by Darrell Winfrey
As a young child, Travis Klein was fascinated with the concept of time travel. He read a few science fiction books, watched every episode of the original Dr. Who series, and even watched the film release of H.G. Wells’, The Time Machine. As he got older, he grew more interested in the science part of science fiction. It was mind-blowing that when he looked into the sky at a star or galaxy, he was seeing that heavenly body as it looked thousands or even millions of years ago. In a way, he was a time traveler looking back in time at an era before humans existed.
His view of science changed profoundly when a friend introduced him to Einstein’s Theory of Relativity while he was just in middle school. Although he didn’t possess enough knowledge about physics and math to comprehend everything, he found the whole concept enlightening and intriguing. As he increased his knowledge of physics and advanced mathematics, he grew to understand more about how the universe works. It inspired more in-depth thinking about time and how it related to 3-dimensional space.
One day he was thinking about stories and films about time travel and realized that traveling back in time without movement within the other dimensions could not produce the results depicted in most science fiction stories. In other words, if someone stepped into a machine that only moved, or jumped, an occupant rapidly through time it would be extremely difficult for someone to end up in the exact location on earth, but at a different date and time. What would actually happen is that the machine and traveler would end up in space quite far from earth because the machine would maintain its position while the earth would be in a different position due its rotation, orbit around the sun, motion around our galactic center, the motion of our galaxy, the motion of our galaxy cluster, and the expansion of the universe. In order to remain on earth, the machine would have to predict the precise location of the earth at a particular time in history due to the aforementioned motions. The slightest miscalculation would be catastrophic as well as very entertaining.
This, of course, was not a serious pursuit because Klein always regarded the idea of traveling back in time as complete fantasy. But this did initiate critical thinking about our perception of time. During his college years as an astrophysics major, he formulated a question that he hoped to answer one day. Can time exist without motion and energy transfer in 3-dimensional space?
He later came up with a thought experiment. He imagined that all physical motion within our entire universe suddenly stopped, even at the subatomic level. Of course, he had to assume that this sudden deceleration to stasis didn’t obliterate everything in existence. After an unknown time frame, everything instantly started back again. The time period everything was paused might have been for a few seconds or a few million years. He imagined that he was the only being in the universe that knew this happened. How could he prove it happened? How could he calculate the time period that everything was frozen? There really is no way to make such determinations without adding some particle that continues to stay in motion while everything else is frozen.
He already knew that no one had ever measured time as a separate entity. The way we have always measured time has been by comparing the undetermined motion of an object to the motion of another object with presumably periodic motion. Before the invention of clocks, the periodic object was the earth itself. The time period of a long event could be measured by the number of days. This is just a simple comparison of the event to the motion of the earth. Eventually the days were divided into smaller segments, and sundials and clocks were invented to measure the time frames of shorter events. When we discovered that the periodic motion of the earth was imprecise, we turned to the atom. Even atomic clocks rely on motion as they count the emission of photons at intervals in order to mark time. In a way, the sun is also a giant clock that will eventually wind down. Like the atomic clock, the periodic motion within the sun mostly occurs at the atomic level in the form of mass/energy loss.
It was already well known that what we experience as time is an interpretation of the motion of physical objects within and around us. It is also known that this motion can be significantly slowed within an accelerated reference frame represented by a moving object or gravitation associated with a massive object. Klein’s interpretation does not state that time is moving slower, but that actual motion of everything within the reference frame is moving (and aging) slower.
The question is whether or not there is some unbreakable cosmic clock that resides outside of our 3-dimensional world, unaffected by any mass or warped space. If such a mechanism exists in the universe, we have no way of measuring it or comparing it to billions and billions of reference frames and their localized “clocks” within galaxies throughout the universe. Even if it was possible to make such comparisons, there would be no useful application of the result. The use of localize relativistic time would fall out of use and all clocks would be adjusted to coincide with this cosmic clock. This, incidentally, is very far removed from reality.
Time is almost like a coordinate system created by us to navigate something that actually exists in the physical world. It is not much different from the lines of latitude and longitude that we use to navigate the earth. Klein was pretty sure no one had ever seen or drawn lines all over the earth. Although they do not exist in the physical world, they can be quite useful when trying to navigate or pinpoint an exact location over the ocean.
Something of which Klein is definitely certain is that there is no physical manifestation of what we refer to as time in the real world. He realized this idea was beyond the comprehension of most people as well as some physicists. For him it was almost intuitive to envision a macro universe without time. The full conception of such a world might one day bring us much closer to a unified theory. With a little effort, most physics equations work without the presence of a time variable. He also became more interested in the work of a man named Kurt Friedrich Gödel, whose proof of the unreality of time in special relativity has yet to be refuted. Klein hoped to breathe life into that proof and to even expand it.
In the subatomic world, time is almost optional. In the macro world, we are eternally married to it. The first step to the removal of time is to drill down to what time actually is. There is something that all clocks, planets in motion, and objects that are cooling have in common. They all start with an initial energy state. In the case of the mechanical clock, the energy is within the main spring once it is wound. The gears and mechanisms within the clocks ensure a measured release of this energy instead of releasing it all at once. Every time the second hand moves to the next position, there is a corresponding and measurable amount of energy removed from the spring. One could almost quantify these energy bursts and count them instead of a time interval. This is pretty much what happens with an atomic clock where the rapid photon emissions are literally counted. Again, a transfer of energy is counted. Even when we look at a large object like a planet, a certain amount of energy set its initial mass in motion. It has a certain amount of kinetic energy or momentum associated with it based on its mass and motion.
Klein knew the key to removing time from our universe was to first convert it to a standard measure of energy and distance. The problem was that even though we already had too many representations of a unit of energy, all of them associated with motion included a time component. How could you represent the motion of a particle moving in a straight line through space without reporting how far it has traveled within a certain time frame? First he had to create a unit of kinetic energy that was not defined by distance/time. The unit would have to be derived from the resulting force and energy transferred and released if the particle was to collide with an immovable object made of the same particles. From this, a speed-like parameter could be derived that is represented by a unit of distance related to a unit of energy. Determining this relation was where the serious work took place. It was an epic journey that involved work with several close colleagues, which would enable him to use this new variable within the equations produced by giants like Einstein and Gödel. The results were nothing short of astonishing.