Through the Wormhole Episode: Can We Travel Faster Than Light?

Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman has entered into its second season and is working to highlight topics as physical as space flight and as metaphysical as whether or not we have a sixth sense. The show is hosted by Academy Award-winner Morgan Freeman and airs on Wednesday nights on the Science Channel. This week’s show deals with a subject that many space flight enthusiasts have wondered for some time – can we really travel faster than the speed of light?

If the universe has a speed limit – it is considered to be the speed of light – at least we think it is the limit. Ever since Albert Einstein introduced us to the Theory of Relativity – we have been seeking ways if not to break this limit – then at least to bend it – a lot. For according to Einstein – it is impossible for humans to go faster than light. Scientists working in laboratories across the globe are trying to prove Einstein wrong – but can they? Time will tell and Through the Wormhole will take a peek at their efforts.

The show tackling the question of light speed will air on Wednesday, July 20, 2011 at 10 p.m. EDT.

It turns out that Freeman himself has often pondered many of the questions raised on the show and he wanted to share his wonder with the rest of world.

“My love affair with science and the unknown began for me in my high school physics class,” said Freeman. “My mind sprung open – all because of the questions I asked. In this new season of Through the Wormhole, we will explore ten new mystifying questions that will change the way you look at the world around you.”

Morgan Freeman and Lori McCreary are executive producers for Revelations Entertainment which produces the show. As mentioned, the show is entering its second season; this was confirmed in February of this year. The show was conceived as utilizing an element of pop culture (in this case Morgan Freeman, a celebrity, as the show’s narrator) with deep questions that have confronted mankind, in some cases since the dawn of time. By all accounts the show has been very successful.

52 Replies to “Through the Wormhole Episode: Can We Travel Faster Than Light?”

  1. gonna have to agree.. im a big fan of “through the wormhole”, but i was really hoping for some perspective from a science standpoint that i could use as a basis going into watching the new episode.. this seemed like a halfhearted attempt at just putting together some words to promote the airing of the new episode of this show.

    1. If this show reaches just one young, inquiring mind and sparks a thirst for physics, then it has done the world a huge favor.

  2. The singularity or Portal is beyond our current science, so there is no conventional scientific answer. However, to postulate, one has to go metaphysical. This means one’s body and spaceship domain has to match the frequency of the Portal gate with mental intention telepathy. Once activated, will teleport through the Portal to the other side in “no time”. It will take us several million years to acquire this technology if humankind remains the current state of being. Some of us already know that other ET groups have such capability.

    1. Don’t you think we are already there as far as using “mental intention telepathy” already? Look at DMT for instance. Your spacecraft is your mind. Sub atomic particles flying faster than the speed of light possibly into other universes which communicate with us by thought.

      1. Elementary particles have been found to have the same relativistic speed limit.

    2. “there is no conventional scientific answer.”

      That is a misunderstanding how science works. See other comments how we already know this is impossible (or unlikely, if you want to be positive) from current physics.

  3. Sounds like sci-fi but yesterday I was reading one of the science feeds where they hope to superposition a microscopic glass sphere over a significant distance (google superposition glass sphere).

  4. So many noise about nothing, and nothing about real thing –

    “The RadioAstron project’s exceptional sensitivity could allow the connected telescopes to peer into black holes and resolve the event horizon, the point at which nothing — not even light — can escape a black hole’s immense gravitational grasp.

    When tied together, RadioAstron’s telescopes have a resolution of 7 microarcseconds. That’s thousands of times better than the Hubble Space Telescope, which has a peak resolution between 0.05 and 0.1 arcseconds.

    The RadioAstron project could potentially answer the question of whether the galaxy’s core actually contains the mouth of a wormhole, a theorized shortcut through space and time, according to the Lebedev Physical Institute’s Astro Space Center, a division of the Russian Academy of Sciences.”

    No word about this event on http://www.universetoday. Very sad…

    1. @GEmin1,

      The news is slightly different to what you claim, those hopes and dreams might not be as within reach as we would wish… newest article today’s date (July 20, 2011) from the site you mention is extracted below.

      The Spectrum-R is in the planned orbit though, if that is the news you mean.

      –from the english version pages–

      Russian astrophysical observatory Spectrum-R has reached the targeted orbit.

      The scientific spacecraft successfully separated from the Fregat-SB upper stage at 10.06 a.m. MSK. Spectrum-R was injected into orbit with altitude of about 340 thousand km.

