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November 6, 2008 6:46 PM   Subscribe

Man loses father to smoking 50 years ago. Builds time machine.
posted by loquacious (143 comments total) 46 users marked this as a favorite

 
I hope the benefits we've derived from his crazy obsession outweigh the personal costs for him.
posted by BrotherCaine at 6:53 PM on November 6, 2008


There's a great lengthy interview with this guy here. (If you didn't catch it the first time it was on the radio, they ask for a ninety five cent fee to help them pay for bandwidth. But come on, it's public radio - they need the money. And the show is great.)
posted by Kiablokirk at 6:53 PM on November 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


Wow. Now a black guy is giving me hope for the past.
posted by Astro Zombie at 6:53 PM on November 6, 2008 [51 favorites]


Kiablokirk beat me to it. That episode of This American Life is one of the most moving I've heard.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 6:53 PM on November 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


I saw this guy speak in person once. I'm no physicist, but he seemed like a crank.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 6:55 PM on November 6, 2008


he seemed like a crank.

This is surely an unavoidable consequence of dedicating your career to investigating the possibility of time travel.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 6:58 PM on November 6, 2008 [13 favorites]


You can download the This American Life episode here (mp3).
posted by dhammond at 7:02 PM on November 6, 2008 [2 favorites]


I hope when he finally gets it working he at least has the courtesy to warn Churchill or something.
posted by Autarky at 7:03 PM on November 6, 2008 [3 favorites]


What happens if he goes back and time and accidentally sweeps his mother off her feet?
posted by Large Marge at 7:04 PM on November 6, 2008 [5 favorites]



I saw this guy speak in person once. I'm no physicist, but he seemed like a crank.

Well, if all goes well, you can go back and see him the same speech and be sure.
posted by jonmc at 7:04 PM on November 6, 2008 [10 favorites]


I was with him, until I saw his timecube-esque donation website.
posted by hellojed at 7:06 PM on November 6, 2008 [2 favorites]


You know who else hated time-travelling cranks?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:08 PM on November 6, 2008


You know who else hated time-travelling cranks?

Biff?
posted by maxwelton at 7:10 PM on November 6, 2008 [69 favorites]


He may be a crank, but he's a crank with a PhD in physics and then some.

Unfortunately, assuming Niven's law of time travel is true, he's going to go back in time, tell dad to clean up his act, and then not be inspired to study physics. Scratch the invention of the time machine.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 7:11 PM on November 6, 2008 [12 favorites]


That made me feel full of stars and possibility. No matter the result, I love it when sci-fi becomes reality.
posted by batmonkey at 7:11 PM on November 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


Read the link! If this worked, one could only go back to the invention of the machine that is sending you back.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 7:12 PM on November 6, 2008


Ah, looks like his theories would lead to only being able to travel back to the point of time the machine was turned on. Crazy, he's trying to twist space-time back on to itself? Yes, sounds quite implausible to this non physicist.

But if it could actually work? Zomgs. It'd be like a save point! Better turn on the time machine now just in case! Ooops, we just started World War III, better reload the time point and see if we can change it.

With lasers.
posted by Mister Cheese at 7:13 PM on November 6, 2008 [14 favorites]


No matter the result, I love it when sci-fi becomes reality.

Me too!
posted by gman at 7:14 PM on November 6, 2008


Actually, wasn't there a science fiction story back in the 60's where a time traveller comes and tells mom she needs to start smoking because that will cause a key mutation in her son that makes him a super genius and savior of humanity.

Vafgrnq, zbz qlvat bs pnapre pnhfrf ure fba gb chefhr n CuQ va culfvpf fb gung ur pna or gur fnivbhe bs uhznavgl.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 7:15 PM on November 6, 2008 [2 favorites]


Oh crap, that should be "he's trying to twist space-time back on to itself?" instead of "loop space back on itself?"

Better reload the time point.
posted by Mister Cheese at 7:21 PM on November 6, 2008


I guess my maternal side can only feel heart-broken for the 10yr old boy trying to build a time machine off of an H.G. Wells book cover.
posted by czechmate at 7:26 PM on November 6, 2008 [10 favorites]


Well, doesn't he know he already failed? Because if he succeeded/succeeds, his dad wouldn't have died from smoking.
posted by naju at 7:31 PM on November 6, 2008 [3 favorites]


One of James P. Hogan's early books, Thrice Upon a Time, concerned just this kind of time travelcommunication. By the end of the book, from the then-current perspective of the protagonist the machine began spitting out warnings the moment it was switched on.

I wish I still had my old early Hogan books but I loaned them to a friend who lived in Gentilly shortly before hurricane Katrina.
posted by localroger at 7:32 PM on November 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


I've heard him on Coast to Coast AM a couple of times. I was really surprised that he was actually a tenured physics professor at a large research university instead of some random crank.
posted by gyc at 7:38 PM on November 6, 2008


I'm no physicist, but he seemed like a crank

Don't you people watch Nova? Neil DeGrasse Tyson is awesome, and not even approaching crankdom.
posted by LittleMissCranky at 7:39 PM on November 6, 2008 [2 favorites]


Not to, you know, talk about Barack Obama, but I think Dr. Mallett may have re-loaded space-time to a couple of months before the election.

Good call.
posted by nosila at 7:41 PM on November 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


I posted a whole lot of snarky, jokey comments in this thread, and then I went and read the article afterwards. It's a good article, so I was glad I could go back and post this commendation instead.
posted by lekvar at 7:41 PM on November 6, 2008 [3 favorites]


Time machines will never be built (going backwards) because no one has ever come back from the future. Duh.
posted by paisley henosis at 7:43 PM on November 6, 2008 [7 favorites]


Oh god. Read the article. Seriously.
posted by nosila at 7:44 PM on November 6, 2008 [12 favorites]


Well, doesn't he know he already failed? Because if he succeeded/succeeds, his dad wouldn't have died from smoking.

