1.21 gigawatts? 1.21 gigawatts? Great Scott!

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Doc: Marty, I’m sorry. But the only power source capable of generating 1.21 gigawatts of electricity is a bolt of lightning.

Marty: What did you say?

Doc: A bolt of lighting. Unfortunately, you never know when or where it’s ever going to strike.

Marty: We do now.

Any of this ring a bell? If you’re of the age to remember pacman and kangaroos, you’ve probably already identified the above dialogue. It comes from Robert Zemeckis’ 1985 classic: Back to the Future.

You’ll remember that our hero Marty McFly escapes from a group of Plutonium packing Libyan terrorists by jumping in a supafly DeLorean and accelerating to 88mph. At this point the Flux Capacitor kicks in and Marty….finds himself suddenly in 1955, 30 years prior to the current date.

While the exact operation of the Flux Capacitor was never fully explained in any of the trilogy, Dr. Emmet Brown does cite that the stainless steel body of the DeLorian had a direct and influential effect on the “Flux Dispersal”.

Zemeckis’ wildly successful ‘Back to the Future’ trilogy is only one example of science fiction’s quest to give the public exactly what it wants: The ability to travel through time. Who can forget Dr. Who’s classic TARDIS device? Or Scott Bakula’s seemingly endless quest to reach ‘home’ through setting history’s wrongs right and (quantum) leaping to the next time? Or for those of you that want to go deep: Star Trek’s Wells class starship: the USS Relativity.

So what is it about time travel that excites us so much? Maybe it’s going back to see what time was like before we were alive. Perhaps a glimpse of the future could let us see our children’s children’s children. Maybe it’s similar to McFly and Sam Beckett’s quest to correct mistakes of the past? Whatever your reasoning might be, it’s a pretty good bet that you’ve daydreamt about time travel at one point.

But is it a reality? According to scientists; theoretically. Technically speaking, if you’re reading this right now, you are time traveling. You are mass, mass moving at a constant rate of 1 day at a time. 1 hour, 1 minute, 1 second, 1 nano-second. Each of us are already time travelers. It’s only the matter of accelerating or decelerating this steady rate that gets tricky.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines time as “a limited stretch or space of continued existence”, or “as the interval between two successive events”. The main problems with time travel are the paradoxes. For example, what if a time traveler were to travel back in time, interfere with their great grandmother meeting their great grandfather, and ultimately interfering with the Time-Space continuum. Technically speaking, that time traveler would thus never have been born resulting in instant fatality.

There are two ways to resolve this paradox.

  • One is to accept that past time is totally defined, meaning that nothing a time traveler could do would disrupt the already pre-defined time space continuum. This time traveler would experience a number of mistakes, mishaps, etc. that would technically not allow him/her to interfere with predetermined history.
  • The second theory involves a bit more complexity. Looking at the quantum rules that govern the subatomic level of the universe, if a time traveler were to interrupt a critical instance of history, they would then create a parallel quantum universe in which the great grandmother had never met the great grandfather. Both universes can theoretically exist in parallel. Stephen Hawking believes that he can explain the origin of the universe as (most) of us see it today through parallel quantum universes.

Ok, now that we’ve solved the pesky problem of paradoxes, how do we leap? How do I go back in time and meet Elvis? The secret to time travel is speed. There’s a certain Swiss scientist with a wacky hairdo that might come to mind. Something having to do with E and some M’s and C’s squared? Right. E=MC2. Traveling through time requires that you’re able to move mass at the speed of light. Awesome…let me go get my Ferrari. Whoa Enzo…slow down. The main problem with traveling at the speed of light is that as you approach C (the speed of light), time continues to slow down. Once you reach C, time in effect stops. How can you go faster than time if it has stopped? Ok, ok…technically you’d have to make the leap to quantum tunneling, but that’s a whole other can of worms…..

To conclude, is time travel possible? Technically…yes. Has anyone ever done it? That remains to be seen. What is our fascination with time travel? Is it possibly the ultimate goal of man? To conquer that which has yet to be conquered? Possibly. For me…. I just want to know who DID kill JFK, where IS Jimmy Hoffa, and WAS the royal doctor responsible for the brutal killing of 5 London prostitutes?

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