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# TIME TRAVEL

## Faster-than-light communication is, by Einstein's theory of relativity, equivale

nt to time travel. According to Einstein's theory of special relativity, what we
measure as the speed of light in a vacuum is actually the fundamental physical
constant c. This means that all inertial observers, regardless of their relative
velocity, will always measure zero-mass particles such as photons traveling at
c in a vacuum. This result means that measurements of time and velocity in diffe
rent frames are no longer related simply by constant shifts, but are instead rel
ated by Poincaré transformations. These transformations have important implication
s:
The relativistic momentum of a massive particle would increase with speed in suc
h a way that at the speed of light an object would have infinite momentum.
To accelerate an object of non-zero rest mass to c would require infinite time w
ith any finite acceleration, or infinite acceleration for a finite amount of tim
e.
Either way, such acceleration requires infinite energy. Going beyond the speed o
f light in a homogeneous space would hence require more than infinite energy, wh
ich is not generally considered to be a sensible notion.
Some observers with sub-light relative motion will disagree about which occurs f
irst of any two events that are separated by a space-like interval.[5] In other
words, any travel that is faster-than-light will be seen as traveling backwards
in time in some other, equally valid, frames of reference, or need to assume the
speculative hypothesis of possible Lorentz violations at a presently unobserved
scale (for instance the Planck scale). Therefore any theory which permits "true
" FTL also has to cope with time travel and all its associated paradoxes,[6] or
else to assume the Lorentz invariance to be a symmetry of thermodynamical statis
tical nature (hence a symmetry broken at some presently unobserved scale).
While special and general relativity do not allow superluminal speeds locally, n
on-local means may be possible, which means moving with space rather than moving
through space.
Justifications
Despite the established conclusion that relativity precludes FTL travel, some ha
ve proposed ways to justify FTL behaviour:
Faster light (Casimir vacuum and quantum tunnelling)
Einstein's equations of special relativity postulate that the speed of light in
a vacuum is invariant in inertial frames. That is, it will be the same from any
frame of reference moving at a constant speed. The equations do not specify any
particular value for the speed of the light, which is an experimentally determin
ed quantity for a fixed unit of length. Since 1983, the unit of length (the mete
r) has been defined using the speed of light.
The experimental determination has been made in vacuum. However, the vacuum we k
now is not the only possible vacuum which can exist. The vacuum has energy assoc
iated with it, called the vacuum energy. This vacuum energy can perhaps be chang
ed in certain cases.[7] When vacuum energy is lowered, light itself has been pre
dicted to go faster than the standard value 'c'. This is known as the Scharnhors
t effect. Such a vacuum can be produced by bringing two perfectly smooth metal p
lates together at near atomic diameter spacing. It is called a Casimir vacuum. C
alculations imply that light will go faster in such a vacuum by a minuscule amou
nt: a photon traveling between two plates that are 1 micrometer apart would incr
ease the photon's speed by only about one part in 1036.[8] Accordingly there has
as yet been no experimental verification of the prediction. A recent analysis[9
] argued that the Scharnhorst effect cannot be used to send information backward
s in time with a single set of plates since the plates' rest frame would define
a "preferred frame" for FTL signalling. However, with multiple pairs of plates i
n motion relative to one another the authors noted that they had no arguments th
at could "guarantee the total absence of causality violations", and invoked Hawk
ing's speculative chronology protection conjecture which suggests that feedback
loops of virtual particles would create "uncontrollable singularities in the ren
ormalized quantum stress-energy" on the boundary of any potential time machine,
and thus would require a theory of quantum gravity to fully analyze. Other autho
rs argue that Scharnhorst's original analysis which seemed to show the possibili
ty of faster-than-c signals involved approximations which may be incorrect, so t
hat it is not clear whether this effect could actually increase signal speed at
all.[10]
The physicists Günter Nimtz and Alfons Stahlhofen, of the University of Koblenz, c
laim to have violated relativity experimentally by transmitting photons faster t
han the speed of light.[11] They say they have conducted an experiment in which
microwave photons—relatively low energy packets of light—travelled "instantaneously"
between a pair of prisms that had been moved up to 3 ft (1 m) apart. Their expe
riment involved an optical phenomenon known as "evanescent modes", and they clai
m that since evanescent modes have an imaginary wave number, they represent a "m
athematical analogy" to quantum tunnelling.[11] Nimtz has also claimed that "eva
nescent modes are not fully describable by the Maxwell equations and quantum mec
hanics have to be taken into consideration."[12] Other scientists such as Herber
t Winful and Robert Helling have argued that in fact there is nothing quantum-me
chanical about Nimtz's experiments, and that the results can be fully predicted
by the equations of classical electromagnetism (Maxwell's equations).[13][14]
Nimtz told New Scientist magazine: "For the time being, this is the only violati
on of special relativity that I know of." However, other physicists say that thi
s phenomenon does not allow information to be transmitted faster than light. Aep
hraim Steinberg, a quantum optics expert at the University of Toronto, Canada, u
ses the analogy of a train traveling from Chicago to New York, but dropping off
train cars at each station along the way, so that the center of the ever shrinki
ng main train moves forward at each stop; in this way, the speed of the center o
f the train exceeds the speed of any of the individual cars.[15] Herbert Winful
argues that the train analogy is a variant of the "reshaping argument" for super
luminal tunneling velocities, but he goes on to say that this argument is not ac
tually supported by experiment or simulations, which actually show that the tran
smitted pulse has the same length and shape as the incident pulse.[13] Instead,
