Last night, I watched The Time Traveler's Wife, based on a 2003 novel by Audrey Niffenegger, so it's time for another crazy post related to Quantum gravity and afterlife and Wormholes into the past.
The host introducing the trailer says that the novel/movie is a work of "good love and bad science" and that Albert Einstein is undoubtedly spinning in his grave now. But I will argue that the general theme about the time-traveling librarian (or at least something remotely similar to it) is actually something that is suggested by Einstein's theory of gravity when combined with some results rooted in quantum mechanics.
A small boy sees his mother – a professional singer – die in a car accident. He escapes because sometimes, usually during moments of stress or excitement, his body disappears and time travels into a nearly random but not quite random point of spacetime, which is usually (surprisingly enough) near the Earth's surface in some relevant situation. The precise rules describing the timing of the disappearance and the spacetime locus of the new materialization are unknown. But just to be sure, only his "body proper" is tunneling in this way so he appears naked at random places and has to look for some clothes after every tunneling event.
Meanwhile, a cute 6-year-old girl who is playing on the meadow meets an apparent 40-year-old nude paedophile in the forest. She gives him her towel but he soon disappears again. Later, he reappears. The girl understands that the man is really able to travel in time. She is being told that she would marry the same person sometime in the future. She's getting prepared for the wedding. Finally, she's really excited and in love when she actually finds the young librarian who still has no idea that she's his partner for life. But he marries her and is becoming happier and more relaxed.
So they live together, the husband is disappearing and reappearing. Sometimes, when he is missing, an older version of himself substitutes him; this trick is needed during the wedding ceremony, for example. They try to have children but the embryos are affected by the time-traveling "genetic" deviation as well, so she suffers from multiple miscarriages. He doesn't want her to suffer again so he undergoes vasectomy but she just manages to meet a younger, fully fertile version of himself somewhere in the parking lot, rapes her rejuvenated husband, and becomes pregnant once again.
(I am omitting irrelevant and obvious stories, e.g. that they manage to win $5 million in a lottery because the time-traveling tricks allow them to predict the numbers.)
This time, the baby is born. It's Alba, a daughter, who is not only time traveling like her father and the other embryos but she is in a greater control of her special ability. So because of the librarian and Alba who travel from one place of time to another, they also learn in advance that the time-traveling father will die at age 43 after his Republican father-in-law will shoot him during a hunt, thinking it's a deer (the librarian just appeared naked in a forest). Alba's sometimes playing with her older (10-year-old, already fatherless) time-traveling herself so she knows her family's life in advance. She and her loving mother are once visited by the time-traveling father after his official death (for a while), but they're told not to spend their lives by waiting. They're strong and I can assure you that at that moment, I was crying more than they were! ;-)
Now, is that storyline possible?
It's clearly not possible in this exact form. The laws of physics prevent – make it extraordinarily unlikely – human bodies from appearing and disappearing. The mass conservation laws are enough to show that. But is something similar to the novel/movie possible?
Note that the author and the filmmakers had to make a choice about the chronology in which the story was presented. Both books and films provide us with a "linear timeline" on which a story has to take place. The chronology of the loving wife corresponds to the "global time" that may be agreed upon because she's not traveling in time. It's the "most correct" chronology, you could say.
But the time-traveling librarian experiences the events in a different ordering. This is a likely source of logical contradictions but I think it's a good idea to be careful about the identification of the contradictions and their actual causes. One shouldn't dismiss "every" type of time travel as a logical contradiction from the very beginning. The actual contradictions only emerge when closed time-like curves appear in the spacetime (e.g. because the entropy can't be both increasing and periodic). In the movie, the CTCs apparently do appear, so the storyline isn't possible. But could there be some "more cautious" representations of a similar paradigm that are not inconsistent?
From the time-traveling librarian's viewpoint, the world isn't aging continuously. The world around is sometimes discontinuous. His wife sometimes seems to get younger – going back to the pre-school age – and so on. Could it work? How?
