Saturday, July 21, 2007

Faith In Wormholes

A couple days ago I wrote about a movie our family watched- The Last Mimzy. While the movie was fun, the absolute best part in my opinion was listening to the gobblygook a scientist and a psychologist rattled on about in the bonus content. I thought I would share with you their amazingly cognizant and wise words. Welcome to the Church of Wack.

Brian Greene
Professor of Physics and Mathematics, Columbia University

“I wish that it would turn out that we can manipulate space and time and be able to travel to the past. That would be a truly wonderful thing to accomplish, a little dangerous perhaps, but truly wonderful. The people who’ve thought about time travel, have in some sense, developed wormholes as the most likely contender for a means of realizing time travel if it is possible at all.

So first of all, what is a wormhole? A wormhole is a tunnel through space that allows you to go from one point in the universe to another through a short-cut, just like a tunnel through a mountain. Some very clever scientists realized that if you have one of these tunnels in space, and you move the openings relative to each other, then something spectacular may happen.

The wormhole may not just be a short-cut from one point in space to another point in space, it may be a short-cut from one moment in time to another moment in time. You may be able to pass right through from the future to the past, or from the past to the future- that’s the basic idea.

So, it could be the case, some suggest, that you start in our universe, go into a black hole, go right down to the center, pass through a wormhole-type passageway, and wind up in another universe. A totally hypothetical idea- an interesting and fascinating one. The problem is that when we study them in more detail, keeping a wormhole open is a very difficult thing to accomplish. And People have tried to invoke quantum mechanics to help stabilize a wormhole, to keep it open long enough so for instance somebody might pass through it. But the calculations indicate that its very hard to make these objects stable. They want to collapse on themselves.

So it seems to be the case that if you had a wormhole it wouldn’t stay open long enough to keep it particularly interesting. That’s one of the main problems.

The other thing more seriously to bear in mind is no one knows how you build a wormhole. The mathematics show that a wormhole might exist fully formed somewhere in the universe, but if you told me “build a wormhole right here, because I want to go from this point to this point” I wouldn’t know how to do it. That’s something that’s way beyond our technological capacity, and that also is a big problem in trying to realize these scenarios.

If, and it’s a real big if, we could show that wormholes do exist, and if, another big if, we could show that they would stay open in a way that would allow safe passage, and if, ANOTHER big if, we could manipulate a wormhole and move the opening relative to one another, then we might in fact create something akin to a time machine.

Whether those scenarios will ever come to pass- that’s an interesting question that in many cases is hard to answer.”


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