Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Beyond Einstein: Could Scotty Beam you up Instantaneously?

I am a hack when it comes to physical science. Nevertheless, I have long been fascinated by astronomy and quantum mechanics. I remember being mesmerized by popularizations of science such as Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, as were “billions and billions” (joke) of other people.

I’ll also confess that I still watch reruns of the first generation Star Trek (Does that make me a Trekkie?).

For example, on August 25, 2009, I published a post on this blog titled  What does "E=mc square" mean? And  on October 21, 2009, I wrote  Will We ever Travel to the Stars?

In that article, I pointed out that even if we were to double the speed of our currently most advanced spacecrafts to, say, 100,000 miles per hour, it would take an astronaut 29,000 years to reach the nearest star (Alpha Centauri), which is 25 trillion miles away. This is as much time as has lapsed since Cro-Magnon man. I concluded that, while we may not be completely earth-bound, we are certainly the prisoners of the solar system - FOREVER.

 ....That is, IF EINSTEIN IS RIGHT: His special theory of relativity asserts/proves that nothing can move faster than light, which travels at roughly 300,000 kilometers per second. This hypothesis has been tested and confirmed hundreds of times.

If so, this means that moving metal machines with humans onboard even at 10% of the speed of light is a non-starter. Not only would it take thousands of generations to travel to habitable planets, there would also be the problem of time dislocation between Earth and the astronauts traveling away from it at high speed.

This makes nonsense out of Star Trek, Star Wars and all other science fiction. Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is 100,000 light years in diameter. Were we to launch a satellite today, it might reach the other side of our galaxy in two billion years. Were we to send a radio message to extra-terrestrials living there, we would get their reply back in 200,000 years...

Gene Roddenberry HAD to empower the Starship Enterprise with warp speed, i.e. faster-than-light speed. The Enterprise can go up to warp nine. The formula for warp speed is: V = W 3c, where V is velocity, W is the warp factor and c is the speed of light. Thus, “warp 1" is equivalent to the speed of light, “warp 2 is 8 times the speed of light (2x2x2), etc, all the way up to a maximum speed of 9x9x9 = 729 times the speed of light. (see: warp drive).

Even so, it would take Spock and Captain Kirk over a century to cross our galaxy, and they would need three and a half thousand years to reach our neighbor Andromeda, the closest major galaxy. And that’s with the Enterprise traveling at 729 times the speed of light!

One thing which we CAN move with the speed of light is INFORMATION. We do this every day, by phone, computer, radio, television. I do it when I Skype with my mother in Holland.

Sometimes, I call my mother by phone, and you know what? I already detect some time lag that way: Some of the telephone relays are satellites almost 36,000 kilometers above the earth. So when I say something to my mother, she hears it 72,000 kilometers later, and her reply to me occurs 144,000 kilometers later, which is half a second, so that’s already quite noticeable.

Still, if we are only interested in exchanging information with extra-terrestrials who live on, say, one of the planets circling Alpha Centauri, we could e-mail them and get a reply within eight years. That’s almost as quick as some of my procrastinating friends.

I recently published a sci fi book about the history of the world, Humanity's Future: The Next 25,000 years.

In this book, I describe the possibility of moving-via-information. If we have 100% information about an object, we can send all this information with the speed of light to another location and duplicate the object there, just like we already do 3-dimensional printing today. If we know everything about Will Smith, we can clone him on a distant planet.

Even so, as long as Einstein prevails, the speed of light remains a severe limitation.

But now comes a potential breakthrough I read about the other day, one reported at the Delft University in the Netherlands: “A Step Toward Winning a Dispute with Einstein,” New York Times, May 30, 2014:B3.

In Delft, “nanoscientists” claim to have transported information over a certain distance NOT at the speed of light, but INSTANTANEOUSLY!

This research revives the debate about” “ENTANGLEMENT” and “ACTION AT A DISTANCE.” In popular culture and in the media at least, “entanglement” has long been used to hypothesize that if it exists, it makes action at a distance possible.

The idea of action at a distance reminds me of the mysterious immediate communion and simultaneous experience which two identical twins may share even as they live thousands of miles apart, but are somehow linked together.

The Dutch experiment is only about quantum information (qubits values). It is not about the teleportation of physical matter.

Still, think about how exciting this is, either as science or as science fiction: could it become possible, eventually, to transport at least information not only at warp speed 9, but INSTANTANEOUSLY? That would be quite an improvement, even over Star Trek, wouldn’t it? leave comment here

© Tom Kando 2014