Closer To Truth: Is Time Travel Possible?

There is an ongoing PBS TV series (also several books and also a website) called “Closer To Truth”. It is hosted by neuroscientist Robert Lawrence Kuhn. He’s featured in one-on-one interviews and panel discussions with the cream of the cream of today’s cosmologists, physicists, philosophers, theologians, psychologists, etc. on all of the Big Questions surrounding a trilogy of broad topics – Cosmos; Consciousness; God. The trilogy collectively dealt with reality, space and time, mind and consciousness, aliens, theology and on and on and on. Here are a few of my comments on one of the general topics covered – Is time travel possible?

# Is time travel possible? Actually I personally don’t believe time exists. Change exists, and time is just our measurement of rate of change. IMHO time is just a concept. Time is a mental construct that helps us come to terms with change. Some cosmologists say that time was created at the Big Bang, as if time were a thing with substance and structure, but I challenge them to actually create some time in front of their peers or maybe a TV audience or at least produce a theoretical equation or two that would create time. In the meantime, here’s a trilogy of points.

First, the concept of time travel is one of those fun parts of physics. Whether true or not, it is entertaining to play the ‘what if’ game. If nothing else, the concept makes or forces one to think about the nature of reality.

Secondly, Einstein and others have postulated that time travel is a theoretical reality and I’m not in their sort of league that I can dispute the theories. I’ll leave that to others who know the field inside and out.

But thirdly, and most importantly, you can never actually be in the future or the past, only in the future or the past compared to where and when you are now. In other words, no matter how you slice and dice things, you exist in the where-ever and in the whenever in that where-ever’s or whenever’s NOW or in other words in the present. You cannot literally be in any future or in any past since you only experience the NOW which is the present. If you should somehow travel back one hour, you would still experience things as belonging to NOW. If you sleep for one hour then wake up, you are in the future relative to when you went to sleep, but you still find yourself in the NOW.

# Is time travel possible? The answer is both yes and no. Yes, we can travel into the future at one second per second, we do that anyway whether we like it or not. Yes we can travel into the future at a slightly quicker rate by going to sleep or otherwise having our sense of consciousness, our awareness of rate of change (which is what time really is or measures) incapacitated. You get drunk and pass out and the next thing you know you are 12 hours into the future. Yes we can travel into the future as outlined by Einstein’s twin ‘paradox’ where one twin travels at a very high rate of speed outward bound, stops and returns to home base, while the stay at home twin, well, stays home. Upon their reunion the travelling twin finds their stay at home twin to be far older, so the travelling twin has travelled into the future more rapidly than would otherwise have been the case. Yes, you can travel back in time, in theory, according to the apparent theoretical properties that wormholes or black holes can have. No, you can’t travel to the past because of all of those nasty paradoxes. I like the variation on the grandfather paradox whereby you travel back just one hour into the past and shoot yourself dead. That’s a novel way of committing suicide! The other paradox I like is when you go back in time to have Shakespeare autograph your copy of “Hamlet”. Shakespeare isn’t home but the maid promises to have him autograph your book when he returns. Alas, your timing is slightly off and Shakespeare hasn’t yet written “Hamlet”, so when he receives your copy from his maid to autograph, he reads it, and after you return to Shakespeare’s home and receive back your now autographed copy and return home to your own time, Shakespeare now writes “Hamlet”. The paradox is, where did “Hamlet” come from since Shakespeare only wrote it after he had already seen your copy. No, you can’t travel back to the past because if that were possible there would be hoards of time-travelling tourists who went back in time to witness some important historical event or other. No hoards of photo-snapping tourists have ever been documented being present at Custer’s Last Stand, the Battle of the Alamo, the sinking of RMS Titanic, or any one of thousands of similar historical events. Yes, you can travel back in time but only into a parallel universe. If you shoot yourself but it is another you in another universe, no paradox arises. You travel back in time to have Shakespeare autograph your copy of “Hamlet” but in that parallel universe Shakespeare can now write “Hamlet” based on your copy and no paradox results. However, the one point I find interesting is that if you end up in the future, or in the past, are you really in the future or the past? No, the only time you can exist in is the present, your right here and NOW time. It might be a different time from what you previously knew, but still wherever and whenever you exist, you only exist in the NOW.