Not necessarily.

If he was able to travel back in time and visit his father, it's entirely likely that the very act of him traveling to that time would cause (or choose) a branch in the worldline. As I'm interpreting it every dynamic move and action would cause (or choose) from an infinite spectrum of possible worldlines as he progressed - just as we (possibly) do here and now, traveling forward in time.

Which makes me wonder about what happens as the time traveler is actually moving backward in time. Is there a continual effect on earlier and earlier moments in time/space as the theoretical time machine warps or shifts backwards?

Which, of course, hurts my head.
posted by loquacious at 7:45 PM on November 6, 2008


Just a thought:

Why would going back in time cause instantaneous changes in the future? What motivates this assumption? Is it possible that any changes you make, say ten years in the past, would always be about ten years in your past?

Cheers
posted by dibblda at 7:54 PM on November 6, 2008


loquacious: The Many-World theory always immediately reminds me of Niven's "All The Myriad Ways". Which is a completely mind bending read.
posted by potch at 7:55 PM on November 6, 2008


As every kid who's watched Bill and Ted knows, you can't go back in time without screwing things up. awww. But it's pretty amazing what he accomplished and it's quite incredible when you think about the transformation of his loss into the discoveries he made. Coal into diamonds.

What this brainy, driven man needed to have done decades ago is handle his deep grief, the trauma of his loss. I recommend he read The Grief Recovery Handbook : The Action Program for Moving Beyond Death Divorce, and Other Losses by John W. James and Russell Friedman

Now Ronald Mallett is out of the Time Travel Closet...Party on dude!
posted by nickyskye at 7:55 PM on November 6, 2008 [2 favorites]


Time travel is why I hated Star Trek: Voyager.
posted by Caduceus at 8:01 PM on November 6, 2008 [5 favorites]


"When you're a recovering mad scientist, you're always afraid you'll lose control and wake up some morning with a half-built time machine in the living room and a plan to go back in time and pants Hitler. You know how it is."
posted by Class Goat at 8:07 PM on November 6, 2008 [7 favorites]


Time machines will never be built (going backwards) because no one has ever come back from the future. Duh.

If you're not going to read the article before you post, you could at least read the handful of comments preceding yours. Especially if you believe you've found an obvious fault in the thing you haven't read.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 8:07 PM on November 6, 2008 [3 favorites]


So reports about the next Doctor being a black guy were true!
posted by Effigy2000 at 8:16 PM on November 6, 2008 [10 favorites]


I'm not very optimistic that he will succeed, but he is definitely a genius of sorts. Thank goodness that he is so devoted. Whether he is successful or not in his lifetime, I'm pretty sure that his research and theories will be beneficial to the human race.
posted by davidmsc at 8:19 PM on November 6, 2008


I was with him, until I saw his timecube-esque donation website.

Hardly. That looks like a pretty conventional static-content set of pages. He is no great web designer, but not horrible either.

Also, it’s very expensive. Just the start-up costs for these experiments exceed a quarter of a million dollars. To actually see everything through to completion might cost $11 million.

Pretty cheap for basic physics. And if you can send information back in time, earning your capital back would be pretty easy.
posted by b1tr0t at 8:21 PM on November 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


Time travel is why I hated Star Trek: Voyager.
Actually, now that it's traveled fifteen years into the future it's not as bad as it was when it was having been viewed by me fifteen years in the past.
posted by WolfDaddy at 8:23 PM on November 6, 2008


Time machines will never be built (going backwards) because no one has ever come back from the future. Duh.

Bring Jennifer along, this concerns her too.
posted by dr_dank at 8:29 PM on November 6, 2008 [5 favorites]


"How would you like to talk to Harry Truman? Play cards with Harry Truman? SHOVE Harry Truman?"
posted by christopherious at 8:41 PM on November 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


it's entirely likely that the very act of him traveling to that time would cause... an infinite spectrum of possible worldlines as he progressed

So he would be actively causing an infinite number of universes to exist where his dad is dying and suffering in every logically possible way, just to have his dad live a few more decades in the one world he himself is experiencing. That's the dumbest shit I ever did hear. Thankfully he's too much of a crank to invent the complicated machine he would willingly destroy the universe with in the name of his selfish goals.

If someone time resurrected me like this I would beat. their. ass. down. on behalf of all the infinite invisible suffering mes that your dumb bitch marty mcfly bullshit ass created. TASTE THE PAIN OF MY INFINITE INVISIBLE CLONES.
posted by dgaicun at 8:45 PM on November 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


Wait... we still believe in time?
posted by xorry at 8:47 PM on November 6, 2008


He does sound like Cranky McCrankerton until you read the article. While he does still sound like he's got a bit of a crank air about him, his experiment (which only plans to send subatomic particles a fraction of a second back in time) sounds like real physics.

I still don't think it'll work, though, because it would break causality (imagine a machine designed to turn on and send a particle back in time only if a particle from the future is not detected.) But maybe, in the not-working of it, we'll learn something important.
posted by Mitrovarr at 8:58 PM on November 6, 2008


I heard the "YES ON 8" folks are planning a new voter initiative to outlaw causal unnaturality and force this freak back into the closet.
posted by BrotherCaine at 8:58 PM on November 6, 2008 [3 favorites]


Meanwhile, several black children in Africa all died today from a lack of clean water.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:02 PM on November 6, 2008


Traveling into the future is easy. Anyone familiar with Albert Einstein’s special theory of relativity knows a moving clock ticks slower than a stationary one.
Actually, you don't have to do anything.
posted by delmoi at 9:05 PM on November 6, 2008 [9 favorites]


Mallett concedes that any practical implementation of his ideas is a ways off.
Understatement.
posted by lalochezia at 9:05 PM on November 6, 2008


Cool Papa Bell: Meanwhile, several black children in Africa all died today from a lack of clean water.

