Time Travel into the Past: How can a wormhole be transformed into a time machine?

In 1988, Kip Thorn and his students published a technical article about traversable wormholes (see here). In their article, they conjectured that if the laws of physics were to permit traversable wormholes they would probably also permit such a wormhole to be transformed into a time machine, which violates causality. This would allow for travel into the past. More than 25 years later, Thorn was involved with the movie Interstellar from its inception and he helped the producer Christopher Nolan and others weave science into the film’s fabric. However, according to Thorn, today almost thirty years have gone by and, the preponderance of evidence still suggests that traversable wormholes are an impossibility.

Wormhole creation would be governed by the laws of quantum gravity. A seemingly plausible scenario entails quantum foam (“foamy” topologies of space-time on length-scales of the order of the Planck length 1.3 x 10-33). One can imagine an advanced civilization pulling a wormhole out of the quantum foam, enlarging it to classical size, and threading it with exotic matter to hold it open. Of course, says Thorn, we do not understand the quantum gravity laws that control the foam, the pull, and the stages of enlargement. Moreover, we do not understand exotic matter very well either.

Thorn suggests the following thought experiment. I am paraphrasing here. Suppose both California desert and Dublin are connected by a wormhole. The two mouths of the wormhole are synchronized. Since the California desert and Dublin are not moving with respect to each other, I in the California desert can synchronize my clock with that of my friend in Dublin. Hence clocks remain synchronized inside the throat and between the two mouths regardless of the outside time. While a wormhole is a single unit connected by a throat, its two mouths open onto places that are totally different from each other. The wormhole throat itself is a single reference system. According to special relativity, we can, therefore, synchronize clocks in this reference system.


Mouth in California Desert                             Mouth in Dublin

The images seen through a wormhole’s mouths. Photos by Catherine MacBride and Mark Interrante.

Both mouths look like crystal balls. When I look into my California desert mouth, I see a distorted image of a street in Dublin. That image is brought to me by light that travels through the wormhole from Dublin to California, rather like light traveling through an optical fiber. When you look into your Dublin mouth, you see a distorted image of the trees in the California desert.

In Thorn, Kip, The Science of Interstellar, W. W. Norton & Company, p. 133.

Imagine a situation where the wormhole has been created by an advanced civilization in some future year, say 3000. On January 1, 3000 the wormhole’s two mouths, A and B, are at rest with respect to each other. Subsequently, mouth A remains at rest in Dublin, while mouth B, in California desert, accelerates to near-light speed, then reverses its motion and returns to its original location. Suppose the advanced beings produce this motion by pulling on mouth B gravitationally. I, therefore, take mouth B for a round trip and travel outside the wormhole with mouth B moving at relativistic velocities. Mouth A will not have moved since nothing has been pulling on it. The two mouths A and B of the wormhole are moving with respect to each other, and the wormhole throat now has mouth A at one end and a hole B at the other end. Hence the geometry of the wormhole throat does not change during the whole trip of mouth B so that the length of the wormhole’s throat remains fixed.

Since the two mouths move with respect to each other, time dilation creates a time difference between the clocks next to each mouth. The motion of the mouth is like that of the twins in the standard special-relativistic twin paradox. Outside the wormhole, mouth B ages less than mouth A, but inside the wormhole, the clocks are still synchronized; mouth A and hole B are at rest relative to each other and therefore, both entrances of the wormhole will age equally. If I have traveled with mouth B at close to the speed of light, I might find myself ensconced for many years in the future after returning to my original location in California desert.

I finally return to California desert with mouth B and find I have aged only one day (namely, on the date January 2, 3000, as measured by my own time – my proper time). Suppose that I find myself, on returning to California desert, to have arrived on, say, January 1, 3010 (according to the standard special-relativistic twin paradox). This is the date that appears on the calendar on the wall of an abandoned creepy cabin in the desert. Stepping through mouth B in California desert on January 1, 3010 and emerging out of A in Dublin will take me back in time. I will emerge from A and find that it is January 2, 3000. This is so because it is as seen from Dublin and my clock remains synchronized with the clock in mouth A. Recall that I have aged only one day during the trip (on my subsequent return to California desert, the date was January 2, 3000, as measured by my own time).

Consequently, by traversing the wormhole from mouth B to mouth A, one can travel backward in time, namely one can traverse a closed timelike curve. The same relative aging that occurs in the twin paradox produces, here, closed timelike curves that loop through the wormhole. However, that traveler could never go further back into the past than the year 3000. No traveler can ever go further back in time than the original date of creation of the wormhole.

