Ned walked into Will’s lab phrasing the question as he entered. “What in the world was that mysterious email? If it is so important, why couldn’t you just tell me in the email?”
“I couldn’t just tell you, I have to show you.”
“Don’t tell me, let me guess. This has to do with your silly idea of actual time travel?”
“You won’t thinks it’s so silly when you see this.”
Will was setting up a complicated looking contraption that seemed to consist mainly of two very large electromagnets about a foot apart. There was lots of other wiring that made no sense to Ned but seemed very complex.
“Just be patient. It’s worth the wait.”
“OK, wow me.”
Will put a small white marble between the two electromagnets and adjusted a couple of dials.
“You might want to step back a little.”
As Ned complied Will opened a clear plastic cover to expose an ominous looking red switch.
“Focus on the marble.”
He flipped the switch and there was a buzzing vibration that seemed both inaudible and loud at the same time. In retrospect Ned thought he didn’t really hear it as much as he felt it.
The marble disappeared.
Will watched the emotions play across Ned’s face, waiting for a response. Waiting … waiting…finally Ned found words.
“OK…so where’s the marble?”
“I’m not sure ’where’ it is, but I know ’when’ it is. About five minutes ago.”
“Look, I know we were drinking a lot when we discussed this, but I am pretty sure I made my point the other night. Even if you did actually just send that marble back in time it’s somewhere in outer space in the wake of this planet or even this solar system. Everything is moving. So what good is that?”
“Well, I’ve been thinking about that and doing the math and I have an explanation, but if you don’t understand string theory it will be a little tricky to explain.”
“Just because my thesis isn’t math related doesn’t mean I’m a moron. Try me.”
“OK, now that we’re sober maybe you won’t keep interrupting me.” Will said this to his good friend with a grin as he moved to his desk which had several chairs in front of it. “Sit down and listen while I pontificate.”
Ned might not have complied except for one disturbing fact: the marble was gone. As Will started what would surely be a very long-winded lecture, Ned settled back in his seat.
“Did you ever read the book ’Flatland’?”
“Yeah, we had it in freshman English. About a world of only two dimensions. They had a smart circle who could imagine a third dimension. All the squares and triangles thought he was crazy.”
“Now that is one lazy synopsis, but accurate in essence.”
“This is going to take a while isn’t it?”
“Not if you quit interrupting me.” Again he said this with a smile. Ned settled deeper in his chair and kept quiet.
“So if in the world of Flatland you had two locations they could only be defined in two dimensions, say, (2,2) and (5,5). Say this graph paper is Flatland and these two dots are the locations.”
He then moved the paper a few inches on the desk.
“Now what are their coordinates?”
“Still (2,2) and (5,5).”
“Right, because Flatland moved. So the coordinates weren’t really absolute but relative. Flatland coordinates you might say. Now let’s pretend the evil genius created a machine that could actually function in the third dimension and it did this.”
He wadded the paper up into a ball.
“Now, for the sake of argument, let’s say that (2,2) and (5,5) are right next to each other. Some Flatland microbe that would have had to traverse inches of paper can now go directly between the two points. Our evil genius just used the third dimension to ’warp’ the first two.”
“This is leading somewhere?”
“Be patient, Grasshopper. Now let’s extend the example. If you take a world of three dimensions and warp it by using the fourth dimension then you get what? The fabled science fiction wormhole. The fourth dimension is time so you put (x,y,z) adjacent to (a,b,c) in the fourth dimension or time. So in a microsecond you go across the universe – faster that light travel.”
“Yeah, I read science fiction, too. Your point?”
“Relativity. In the pure sense. Even though the components of the universe are flying all over the place, the coordinates are still relative to the universe so you go from A to B. Of course the worm hole, depending on a certain time for it’s existence, would be very ephemeral. It still is helping me make my point. One more step.”
“Now suppose we move to the fifth dimension. This is where it gets hard to imagine because we have a good mental grasp on the fourth dimension, time. We experience it as we age. But the fifth dimension only can make sense with string theory. I won’t try to impress you with math but the basic idea is that all matter is made up of ’strings’ of energy that are ubiquitous. They are all connected irrespective of place and time. This is not me saying this but the greatest minds of our time saying it.”
Ned had grown quiet, thinking hard.
“Now if we ’fold’ the first four dimensions through the fifth dimension we get we points (x,y,z,t) close to (A,B,C,T) in the fifth dimension. All coordinates are relative to the folded universe so there is no ’appearing in empty space’ due to celestial movement, only due to inaccurate x, y, and z coordinates. I haven’t figured out how to tune those yet, but I am pretty sure coordinate ’T’ was five minutes in the past. My main point is that your argument about time travel being impossible based on the movement of Earth is based on absolute coordinates. The coordinates used in the movement are actually relative. I just need to figure out how to calculate them.”
“But if the coordinates are relative in the context of the universe, then you still have to figure out the coordinates where the Earth was 5 minutes ago not to mention where this table was.”
“Possibly, but remember how in all the great science fiction novels with wormholes, the location of the wormholes were always tied to gravity wells? That’s because it is a proven fact that a powerful gravity well can bend light which isn’t even a particle just a wave so the theory is that gravity warps the space-’time’ continuum itself. I believe that just the Earth’s gravity well might be strong enough to make the coordinates relative to the gravity well, thus making the calculations of the coordinates far easier. In theory I could move something not only in time but space as well. How about 40 years ago in Menlo Park, California?” This with a big enthusiastic grin.
“Will, did it occur to you that as you experiment repeatedly to figure all this out that marble might go somewhere you really, really don’t want it to go? Like inside your body?”
Will looked stricken. “No … want to go get a beer?”