What's your point?
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:06 PM on November 6, 2008


Time machines will never be built (going backwards) because no one has ever come back from the future. Duh.

Temporal Prime Directive?
posted by shoebox at 9:06 PM on November 6, 2008


Yes We Will Have Been Able to Can!

See also.
posted by ericbop at 9:07 PM on November 6, 2008 [4 favorites]


I don't expect you to trust me, this being the internets and all, but speaking as a physicist, this man is not a crank. I agree his website smells a little cranky, but his work is quite legit. Here is his paper in Physics Letters A, which is a respectable peer-reviewed physics journal. His other paper which is more directly about time travel, is published in another respectable journal, "Foundations of Physics". So you don't have to take my word for it - other real live physicists think his work is correct and has merit.

I don't know enough field theory to check his math, but he is certainly not a crank. Basically, he has done some interesting theoretical work with general relativity which has shown that in a high-intensity, infinitely long, solenoidal laser beam, there are spacetime paths which are "timelike", meaning it could sort of (maybe) be possible to plot a trajectory back in time.

The key differences between his work and an actual time machine are in the words "infintely long high-intensity rotating solenoid of light". It's also not immediately obvious that a trajectory "back in time" would be possible in any case - he has shown that Einstein's field equations permit timelike curves though. It's more than an engineering problem, but it's still fascinating research.

I personally don't believe it will ever be possible. It's sort of true as he says that "nothing in the laws of physics prohibit time travel", but I tend to view causality as sort of an implicit law of physics, and I don't see how causality and time travel can be reconciled. I certainly think there is plenty of room for reasonable dissent on that point though, and I think it's great that he's managed to find funding for really forward-thinking work. It's important that physics funding is not constrained only by immediate application or political winds.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 9:10 PM on November 6, 2008 [23 favorites]


Time loops are a potential problem....
posted by Kronos_to_Earth at 9:11 PM on November 6, 2008


I still don't think it'll work, though, because it would break causality (imagine a machine designed to turn on and send a particle back in time only if a particle from the future is not detected.) But maybe, in the not-working of it, we'll learn something important.

Well, maybe it's like quantum entanglement, where the waveform collapse happens faster then the speed of light (instantly, actually) but can't transfer any information.
posted by delmoi at 9:12 PM on November 6, 2008


The proof of the pudding will be in the eating.
George Carlin would be proud.
posted by cmoj at 9:14 PM on November 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


Meanwhile, several black children in Africa all died today from a lack of clean water.

I hate so much of what you choose to be.
posted by Roman Graves at 9:22 PM on November 6, 2008 [4 favorites]


delmoi: Well, maybe it's like quantum entanglement, where the waveform collapse happens faster then the speed of light (instantly, actually) but can't transfer any information.

That's exactly what I was thinking. It won't work in the same sense that experiments attempting to transfer information faster than light using quantum entanglement didn't work, but the mode of failure could help us understand why it can't be made to work. This could help us improve our understanding of time.
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:24 PM on November 6, 2008


Meanwhile, several black children in Africa all died today from a lack of clean water.

Someday when you have your own time machine, you can go back in time and give them each a pepsi.
posted by dr_dank at 9:27 PM on November 6, 2008 [8 favorites]


Man I really hope Spike Lee gets someone else to write the screenplay for this movie.Spike isn't very good at emotional nuance, and there's a whole concept of "emotional time travel" that makes this a fascinating story.

I'm with czechmate, the whole story revolves around that ten year old boy, who was really, really sad. From that perspective it's really moving to think of all that sadness propelled him to do.
posted by billyfleetwood at 9:28 PM on November 6, 2008


If you're going forward in time and you pass somebody going backward in time, it's probably best to avoid eye contact.
posted by sluglicker at 9:29 PM on November 6, 2008 [3 favorites]


Meanwhile, several black children in Africa all died today from a lack of clean water.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:02 PM on November 6


I know what you're trying to say and I think you were being lighthearted, but I'm going to rise to the bait anyways: yours is a strawman argument. No one is suggesting that we need choose between combating poverty and theoretical physics, and we don't have to. Most of the amazing advances in technology over the last couple centuries have been made possible by pure, basic physics research done without an obvious application in mind.

Transferring physics funding to starving children would be like transferring power from phasers to shields on the Enterprise. Sure you'll stave off immediate destruction from the squadron of decloaking Klingon warbirds, but in the long run you need to take those suckers out if you want more episodes with the same cast of characters! My point, mangled through an inexplicable Star Trek analogy, is that both are important and we needn't sacrifice either goal.

Support basic physics research!

Please? I need to eat too.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 9:32 PM on November 6, 2008 [19 favorites]


Meanwhile, several black children in Africa all died today from a lack of clean water.

Someday when you have your own time machine, you can go back in time and give them each a pepsi.
posted by dr_dank at 9:27 PM on November 6


dr_dank's answer was better.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 9:33 PM on November 6, 2008


Omg I am so guilty of not reading the full article. *palm to head in consternation*

Ok, so as I said, it is not clear to me how you would make a trajectory back in time....and he doesn't think you can either....ok......I'm resigning from this thread in shame.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 9:46 PM on November 6, 2008


Wow. Bet you wish you had a time machine right about now, eh? Eh?
posted by paisley henosis at 9:47 PM on November 6, 2008 [2 favorites]


Okay, so there's this Bryan Singer movie Valkyrie, about one of the Wehrmacht plots to kill Hitler, so this gives me an idea. Can this guy go back in time and kill Tom Cruise so he won't be starring in it?
posted by dhartung at 9:50 PM on November 6, 2008 [5 favorites]


Time travel "exists" in many forms, just look overhead at midnight and the past is what you see, (especially since what hits your eye lens happened moments ago). Schrodinger's cat observed the box walls, scratched and possibly defecated, it will change without the interest of the scientist, box, poisonous substance or malodorous urine odor. Imagine the complexity of this very moment. I'm believe time travel is philosophy.
posted by Mblue at 9:52 PM on November 6, 2008


mc(squared)=E.

