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Future of Time Travel: Theoretical Physics between the Lines of Modern Pop-Culture

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The Next Generation’s big screen outings are a mixed bag, to put it nicely, but the best film by far is the time-bending Star Trek: First Contact. Jean-Luc Picard and the crew of the USS Enterprise-E travel to the past to prevent the cybernetic Borg from mucking with Earth’s history. It’s a good film all by itself, but even more excellent if you’re an invested Star Trek fan. We get to see huge, never-before-seen moments in the Star Trek universe, like humanity’s first encounter with the Vulcans, and the Borg are just an excellent adversary.

The most immediate movie is Spider-Man: Far From Home, which will pick up with Peter Parker and the rest of the gang resuming their lives now that they’ve been un-dusted. As the latest trailer shows (in a way that spoils Endgame, but if you’ve made it this far, you’re probably okay with that), Peter seems reluctant to suit up after the death of his mentor, Tony Stark.

Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure This film is “most excellent”. One of Keanu Reeves’s greatest achievements outside of The Matrix, 1989’s Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure is kind of stupid and yet scientifically impossible to hate. Two less-than-studious high schoolers get their hands on a time machine and use it to make a stellar report for history class. Abraham Lincoln, Genghis Khan, Joan of Arc, Billy the Kid, Napoleon, Sigmund Freud, and Socrates are all brought into the future. I can’t even imagine what kind of historical ramifications that would have, but it’s best not to think about it.

The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgement Day are perfect pieces of science fiction. We all know the story. A future T-800 Model 101 Terminator, iconically played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, is sent back to 1984 Los Angeles with orders to kill Sarah Connor, the future mother of Skynet’s most fearsome enemy, John Connor. Although Schwarzenegger plays the villain in James Cameron’s original masterpiece, he reprises the role in 1991’s T2 — this time as the hero. Both films are great, but since they each use the same time travel schtick (naked person/robot + time bubble thingie), we’re just going to put them at the same spot.

Gödel. The time traveller steps into an ordinary rocket ship (not a special time machine) and flies off on a certain course. At no point does she disappear (as in Leap) or “turn back in time” (as in Putnam) — yet thanks to the overall structure of spacetime (as conceived in the General Theory of Relativity), the traveler arrives at a point in the past (or future) of her departure. (Compare the way in which someone can travel continuously westwards, and arrive to the east of her departure point, thanks to the overall curved structure of the surface of the earth.)

Bacterial spores can live for millions of years in a state of suspended animation, until the right conditions of temperature, moisture, food kick start their metabolisms again. Some mammals, such as bears and squirrels, can slow down their metabolism during hibernation, dramatically reducing their cells’ requirement for food and oxygen.

We have referred to interactions among individuals. In fact, Anastasio et al. assign an important role in collective consolidation to various external memory technologies. The interacting components of the relevant systems thus include not only human individuals but also the technological resources of which the latter make use. In other words, the systems at issue in large-scale collective memory are not purely social systems but rather hybrid sociotechnical systems. This does not necessarily represent a dis-analogy between large-scale and small-scale collective memory, for (as we have argued elsewhere; Michaelian and Arango-Munoz forthcoming) the systems at issue in small-scale collective memory are themselves often hybrid sociotechnical systems.

Marvel’s Doctor Strange: In this Marvel sleeper hit, Stephen Strange (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) becomes the Sorcerer Supreme, and in typical Marvel fashion, is tasked with saving the world. Although the visuals alone are worthing giving this movie a shot, Dr. Strange’s manipulation of time as a superpower rather than a world-altering plot device is what sets it apart from the rest.

Dr. Tyson: “I’d go back in time and have a conversation with Isaac Newton. I’d want to explore the brilliance of those who have come before us. I’d want to talk to Beethoven or Mozart and just hear their inner creativity manifest in front of my eyes. I’d want to see the courage of Joan of Arc, as she stands up against unspeakable odds. I would want a sampling, first-hand, at what our species is capable of and I would bring that forward into the present and remind people that our genetics overlaps with everyone who has ever lived. So, our potential is unlimited”.

