Although higher dimensions have historically been the exclusive realm of charlatans, mystics, and science fiction writers, many serious theoretical physicists now believe that higher dimensions not only exist, but may also explain some of the deepest secrets of nature.
HYPERSPACE - A SCIENTIFIC ODYSSEY
Another longstanding puzzle concerns parallel universes and time travel. According to Einstein’s theory of gravity, space-time can be visualized as a fabric which is stretched and distorted by the presence of matter and energy. The gravitational field of a black hole, for example, can be visualized as a funnel, with a dead, collapsed star at the very center. Anyone unfortunate enough to get too close to the funnel inexorably falls into it and is crushed to death. One puzzle, however, is that, according to Einstein’s equations, the funnel of a black hole necessarily connects our universe with a parallel universe. Furthermore, if the funnel connects our universe with itself, then we have a “worm hole”. These anomalies did not bother Einstein because it was thought that travel through the neck of the funnel, called the “Einstein-Rosen bridge,” would be impossible (since anyone falling into the black hole would be killed).
However, over the years physicists like Roy Kerr as well as Kip Thorne at the Calif. Institute of Technology have found new solutions of Einstein’s equations in which the gravitational field does not become infinite at the center, i.e. in principle, a rocket ship could travel through the Einstein- Rosen bridge to an alternate universe (or a distant part of our own universe) without being ripped apart by intense gravitational fields. (This wormhole is, in fact, the mathematical representation of Alice’s Looking Glass.)
Even more intriguing, these wormholes can be viewed as time machines. Since the two ends of the wormhole can connect two time eras, Thorne and his colleagues have calculated the conditions necessary to enter the wormhole in one time era and exit the other side at another time era. (Thorne is undaunted by the fact that the energy necessary to open an Einstein-Rosen bridge exceeds that of a star, and is hence beyond the reach of present-day technology. But to Thorne, this is just a small detail for the engineers of some sufficiently advanced civilization in outer space!) Thorne even gives a crude idea of what a time machine might look like when built. (Imagine, however, the chaos that could erupt if time machines were as common as cars. History books could never be written. Thousands of meddlers would constantly be going back in time to eliminate the ancestors of their enemies, to change the outcome of World War I and II, to save John Kennedy’s and Abraham Lincoln’s life, etc. “History” as we know it would become impossible, throwing professional historians out of work. With every turn of a time machine’s dial, history would be changing like sands being blown by the wind.) Other physicists, however, like Steven Hawking, are dubious about time travel. They argue that quantum effects (such as intense radiation fields at the funnel) may close the Einstein-Rosen bridge. Hawking even advanced an experimental “proof” that time machines are not possible (i.e. if they existed, we would have been visited by tourists from the future).
This controversy has recently generated a flurry of papers in the physics literature. The essential problem is that although Einstein’s equations for gravity allow for time travel, they also break down when approaching the black hole, and quantum effects, such as radiation, take over. But to calculate if these quantum corrections are intense enough to close the Einstein-Rosen bridge, one necessarily needs a unified field theory which includes both Einstein’s theory of gravity as well as the quantum theory of radiation. So there is hope that soon these questions may be answered once and for all by a unified field theory. Both sides of the controversy over time travel acknowledge that ultimately this question will be resolved by the Theory of Everything.
MICHIO KAKU, PhD is a theoretical physicist, best-selling author, and popularizer of science. He’s the co-founder of string field theory (a branch of string theory), and continues Einstein’s search to unite the four fundamental forces of nature into one unified theory.
He has appeared on television (Discovery, BBC, ABC, Science Channel, and CNN to name a few), written for popular science publications like Discover, Wired, and New Scientist, been featured in documentaries like Me & Isaac Newton, and hosted many of his own including BBC’s recent series on Time.
Dr. Kaku holds the Henry Semat Chair and Professorship in theoretical physics at the City College of New York, where he has taught for over 25 years. He has also been a visiting professor at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, as well as New York University (NYU).
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