      The launch of Zenith-3M rocket with Fregat-SB upper stage and Spectrum-R occurred from Baikonur’s pad 45 on July 18, at 6.31 a.m. MSK.

      Spectrum-R, developed under Radioastron project in the framework of Russian Federal Space Program, is intended to study the Universe. The aim of the mission is to use the space telescope to conduct interferometer observations in conjunction with the global ground radio telescope network in order to obtain images, coordinates, motions and evolution of angular structure of different radio emitting objects in the Universe.

      Scientists also expect to obtain more information about pulsars and interstellar plasma, black holes and neutron stars in the Milky Way. The spacecraft’s operational lifetime will be no less than five years.

      Spectrum-R was built by Roscosmos’ company Lavochkin R&D. Scientific payloads were developed by the Astro Space Center of Russian Academy of Sciences’ Lebedev Physical Institute, as well as by international partners.


  5. There is quite a few articles where physicists postulate particles traveling faster than light at all times (tachyons).-accordingly, such particles are incapable of ”slowing” to the speed of light-the counterpart is where mass in our known universe can’t travel fast enough to reach the speed of light. How do we meet the tachyons-it appears impossible. I’m incapable of adding to this interesting article.

    1. Tachyons are virtual, their energy is complex, not real. They pop up in diverse physics like string theory, as virtual particles are wont to do. They are relativistic effective entities like holes are in a semiconductor, if you will, with no actual existence.

      It would be extraordinary physics, currently lacking extraordinary evidence, if they were actually real.

  6. There is quite a few articles where physicists postulate particles traveling faster than light at all times (tachyons).-accordingly, such particles are incapable of ”slowing” to the speed of light-the counterpart is where mass in our known universe can’t travel fast enough to reach the speed of light. How do we meet the tachyons-it appears impossible. I’m incapable of adding to this interesting article.

    1. dated Wednesday, July 13, 2011

      Alienware, really, advertising your own reviews and the blog that contains it in your sig line, please.


    2. dated Wednesday, July 13, 2011

      Alienware, really, advertising your own reviews and the blog that contains it in your sig line, please.


  7. Based on real physics — and not on fantasy physics — the answer to the question “can we travel faster than light?” is: No.

    Nothing new here. It’s boring.

  8. Based on real physics — and not on fantasy physics — the answer to the question “can we travel faster than light?” is: No.

    Nothing new here. It’s boring.

    1. If I remember correctly from university, the most persuasive proof that nothing can ever travel faster than light comes from taking a look at the Lorentz equations. Can someone with a bit more math-fu confirm that?

  9. I am going to give an answer of no, with I think is a measure of confidence. There are a number of reasons for this. For those who hold fast to dreams of Star Trek warp drives and science fiction ideas of faster than light travel this is not the answer you might want to hear, but reality can be a harsh mistress. I know, for in high school and to a degree in college I held out expectations for these things. Some deep learning about things leads me to the conclusion that the ability to communicate information faster than light, which of course includes traveling faster than light, is highly unlikely.

    First off, there is no way I can prove that faster than light causality (FTLC) is impossible. FTLC is not a theory, but it is a statement of falsifiable nature of modern physics, in particular relativity. It is similar in its logical import to the intelligent design concept of irreducible complexity. Irreducible complexity states there might be some structure in biology which can’t be understood according to evolution of component parts. Darwin made mention of something similar to this in his “Origin of Species,” where he stated that if anything of this nature is found that evolution is false. A theory however is never proven true; it is supported by a growing body of evidence. Any healthy theory has its statements of falsifiability: Theory T predicts X and if not-X is found then the theory is not true, or is false outside some domain of observation. A statement of falsification is then potentially provable, which means that it is not itself a theory. A statement of falsifiability has no provable falsification, for that would amount to proving the theory this statement is meant to falsify. FTLC is of this nature, for it is a statement on the falsifiable nature of relativity, which is not a theory.

    The mention is made of the tachyon, which is an aspect of the 26-dimesnional bosonic string. This string sector has 2 tachyon states, where the other 24 are an SO(24) theory of conformal gravity plus gauge fields. The tachyon states are predicted by the Regge trajectory and ?’M^2 = x(n-1). Here ?’ is the string coupling parameter, x = 1 or 4 for open or closed strings, n is the ladder of states. The vacuum state corresponds to n = 0 and so ?’M^2 = -x, and the mass M is imaginary. This is the tachyon, but it is clear that it is a pure vacuum state. A vacuum of this nature which has no corresponding particle states does not communicate information. The tachyon vacuum state is really a constraint on the system.

