Ultimately, Time Travel is essential for Space Travel

17 04 2011

Long-time readers may note that this blog bounces (veers?) between space-related content and time/temporal physics-related content.  Today, aside from admitting that (not surprisingly) the two topics are primary passions of mine, I’ll tell you why they’re related, and intimately so.

It’s all Einstein’s fault.

After an interstellar trip, a faulty suspended animation chamber reduces an astronaut to an ancient corpse. (From Planet of the Apes; Credit: 20th Century Fox)

Put very simply, according to Relativity: When dealing with events in the universe, it is impossible to separate the distance of space from the passage of time.

This is why astrophysicists and cosmologists speak of actions in the universe occurring and affecting “space-time.”  (Hence the “space-time continuum” that makes such a frequent appearance in sci-fi technobabble.)

What does this mean for us?  Well, in day-to-day experience, not much more than the odd reality that the moon we see is 1 second old.  Similarly, the sun we see is lagging 8 minutes behind us in time.

Why?  Well, it takes the light that bounces off of the surface of the Moon 1 second to cross the 230,000-mile distance between the Earth and Moon to strike the retina of your eye, and it takes 8 minutes for the light that leaves the sun to cross the 93-million mile orbital void to get to Earth and reach your eye.  As a result, we see the Moon and Sun as they appeared when the light left them, not when the light reaches us.

The same can be said of distant stars.  The farther away a star is, the older it is. (Even if it’s 200,000 light years away – then you’re seeing it the way it looked 200,000 years ago.)

So, quizzically, yes – this means that universe we see is actually a horrible garble of apparent objects from intermixed times.  Fortunately for us,  compared to the incredible speed of light, we’re close enough (distance) to everything we need to experience, (e.g., our limbs, food, loved ones, walls, etc.,) so that this time lag is unnoticeable.

But when we start peering out into the rest of the cosmos, this distortion really matters.  Many of the stars we’re studying may have already exploded… but if they exploded a few years ago, we won’t know it until light from the explosion reaches us, which could take millions of years if the star is far away.

Now, let’s take our time-distance thought exercises a step farther and ask what happens if we score the holy grail of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.  What if, for the sake of argument, we receive and translate a friendly message from an incredibly advanced race of aliens?  And what if, by fortuitous happenstance, they (hoping to aid other, younger life-forms) offer unlimited knowledge to any beings that can meet them on their world, face-to-face?  Well, the offer doesn’t do us more than a hill of beans of good if it takes us 200 years for a multi-generational craft to get there, only to find that the benevolent race has gone extinct due to a problem with their parent star.  We want to reach them as soon as we translate the message.

We want to separate the distance of space from the passage of time.

So, if we can conceptually and technologically conquer time travel, we will have in essence conquered space travel.  If one can manipulate the passage of time, then the time taken to cross the distance of space with any type of propulsion system becomes an almost trivial tally – little more significant than the miles-per-gallon of a modern automobile.

Conventional propulsion systems will get us around in space for the foreseeable future, and more exotic systems will likely take us to the nearest stars.  However, I believe it will be the mastery of time that will transform our race from provincial planet-hoppers to truly savvy, galaxy-trotting, cosmic-colonial game-changers.

Something to think about.

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Temporal Mechanics (Time update part 2)

4 09 2010

Asilomar chapel where I gave my first Temporal Mechanics talk at the International Society for the Study of Time's triennial conference, 7/30/2007. (Credit: Ben McGee)

Things have been fairly one-sided here on the ol’ astrowright blog for a while.  What with beginning classes in UND’s space studies program and with upcoming coursework in radiophysics at Oregon State, (which I hope to integrate into orbital/lunar radiation work,) it’s no surprise that I’ve been a bit hyper-focused on space science.

However, today I wanted to take a step back and pick up where I left off regarding my other scientific passion, time research.

So, we last left our time discussion with an apparent contradiction: Most of theoretical physics leads us to consider that time is an illusion and does not physically exist.  The past versions of the universe are not “saved” somewhere for us to go back to, and the future does not yet exist.  There is only the now.   However,  Relativity shows us (in repeated experiments!) that the time experienced by something changes depending on its motion, (time slows as speed increases,) meaning that some part of time must physically exist, and furthermore, it must be related to physical motion.

That brings us to the crux of my theoretical, time-centered physics work.  Temporal Mechanics, as I have developed it as a functioning theoretical framework, relates to and is derived from a single question:

  • “What if there is more to the concept of time than we acknowledge or are aware?”

As hinted in my previous time post, Temporal Mechanics goes on to posit that the physical part of what we call time and what we call motion are actually two views of the same phenomenon.  -Namely, that the apparent 3D motion of an object is the result of it moving through time (4D) at a different rate than its frame of reference.  I called this the Fundamental Principle of Temporal Kinematics.

The exciting part is that when you take this kernel and start marching it through physics, many very, very interesting things happen.