Fixed that for you.
posted by iamkimiam at 10:08 PM on November 6, 2008


Time machines will never be built (going backwards) because no one has ever come back from the future. Duh.

If you had a time machine in the future would you come back to now? Maybe to save Sarah Connor but that would be about it.
posted by any major dude at 10:23 PM on November 6, 2008


Primer* is about a time machine with constraints that are similar to Mallett's theories. It only allows you to go back to the point when you turned it on.

Great movie and well worth watching.

Also, although it only touched upon this briefly, there were a lot of hints that the more you time travelled the more your brain and bodily functions degraded (the characters found their handwriting getting worse with every trip). Really cool concept that I haven't seen before in a time travel SciFi.

*It's impossible to mention primer without mentioning that it was written/directed/produced/acted in by one guy, who did it all for $7,000. And it won grand jury prize at Sundance and got wide release. Yay for low budget indie!
posted by fingo at 10:24 PM on November 6, 2008 [7 favorites]


And while we're on the subject, don't forget John Titor.
posted by rdone at 10:50 PM on November 6, 2008


I've always (for some value of 'always') thought there were a few practical problems with 'axis rotation' time machines, beyond mere engineering:

* If you somehow manage (whether with light or actual physical masses) to get a gravitational field intense enough to rotate space-time 90 degrees, do you not risk spaghettification?

* If you manage to make time space-like, isn't there a c (~300 000 km/s) ratio between the two (from the Lorentzian metric tensor)? Meaning you'd have to move 300 000 km to get one second's worth of time travel?

* What does it mean, for an outside observer, for a spatial dimension to become time-like inside the machine?

* What happens at the "edge", where gravitation isn't quite intense enough to achieve the desired rotation? The topology of the thing becomes ... interesting when you consider the need for machinery in the distorted region.

Anyone?
posted by Fruny at 10:57 PM on November 6, 2008


So he would be actively causing an infinite number of universes to exist where his dad is dying and suffering in every logically possible way...

Assuming the many worlds hypothesis is true, this is what I'm pretty much doing to each an every one of you with every mouse click.

Have a nice day.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 10:58 PM on November 6, 2008 [4 favorites]


There is a book titled "The Time Travelers Wife" written by Audrey Niffenegger which I found at a garage sale for a dime or maybe got it free somewheres, I don't recall exactly, I was sure it was going to totally suck.

But I enjoyed it, found it a fun read, and interesting; some poor bastard whizzing back and forth through time without any control of when it's going to happen or where/when he's traveling to, and wherever it is that he ends up he does so without any clothes on, which makes it interesting for him in winter, etc.

Maybe this just shows you all my tacky taste; no telling. But I'd pay even a quarter for it, knowing what I now know, having read it.
posted by dancestoblue at 11:13 PM on November 6, 2008


There is the theory of the Möbius...
posted by finite at 11:24 PM on November 6, 2008 [5 favorites]


He realized suddenly, any time machine built based upon his theories would only allow a traveler to return to the moment the machine was switched on.

I know a movie whose plot revolves around a similar kind of time machine.

Unfortunately, I can't tell you the title. The first third of that movie is about more or less realistically depicted moonlighting engineers who are trying to explain anomalies they've discovered while debugging an unrelated project, only belatedly realizing what they've really invented. Knowing that the end result of that process of discovery is a time machine would take a little something away from the movie. Consequently, telling you the title would make what I'm saying here a spoiler. On the other hand, watching the rest of the movie more than once is an aid to comprehension, I'll leave it at that.

This is the Koh-i-Noor of diamond hard SF films, people. If you don't already know which movie I'm talking about, let me know now. I'll step into my previously constructed time machine and invite the you-of-last-week over for a screening.

This is the movie you should have seen already.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 11:35 PM on November 6, 2008 [3 favorites]


Now I need to travel back in time to subdue fingo, for your sake.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 11:37 PM on November 6, 2008 [3 favorites]


Wow, my response to childhood traumas [1] totally pales in comparison.

[1] Not that there really were any. But still.
posted by salvia at 11:37 PM on November 6, 2008


I heard the "YES ON 8" folks are planning a new voter initiative to outlaw causal unnaturality and force this freak back into the closet.

This is actually rational behavior on their part. (As I'm not a closeted religious freak, the possibility of having the universe, I don't know, implode or maybe throw a syntax error, threatens my marriage a bit more than being allowed to marry another guy).

So bittersweet a story. If I was his dad, I'd have wanted him to go into physics. (And I'd quit smoking, once I understood that this man standing in front of me was my 10 year old son grown up.)
posted by sebastienbailard at 11:44 PM on November 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


Whoa. The dudes in Primer totally got it right.

I really like the idea that no one has fucked up the world with a time machine because it hasn't been invented in our time. But after that happens, then it'll be crazytown. heh
posted by graventy at 11:51 PM on November 6, 2008


Spike Lee already had a great time-travel scene in his 1999 movie Summer of Sam. Set in 1977, one scene shows punk rockers lined up outside of CBGB's.

But these punks had time traveled to 1992 and back, because they were all wearing stainless steel body jewelry.
posted by Tube at 11:55 PM on November 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


So the instant this guy has a working prototype of his save-point time machine, time will cease to be linear and nothing will make sense.
posted by tehloki at 1:31 AM on November 7, 2008


First post!
posted by popcassady at 2:03 AM on November 7, 2008 [17 favorites]


you cannot alter the past, even if you go back and attempt to. It's not possible. You can't alter an object's observed trajectory. you can go back and observe, and that's it.