# Is time travel possible? It could already be the case that time travel has been documented at the quantum level although that could be open to interpretation. Before I get to the specifics, I just need to point out that with respect to the laws, principles and relationships of physics, time is invariant. Operations in physics remain invariant in time whether time is moving as we normally perceive it (past to future) or back to front (future to past). For example, gravity would operate as per its normal grab-ity self in a world where time flowed backwards. There’s many an operation one could film that when the film were run backwards, one wouldn’t be any the wiser. Tree branches blowing in the wind comes to mind, or the coming together, collision, and rebounding or separation of two billiard balls. Okay, having established that when it comes to physics, physics doesn’t care which direction time is flowing, there will be no violations in those laws, principles and relationships of physics future to past, we now come to the delayed double slit experiment.

In the normal double slit experiment, you have an electron gun that fires one electron particle at a time, such that one electron completes its journey before the next one is fired, at two side-by-side slits. If one or the other slit is open, the one-at-a-time electrons pass through the open slit to a detector screen behind the slits. The detector screen gets hit in nearly the same spot every time after each and every electron particle passes through the single open slit. That is straight forward. If both slits are open, the electron shape-shifts into a wave (how I don’t know), passes through both slits (as only a wave can), morphs back into a particle and hits the detector screen. The difference is that after enough electrons have been fired, and have passed or waved through the double slits, the hits on the detector screen are not in just one or two spots but all-over-the-map, albeit all-over-the-map in a classic wave interference pattern. Okay, that’s the classic experiment.

Now we do a variation on the theme, the delayed double slit experiment. Electrons are fired one-at-a-time, with both slits wide open. An all-over-the-map classic wave interference pattern should appear on the normal detector screen after enough electrons have been fired. However, in addition to the normal detection screen, there are two other detectors positioned behind the normal detector screen that are each in an exact line-of-sight with each of the two slits. The electron is fired. It morphs into a wave and passes through both slits then morphs back into a particle. But before the electron, which has already passed through both slits, can hit the detector screen, the detector screen is removed to reveal behind it the other two line-of-sight detectors. Now presumably once the electron has passed though the double slits it’s too little too late to change its mind about where it’s going to hit. Only a tiny few should be detected by the two line-of-sight detectors aligned with the two slits. Alas, each and every electron will be detected by one or the other of the line-of-sight detectors. It would appear that the electron CAN change its mind after it has already gone through both slits and instead appear to have gone through one or the other of the two slits. One interpretation is that the electron, after having passed through both slits, realised the gig was up, travelled back in time, retraced its path and passed through one or the other slit.

As an aside, the late Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman noted that the double slit experiment went to the heart of quantum weirdness. I mention this because it was the same Richard Feynman who suggested that a positron (an anti-electron) was just an ordinary electron that was going backwards in time.

# Is time travel possible? I have several other points to make about the concept of time travel.

Firstly, there is Stephen Hawking’s idea of a Chronology Protection Conjecture which postulates that there is some as yet undiscovered law of physics which prevents time travel to the past and thus makes the cosmos a safe place for historians to strut their stuff.

Secondly, it has been said that you cannot travel farther back in time than the date your time travel ‘device’ was constructed, be it a wormhole or some other gizmo. So if some genius builds a time travelling ‘device’ in 2014, he’s not going anywhere into the past. But in 2015 he can travel back to 2014 and in 2114 he could travel back to any time between 2114 and 2014. The analogy is that you cannot travel through a tunnel prior to when that tunnel was built. Thus, we don’t see human time travelers because no human time travelling ‘device’ has yet been constructed. The flaw there is that doesn’t prohibit ET from visiting who might have constructed a time travelling ‘device’ millions of years ago. Recall those pesky UFOs though they don’t seem to cluster around significant terrestrial historical events so maybe ET doesn’t care about our history and are just here on vacation from their future.

Thirdly, presumably your time travelling ‘device’ is fixed at some sort of celestial coordinates. Because everything in the cosmos is in motion, when you re-emerge into that cosmos after starting on a time travelling journey, while you may be at those same fixed celestial coordinates the rest of the cosmos would have moved to differing celestial coordinates. So, if you start out in London you won’t end up in London on down, or up, the time travelling track. Finally, the concept of your, or the future or of the past or your past is only relative to what you choose as some fixed point. If you pick your date of birth as that fixed point, then clearly you are now in the future relative to your date of birth. If you pick the concept of an ever ongoing NOW, the present, as a fixed point, you are neither in the future or the past relative to the NOW nor will you ever be. That of course doesn’t mean you can’t recall your past, what existed before your NOW (although the past in general is more abstract) or plan for your future after your NOW (although the future in general is beyond your control).

