Take the 2-minute tour ×
Physics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for active researchers, academics and students of physics. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I've been looking a lot at Closed Timelike Curves, and how if a theory allows for these curves it doesn't respect causality. I understand that about the curves themselves (Grandfather Paradox), but can't seem to fathom how a theory would allow for such structures, since they seem to be "geometrically" impossible in a spacetime.

To my understanding, CTC are simply worldlines that loop back on themselves, and are therefore closed. The problem comes in when I actually try to picture a CLOSED worldline: If I start at a point in Minkowski Spacespacetime and draw any closed curve, I end up always having a portion of it be spacelike, and therefore the curve is never fully timelike. Meaning It's impossible to draw a CTC.

So my question is, how can a theory allow for such worldlines, since the fundamental principles behind the geometry of spacetime simply prohibit it?

share|improve this question

1 Answer 1

up vote 1 down vote accepted

In Special Relativity CTCs can't exist (or at least I don't think so) but General Relativity has solutions that include CTCs. The best known is probably Gödel's solution for a rotating universe. The Alcubierre drive could also be used to construct CTCs, as could any FTL mechanism. Also see the Tipler cylinder, and probably many other examples I can't remember.

However, none of these examples of CTCs are realistic. In his paper on the Chronology Protection Conjecture Hawking proved that closed timelike curves cannot be created in a finite system without using exotic matter. The Gödel universe gets round this because it's infinite, while other cunning ideas like the Alcubierre drive require exotic matter.

Now, as far as we know the universe isn't rotating, and exotic matter doesn't exist. So (I guess) most physicists don't believe that time travel is possible, even though Einstein's equation does have solutions that could allow it.

share|improve this answer
You're right, they can't exist in Minkowski. Quite interestingly though, they are possible in Anti-de Sitter space... This is immediately seen by embedding $AdS_D$ in a $D+1$ dimensional Minkowski space and drawing a picture. –  Danu Mar 3 '14 at 17:51
Thanks! That helps a lot! :D –  Disousa Mar 3 '14 at 18:20
@Danu What physicists usually mean by AdS is the universal cover of AdS. –  ungerade Mar 3 '14 at 19:25
@ungerade I am far from an expert, so please elaborate if you'd like! Maybe you can explain how this eliminates the CCT's? –  Danu Mar 3 '14 at 20:17
@Danu Yes. So AdS in physics is usually a universal cover of the real AdS –  ungerade Mar 4 '14 at 8:37

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.