One objection to the possibility of time travel flows directly from attempts to define it in anything like Lewis’s way. The worry is that because time travel involves “a discrepancy between time and time”, time travel scenarios are simply incoherent. The time traveler traverses thirty years in one year; she is 51 years old 21 years after her birth; she dies at the age of 90, 200 years before her birth; and so on. The objection is that these are straightforward contradictions: the basic description of what time travel involves is inconsistent; therefore time travel is logically impossible.

Slow time travel: In “Primer”, a traveler stays in a box while time traveling. For each minute they want to go back in time, they need to stay in the box for a minute. If they want to go back a day in time, they have to stay there for 24 hours.

Donnie Darko is another strange example of time travel, which is why it belongs on this list all the more. Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a high school kid with a less-than-sunny disposition. But when he begins seeing frightening hallucinations of a deranged and grotesque rabbit, things slowly begin to unravel, going from bad to weird pretty quickly. For such a small-budget film—that was almost released straight to home video—it’s made an outsized impact on science fiction and indie film making. It’s a great movie but also a polarizing one.

“We have a hard time perceiving how time can bend just like other dimensions, so Einstein’s predictions seem strange”, – said J. Richard Gott, author of the book Time Travel in Einstein’s Universe and a professor of astrophysics at Princeton University. “But this appears to be the world we live in”.

Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) agrees to work on a machine that would allow the Avengers to time travel — on one condition. He has started a family in the last five years and thus does not want to alter recent history in any way. Instead of trying to rewind time once they have the Time Stone and undo everything that has happened in the last five years, they decide to use the Infinity Stones to bring back everyone who disappeared in this current timeline, five years later. That way, Tony can preserve his daughter’s life, while saving dusted characters like Spider-Man (Tom Holland).

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The particle accelerator has the ability to propel protons at 99.999999 percent the speed of light, a speed at which their relative time is moving about 6,900 times slower compared to their stationary human observers. If multiple timelines exist, does that mean somewhere in space/time there is a timeline where everyone is still dead and they didn’t succeed and we’re just not seeing it? Yes. Well, maybe. In either case, aren’t you glad we don’t live there?

This means that astronauts, for example, are already time travelers of a sort. That’s because they go into space and live on the International Space Station, sometimes for months at a time. At a speed of about 5 miles (8 kilometers) a second, astronauts on the space station are moving faster than we are on Earth. This means that on the station, astronauts age just a tiny bit slower than they would on the planet’s surface. (And that when astronaut Scott Kelly came back from a year in space, the age gap with his slightly older identical twin, Mark, widened by just a little bit).

That also means items and people from the past can travel toward the present without changing anything. That allows the Infinity Stones, Nebula and Thanos from the past, and Thanos’ army to come toward the present, and even die there, without blinking the existing timeline out of existence.

In addition to questions about collectivity and mentality of the sort we have dealt with here, collective MTT, like individual MTT, raises questions by suggesting a symmetry between our thought about past events and future events. Traditional versions of direct realism, for example, treat the objects of episodic memory as being particular past events. The objects of episodic future thought, in contrast, are arguably not particular future events. Whether this poses a threat to the validity of the concept of MTT is a subject of ongoing debate (Debus 2014; Perrin 2016; Michaelian 2016a).

There’s no problem with that. In fact, we know how to do it in principle. If you travel very close to the speed of light, time slows down for the space traveler compared to someone on Earth. “It’s not like the movies’, – says Mallett. “It’s not going to happen at the end of two hours, at the cost of whatever it is you pay for the movie ticket. It’s going to cost”.

Those of you who’ve already seen Avengers: Endgame are already aware the major plot point of Endgame involves time travel — that’s how they bring back the “snappe”. As my colleague Stephen Shankland explains, according to science, “Marvel’s massive superhero movie bends the rules of the universe” with this movie. What I’m hearing is that Hank Pym (the original Ant-Man, played by Michael Douglas) and co-created a wormhole, accidentally left Scott in it, and then the Avengers used the same wormhole and their GPS devices to save this single universe.

A film with perhaps the lowest budget on this list, Timecrimes is a Spanish-language movie that follows a typical time travel trope (many copies of one person causing major problems) but creates 92 minutes of truly enjoyable cinema. The fun moments of Timecrimes are the reveal after reveal after reveal, which snowballs into a fascinating plot. “For me, the sun rose and set on him, he was just the center of things”, – he tells CNN Travel. “Even today, after all of these years, there’s still an unreality about it for me”.