    One thing which should make anyone suspicious is that the propagation of information from one point in space to another faster than light leads to a time ordering ambiguity. If information or a physical body travels from point x to y faster than light, then there will be observers on other frames who witness this moving from y to x. As a result FTLC means there is ultimately no time ordering to a causal sequence. This should if nothing else lead one to ask some questions.

    There are a number of other issues with faster than light architectures. They are permitted in general relativity! There are solutions for wormholes, a warp drive and the Godel universe is a sort of grand FTLC system, even a cosmic time machine. However, these solutions all share a curious feature; they violate the energy conditions of Hawking and Penrose. This means that the source of spacetime curvature which gives rise to these solutions has negative energy with no “bottom.” These sources are ultimately quantum mechanical, or quantum fields, which means there is no minimal quantum state where the system is bounded below. This means the ladder of states goes indefinitely into the negative, and a particle on a rung of the ladder which corresponds to some energy state can fall endlessly downwards. This means the quantum field which gives rise to these solutions can emit an infinite amount of radiation into the universe. This is clearly a catastrophe; one which physicists prefer to avoid.

    The matter of time ambiguity of causal events also rears its head in another guise. These solutions can be spacetime transformed into time loops or “time machines.” This leads to various troublesome questions, which harkens back to the problem of going back in time to meet your parents before they met each other and then killing one of them.

    Another problem is that if these FTLC concepts are possible it means one could link up the exterior world to the interior of a black hole. One might then configure a wormhole in such a way. From the exterior one could then access information interior to the black hole which is concealed by the event horizon. This then means one could violate the second law of thermodynamics by reversing the entropy associated with this concealment of information by the event horizon.

    To plug a bit of what I do, I proposed over 20 years ago that quantum mechanics and general relativity are the same thing, but are mapped by a functor into different forms. This gets into etale-Grothendieke category theory of mathematics. So QM and GR are categorically equivalent, but mapped into different forms. I received a lot of bullet wounds for this. However, of late Duff and his group have found something similar to this in an isomorphism between n-partite entanglements and BPS/extremal black holes. I have further found a generalization of moduli spaces in this categorical equivalence which is a “stack” or set of elliptic curves. Elliptic curves are involved with some very deep mathematics, including modular forms (used in the proof of the Taniyama-Shimura conjecture at the heart of the Fermat theorem) and zeta functions. To cut to the chase a bit, light cones or projective subspaces of an Einstein space are equivalent to Heisenberg groups. FTLC is then equivalent to imposing contextual hidden variables in quantum mechanics. For various reasons, Bell theorem, Kochen-Specker theorem etc, that is a big NO-NO.

    For these and some other reasons I really think that FTLC lies along side things like perpetual motion machines and other “impossibilities” like nonlocal signaling with QM and so forth. Of course just as people persist in trying to make perpetual motion machines I am sure that people will persist in pushing FTLC. There are some physicists who think there is some contextual hidden variable structure to QM. The debates can still occur. Yet, my basic conclusion has to be no.

    Some of these UT posts on foundations are fun, but they also can end up using up a bit of my time. Probably the part of this one should read again is the second paragraph on FTLC and falsification of physical theory.


    1. You lost me in your third paragraph… god-damn that is some techno-babble if ever I heard it

      Edit: I’m sure it’s sound, but boy is it way over my head!

      1. yeah he lost me too, and I understood what he was saying, it just sounded like “I can’t see how it can be done therefore there’s no way”. Which, at the end of the day is “the end of science”. What was impossible yesterday is commonplace today.

      2. If faster than light communications and travel were possible that might actually be the end of physics. In effect the universe “makes no sense.” The clear case is with time travel. Faster than light = time travel, for the two are transformable into each other. In such a world the laws of thermodynamics don’t hold, events can spontaneously occur by violating conservation laws, you can go back in time and give the Third Reich atomic bombs so they win the war (which would preclude your own birth), and … . In effect the universe is not only chaos, but nonsense. If physics is to end I would rather it end with some understanding of observable foundational principles than for it to end with that sort of total chaos.

        There seems to be an upsurge of wackos who might like the idea of giving Hitler nukes. So maybe it is a good thing if FTLC is impossible.

