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Time travel isn’t as dangerous as we think, study says

Published Sep 28th, 2020 11:14PM EDT
time travel
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  • Researchers say that if you’re worried about paradoxes in time travel, you shouldn’t be.
  • Based on a lot of complex math, the team says they’ve determined that paradoxes related to time travel would be self-correcting.
  • For example, you could go back and interact with your past self without ruining your future or even changing it in any measurable way.

Time travel is, of course, purely science fiction, at least for right now. Various theories have suggested that time travel — including to the past — may indeed be possible based on our understanding of physics. Yet, one big question remains, and it’s one that’s often broached in movies and TV shows that dabble in alternate timelines: What about paradoxes?

A simple example of a paradox that is often mentioned in fictional stories about time travel is the seemingly high risk of altering the past in such a way that the time traveler themself ceases to exist. Interacting with one’s parents or grandparents, for example, could change their fate and ultimately lead to the time traveler never being born in the first place. Now, a new study suggests that we might not have to worry about such things.

Like everything related to the notion of time travel, the paper discusses some highly hypothetical concepts. Written a University of Queensland graduate student and his physicist professor, the paper examines classic cases of paradoxes and explains that, theoretically, paradoxes would self-correct in order to maintain the status of the “future” if we were to go back in time.

The researchers explain that based on the theory of general relativity, it should be possible to go into the past and even interact with ourselves. Using some math that I won’t even pretend to understand, the duo makes the case for paradox-free time travel based on the idea that no matter what you changed in the past, corrections would be made automatically so that the future isn’t impacted in a measurable way.

“Say you travelled in time, in an attempt to stop COVID-19’s patient zero from being exposed to the virus,” Dr. Fabio Costa, co-author of the work, said in a statement. “However if you stopped that individual from becoming infected – that would eliminate the motivation for you to go back and stop the pandemic in the first place. This is a paradox – an inconsistency that often leads people to think that time travel cannot occur in our universe.”

Okay, so what’s the fix? After crunching the numbers, the duo says that theoretically, reality would simply fix itself in one way or another.

“In the coronavirus patient zero example, you might try and stop patient zero from becoming infected, but in doing so you would catch the virus and become patient zero, or someone else would,” Germain Tobar, lead author, explains. “No matter what you did, the salient events would just recalibrate around you. This would mean that – no matter your actions – the pandemic would occur, giving your younger self the motivation to go back and stop it.”

That’s some pretty mind-bending stuff, and of course, there’s really no way to prove whether or not it’s true since we don’t have the ability to time travel and, based on everything we think we know about it, we’re still a long ways off from making that breakthrough. Nevertheless, if you run into yourself on the sidewalk, don’t be afraid. Apparently, it’ll all just work itself out in the end.