Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Saving Grandpa: Solving a Problem of Time Travel

Laura Sanders examines how some physicists may solve a major problem associated with time travel. An excerpt:

Any theory of time travel has to confront the devastating “grandfather paradox,” in which a traveler jumps back in time and kills his grandfather, which prevents his own existence, which then prevents the murder in the first place, and so on.

One model, put forth in the early 1990s by Oxford physicist David Deutsch, can allow inconsistencies between the past a traveler remembers and the past he experiences. So a person could remember killing his grandfather without ever having done it. “It has some weird features that don’t square with what we thought time travel might work out as,” Lloyd says.

In contrast, Lloyd prefers a model of time travel that explicitly forbids these inconsistencies. This version, posted at arXiv.org, is called a post-selected model. By going back and outlawing any events that would later prove paradoxical in the future, this theory gets rid of the uncomfortable idea that a time traveler could prevent his own existence. “In our version of time travel, paradoxical situations are censored,” Lloyd says.

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