        The speed of light eliminates certain star travel ideas common to science fiction; Hans Solo hits the warp drive and moments later appears near the Deathstar that just blew up a planet without time dilation issues. You can accelerate to destinations in the local universe and get there in a comparatively short period of time, but many years might have transpired on Earth. If you return to Earth you might find that hundreds or thousands of years have passed by.

        The prospects for human exploration of the sort in science fiction novels and screenplays are pretty minimal, but that is not the end of science. Science is not necessarily about some celestial version of Christopher Columbus and Magellan.


      3. The way I’ve always understood it, a lot of the talk about the speed of light and time travel has always been a matter of perception. Now I know you are vastly more qualified to comment on it than I, but I’m sure the thoughts of the laymen in regards to this tend towards the concept of a simple misunderstanding of the whole thing. Essentially – if going the speed of light causes time to stop, and going faster than the speed of light would send you back in time, why does light not propagate instantly – IE – if a person going the speed of light would ‘stop time’ why does light take 8 minutes to go from the Sun to the Earth instead of being instantaneous?

        Now, it is understandable that if one were to go from Earth to Jupiter at a speed that is faster than light, they could potentially arrive at Jupiter before the light of them even leaving Earth’s orbit arrived, which would be an odd thing to see I’m sure! To an observer in orbit of Jupiter watching, the person would be seen to have travelled back in time since they would arrive at Jupiter before they were seen to leave Earth, however, it is merely a perception issue given that they were travelling faster than the observable medium. I’m sure that the way my mind considers this is probably rooted in a fundamental misunderstanding due to my lack of more extensive knowledge in the field similar to my questions posed to LC in another article – though that was just a curious musing I’ve had since back in High School many years ago.

        Currently (from what I remember) the math shows that for any object with mass to reach the speed of light, there is correlation in an increase of mass as the object accelerates – which is easier to describe conventionally as saying the faster you go, the harder it gets to go even faster. The problem being here is that as the object reaches the speed of light at a point of about 0.99c, this measurement of mass reaches infinity which causes the amount of energy required to push it to 1c becomes infinite. The idea of a warp drive and how it would allow FTL given this insurmountable problem is that instead of accelerating the object to 1c or beyond, it causes the actual space between two points to compress (sort of a localized reversal of the expansion of the universe) while keeping the ‘vehicle’ in a bubble of uncompressed space within it. The space is then expanded back to normal behind the ship after it has passed through. The vehicle will then travel at some speed well below 1c through this compressed region, but the combined effect means that the ship will arrive at its destination quicker than light travelling through normal space would have been able to.

        It can be viewed better if you think of point A being 1ly away from point B. This means that light would take 1 year to travel from A to B under normal circumstances. Let’s assume the warp drive compresses the space the ship is travelling through by around a half of normal space and the ship is moving at a speed of 0.5c. Essentially the ship will travel the 1ly of distance as if it was only 0.5ly at a speed of 0.5c, which would mean that it *should* (LC will probably ream me for all kinds of incorrect info, but at least I’m sure I’ll learn something) arrive in approximately 1 year, which would be the same as if the ship were travelling at the speed of light through uncompressed space. Increase the ship’s speed or the amount of compression, and it would be able to go that 1ly in less than a year.

        Now, whether this concept is actually feasible I could not tell you. There has been a lot of speculation that I do not know if it has been disproven or not as of now, but the last I had heard of it, it was referred to as the Alcubierre Drive. I will have to make it a point to look it up again to see what may have been changed.

      4. The Alcubierre warp drive compresses a region of space in front of it and proportionately expands it in the back. If this zone of compression is a 1 to 10 factor this has the effect of shrinking the distance the craft moves by the same factor. So a trip to alpha centuri is reduced from 4.3 light years to .43 light years. This is as observed on the warp bubble frame. This compression also means the effective speed is v = 10c. The solution for this spacetime has particle-like horizons, which puts the center of the bubble (where your space craft is) in a Rindler wedge that is causally decoupled from the region where one must control this “exotic matter.” This means there is no control of the warp bubble, and worse there is no way to establish it in a complete Cauchy data set. Further, these particle horizons emit a form of Unruh-Hawking radiation. Due to the fact this exotic matter has negative T^{00} this Hawking radiation is very large. In effect it demolishes the warp bubble.