Fur further reading see my book: General Relativity Conflict and Rivalries: Einstein’s Polemics with Physicists.

How do science fiction writers explain traversable wormholes? In The Strange Days at Blake Holsey High science fiction television program, a group of science students (science club) at a private boarding school have discovered that their science teacher’s office floor has a traversable wormhole that connects major time periods and therefore deposits a traveler back in time to October 4, 1987, April 11, 1977, and October 4, 1879 (when Blake Holsey High and the wormhole were founded). One of the students is getting sucked into the wormhole:







The Einstein Rosen bridge and the Einstein Podolsky Rosen paradox, ER and EPR: Wormhole and entanglement

The Einstein-Rosen Bridge and the Einstein Podolsky Rosen paradox. I demonstrate that the two-body problem in general relativity was a heuristic guide in Einstein’s and collaborators’1935 work on the Einstein-Rosen bridge and EPR paradox.

In 2013 Juan Maldacena and Leonard Susskind demonstrated that the Einstein Rosen bridge between two black holes is created by EPR-like correlations between the microstates of the two black holes. They call this the ER = EPR relation, a geometry–entanglement relationship: entangled particles are connected by a Schwarzschild wormhole. In other words, the ER bridge is a special kind of EPR correlation: Maldacena and Susskind’s conjecture was that these two concepts, ER and EPR, are related by more than a common publication date 1935. If any two particles are connected by entanglement, the physicists suggested, then they are effectively joined by a wormhole. And vice versa: the connection that physicists call a wormhole is equivalent to entanglement. They are different ways of describing the same underlying reality.


This image was published in a Nature article, Ron Cowen, “The quantum source of space-time”,  explaining the geometry–entanglement relationship and Maldacena’s and Susskind’s ER = EPR idea: Quantum entanglement is linked to a wormhole from general relativity. This representation is deterministic and embodies the many worlds interpretation: Collapse of the wave function never takes place. Instead, interactions cause subsystems to become entangled. Each measurement causes the branches of the tree to decohere; the quantum superposition being replaced by classical probabilities. The observer follows a trajectory through a tree. The entire tree, i.e., the entire wave function, must be retained and the universe is the complicated network of entanglements, branches of the tree: the wormhole bifurcating throats and mouths in the universe. See Susskind’s new paper from April 2016. Hence general relativity and quantum mechanics are linked by ER = EPR and Einstein’s soul can rest in peace because god will not play dice.

Maldacena and Susskind explain that one cannot use EPR correlations to send information faster than the speed of light.  Similarly, Einstein Rosen bridges do not allow us to send a signal from one asymptotic region to the other, at least when suitable positive energy conditions are obeyed. This is sometimes stated as saying that (Schwarzschild) Lorentzian wormholes are not traversable.

I uploaded a paper to the ArXiv: “Two-body problem in general relativity: A heuristic guide for the Einstein-Rosen bridge and EPR paradox”

In this paper I discuss the possible historical link between the 1935 Einstein-Rosen bridge paper and the 1935 Einstein-Rosen-Podolsky paper. The paper is a first version and I intend to upload a second version.

Between 1935 and 1936, Einstein was occupied with the Schwarzschild solution and the singularity within it while working in Princeton on the unified field theory and, with his assistant Nathan Rosen, on the theory of the Einstein-Rosen bridges. He was also occupied with quantum theory. He believed that quantum theory was an incomplete representation of real things. Together with Rosen and Boris Podolsky he invented the EPR paradox. In this paper I demonstrate that the two-body problem in general relativity was a heuristic guide in Einstein’s and collaborators’1935 work on the Einstein-Rosen bridge and EPR paradox.

In 1935 Einstein explained that one of the imperfections of the general theory of relativity was that as a field theory it was not complete in the following sense: it represented the motion of particles by the geodesic equation. A mass point moves on a geodesic line under the influence of a gravitational field. However, a complete field theory implements only fields and not the concepts of particle and motion. These must not exist independently of the field but must be treated as part of it. Einstein wanted to demonstrate that the field equations for empty space are sufficient to determine the motion of mass points. In 1935 Einstein attempted to present a satisfactory treatment that accomplishes a unification of gravitation and electromagnetism. For this unification Einstein and Rosen needed a description of a particle without singularity. In 1935, they joined two Schwarzschild solutions at the Schwarzschild limit and omitted part of the space-time beyond the Schwarzschild singularity. They showed that it was possible to do this in a natural way and they proposed the Einstein-Rosen bridge solution.

