Dr Julian Cook's science laboratory

03-08-11

This week, scientists based at Hong Kong’s University of Science and Technology published findings that suggest travelling back in time is fundamentally impossible.

Exploring Einstein's Canyon of Impossibility

To do this, the team spent years studying the highly complex postulates of Einstein’s theory of special relativity but you can easily bypass this if you happen to have seen the 1991 road trip film, Thelma and Louise.

Thelma and Louise drove across America chasing their dream, which ultimately proved unattainable. Their frustration is shared by scientists who try to travel into the past. To go back in time, you have to go faster than the speed of light but in practice nothing in the universe can do this. We can go so fast that we approach the speed of light but the closer we get, the more the laws of nature will forcibly slow us down – so that eventually we appear to stop in time. It’s exactly like the final scene where they drive the car off the cliff and everything goes into slow motion, almost as if the universe didn’t want them to reach feminist heaven.

The film ends showing the car frozen in mid air and we never see the much anticipated impact. At this point, the car had reached the event horizon – the point where the outside observer sees the image forever imprinted at the edge of the understandable universe. Meanwhile, Thelma and Louise continue unawares into the unknown. Are they now in some wonderful humourless place where everyone goes over to Hillary Clinton’s house to drink HP Sauce straight from the bottle and sing Bjork on the karaoke?

It’s anyone’s guess but I guarantee the place where they would have ended up was very, very peculiar. After you have flouted the laws of the universe it’s basically a free for all. Geena Davis might be missing a front tooth, Sarandon might have Tourettes. It’s more likely that it got even weirder than that and they were conjoined into some monstrous Human Centipede of a woman. This would not have been a pleasant place: their vehicle would have required a specially commissioned seat and frankly Brad Pitt wouldn’t have known where to look.

As no one will ever be able to prove otherwise, we must assume that this is the fate awaiting anyone who breaks the universe’s speed limit.  And if somehow, Professor Cox manages it and spends time in this extraordinary place, getting intimate with its fascinating inhabitants, I will be forced to demand tasteful photographic evidence.

We must hope that Thelma and Louise never achieved their dream of light speed, not because it would have required infinite energy and violated the basic principles of causality, but because the change they sought had to come from the inside.

Time travel may sound like it’s going to make your life a million times better but really we’re better off in a world where Geena Davis isn’t defecating into anyone’s mouth and Brad Pitt appears to be aging rather well.  

 

Dr Julian Cook is a senior research fellow at the Institute for Studies

 

 

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