        Relativity is formulated around a spacetime distance, which is also the proper time as measured by an observer on this path

        d^2 = (ct)^2 – x^2 – y^2 – z^2

        if x = vt and we establish a frame with x = y = 0 then

        d^2 = (c^2 – v^2)t^2 = c^2(1 – ?^2)t^2

        for ? = v/c. if v = c it is easy to see that d = 0. So a photon or particle moving the speed of light registers no time. One might notice the ? = 1/sqrt(1 – ?^2), which is the Lorentz gamma factor.

        The lack of time ordering can be seen in the following way. Consider a rod with flash bulb at each end. On a frame stationary with the rod and at the center if the bulbs flash at the same time the light reaches the center at the same time. However, if you are moving with some velocity you will find the light from one bulb reaches the center before the other. If you are moving in the opposite direction the order in which the flashes reach the center is reversed. Now if the flash of one bulb “causes” the flash of the other by some faster than light signal, which is instantaneous in the frame of the rod, then the order of cause and effect is ambiguous.


      5. I’m absolutely intrigued by this show! Some concepts I find hard to believe and seem like adult versions of theories developed in childhood fantasies but it still makes me stop and think more than any other everyday show. I work for DISH and have recently made the transition to HD programming; it makes such a difference and all the outer-space shots/simulations are amazing. I think logically, time-travel to the past makes no sense and logic is what I use and is applicable to everything; it is what holds this universe together. As far as time travel into the past goes, I’m with lcrowell; if it was possible the Universe would literally be nonsense. How would I be able to go back in time and kill my parents if I was never born because I went back in time and killed my parents? The fact that the present is influenced by the past is inescapable and in my opinion the ultimate obstacle when time travel into the past is involved.

      6. Given the choice of a universe where there are some rational rules that we can observe that also limit our capabilities or powers, and a world with absolute chaos and hugely expanded powers for ourselves, most physicists would prefer the first of these. I would prefer that we manage to find some fundamental principles at some time this century, preferably before mid-century, which we might be able to get some observational data on. The alternative would mean that the universe is ultimately without some principles of this sort.

        I could go into deeper discussion on this, where our physical theories seem to often be effective theories, where underneath them is something even more fundamental. It might also be that at the Planck scale the universe is complete chaos, maybe even Godelian self-referential chaos. However, on a scale larger than this it would be nice if we can understand the universe according to principles which conceal such chaos from being observed. String theory does something like that.

        As for space travel, it does have to be realized we are already in space. Earth orbits a star, which orbits in a galaxy, which is moving away from others at an accelerated pace and so forth. We just look through a “window” of atmosphere, which astronauts do as it is. We don’t experience weightlessness, but proposed large spacecraft have rotating habitats which gives a centrifugal form of gravity. So we are already in space, and in fact moving in interstellar and intergalactic space. The main point of our space instruments is to get beyond the optically noisy atmosphere so we get sharper images and data.


      7. Finding a set of principles or rational rules would be immensely satisfying.

        I feel the search for underlying order to the universe is our substitute quest, analogous in emotional consequence to that of religious or ideologies who seek purpose to life. If we no longer conceptualize existence in terms of “meaning,” what then? What if the term itself is merely a human abstraction. That our existence is the result of a quantum fluctuation that – fortunate be damned – was bound to happen given the circumstances surrounding the Big Bang.

        The question remains: what drives us? If there is in fact no meaning; that meaning is what we make of our circumstances, or that the very question itself has no scientific basis and thus may be irrelevant to understanding the universe. What then?

        My thoughts are it must be the understanding of fundamental laws, limitations and boundaries of space-time.This is what I find fascinating about life. At the risk of coming full circle, this could be our purpose, our meaning as it were. Consequently, we could be the universe’s way of discovering how itself works, with the added bonus of arising randomly out of the pressures of natural selection.

        What both excites and terrifies me is the distinct possibility that the laws of the universe will need to be refined indefinitely. That we can never account for all possibilities. It’s exciting but allows for little room for solace in certainty.

        I apologize if I’ve taken a topic detour here.

      8. I am putting my response to this above, for this is becoming to crowded into a narrow column.


      9. Way to go LC.

        The math is actually much more dense than LC’s encapsulated thumbnail, be glad, be very glad.