I think that the ER-EPR correspondence-based kind of thinking really does lead us to assume that there is a real bridge connecting two regions of spacetime whose degrees of freedom are exactly the same (at the quantum level of entanglement; there should be a proof that the local quantum states are nearly equal as elements of a reduced Hilbert space). In my opinion, it should be true even for timelike-separated events. (But I am not quite sure about this key point; this point is related to the question whether it's legitimate to quantize gravity on slices that "double count" some regional degrees of freedom and whether the double-counting is equivalent to the entanglement.)
Imagine that your brain is found in the same quantum state "now and here" and at another place of the Universe. You may need to wait for the (gigantic) Poincaré recurrence time to see that. Is there some sense in which you may think that you jump from the current location to the new one and experience discontinuous events that are taking place around you? Could science consider these counterintuitively ordered perceptions to be (in principle) equally justified as those in the global time chronology?
I think that the ER-EPR-based answer is indeed Yes: the two regions of the spacetime with your brain are literally, geometrically connected with one another. There is some continuity and the continuity of the spacetime in the region around your brain should be a sufficient condition for the (however modified) continuous perception of the flow of time to become legitimate. So in principle, you could be experiencing the life in your town here, but suddenly the perceptions could change discontinuously when your brain reappears in a completely different environment in some distant future, for example, a future that still happens to allow for brains like yours.
A problem is that in realistic situations, your brain can't be in the same state if it is sitting in these two very different environments because your brain remembers – i.e. is affected by – the recent past. So if there is something looking like your brain in some distant future paradise, this brain remembers some paradise-like events so the content of its memory isn't quite the same as the content of your brain here and now. Because the content of the memory influences the quantum state of your brain, the brains in these two spacetime regions are not truly identical, so there is no (robust enough) bridge connecting these two regions of the spacetime geometrically. And the counterintuitive way to combine and glue the pieces of the spacetime are indeed illegitimate.
However, I think that this counter-argument disappears if you try to think about (still conscious?) creatures that have a poor memory, some stupid bacteria etc. They may really be found in the same state even if they're located at rather different environments of the spacetime. These reappearances of the same bacterium are geometrically connected by bridges according to the (perhaps generalized) ER-EPR correspondence. So the bacteria etc. may really feel that they're jumping from one place to another.
To win the $5 million lottery might be cool but you might view the librarian's "ability" to time travel to be a curse, indeed. In the context of physics, such an "ability" depends on the poor memory or poor capabilities to measure the environment – in other words, this "supernatural skill" of time travel depends on the poor ability of the brain to change its quantum state according to the environment and the experience. Creatures like ourselves who may nicely probe the environment around us and remember the experiences are given a special gift – the gift is that we are aware of the flow of time in the usual "global time coordinate" and the corresponding chronology and nothing else. We are given the gift of immunity against time travel! But without a sufficient memory, the creatures are not kept on the right world line and they may perceive the discontinuous jumps across the spacetime due to the geometric connection between them and their equally low-memory clones anywhere.
Let me emphasize that it's not just a psychological illusion. If the exact quantum states of two regions of the spacetime are really the same – perfectly entangled – the connection between these two regions should be interpreted literally and geometrically just like the connections between other spacelike regions that everyone agrees to be "nearby".
In order to spin this unusual but arguably quantum-gravity-supported interpretation in a slightly different way, let me mention that we sometimes talk about consciousness. Pure consciousness is a mysterious spiritual phenomenon that can't be quite defined or proven (a solipsist believes that he is conscious but everyone else is a mindless robot and there's no "direct" way to falsify this assumption) but we still feel that consciousness exists. We like to say that this true spiritual consciousness is completely independent from mental abilities of our brains like the ability to calculate or remember things.