Sixty years later, 74-year-old Mallett is a professor of physics at the University of Connecticut. He’s spent his career investigating black holes and general relativity – the theories of space, time and gravity famously explored by Albert Einstein.

Looper Crime noir meets science fiction in Rian Johnson’s Looper, and the match is magical. In a future where time travel is invented and immediately made illegal, crime syndicates use the technology for time-hopping assassinations. But to tie off some temporal inconsistencies, the assassin must eventually become the target—and that’s where things get interesting. This isn’t flawless sci-fi but it’s certainly inventive.

The time traveler steps into an ordinary rocket ship and flies off at high speed on a round trip. When he returns to Earth, thanks to certain effects predicted by the Special Theory of Relativity, only a very small amount of time has elapsed for him—he has aged only a few months—while a great deal of time has passed on Earth: it is now hundreds of years in the future of his time of departure. Travelling forwards in time is surprisingly easy. Einstein’s special theory of relativity, developed in 1905, shows that time passes at different rates for people who are moving relative to one another – although the effect only becomes large when you get close to the speed of light. Hollywood has come calling for Mallett a few times. A proposed adaptation of “The Time Traveler”, an autobiography he co-authored in 2008, fell through despite the involvement of celebrated director Spike Lee.

You wouldn’t be able to notice minute changes in the flow of time, but a sufficiently massive object would make a huge difference – say, like the supermassive black hole Sagittarius A at the center of our galaxy. Here, the mass of 4 million suns exists as a single, infinitely dense point, known as a singularity . Circle this black hole for a while (without falling in) and you’d experience time at half the Earth rate. In other words, you’d round out a five-year journey to discover an entire decade had passed on Earth .

But with the use of the Quantum Realm, the Avengers are time-traveling differently. (And, as the movie goes to great pains to explain, it’s in a manner that distinctly isn’t like Back to the Future.) Quantum Realm time-travel can’t retroactively change the present where the time-traveler originated, so going back and killing someone’s grandfather (or baby Thanos, as was suggested during the movie) won’t undo the present — or at least not the present where the time-traveler originated. If someone changes the past by, say, losing the Space Stone to Loki who escapes with it, which would prevent the events of the next several MCU movies from playing out as we saw them happen, the process just creates an alternate timeline that plays out on its own.

Although not exactly a plutonium-charged DeLorean, time travel is anything but fiction. Real astrophysicists like Gott are pretty sure they know how to build a time machine, and intense speed—much, much faster than Padalka’s orbital jaunt—is the key ingredient. For example, suppose I go back in time and try to kill my grandfather. If I succeed, then of course I’m never born and I could never have made the trip back using the time machine.

The Time Traveler’s story may have sounded outrageous to his colleagues, but today physicists think Wells was onto something. In fact, according to Albert Einstein’s famous equation, E = mc² , time travel is possible, at least in one direction. Going the other way — back to the past — presents a trickier challenge.

Interstellar, like iconic director Stanley Kubrick, Christopher Nolan loves to hop around genres. Whether a superhero flick, a magical period piece, or a psychological thriller, Nolan has demonstrated time and again that he knows how to make a movie. While Interstellar doesn’t stand up to Kubrick’s sci-fi opus 2001, it’s a fascinating look into faster-than-light travel and does due diligence to present the theories behind this kind of travel as accurately as possible. In the film, Joseph Cooper leaves Earth in search of another habitable planet. After some troubling deep space encounters, Cooper must somehow send a message to his daughter back on Earth in order to save humanity. It’s a fascinating idea and Nolan’s treatment of the material makes for a great two-and-a-half hours of sci-fi.

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Future of Time Travel: Theoretical Physics between the Lines of Modern Pop-Culture. (2023, February 01). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 29, 2023, from
“Future of Time Travel: Theoretical Physics between the Lines of Modern Pop-Culture.” Edubirdie, 01 Feb. 2023,
Future of Time Travel: Theoretical Physics between the Lines of Modern Pop-Culture. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 29 May 2023].
Future of Time Travel: Theoretical Physics between the Lines of Modern Pop-Culture [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2023 Feb 01 [cited 2023 May 29]. Available from:
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