    2. James F. Woodward is trying to create a Reactionless drive with the mach effect. He also talks about how to create a wormhole. I read a article on centauri dreams about it. He talks about the wormhole on youtube if you search for mach effect. I am not really a expert about it all. I read you need jupiter mass of exotic matter. Where are to going to get something like that

      1. It is hard to know about the Mach effect. So far there has been no real physics worked out with it. The inertia here determines inertia there has some similarities with the Lense-Thirring effect in general relativity. Yet so far nobody has really found how the Mach effect works with GR.

        I have this idea, which BTW is wrong and meant to be, but it involves the inflation field of de Sitter cosmology. The idea is that we might be able to collimate the field so that space expands along some beam or narrow cone. In that way one could generate a sort of anti-gravity beam that would be a sort of propulsion system. The inflationary expansion of the universe, including the current slow expansion might be compared to a sort of anti-gravity. This idea has one fatal problem though. I’ll mention it later after people have time to think about it.

        As for exotic matter, even if one could produce one elementary particle of the stuff there would be chaos in the universe.


    3. as soon as I saw the title of the article I got excited to read LC’s comments 🙂 I had suspected from reading about relativity that faster-than-light-travel would distort the ordered passage of time so severely that any apparent laws or ordering of physics would collapse into total nonsense. your description for this is very concise, so thank you for spending the time to write it!

    4. There was a cartoon many years ago which featured in a set of boxes organisms with the thought bubbles that read, “Eat, grow, have sex, reproduce — repeat.” The final box had a human there with the thought bubble, “What is it all about?” The property of intelligence in our case is the ability to project ourselves onto the world, other people (fictional characters etc), gods and some idea of our having a purpose in this universe. Religious ideas are such projections. Many of the books of the Bible are highly imaginative and fantastical ideas of this sort, particularly the books of the Torah and then the Christian narratives heap more on this. In between is the counter-spin story in the book of Job, and one of my favorites in the middle is the Song of Solomon. The prophet Ezekiel is interesting, the guy must have had one hell of a hooch, and the final book of Revelations is pretty bizarre. If one can divorce objections which stem from so much of the anti-intellectual trends religion brings these days these stories and ideas do reflect the incredible imaginative power of the human mind. The book of Job might also be compared to the struggle Odysseus had with the god Poseidon. The Mahabharata is also very imaginative.

      Science has in some sense replaced religion as the explanatory system for understanding the world. We have also found that the universe is not the little bubble with Earth at the center as commonly thought in the past, but this vast spacetime manifold embedded in some sort of superspace. There is nothing physically present which points to any unique position for our species. Further, as a species biological evolution indicates that we are just one little branch or twig on this vast tree of life. The purpose offered by religious beliefs tends to melt away in the face of this. Strict believers these days have to engage in some sort of mental lobotomizing in order to hold on to religious ideas as absolute truth, where in the past these were virtually beyond question. There is though a certain satisfaction, if not mental comfort, in understanding the universe in a way that you have some sense of a contingent truth — good theories are true FAPP within the domain of observation we have access to. If they are supplanted by a more general theory, this ends up not overthrowing the old theory, but actually giving it a greater support within that domain of observation. This understanding of the universe this way does not do much to answer our hopes or provide any positive eschatology. In fact our understanding of cosmology gives a rather bleak ultimate outcome for things. Yet it does give one a sense that in the moment, at this time, we have some real understanding of things. In that sense there is a form of mental projection, where one can internalize some consistent mental image of the universe that we project outwards as being “reality.”

      The mention of the anthropic principle (AP) was made here. I am not a major upholder of this idea. The weak form of this has some intellectual utility. The gravity collapse model for solar energy only worked for 10^5 years, but evolution indicated 10^8 year time frames. So there was a sort of weak AP at work which motivated the search for a nuclear model of the sun and stars, solved by Hans Bethe. The strong AP is more problematic. However, it could be there is some metaphysical aspect to reality (nobody can prove that existence is entirely physical), where the ontology of the universe is given by the existence of mental consciousness in the universe at some time. I don’t believe in this particularly, but it is something to ponder now and then. It might then be the universe does require some conscious beings which mentally internalize perception and an understanding of the universe.


  10. Based on the few of the first season’s episodes that I saw, I’m going to give the benefit of the doubt to the producers and reserve criticism. What I see is a program that asks questions that most scientists in the field have a quick (and almost surely correct) answer for, but that still intrigue the public, and then answers them rather well and in keeping with scientific understanding. I certainly get tired of dramatic music, graphics of wormholes and flashing quarks, and open-ended conclusions that could leave one feeling that [pick one: time travel, faster-than-light travel] are just around the corner. But this program is also trying to compete with all the junk programs about crop circles and aliens that seem to dominate science-based TV channels. Compared to these, it’s a breath of fresh air.