This is why, if there are time travelers coming back from the future to our period, we wouldn't know about it.
posted by Henry C. Mabuse at 2:08 AM on November 7, 2008


Someone at university once joked that he'd like me to build a time machine. Not because I was smart enough to succeed but because I was stupid enough to try.

More seriously, I don't see any really good reason why time machines aren't possible. The why-aren't-they-here problem has already been done upthread. The issues of causality and grandfather paradoxes have never troubled me since I found out about the Echeverria Klinkhammer and Thorne solution to the Polchinski billiard ball paradox (see the Novikov self-consistency principle).

If I calculate the possible vibrations of, say, a loop of string I might have a condition imposed that the solution I have has the same value after rotating round 360 degrees of the loop. I don't see that timelike loops should be any different from spacelike ones.

who needs free will anyway?
posted by edd at 3:04 AM on November 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Holograms and black US presidents on Tuesday, time travel by Friday. This is the first time in my life I'm actually looking forward to Monday.
posted by micayetoca at 3:44 AM on November 7, 2008 [4 favorites]


"It's impossible to mention primer without mentioning that it was written/directed/produced/acted in by one guy, who did it all for $7,000."

Yes, it seems like it's impossible for people to stop people from parroting this piece of information that is actually false. The total production cost was at least five figures (though still impressive). Unfortunately, since I viewed the film, someone seems to have gone back in time and deleted the information and citation from Wikipedia, but ISTR it was ~$35k, and $7k was the cost of the film stock alone.

I never understood the cognitive faculties breakdown thing in that movie. Is there a scientific basis, or was it just inserted as a limiting factor on time travel?

This article is an excellent story, though. I love anything that humanizes scientists, rather than casting them as madmen driven by insane desires. Though I'd love to go back in time and fix the "woah" in this post's title. Ugh.

"More seriously, I don't see any really good reason why time machines aren't possible."

Well, I guess it depends on what you think time is, and why we have it. I personally think time is an entropic effect stemming from the expansion of the universe. In which case it would be possible to reverse one's perception of time, but probably not the actual events. Depends how deterministic your universe is, I guess.
posted by Eideteker at 4:12 AM on November 7, 2008


I don't know about you guys, but I miss my Dad something fierce. I'd give a lot to be able to spend another day with him, before he got sick.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 4:30 AM on November 7, 2008


In the 25th century they do have time machines and I've traveled backwards to make snarky comments on Metafilter. Yes, the 25th century is that boring.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 4:44 AM on November 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Ah, looks like his theories would lead to only being able to travel back to the point of time the machine was turned on.

Only if we are the first civilization in the universe to turn it on. If somebody else did it first millions of years ago, wouldn't that count?

I don't know about you guys, but I miss my Dad something fierce. I'd give a lot to be able to spend another day with him, before he got sick.

Every day, LOHK. Every day.
posted by Enron Hubbard at 4:58 AM on November 7, 2008


The key differences between his work and an actual time machine are in the words "infinitely long high-intensity rotating solenoid of light"

Aw, hell, there's always a catch.
posted by ook at 5:39 AM on November 7, 2008


I just hope they set it up so that you can bind the quick reload key to F8. Its just so much more convenient.
posted by batou_ at 5:43 AM on November 7, 2008


He shouldn't try and change the past. Everything happens for a reason. He is who he is because of his past.
posted by Mastercheddaar at 5:46 AM on November 7, 2008


I responded last time. I'm not doing this again.
posted by michswiss at 5:48 AM on November 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


Kid Charlemagne: "Assuming the many worlds hypothesis is true, this is what I'm pretty much doing to each an every one of you with every mouse click."

For those to lazy click a mouse: an automatic universe generator.
posted by PontifexPrimus at 6:15 AM on November 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


I pretty much support anyone seriously doing far-out research. Mostly because I like doing far-out research. Oh, and there are probably long-term benefits.
posted by MarshallPoe at 6:22 AM on November 7, 2008


I lost my mother to smoking-related cancer in 1971. Part of me wouldn't hesitate to go back in time to somehow try to stop her from smoking (assuming that I even could). But another part of me realizes to do so would probably mean that everything I am now would be lost. My life's far from perfect but I'm still not sure I'd be willing to give it up.

Perhaps time travel is impossible simply to prevent us from screwing things up in the process of trying to make things better.
posted by tommasz at 6:46 AM on November 7, 2008


Here is a summary of the Niven thing I mentioned earlier.

Niven's Law (re: Time travel)

A different law is given this name in Niven's essay "The Theory and Practice of Time Travel":

Niven's Law: If the universe of discourse permits the possibility of time travel and of changing the past, then no time machine will be invented in that universe.

Hans Moravec glosses this version of Niven's Law as follows:

There is a spookier possibility. Suppose it is easy to send messages to the past, but that forward causality also holds (i.e. past events determine the future). In one way of reasoning about it, a message sent to the past will "alter" the entire history following its receipt, including the event that sent it, and thus the message itself. Thus altered, the message will change the past in a different way, and so on, until some "equilibrium" is reached--the simplest being the situation where no message at all is sent. Time travel may thus act to erase itself (an idea Larry Niven fans will recognize as "Niven's Law").[1]
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 6:55 AM on November 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


What, no "black to the future" jokes?
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:03 AM on November 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


I don't know about you guys, but I miss my Dad something fierce. I'd give a lot to be able to spend another day with him... - LastOfHisKind

Quoted for truth. The first anniversary of my Dad's death was just a few days ago.
posted by Kikkoman at 7:07 AM on November 7, 2008


Hey, this is Metafilter. If time travel WAS possible, one of us would have gone back in time to correct the voting fraud that gave John McCain Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida and California Tuesday night. Right?
posted by Mcable at 7:10 AM on November 7, 2008 [3 favorites]


Time machines will never be built (going backwards) because no one has ever come back from the future. Duh.