# Is time travel possible? There’s yet another form of time travel, or at least the illusion of time travel, and that’s via the cinema. Films and TV shows involving time travel are many and often legendary. But that’s not quite the medium I wish to explore here. One can program time travel into a computer simulation. You can have a video game where the characters travel backwards (or forwards) in time, or have a software program that loops around back to the beginning. Now the question is, might we be characters or virtual beings in a Simulated (Virtual Reality) Universe? If so, the software programs that run our virtual show might allow for time travel, or virtual time travel, yet still time travel that would appear to us to be quite real. Now where does our sense of deja vu really come from?

# Is time travel possible? There is one other form of pseudo ‘time travel’ towards the future that can be debunked. Presumably the only way you can know what the future brings, without benefit of any theoretical ‘device’ that can propel you there at a greater rate of knots than at one second per second, is to stay alive. Once you kick-the-bucket that’s it. Your second per second journey towards the future is over. It’s a pity that that worthless stock you hold just happens to sky-rocket to fantastic values within a week of your demise, or maybe you’d really like to know if ET exists but the discovery happens a few days too late as far as you are concerned. Of course some might claim an afterlife will enable you to keep up to date with future happenings from that heavenly vantage point high up in the sky, but apart from that, there are those who claim to have led past lives or existed in past incarnations. Thus, you can still continue your journey to discover what the future holds by passing on to another body via being conceived again (and again and again). There’s one huge problem however with ‘remembering’ alleged past lives. Your mother’s egg cell cannot remember your past lives. Your father’s sperm cell cannot have any recollection of your past lives. Therefore, the you that comes to pass at conception cannot hold any memory of past lives. So, where did your memory of past lives come from? Might I suggest that it was internally generated out of wishful thinking, that perhaps a belief that you existed in the past will give rise to a belief that you will exist again in the future, and as a pseudo form of afterlife and as a pseudo form of ‘time travel’ that gives you comfort. Anyway, that concept is a really far out methodology of ‘time travel’ but one which can be dismissed despite the many people who seemingly believe that they indeed have ‘time travelled’ towards their endless future via this method.

Travel in India – A Journey Called Life

To travel is to willfully leap into the unknown – to give up the secured confines of home and wander into the exigencies of the world. This is true whether one journeys from home to a nearby town to see an event, or lose oneself in the sights and smells of a ‘Mela’ (fair), or to another continent in search of work. Over time, the world and its moralities seep into our lives and into our hearts. In doing so we come closer, howsoever marginally; to becoming – as the Greek philosopher Diogenes first called himself – a “citizen of the world”.

Predictably, travel arouses a swirl of responses in us. The world can either repel or inspire us in its reflections. But for a majority of travelers, travel forces their minds to think, to adapt, to reevaluate the prejudices and to gauge the responses in ways far removed from what they have been perceived to view. Travel in short is learning while on the move.

For many like me, the journey is always the destination – the essence of the short trip or the long journey always lies in the million ‘Chai’ (Tea) stops, the smiles or gurgling laughter of a baby, those impromptu romances between co-teen travelers, a lazy cow lying in the middle of the road and refusing to move, or a sudden downpour that hits the window panes and reduces the visibility to just a thin streak of light of a vehicle in the distance, in watching the green canopy of trees that welcomes every thoroughfarer with their arch, in washing my face and feet at a small gushing stream, in watching the outline of a small hillock from the distance, and sometimes, in just doing and thinking nothing at all…

Predictably, the idea of India as a traveler’s paradise – whether as a geographical or cultural space – is increasingly distorted in the minds of many. Many perceive travelling as the kind they see in Bollywood movies while the more privileged know more about Dubai or Venice than they do say about Bhubaneshwar or Shillong. Many parts of India are virtually foreign to many young minds, though no real fault of theirs. Who wants to ‘think’ about a Nizamabad when there is a jet plane taking off to Singapore? Our collective consciousness is slowly getting fragmented along the comfortable lines of global travel than the rustic feel of one’s soil.

Should this matter? Yes.