For starters, you can start answering unanswerable questions, like digging into Newtonian mechanics staple “f = ma” (force equals mass times acceleration).  If one were to ask, “Why does the application of force to a mass cause acceleration?” in the Standard Model, this is a nonsense question.  It’s simply how acceleration is defined. It is by nature an unanswerable question.

And in science, at least for me, I find these sorts of conceptual impasses troubling.

However, if motion is now the result of a temporal rate differential, (as defined by the Fundamental Principle of Temporal Kinematics,) then an answer suddenly shows up:  The application of force to a mass causes a temporal acceleration which appears to a 3D observer as motion of the mass.

Voila.  An answer where there was none.

A trick of wordplay?  Perhaps.  But think Orwell’s 1984 – it is true that the words we use to define concepts limit the concepts we use to define a reality.  If there actually are deeper physical truths to the ideas of time and motion, right now we are linguistically incapable of describing them.  Perhaps just “opening up” our conceptual language can reveal truths idly sitting beneath our comprehension, waiting for us to get around our own mental roadblocks and see them.

The adventure continues, reaching all the way back to Aristotle’s work on time and motion.  It turns out that he came within mere inches of posing Temporal Mechanics’s fundamental principle more than two thousand years ago.  Basically, he noticed that we measure that time has occurred by measuring uniform motion, (e.g., a ticking watch,) and that we measure that motion has occurred by measuring uniform time, (e.g., using a stopwatch to measure how fast someone has run a lap.)  Clearly the two are inseparable.  It only took advanced astronomy and the idea of Relativity to break the concepts of time and motion out of their separate Newtonian prisons and back toward each other.

For a future post, the fundamental principle kernel continues its radical march through physics, linking and actually predicting both quantum indeterminism and the bizarre distortions at extreme speeds known as “relativistic effects,” and while using the same mathematics and data, the kernel leads to an alternate interpretation of the Twin Paradox that, (at least according to time,) would allow travel faster than light speed.

Stay tuned.





The First Frontier, part 1. (Time update)

2 03 2010

This blog was created to document two things, and so far, I’ve only mentioned the first.  The second of these two objectives is the creation of a Time Machine.

As for this post’s title, I’ve taken to calling Time the First Frontier.  This is for the following reason: Since serious philosophical and (proto)scientific inquiry began into the nature of things thousands of years ago, before we were even aware of outer space and the universe at large, the nature of Time has been given serious and constant attention.  And, unlike the nature of thought, belief, medicine, life, physics, geology, and astronomy, there has been little (if any) progress toward a greater understanding of Time since Aristotle.  Hence, I feel like Time has position.  Plus, could any concept exist without first considering Time?  (What is a tree?  Or more to the point, when is a tree a tree?  A seed?  After one year of growth as a sapling?  After 10-years of growth?  100-years?)

Also, I recognize that the distance between time travel and space exploration may appear great, so one may be given to wonder why I’m pursuing both.  However, the divide is not so wide as it seems.  Given the insurmountable distances involved with the prospect of traveling between even the nearest stars, what is a practical starship but a time machine that moves?  …Something to think about.

In any event, since I’ve made a bit of progress on this front as well, (at least in a theoretical sense,) I figured I’d recap my work to date.

Back in High School, I was deep into familiarizing myself with Einstein’s Relativity.  Trolling the university library on the weekends, (when I wasn’t out hiking in Red Rock Canyon,) I found that Special Relativity held specific interest to me because it defined every apparent impossible operation of the universe:  Light always travels the same speed even to different obververs moving at different speeds.  Time slows down as you approach the speed of light.  Light speed is a barrier to all movement.  The sequence of events in the universe can be variable.

These were profound and confounding statements which no one seemed either to question or to fully understand.  Even into college, so-called “relativistic effects” were swept away as oddities experienced at extreme speed with no practical application to physics or our general understanding.  Something in my gut made me feel as though they couldn’t have been more wrong.

The most “advanced” academics in theoretical physics typically have said that Time does not, in effect, actually exist.  It’s an illusion, as are ideas of Doc Brown jumping into a nuclear-powered time-traveling automobile to change the past or future.  The past no longer exists, and the future doesn’t yet exist.  There is just the now.  They have a point – it makes sense that time is just another measurement tool, like an inch or a pound.  I can’t hand you an inch or a pound, but we use them frequently.  Time, then, is the same, but instead of measuring length or weight, time measures causality.  It’s just something we invented to help quanitfy and measure the change that is ubiquitous in the Universe.

But there’s a problem.

I realized with clarity for the first time in the year 2000 that if the time experienced by something could change based upon how it moves, (as Relativity predicted and we subsequently measured,) then some part of time must exist.  In so many words, because Relativity works, Time cannot be completely illusory.

Thus I began the earliest stages of developing a new language of physics reordered with respect to Time.  I would come to call it Temporal Mechanics in a paper published 6 years later, where I would claim (prove?) that physical Time does exist and in doing so turn interpretations of Special Relativity and the Twin Paradox on their heads.

To be continued…








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