Pfft! Says you. It's not like people haven't claimed to be time travelers.
posted by IvoShandor at 7:13 AM on November 7, 2008


The cops are going to pull over his time-machine and see a black man inside it. They will arrest him and confiscate the machine.
posted by doctorschlock at 7:26 AM on November 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


This is so fucked up. I actually wrote a story, inspired by Hawking's famous quote, about a time machine being invented that would only allow you to go back in time as far as the moment the time machine was turned on. It's actually a really good story, too. If I had submitted it somewhere and it had gotten published, I'd be lauded as a damn genius. razzafrazzin' real science always screwin' up my fake science.
posted by shmegegge at 8:10 AM on November 7, 2008


Having just listened ... the This American Life episode is incredibly good and well worth your listening time.
posted by grabbingsand at 8:12 AM on November 7, 2008


I can assure you all that the many worlds interpretation is crap. Furthermore, it makes the creator cry a little bit just to think you actually considered it.
posted by CautionToTheWind at 8:19 AM on November 7, 2008


Hm. I'm totally going to dig up Primer now.

dances - The Time Traveller's Wife sold a whole bunch o copies, and was recently made into a film by New Line Cinema (this year, I think) - you can find it on imdb. Hasn't been released yet, tho.
posted by bitterkitten at 8:22 AM on November 7, 2008


I'm no expert, but I thought I read that Kurt Godel had taken Einstein's theories and from them derived a proof that time, as we conventionally understand it, does not exist. This has been blowing my mind ever since, and I've been querying my friends who have more physics background than me, but physics people seem generally to be dismissive of this. But, it seems to be comparable to what I read about logicians who were initially dismissive of Godel's proofs regarding logical completeness. Maybe simply because it is so counter to our own intuition and perception of time?

Boy, anybody who could offer more insight in that, I would really appreciate it.
posted by newdaddy at 8:36 AM on November 7, 2008


Hey guys, I think he just got the machine to work. Some guy from 2125 just ran by me hollering "FIRST!"
posted by Spatch at 8:40 AM on November 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


It sounds like the fact that there's a solution to General Relativity that Godel came up with which is a universe with, amongst other weird properties, the existence of closed time-like loops.

It doesn't look like we live in such a universe though. While you might claim that time as conventionally understood doesn't exist in such a universe, that doesn't mean that time as conventionally understood doesn't exist in a conventional universe.
posted by edd at 8:41 AM on November 7, 2008


Someone should tell him his Safety is not guaranteed.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 9:05 AM on November 7, 2008


Haters.

We're all time travellers. Just in real time.
posted by mazola at 9:13 AM on November 7, 2008


I am shamefully ignorant of quantum physics, but I've always wondered why time is considered an object rather than an event or a process. For time travel to be possible, wouldn't it mean that the past had to continue to exist after it happened?
posted by johnofjack at 9:41 AM on November 7, 2008


Listening to a physicist try and explain how the 5 dollar double-slit experiment scientifically implies there is an alternate universe out there, among countless others, all as real as this one, where a 17 year old me is lawfully wedded to a Ms. Monica Bellucci, is kind of like listening to Bjork explain how a television set works.

Is physics really just a guild for highly numerate cranks, slapping together complicated, esoteric proofs for alchemy and crazy since Newton?

Like 10 years from now I can just see the staff at the Large Hadron Collider coming out of their spider-hole for a press conference on what has been learned; a man in chunky black rimmed glasses and a crew-cut steps up to the podium. Seven similar Dilberts stand behind him. He puts a 6 inch thick accordion stack of paper on the lectern, lifts the top sheet and scans his eyes slowly, left to right, top to bottom. Then he finally looks at the press, and clears his throat: "The answer is 42".

Then they all start hooting and somersaulting around the area like Daffy Duck as the Warner Brothers label balloons onto the screen. Modern physics proves we were all living in a Merry Melodies cartoon the whole time.
posted by dgaicun at 9:58 AM on November 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


the “overwhelming shock” of his father’s death caused Mallett, now 63, to “just disconnect from reality

Yes, that much is evident.

In other news: tl;dr. I'm assuming he hasn't actually built a time machine, so has he done any science that actually brings us closer to that possibility? If not, this story boils down to "crackpot is trying to build time machine". Which is nothing new.
posted by greenie2600 at 10:09 AM on November 7, 2008


It seems that establishing a data link to the past is much more practical than physically traveling there, much in the same way that its easier/cheaper to send data over thousands of miles than it is to physically travel thousands of miles. If he can send a particle back a fraction of a second, how hard is it to send it back a few hours? A few days? If you can send a particle back in time, you can send data back in time.

If that is possible, the implications are pretty mind boggeling. Want to make a few $trillion on the stock market? What if information from the future became public knowledge? I can't comprehend the impact of this on society/the economy/etc.

The experiments you could do to cause paradoxes would be pretty interesting:

Turn on the machine and wait
if you get a particle from the future, then don't send one - What just happened?!
If you don't get a particle, do send one back to the past - What just happened?!

We would pretty quickly learn a ton about the nature of time, multiple universes, etc.
posted by jpdoane at 10:14 AM on November 7, 2008


He puts a 6 inch thick accordion stack of paper on the lectern, lifts the top sheet and scans his eyes slowly, left to right, top to bottom. Then he finally looks at the press, and clears his throat: "The answer is 42".

Too late. The answer is, indeed, 42.
posted by loquacious at 10:24 AM on November 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


Hurray! He did it. It just appeared a second ago in wikipedia. It reads that he somehow disrupted...
posted by doctorschlock at 10:24 AM on November 7, 2008


So are we living in the post-material society already? Where fiction becomes fact and fact becomes matter?

My gripe with time travel is that, if anything or anyone was sent back in time, a copy would effectively be created - so what about the total sum of energy in the system? This would mean that matter could be multiplied infinitely at a single point in time.
Therefore, if anything is ever transported in time, it will have no energy or mass. Even information is energy. That leaves dark matter, perhaps.