In a heterogeneous democracy like ours, where resources and geographies are vastly varied, where peoples, cultures, food, language change with every district – it is paramount that we see past our immediate environs. Our collective challenge is then — how do we offer, to the generations of Indians to recognize our collective destiny? Our soil and its manifold beauties. Lester Pearson, the late Canadian Prime Minister, said in his Nobel Peace Prize Lecture: “How can there be peace without people understanding each other, and how can this be if they don’t know each other?” To him, and to all of us, knowledge of the other was to simplify, to get past the banal and to learn to treat each individual according to their character. And the best way to do this is to travel. To explicitly encourage personal explorations within India and make India more accessible.

Santiniketan Travel Guide

Santiniketan is a small town near Bolpur in the Birbhum district of West Bengal, India, approximately 180 kilometres north of Kolkata (formerly Calcutta). It was made famous by Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore, whose vision became what is now a university town (Visva-Bharati University) that attracts thousands of visitors each year. Santiniketan is also a tourist attraction because Rabindranath wrote many of his literary classics here, and his house is a place of historical importance.

Santiniketan was previously called Bhubandanga (named after Bhuban Dakat, a local dacoit), and owned by the Tagore family. Rabindranath’s father, Maharshi Debendranath Tagore, found it very peaceful and renamed it Santiniketan, which means abode (niketan) of peace (shanti). It was here that Rabindranath Tagore started Patha Bhavana, the school of his ideals, whose central premise was that learning in a natural environment would be more enjoyable and fruitful. After he received the Nobel Prize(1913), the school was expanded into a university. Many world famous teachers have become associated with it. Indira Gandhi, Satyajit Ray, and Amartya Sen are among its more illustrious students.

There are several institutions under the Visva Bharati-Patha Bhavan, Uttar Shiksha Sadana, Siksha Bhavan, Vidya Bhavan, Vinay Bhavan, Kala Bhavan, Sangeet Bhavan, and Rabindra Bhavan, China Bhavan, Hindi Bhavan, etc. There is a museum called Vichittra and art gallery by the name of Nandan. Within the Uttarayana complex, there are five abodes of Tagore-Udayana, Konarka, Shamali, Punassha, and Udichi. Besides, Chhatimala, Upasana Mandir, and Santiniketan Bari are some of the oldest sanctums. In the year 1922, Rabindranath started a rural reconstruction center at Sriniketan, 3 km from Santiniketan. Later, some other institutions have come up here-Siksha Satra, Silpa Sadana, Palli Siksha Bhavana, and Santosh Pathshala, etc.

Just 9 km away from Santiniketan, on the bank of the river Kopai is Kankalitala considered one of the sacred Saktipithas. In the Ballavpur Forest, 4 km away from Santiniketan, is the Deer Park. Nearby is Nonoor famous for its Bakranath Shiva Temple and the sulfurous hot springs. Other places nearby are Tarapith, Lavpur-Fullara, Saintha-Nandesawari, Nalhati, and Massanjore.

Rabindra Janmotsav is celebrated in mid-April to mark the Bengali New Year and as well Tagore’s anniversary. Briksharopan, the festival of planting saplings, and Halakarshan, the festival of plowing the fields, are celebrated on 22nd and 23rd day of Sravana (August). Varshamangal, the festival of rains, is celebrated during August/September. Poush Utsav, a fair held at Santiniketan and Visva Bharati from 7th to 9th Poush (December), is observed to mark its foundation day. Tribal sports, dances, and folk songs, including songs by Bauls-the wandering minstrels of Bengal-are a part of the fair and festivities. Maghotsav is celebrated on the 11th of Magha (January) to mark the anniversary of Brahmo Samaj. Vasanta Utsav is held to mark Holi. The students dance and sing their ways through Amrakunja, followed by open-air variety programs.


BY ROAD – Regular buses ply regularly on the Calcutta-Santiniketan route covering a distance of 211 km.

BY RAIL – The nearest railway station to Santiniketan is Bolpur, which is connected to Calcutta. From Bolpur, one can simply take a cycle rickshaw to cover the 2 km distance to Santiniketan.

BY AIR – The nearest airport is at Calcutta.

There are tourist lodges and tourist cottages run by the West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation. Visva Bharati runs a guesthouse. There are youth hostels at Bolpur and Bakeswar. There are also private hotels at Bolpur.