Friday, November 26, 2010

Time Travel My Way

The SF novel I'm currently writing, The Reefs of Time (Book Five of The Chaos Chronicles), involves time travel as an important story element. Specifically, a couple of my characters need to go back in time a few hundred million years, to see what they can learn about a malignant entity believed to have originated that long ago, near the center of the galaxy.

This is a pretty demanding jaunt for anyone, even those who travel with the help of far-future alien technologies. The time-travel theory involved, which I devised after a long period of mulling possibilities (and for which the prime criteria were: Does it make sense to me? and, Does it work in the story?), posits that travel back into deep time can be accomplished through an extreme version of exploiting quantum entanglement: essentially the possibility that we live in a vast web of entangled particles spanning deep space and deep time. (If you don't know what quantum entanglement means, stay with me for a moment. I'll get to it.)

According to theory (of alien origin, in my story), there are a couple of limitations on this form of time travel. One is that you don't really travel physically or materialize in the past. It's more like projecting yourself, ghostlike, in a way that lets you observe the past without actually (in theory!) interacting with anything in a way that could change the present or future. It's so ghostly that it's called ghoststream transmission. The theory (being tested right now by my characters Julie and Ik, under dangerous conditions) further says that any change that might be made in the past will create only limited local ripples. Nature has its own self-correcting mechanism that prevents, for example, the grandfather paradox (where you go back and shoot your grandfather before he meets your grandmother).

All fiction, folks.

Except, maybe not. This week's New Scientist has an article about a couple of researchers who believe they may have shown that quantum time travel is theoretically possible (registration required to read article), not by the usually-cited method of flying through a wormhole or other means requiring black holes, but by performing just the right trickery with quantum-entangled particles. (Quantum-entangled particles are particles joined in a spooky way such that an action on one—change in polarization or spin, for example—is instantaneously reflected in the state of the other, even if they are separated in distance, theoretically limitless distance.) It's one of those weird things that makes quantum physics so mind-bendy.

The New Scientist article goes on to explain that this model for time travel has a built-in mechanism that prevents time-travel paradoxes. Effectively, an entangled photon cannot go back and kill its grandfather photon, because if conditions are such that it can actually pull the trigger on its little quantum gun and pull off the photonicide, then the time travel fails to work in the first place. How's that for prevention of terrorism?

I started to develop a peculiar sense of déjà vu as I read this article. Didn't I just write this stuff a few months ago, weaving a bit of world-building that would make my story make sense to me? What are they doing, talking about it now in a serious scientific magazine?

You don't suppose the researchers took a little trip forward in time and read my finished book, do you? Hey guys—if you did, please tell me, how the heck does the story turn out?

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