Secondly, treating time as a physical dimension is an error of category, much as it would be to treat an event as a physical object or a change between two states as physical matter which could be acted upon.

Finally, and I know snarks are easy, but I'll do it anyway, I want to come out of the closet too:
I invented a cure for cancer!!!

Only thing is it needs the energy of a billion suns, it kills everyone else around and gives you HIV and total amnesia instead. BUT I HAVE THE CURE!

There, I said it. Now send teh monie pliez.
posted by Laotic at 10:28 AM on November 7, 2008


See, but this is the bit that flummoxes me. Physicists nearly universally say, in reference to the Godel business, the equivalent of "Well, we (probably) don't live in a universe like that." But it seems pretty clear from the text of the (admittedly non-mathematical but historically well-researched) books linked above, that Godel, at least, felt like his result said something about the nature of our universe and time specifically, even if the system he described clearly isn't one we're living in. He didn't seem to feel it was simply an abstract exercise. He even went so far as to consult astronomers regarding data which he hoped would prove or disprove some portion of his result.

I don't know enough to argue the point with any authority, but my suspicion is that the "We don't live in that sort of universe" people are missing Godel's larger point.
posted by newdaddy at 11:16 AM on November 7, 2008


What if he goes back in time and his father is a total dick to him? Wouldn't you want to meet someone cool?
posted by dasheekeejones at 11:35 AM on November 7, 2008


Correct me if I am wrong, but not so very long ago plenty of people thought it was impossible to travel to the Moon. Or to split the atom. Or even to fly.

One never knows, do one?
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 11:36 AM on November 7, 2008


So in the many worlds theory, if he goes back in time, he saves his dad, and creates a new universe but returns to a different world than the one he left.

BUT if every possible world already exists, then there are timelines where his father was fine, so he didn't really save him, he just moved himself to a different universe, leaving his dead father behind.

So basically the headline should read: "Man builds machine to abandon dying father. Millions rejoice?"
posted by blue_beetle at 11:50 AM on November 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


My gripe with time travel is that, if anything or anyone was sent back in time, a copy would effectively be created - so what about the total sum of energy in the system? This would mean that matter could be multiplied infinitely at a single point in time.

Wich leads one to hypothesize that the original -- or its equivalent mass -- would be erased at the same instant. You know, to balance the ledger.

Also an argument against teleportation.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 12:11 PM on November 7, 2008


There is no such thing as time, it's a man made construct dreamed up to help us keep track of stuff. Seriously.

If time travel ever is invented, I hope they come back and talk to me. This way I can explain why it's impossible and convince the time traveler he doesn't exist, which he won't.
posted by ShadowCrash at 12:37 PM on November 7, 2008


His dad was Jack in the Box?

To be fair, only some people call him ‘space cowboy.’ Others refer to him as the Gangster of Love or alternatively ‘Maurice.’

I kid, but this is a magnificent story.

Reminds me a bit of ‘Primer’ as well.

“Meanwhile, several black children in Africa all died today from a lack of clean water.” - posted by Cool Papa Bell

True. I’d get my ass over there with a canteen if I were you.
Y’know, point taken, really, seriously.

But there are oars and straws.
The kids dying in Africa - that’s a straw problem. It doesn’t require a radical broad sweeping change in the human paradigm to alter.
Matter of economics, logistics, corporitization and exploitation. There’s nothing there we couldn’t solve with the tools we have at hand.

This is an oar change.
One might similarly criticize old ‘Og over there for working on this ‘fire’ bullshit of his while we all need sharp rocks for hunting.
But once Og does discover how to make fire - that changes everything for everyone and for all time.
Same deal with this.
It does take resources, of a sort, away from more concrete concerns.
But the intangible nature of the gains does not make them not worth pursuing.

I’ve always thought Hawking radiation was a dead giveaway that funky things happen around space that’s curved enough.
Oh, I know ‘information’ can’t be imparted to a ‘virtual’ particle juiced up enough by a black hole’s rotation enough to become a ‘real’ particle.
But that energy, of a kind, can ‘cross’ the event horizon - rather obvious energy can be washed and drained of ‘information’ but never really lost (and, long long eventually when the hole ‘evaporates’ - comes back).



Funny, when my dad died I went inward. Studied a lot of comparative religion and philosophy and settled on philosophical taoism. So I accept what comes: death, change, as inevitability. I thought about time travel too. I did (and do still) have an interest in physics.

But it struck me that, if I did travel back in time to change all that - what meaning would there be?
His death made me the person I am. I think I grew up far stronger that I would have otherwise. I remember what he told me with far more clairity than I would have had he lived.
And it is, after all, his death as it was his life. Those were his choices. It’s not my right to change it.
And who knows if I would have learned from them. My dad smoked too. I don’t. I don’t drink (except on rare occasion). I exercise regularly, I eat well and drink orange juice. I wear my seat belt. Why?
In part because I have kids too. And I don’t want them to grow up without a father.

Time travel may be possible. Even if it’s not - what we do now still has an impact on our own futures. And if we can travel into the past, we’re never going to be that 10 year old again. We’re never going to be able to recapture what’s past in our own lives.

And ultimately that’s all that really matters. Who is it your choices have made you? And how do you affect the future thereby?

That’s what makes this story. The technology, science and discovery is great and all. But the gift his dad gave him was the interest in science and even in his death, the will to pursue a dream.
If I were him, I wouldn’t change that if I could. His father would be so proud. And if I have to die somehow so my children can make this a better world I accept that gladly. Even if it’s a result of my own flaws. Hell, especially. They’ll learn not to make my mistakes.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:43 PM on November 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


I agree his website smells a little cranky, but his work is quite legit. Here is his paper in Physics Letters A, which is a respectable peer-reviewed physics journal. His other paper which is more directly about time travel, is published in another respectable journal, "Foundations of Physics".