Why are we saying that the poor consciousness is different from the mental abilities? Well, it's because the mental abilities seem to be a part of the in-principle understandable natural sciences – neuroscience etc. (the brain is just some computer with a sloppy yet creative and self-organizing design) – while the pure consciousness seems to be intrinsically, eternally mysterious. Mysterious things can't ever be identical with the understandable functionalist questions about our brains so they can't be equal, most of us think when we play the role of philosophers.
However, there is no real proof that consciousness really has to be forever inexplicable and eternally separated from the "materialist" properties of the brain that are accessible to conventional natural sciences. And the text suggests that connections between them could exist. In particular, the perception of the flow of time may probably be linked to the (near) equality between the relevant degrees of freedom of a brain-like object in two regions of the spacetime. The usual reason for the (near) equality is the proximity of both of these copies of the same brain in the spacetime. But there may exist other solutions, too.
What I find convincing about this – so far vague – way of looking at things is that it turns the mental abilities such as the brain's memory into necessary conditions for portions of consciousness, in this case the awareness of the continuous flow of time. So at least some – and perhaps all – aspects of consciousness are linked to the body of information that is evolving according to the laws of physics and that may be parameterized by them and that may be studied by physics.
And yes, just like in the previous "supernatural" blog posts in this series, I like the idea that the "spiritual proximity" is being geometrized by the recent realizations in quantum gravity. For centuries, we would have no doubts about the primary role played by the spacetime arena on which everything takes place. Two brains may be very similar – the ultimate identical twins-soulmates may exist – but they may still be geometrically distant which seems more important than their identical internal state.
The modern quantum gravity insights lead us to a different way of thinking, however. The spacetime is emergent and the proximity of two brains is given by the proximity of their internal states (what they look like and what is stored in their memory), too. I think that it is really necessary to think about the "internal state" when we want to quantify "the true location of a brain" in the spacetime or multiverse (including all previously overlooked wormholes), otherwise we are contradicting some technical results connected with the slogan that the "spacetime is emergent or doomed".
The ideas above look vague, somewhat undefined, uncertain, and seemingly untestable. But I still find it plausible that a new, complete way of looking at the spacetime that will really disagree intuitively with the "materialist" picture we are used to will emerge and will be justified by highly indirect, yet solid, physical arguments.
Off-topic, causes in death in Fukushima
The Japan Times (see also The Times, Voice of Russia) released some fascinating numbers about the deaths in the Fukushima Prefecture (region) since 2011. Radiation has killed 0 people, 1,607 were killed by the initial tsunami-related disaster, and a higher number – now 1,656 – died due to the evacuation-caused stress and related health complications. Panic kills. Alarmism kills. Alarmists of all kinds belong among the bloodiest killers in the contemporary world. The comparison of these three numbers is particularly striking if you realize how dominant the anti-nuclear and alarmist Luddites and scammers are in the politico-media complex these days.
Off-topic, six Californias
It's rather likely that there will be a ballot box in November 2014 on whether or not the "ungovernable" state should be split to six states, Jefferson (Chiko, Eureka), North CA (Sacramento), Silicon Valley (SF, Monterey, richest state of the U.S.), Central CA (Fresno, poorest state of the U.S.), West California (LA, Santa Barbara), South California (Riverside, San Diego, Irvine). The only obstacle stopping the referendum is the 800,000+ signatures that the proponent, venture capitalist Tim Draper (who became rich by Skype and Hotmail investments) has to collect by July.
Jefferson, Central, South would be swing states; the other three states would go Democrat.
I am not 100% sure about the motivations – what would improve (maybe the guy wants to make the Silicon Valley even richer, by reducing the redistribution; maybe he wants to increase chances of GOP to have many lawmakers from the California[s]; see interview in Time). Some extra bureaucratic baggage could be created, state tax returns, new interstate (previously intra-Californian) commerce, and so on. But why not? Silicon Valley could take care of the paperwork, it could still deal with everyone's taxes, for example. And it's not hard to draw a U.S. flag with 55 stars, either. ;-) So at the end, nothing substantial would probably change.