Physics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for active researchers, academics and students of physics. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I am a science fiction writer.

I know how to time travel to the future (using black hole or speed). But I need to argue in my novel that time travel to the past might not be possible. Is there a way to do this without using a formula? And how basic would argument look like ?

share|cite|improve this question
Look at this one my answer's to similar question. I have explained with example why time travel to the pas will not be possible – Dimensionless Sep 22 '13 at 17:04
In your novel, who is making the argument? Does this person have the advantage of 30th century physics, or other information not available to the reader in the real world? – Beta Sep 23 '13 at 2:54
The fact that we're not overrun by tourists from the future, while not a conclusive argument, might be a good intuitive argument for your readers. – Olin Lathrop Sep 23 '13 at 12:32
You seem to be changing your profession to science-fact writer;-) Stick with Science fiction it's more fun and can become fact in the future. I'll even give you a plot. Now that the Higgs boson is popular you can have your scientist invent an anti-Higgs ray that endows objects with negative/imaginary mass and forces them to move faster than light and backwards in time. – Jitter Sep 23 '13 at 12:33
possible duplicate of Is time travel possible? Is it possible to go back in time? – Ben Crowell Sep 23 '13 at 21:16

Time travel is difficult to prove or reject, even by using a formula (at this time there is no decisive proof for or against it). There are solutions of Einstein's equations which allow closed timelike curves, like Gödel's universe, Kerr black holes, wormholes, etc.

As mentioned in other answers, chronology protection conjecture, grandfather paradox and other causality paradoxes, and the absence of visitors from the future are the most used arguments against time travel. Each of them can be avoided, by creating alternative universes in which you don't exist because you killed your grandfather, or by protecting the past using Novikov's self-consistency principle, or a time patrol or similar solutions, etc.

Also, there are arguments against particular time travel methods. For instance, that you can't use wormholes, because they will become singular or/and self-destroy. There are theorems suggesting that in reasonable conditions closed timelike curves are accompanied by singularities, so if there are no singularities, there is no time travel.

Alternatively, you can make the characters discover fictional laws forbidding time travel.

I am very curious why a science fiction writer would want to reject time travel.


If you are interested in various aspects of time travel (involving formulae), check this conference, The Time Machine Factory, 2012. The proceedings just appeared and are available online.

Update 2

The introduction of this paper by Seth Lloyd et. al. contains a brief review of many results concerning time travel, and references.

share|cite|improve this answer
I am very curious why a science fiction writer would want to reject time travel. - Only in one direction. For one possibility, it creates "you can never return" internal conflicts, which can act as a metaphor for growing up. – Izkata Sep 23 '13 at 1:52

Well, the most trivial one is "Where the hell are all the time travellers from the future today?"

share|cite|improve this answer
What if Jesus was time travaller ? – BioHazard Sep 22 '13 at 19:28
@BioHazard: Michael Moorcock, and also Ilya Varshavsky has a short story, with the subject that Jesus Christ was time traveler. – Cristi Stoica Sep 22 '13 at 20:34
How do you know those geniuses are not time travellers? They won't tell us that. – scaaahu Sep 23 '13 at 10:13
Because we lack the technology for them to come here. Once we have the technology to receive messages sent from the future things like this could go quick. Some experiments actually show very interesting results where a signal is received a fraction of a second before it is actually sent. But for a novel this would be a good explanation. – Menno Gouw Nov 14 '13 at 9:50

One additional nice feature to consider in rejecting time travel is global entropy of the universe. As far as it is known today, in the past universe had lower entropy and it is impossible to reduce the entropy of the system without dumping the "excess entropy" (plus, whatever additional entropy created in the process) elsewhere.

The same consideration applies to why we can not precisely reconstruct the past (that is, perfect historical knowledge is not possible, no matter how hard we try). Entropy will always prevail and eat some of the precious information.

share|cite|improve this answer

The most basic argument I can think of is the Chronology protection conjecture. In essence, any time machine allows a quantum feedback cycle that will result in the immediate destruction of the machine.

share|cite|improve this answer

One theory states that time travel requires cooperation from both sides, which explains why no time travelers have been seen yet. You can only travel as far back as the invention of the first time machine. And even then, it would be restricted to places and times where a "receiver" was set up.

That's of course very convenient for SF writers; it gives them a degree of freedom in deciding precisely where and when time travel fits the plot.

share|cite|improve this answer

Have a look at I think you can find a nice argument there. You can use the argument that past is unchangeable so it is pointless to go to the past if it can't be changed. Or you can use the parallel universe argument, meaning that somebody who goes in the past and alter something there ends up in a parallel universe where the effect of his alteration creates a completely different present than the present he left from. The parallel universe is different than ours where he can't return to ours.

For clarity, those are NOT scientific arguments. Those are arguments which were made to solve the Grandfather paradox.

share|cite|improve this answer
"it is pointless to go to the past if it can't be changed" — That is far, far from the only reason to visit the past. Just to pick one at random, who wouldn't want to spend their vacation riding an apatosaurus? – jwodder Sep 22 '13 at 22:03
I didn't think of that! it is wonderful. But still that counts as changing. Just like butterfly effect – Gotaquestion Sep 22 '13 at 22:20
It's not changing the past if you already rode the apatosaurus 150 mya, which you obviously did if you travel back then from now and ride it. – jwodder Sep 22 '13 at 22:24
@jwodder I am really confused now. – Lescai Ionel Sep 23 '13 at 15:02
@LescaiIonel right, this is the point of time paradox :) – Ruslan Sep 24 '13 at 14:47

protected by Qmechanic Sep 23 '13 at 1:27

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

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