Bah. If it doesn't show up here, it's not a valid theory of time travel.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 12:45 PM on November 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


micayetoca: "Holograms and black US presidents on Tuesday, time travel by Friday. This is the first time in my life I'm actually looking forward to Monday."

This Monday or last Monday?
posted by cjorgensen at 12:54 PM on November 7, 2008


shmegegge: "I actually wrote a story, inspired by Hawking's famous quote, about a time machine being invented that would only allow you to go back in time as far as the moment the time machine was turned on. It's actually a really good story, too."

Then run with it. That dead Crichton fellow once read an article in Science about dinosaur DNA in mosquito blood trapped in amber. Worked out ok for him.

More troubling for you is I am pretty sure I've read this story before, but even then would say run with it. Good stories are about the characters, the ideas are seldom new.
posted by cjorgensen at 12:58 PM on November 7, 2008


Also an argument against teleportation.

Not really - the prevalent Sci(Fi) definition of teleportation appears to make use of locally available atom material to recreate the teleported object. Still patently absurd by today's standards, but mass and energy are not duplicated.

OTOH, the fund-raising web mentioned above says 'you can see yourself entering the time machine' - e.g. the time machine can put you in the same time where another you already is. In other words, it would need to 'create' matter out of thin air in the past - you could theoretically clone an infinite Army of You.

Correct me if I am wrong, but not so very long ago plenty of people thought it was impossible to travel to the Moon. Or to split the atom. Or even to fly.

You are not wrong, just out of context - even now there are plenty of people who think dinosaurs roamed the earth about the time of the great flood.

Give you an example: You have two apples, I have none. How many times more apples do you have?

(spoiler: language allows us to construct nonsensical concepts which would not be possible even if we managed to twist the very basic rules governing our universe)

Think of time travel not as travel through air or vacuum (because that includes nothing contradictory), but as travel of mass at the speed of light. So far no matter was ever observed to behave in that way, but if you draw your knowledge from comics and the popular press, light-speed travel seems to be taken as a fact of life, even though it is absurd.
posted by Laotic at 12:59 PM on November 7, 2008


greenie2600: In other news: tl;dr. I'm assuming he hasn't actually built a time machine, so has he done any science that actually brings us closer to that possibility? If not, this story boils down to "crackpot is trying to build time machine". Which is nothing new.

In one possible future, you will read the article and/or the thread, and feel slightly sad about having said this.


Also, I would like to hear about each and every crackpot who is trying to build a time machine, please. Verily, they are among the best crackpots.
posted by asspetunia at 1:02 PM on November 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


I am busy right now, but I am so excited to read this thread...

IN tHE FUTURE!!!
posted by humannaire at 1:50 PM on November 7, 2008


More troubling for you is I am pretty sure I've read this story before, but even then would say run with it. Good stories are about the characters, the ideas are seldom new.

even when i was writing i knew i was treading old ground. if I decide to submit it somewhere, it'll be in the hopes that people appreciate morbid sci fi comedy even if it's stretched over a tired premise.
posted by shmegegge at 2:01 PM on November 7, 2008


Theory debunked (at least as far as it being remotely practical as a time machine for human beings):

http://arxiv.org/PS_cache/gr-qc/pdf/0410/0410078v1.pdf
posted by snoktruix at 2:19 PM on November 7, 2008


Actually, reading that properly, it seems that Mallett's theory is not just hugely impractical, it's worse, it's unphysical. His time machine is based on a solution to Einstein's equations which while valid couldn't possibly occur in our universe (a "pathological spacetime" as Olum and Everett put it).
posted by snoktruix at 2:27 PM on November 7, 2008


For more than 50 years, he’s been obsessed with finding a way to return to the past. Specifically, to the Bronx, in 1955.

What is it with time travelers and 1955?
posted by Robot Johnny at 2:45 PM on November 7, 2008


newdaddy:I don't know enough to argue the point with any authority, but my suspicion is that the "We don't live in that sort of universe" people are missing Godel's larger point.

I'm not sure we are. The problem is that there is a deep cosmological mystery as to why the arrow of time points as it does and contriving alternative cosmologies where there is no such arrow does not resolve the question of why we do have such an arrow.
I think it's just that most of us feel Godel was missing the larger point.
posted by edd at 2:55 PM on November 7, 2008


So he basically wants to build a time machine to do exactly what you shouldn't do...alter history. Well, at least he is honest.
posted by scarello at 4:48 PM on November 7, 2008


Meanwhile, several black children in Africa all died today from a lack of clean water.

I'll rise to the bait, as well.

Was it that your posed dead children were "black" or that they were "in Africa," which inspired you to toss this at a professor of physics and an obviously brilliant theoretical physicist who is also African-American?

Because the story of this scientist is inspiring. In case, cpb, you, you know, missed it.
posted by humannaire at 5:11 PM on November 7, 2008


Well, of course since this black presidential candidate is all up in arms about President George W. Bush, Jr. he must be from the future. And one of the Bush twins did not change her name (either by keeping her own, or having an out of wedlock baby) before passing it onto Junior.

Previously.
posted by cjorgensen at 8:06 PM on November 7, 2008


ericbop: "Yes We Will Have Been Able to Can Has!"

FTFY
posted by Mr. Gunn at 8:00 AM on November 8, 2008


mc(squared)=E.

Fixed that for you.


Naw, dude, E=MC Honky.

What, we are talking about parallel universes and all?
posted by Rev. Syung Myung Me at 10:21 AM on November 8, 2008


Don't you people watch Nova? Neil DeGrasse Tyson is awesome, and not even approaching crankdom.

I'm not throwing the r-word around here or anything, but the time-travel guy is Robert Mallett, a different black scientist. Unless this is some super-ironic joke that was killed by translation into text.
posted by maus at 3:36 AM on November 9, 2008 [2 favorites]


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