  11. Based on the few of the first season’s episodes that I saw, I’m going to give the benefit of the doubt to the producers and reserve criticism. What I see is a program that asks questions that most scientists in the field have a quick (and almost surely correct) answer for, but that still intrigue the public, and then answers them rather well and in keeping with scientific understanding. I certainly get tired of dramatic music, graphics of wormholes and flashing quarks, and open-ended conclusions that could leave one feeling that [pick one: time travel, faster-than-light travel] are just around the corner. But this program is also trying to compete with all the junk programs about crop circles and aliens that seem to dominate science-based TV channels. Compared to these, it’s a breath of fresh air.

  12. Information is going faster whith entangled particles.
    The velocity of light c is a subjective speed, related to its own area, this area can co faster then light itself compared with other areas.
    Going faster then light means in my opinion that we go back in time in a paralel Universe, killing your grandfather there has no influence on the departure Universe.

  13. Of course it will be possible to move faster than the speed of light…
    when physical conditions change.

    Think outside the box, carbon copies 😉

  14. Freeman is a favorite actor of mine. This is one extraordinarily good reason among many others.

    As for the question I would have thunk the nowadays obvious “No” would have sufficed; the evidence has amassed over recent years. Alas.

    I’m adding my layman peanuts to lcrowell’s expert tour de force:

    – There is, surprise, surprise, a simple anthropic argument of why FTL doesn’t happen. Stated in Fermi question terms: “If time travel was possible,* where are the time travelers?”

    – More physically engaging is the problem of GR. As someone said recently, roughly: “Sure there are GR time travel solutions. If they work, the universe destroys.”

    – There is a paper that explains the GR problem as so large that it stems from a classical mechanics paradox!** Trying to send particles through a putative wormhole solution is prevented by momentum considerations even before energy & GR comes into play.

    – Similarly there are papers that claims that FTL destabilizes gauge theories.** But those work, we can see that.

    – Another catastrophe, a favorite of mine, comes out of Aaronsson’s work.** He makes a clear, if arguable, connection between computability and physics; computers are physical devices.

    A computer on FTL technique would break down complexity classes (CC). This is different from the anthropic argument, since if it happens in theory it breaks theory.

    [The anti-Las Vegas argument of science? “If it happens in theory, it doesn’t stay in theory.”]

    In math terms breaking CC means everything would be equally simple, which in physics terms means no complex outcome of physics. We don’t see that either.

    * Works for the relative time travel of FTL too, I believe.

    ** Lazy days; refs provided if asked for.

    1. The question is extremely fascinating, for it hits at the heart of the cosmic censorship and chronology protection hypotheses. The first of this tells us that no timelike singularity can exist outside of the cloaking of an event horizon. If this does exist then orbits around the singularity have branch cuts that send such orbits onto multiple sheets in complex variables are similar to Riemann’s sheets. These in effect are time loops. The chronology protection conjecture is that closed timelike loops do not exist. The Hawking-Penrose energy conditions are necessary conditions for these conjectures, but the sufficient condition has not been proven to my knowledge.

      To plug my work, here is how I think the proof works, and this is a part of what I have been toiling on for a number of years. Assume that I am correct that general relativity and quantum mechanics are categorically equivalent. Then the two are aspects of a single system, which is something involving the Jordan matrix of exceptional algebras and something called the 24-cell that is the automorphism of this system. The 24-cell is a 4-dimensional polytope that has a minimal sphere packing configuration. Sphere packing is important here as well, for that defines “quantum codes.” There is a proof against contextual hidden variable theories in quantum mechanics called the Kochen-Specker (KS) theorem. I will not go into this for it is a rather difficult subject. The 4 dimensional version of this theorem employs the 24-cell, which was worked out by Perez. This categorical equivalency QM ~ GR means that violations of the cosmic censorship and chronology protection conjectures is equivalent to a contradiction of the KS theorem. That is it, which is not complete at all, in a nutshell.

      Of course this kills Star Trek dreams, but things may get killed long before then. The Shuttle program officially ends as a space program tomorrow, and we have to be honest and admit there is not follow on to that. There are some vague ideas, stuff on paper, a lot of hype about privatizing things, but in reality it looks like a lot of nada is coming with manned space flight, at least for quite a while.


