For time travel to the past to be possible would require that the past have a physical reality, namely that it continue to exist. If it did not continue to exist, it would suggest time travel to the past is impossible.

Time travel to the past has it theoretical foundation in Einstein’s special relativity. in the way of background, in November 1915, Einstein presented his general theory of relativity to the Prussian Academy of Science in Berlin. The equations Einstein presented, now known as Einstein’s field equations, describe how matter influences the geometry of space and time. In effect, Einstein’s field equations predicted that matter or energy would cause spacetime to curve. This means that matter or energy has the ability to affect, even distort, space and time.

Many of the predictions of general relativity have been scientifically verified. Two of the most important predictions for our study of time travel are (1) gravitational time dilation and (2) closed timelike curves.

Gravitational time dilation predicts that a clock in a strong gravitational field will run slower than a clock in a weak gravitational field. Therefore, a clock on the surface of Jupiter, a massive gas planet three hundred times larger than the Earth, resulting in a significantly stronger gravitational field, will run much slower than a clock on the surface of the Earth. This phenomenon was first verified on Earth, with clocks at different altitudes from the Earth’s surface. Using atomic clocks, time dilation effects are detectable when the clocks differ in altitude by as little as one meter.

Gravitational time dilation also occurs in accelerating frames of reference (i.e., noninertial frames of reference). According to Einstein’s general theory of relativity, an accelerated frame of reference produces an “inertial force,” also termed a “pseudo force,” that results in the same effect as a gravitational force in an inertial frame of reference. The equivalence of the inertial force in a noninertial frame of reference (i.e., an accelerating frame of reference) to a gravitational force in an inertial frame of reference (i.e., a frame of reference moving at a constant velocity) is termed the equivalence principle. The equivalence principle refers to the equivalence of “inertial mass” and “gravitational mass.” Therefore, a blindfolded person in a rapidly ascending elevator would experience a force equivalent to an increase in gravity, as if standing on a planet more massive than Earth. The blindfolded person would not be able to determine if the force experienced is inertial or gravitational. This effect also holds true for time dilation. Time moves slower in a highly accelerated frame of reference in much the same way it would as if it were in a strong gravitational field. It is important to note, a frame of reference can accelerate in two fundamental ways. It can accelerate along a straight line, or it can accelerate by rotating.

Next, let us discuss closed timelike curves. What is a closed timelike curve? It is an exact solution to Einstein’s general relativity equations demonstrating a particle’s world line (i.e., the path the particle follows in four-dimensional spacetime) is “closed” (i.e., the particle returns to its starting point). Closed timelike curves theoretically suggest the possibility of backward time travel. The particle’s world line is describable by four coordinates at each point along the world line, and when it closes on itself, the four coordinates at the start equal the four coordinates at the end. The particle, conceptually, went back to its past (i.e., the starting point). You can think of this like a horse racetrack. As the horse runs around the track, the horse eventually crosses the finish line, the starting point. If we allow the horse racetrack to represent a world line, then when the horse crosses the finish line, the horse has returned to its past (i.e., the starting point). In the mathematics of general relativity, the starting four coordinates, including the fourth dimensional coordinate that includes a time component, equal the four coordinates at the finish line.

The first person to discover a solution to Einstein’s general relativity equations suggesting closed timelike curves (CTCs) was Austrian American logician, mathematician, and philosopher Kurt Gödel, in 1949. The solution was termed the Gödel metric. Since 1949, numerous other solutions containing CTCs have been found, such as the Tipler cylinder and traversable wormholes, both of which will be discussed in section 3. The numerous solutions to Einstein’s general relativity equations suggest that time travel to the past is theoretically possible. However, the entire scientific community is not in complete agreement on this last point.

The largest issue that physicists have with backward time travel is causality violations (cause and effect), where the effect precedes the cause. These violations of causality are termed “time travel paradoxes.” Some physicists suggest that time travel paradoxes inhibit backward time travel, while other physicists argue that time travel paradoxes can be reconciled, and backward time travel is possible. There is no scientific consensus regarding the reality or practicality of time travel to the past. Although, there are a number of experiments that suggest reverse causality is scientifically possible.

Let us consider a recent experiment that demonstrates reverse causality is not only possible, but a scientific fact. In 2009, physicist John Howell of the University of Rochester and his colleagues devised an experiment that involved passing a laser beam through a prism. The experiment also involved a mirror that moved in extremely small increments via its attachment to a motor. When the laser beam was turned on, part of the beam passed through the prism, and part of the beam bounced off the mirror. After the beam was reflected by the mirror, the Howell team used “weak measurements” (i.e., measurement where the measured system is weakly affected by the measurement device) to measure the angle of deflection. With these measurements, the team was able to determine how much the mirror had moved. This part of the experiment is normal, and in no way suggests reverse causality. However, the Howell team took it to the next level, and this changed history, literally. Here is what they did. They set up two gates to make the reflected mirror measurements. After passing the beam through the first gate, the experimenters always made a measurement. After passing it through the second gate, the experimenters measured the beam only a portion of the time. If they chose not to make the measurement at the second gate, the amplitude of the deflected angle initially measured at the first gate was extremely small. If they chose to make the measurement at the second gate, the deflected angle initially measured at the first gate was amplified by a factor of 100. Somehow, the future measurement influenced the amplitude of the initial measurement. Your first instinct may be to consider this an experimental fluke, but it is not. Physicists Onur Hosten and Paul Kwiat, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, using a beam of polarized light, repeated the experiment. Their results indicated an even larger amplification factor, in the order of 10,000.

The above experiment strongly suggest that the future can influence the past. This implies, the past must continue exist and have a physical reality. If it no longer existed, how could the future influence the past. as the above experiments demonstrate.

This is an exciting time for science. Physical experiments suggest that the past may continue to physically exist. If that is true, then time travel to the past may be possible. The is an old saying in physics, “That which is not forbidden by physical law is compulsory.” The exact origin of the saying is not clearly known, but is often attributed to Murray Gell-Mann (born 15 September 1929), an American physicist who received the 1969 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on the theory of elementary particles. To my mind, this saying suggests it is only a matter of time before we discover how to time travel to the past.