In the Einstein-Rosen bridges paper of 1935, Einstein negated the possibility that particles were represented as singularities of the gravitational field because of his polemic with Ludwig Silberstein. Silberstein thought he had demonstrated that general relativity was problematic. He constructed, for the vacuum field equations for the two-body problem, an exact static solution with two singularity points that lie on the line connecting these two points. The singularities were located at the positions of the mass centers of the two material bodies. Silberstein concluded that this solution was inadmissible physically and contradicted experience. According to his equations the two bodies in his solution were at rest and were not accelerated towards each other; these were nonallowed results and therefore Silberstein thought that Einstein’s field equations should be modified together with his general theory of relativity. Before submitting his results as a paper to the Physical Review, Silberstein communicated them to Einstein. This prompted Einstein’s remark, in his paper with Rosen in 1935, that matter particles could not be represented as singularities in the field.

Einstein and Rosen were trying to permanently dismiss the Schwarzschild singularity and adhere to the fundamental principle that singularities of the field are to be excluded. Einstein explained that one of the imperfections of the general theory of relativity was that as a field theory it was not complete because it represented the motion of particles by the geodesic equation. Einstein also searched for complete descriptions of physical conditions in quantum mechanics. It seems that the two-body problem in general relativity was a heuristic guide in the search of a solution to the problem that the psi function cannot be interpreted as a complete description of a physical condition of one system. He thus proposed the EPR paradox with Rosen and Podolsky.

Updated 2016

A Century of General Relativity מאה שנה ליחסות הכללית

Hebrew University of Jerusalem celebrates the anniversary of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity (GTR) in a four-day conference:

Space-Time Theories: Historical and Philosophical Contexts

Monday-Thursday, January 5-8, 2015, in Jerusalem, the van Leer Jerusalem Institute. The conference brings together physicists, historians and philosophers of science from Israel and the world, all working from different perspectives on problems inspired by GTR. It is the first among three conferences planned to celebrate the centenary of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, the last of which will take place in the Max Planck Institute in Berlin on December 5, 2015, my next birthday. I am not on the list of speakers of the conference, but it says that admission is free.

בין ה-5-8 לינואר 2015 יתקיים כנס לציון 100 שנה להולדת תורת היחסות הכללית של איינשטיין. הכנס יתקיים במכון ואן ליר בירושלים ליד בית הנשיא. בכנס יישאו דברים היסטוריונים ופילוסופים של המדע שעוסקים בתחום וכן פיסיקאים. הוא הכנס הראשון מבין שלושה שמאורגנים בתחום. הראשון מאורגן באוניברסיטה העברית והאחרון במכון מקס פלאנק: יתקיים בדיוק בעוד שנה ביום ההולדת הבא שלי ב-5 לדצמבר, 2015. אני אמנם לא ברשימת הדוברים של הכנס בירושלים, אבל המודעה מציינת שהכניסה חופשית. בכנס הקודם מ-2005, שציין מאה שנים להולדת תורת היחסות הפרטית של איינשטיין במכון ואן ליר, זכורים היטב דברי הפתיחה של הנשיא ד’אז משה קצב


Einstein wrote Max Born on May 12, 1952:

“The generalization of gravitation is now, at last, completely convincing and unequivocal formally unless the good Lord has chosen a totally different way of which one can have no conception. The proof of the theory is unfortunately far too difficult for me. Man is, after all, only a poor wretch… Even if the deflection of light, the perihelial movement or line shift were unknown, the gravitation equations would still be convincing because they avoid the inertial system (the phantom which affects everything but is not itself affected). It is really rather strange that human beings are normally deaf to the strongest arguments while they are always inclined to overestimate measuring accuracies”.

What did Einstein mean by saying “the gravitation equations would still be convincing…”? “In June 9, 1952 Einstein wrote an appendix to the fifteenth edition of his popular 1917 book Über die spezielle und die allgemeine Relativitätstheorie Gemeinverständlich (On the Special and the General Theory of Relativity). In this appendix he explained:

“I wished to show that space-time is not necessarily something to which one can ascribe a separate existence, independently of the actual objects of physical reality. Physical objects are not in space, but these objects are spatially extended. In this way the concept “empty space” loses its meaning”.