  15. A nitpick or rather an opinion on the article would be that such questions whether we have a 6th sense is empirical. Metaphysics is philosophy and have no bearing on reality. (For every philosophy we can construct another saying something else. And we can’t tell which is wrong, so there is nothing correct in that either. It is over 2000 years of result-less story telling.)

    That said, it *is* a good place to speculate on physics.

    I understand the popularity of the idea that “information” somehow underlies physics. However it is not compelling physics, as information is relative a specific physical system and not an absolute. How do you generalize and test that?

    Conversely I don’t understand the comparable non-popularity of the hypothesis that computability somehow underlies physics. It is tentatively testable (see Aaronsson), it ties together computer results with its physics (computational resources). And it may even bear on the degree of freedom constraints that respectively locality of relativity (no hidden freedom) and globality of holographic (sum of freedom) hypotheses puts.

    I suspect that it is precisely because “information” can be seen as a fuzzy subject, while “computability” sounds like practical terms and putatively hard math. :-/

    Ah, so it goes.

  16. This is just my always and ever so humble opinion but another fact is that the future will NEVER be created by the naysayers. A person can quote all the techno-babble they wish saying “why” we can’t do something but ultimately that really doesn’t do ANYONE any good at all. If that’s really all there is to it, then we should all probably just move back into caves, forget about space flight altogether and simply wait for the world to end because none of this really even matters. Personally I can not and will not accept that.

    Once there was a very old saying, “if man were meant to fly, he’d have wings” and certainly AT ONE TIME that was true. And in the grand scheme of things, it took the Wright Brothers a while to come around and prove all that was just little more than poppycock…the naysayers were completely wrong. For that matter how many people such as Keppler and Galileo were even persecuted simply because they dared to speak out against the common beliefs of their day?

    Maybe the speed of light is an absolute cosmic speed limit but the truth of the matter is that we’re never going to know unless we try…and try and try again. And perhaps it will ultimately all be futile…but think of all we can learn along the way! ALL of that will be completely lost if people simply believe those who spout the facts and mathematics as to why we can’t do something. The truth…the REAL truth…is that we simply won’t know unless people have the courage and willingness to try.

    Maybe you can’t change the laws of physics…on the other hand, I never studied law 🙂

    1. This is not naysaying any more than saying perpetual motion machines are not going to become a technology standard of the future is pure naysaying. It can be that reality can astound theory, but I think in this case it is likely that there is no FTL.


  17. What happened to the observer?
    FTL and timetravel are relative to the observer.
    That dosnt mean it is not possible.

  18. What happened to the observer?
    Isn’t FTL and time travel relative to the observer?

  19. LC makes my brain hurt. In a good way of course. He seems to know his stuff. My math skills and interpretive analysis capacity is surely not commensurate to his. But if I’m reading this correctly, it seems to me to conclude that faster than light travel is impossible is sort of like taking a `the world is flat` approach to the problem. How can we ever know if the conclusion is already decided? The answers lay beyond our current science. Or maybe the answers are not science at all.
    The questions covered by the `Wormhole` series are fascinating. And these questions have raised even newer questions. The continual pursuit of answers to the greatest scientific questions nullifies the `flat world` syndrome approach in my book.
    I would love to see all of the LC’s of the world right in there with the rest of these `Wormhole` minds – working out the answers.

    1. The ultimate arbiter is nature, and these questions may only be addressed, no matter how tentatively or obliquely by observations and experimentation. The LHC might give some data on extra large dimensions and small amplitudes for black holes or AdS physics. There are also some cosmological implications which might be tested. Ultimately we may only get answers with some measure of confidence and error spread.


      1. @LC,

        The measure of confidence inherent in science is much too short of absolutes for more than 70% of the world –if any of the polls are to be trusted to reveal those numbers; of course that is statistical, and as science goes it is much like fishing the wasteland waters or trolling the shallows for answers in those same folks minds. All boats rise is a common thread, they realize not the nature of sieves to a hole in the ground. Low hanging fruit pickers do not climb trees, fearful planters do not explore the next valley, and the stay at homes, err, stay at home.

        Let’s spread that error around, why not. The nature of their fallacies is likened unto that ripe skin of fruit, that crust of baked bread, that set of bones from the fish. Disjointed and piecemeal though those things are they contribute a lot to the future during the planting moon, even if they do not explain the nature of that future vision in any way, shape, or form.


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