the ability to use the wormhole to move rapidly forward in time and then back again to this era.

Presumably, even with the wormhole, it would take some sophisticated technology to travel through time. People in the future might have that technology, and thus be able to use the CERN-created rift in time to travel back to our era. So our first time machine is really of more use to people in the future than it is to us. Still, if they use it to come back here and pay us a visit, that will be pretty darned interesting.

The CERN scientists are understandably skeptical:

But Dr Brian Cox, a member of CERN and one of Britain's leading experts in particle physics, is highly sceptical about the Russian claims, calling them "nothing more than a good science fiction story".

"Stephen Hawking has suggested that any future theory of quantum gravity will probably close this possibility off, not least because the universe usually proceeds in a sane way, and time travel into the past isn't sane."

Not to take issue with Brian Cox (much less Stephen Hawking), but I can't help but note that this argument is predicated on the idea that the universe usually proceeds in a sane way. Well, hey -- close only counts in hand grenades and horseshoes. What Cox and Hawking are saying is that they find the idea of travel back through time intellectually unpalatable, even though it can't be ruled out altogether.

Of course, the fact that something can't be ruled out altogether is no reason to think it might be true. But then again...

In any case, what the Russians are saying about time travel seems to sync up pretty well with the ideas about time travel espoused by University of Connecticut professor Ron Mallett -- at least the part about not being able to travel further back in time than the day the time machine was built. Mallett is one of the few serious academics currently studying time travel; he says it will be achieved within this century.

In fact, as I feel duty-bound to point out -- time travel is going on all the time. We're all doing it right now. We just don't think anything of it, because we're all doing it all the time. Nobody cares about that model of time travel because there's nothing out of the ordinary about it. When people talk about time travel they mean:

1. Traveling back in time


2. Traveling into the future faster than everyone else

But even by those criteria, time travel has already occurred. At least item number 2 has. As Mallett points out:

“To physicists, time is what’s measured by clocks. Using this definition, we can manipulate time by changing the rate of clocks, which changes the rate at which events occur. Einstein showed that time is affected by motion, and his theories have been demonstrated experimentally by comparing time on an atomic clock that has traveled around the earth on a jet. It’s slower than a clock on earth.”

That clock effectively traveled into the future. When the jet landed, the clock showed an earlier time than the clocks which had stayed behind. The clock --and the pilot of the jet -- had effectively leaped forward a few milliseconds into the future.

So if the second kind of time travel is demonstrably possible, why not the first? We shall see.

All in good time.


a) I grew up in the cold war era so I know the Russians are sneaky, deceptive and not to be trusted. In fact, they even tried to invade Afghanistan and couldn't pull it off so they must also be weak. In short- time travel may or may not be possible, but who can trust the Russiians?

b) Isn't CERN French?

c) This is awesomely cool.
Even if CERN doesn't allow physicist to see what they predict they might, could or should see - it's still very cool.

Err... creating a rift in the fabric of the universe - does that strike anyone as, you know, maybe a little dangerous?

Maybe a similar experiment in a galaxy far away caused this.

CERN is located in suburban Geneva -- it's a joint European initiative.

Anyhoo, what I remember from the cold war years is that Russians weren't the problem per se -- it was the commies we couldn't trust. Don't know the political leaning of these two mathematicians.

Besides, Mallett is from the University of Connecticut -- you can't get much more trustworthy than that, now can you?

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