Winful argues that the group delay in tunneling is not actually the transit time
for the pulse (whose spatial length must be greater than the barrier length in
order for its spectrum to be narrow enough to allow tunneling), but is instead t
he lifetime of the energy stored in a standing wave which forms inside the barri
er. Since the stored energy in the barrier is less than the energy stored in a b
arrier-free region of the same length due to destructive interference, the group
delay for the energy to escape the barrier region is shorter than it would be i
n free space, which according to Winful is the explanation for apparently superl
uminal tunneling.[16][17] A number of authors have published papers disputing Ni
mtz's claim that Einstein causality is violated by his experiments, and there ar
e many other papers in the literature discussing why quantum tunneling is not th
ought to violate causality.[18]
It was later claimed by the Keller group in Switzerland that particle tunneling
does indeed occur in zero real time. Their tests involved tunneling electrons, w
here the group argued a relativistic prediction for tunneling time should be 500
-600 attoseconds (an attosecond is one quintillionth of a second). All that coul
d be measured was 24 attoseconds, which is the limit of the test accuracy.[19] A
gain, though, other physicists believe that tunneling experiments in which parti
cles appear to spend anomalously short times inside the barrier are in fact full
y compatible with relativity, although there is disagreement about whether the e
xplanation involves reshaping of the wave packet or other effects.[16][17][20]
Give up causality
Another approach is to accept special relativity, but to posit that mechanisms a
llowed by general relativity (e.g., wormholes) will allow traveling between two
points without going through the intervening space. While this gets around the i
nfinite acceleration problem, it still would lead to closed timelike curves (i.e
., time travel) and causality violations. Causality is not required by special o
r general relativity, but is nonetheless generally considered a basic property o
f the universe that cannot be sensibly dispensed with. Because of this, most phy
sicists[who?] expect that quantum gravity effects will preclude this option.[cit
ation needed] An alternative is to conjecture that, while time travel is possibl
e, it never leads to paradoxes; this is the Novikov self-consistency principle.
An important point to note is that in general relativity it is possible for obje
cts to be moving apart faster than light because of the expansion of the univers
e, in some reasonable choice of cosmological coordinates. This is understood to
be due to the expansion of the space between the objects, and general relativity
still reduces to special relativity in a "local" sense, meaning that two object
s passing each other in a small local region of spacetime cannot have a relative
velocity greater than c, and will move more slowly than a light beam passing th
rough the region. (See Option F below)
Give up (absolute) relativity
Because of the strong empirical support for special relativity, any modification
s to it must necessarily be quite subtle and difficult to measure. The best-know
n attempt is doubly-special relativity, which posits that the Planck length is a
lso the same in all reference frames, and is associated with the work of Giovann
i Amelino-Camelia and João Magueijo. One consequence of this theory is a variable
speed of light, where photon speed would vary with energy, and some zero-mass pa
rticles might possibly travel faster than c.[citation needed] However, even if t
his theory is accurate, it is still very unclear whether it would allow informat
ion to be communicated, and appears not in any case to allow massive particles t
o exceed c.
There are speculative theories that claim inertia is produced by the combined ma
ss of the universe (e.g., Mach's principle), which implies that the rest frame o
f the universe might be preferred by conventional measurements of natural law. I
f confirmed, this would imply special relativity is an approximation to a more g
eneral theory, but since the relevant comparison would (by definition) be outsid
e the observable universe, it is difficult to imagine (much less construct) expe
riments to test this hypothesis.
Non-physical realms
A very popular option in space opera is to assume the existence of some other re
alm (typically called hyperspace, subspace, or slipspace) which is accessible fr
om this universe, in which the laws of relativity are usually distorted, bent, o
r nonexistent, facilitating rapid transport between distant points in this unive
rse, sometimes with acceleration differences—that is, not requiring as much energy
or thrust to go faster. To accomplish rapid transport between points in hypersp
ace/subspace, special relativity is often assumed not to apply in this other rea
lm, or that the speed of light is higher. Another solution is to posit that dist
ant points in the mundane universe correspond to points that are close together
in hyperspace.
The possibility of other universes following distinct physics permitting for thi
s type of travel is the crux of serious scientific conjecture along these lines.
Space-time distortion
Although the theory of special relativity forbids objects to have a relative vel
ocity greater than light speed, and general relativity reduces to special relati
vity in a local sense (in small regions of spacetime where curvature is negligib
le), general relativity does allow the space between distant objects to expand i
n such a way that they have a "recession velocity" which exceeds the speed of li
ght, and it is thought that galaxies which are at a distance of more than about
14 billion light years from us today have a recession velocity which is faster t
han light.[21] Miguel Alcubierre theorized that it would be possible to create a
n Alcubierre drive, in which a ship would be enclosed in a "warp bubble" where t
he space at the front of the bubble is rapidly contracting and the space at the
back is rapidly expanding, with the result that the bubble can reach a distant d
estination much faster than a light beam moving outside the bubble, but without
objects inside the bubble locally traveling faster than light. However, several
objections raised against the Alcubierre drive appear to rule out the possibilit
y of actually using it in any practical fashion. Another possibility predicted b
y general relativity is the traversable wormhole, which could create a shortcut
between arbitrarily distant points in space. As with the Alcubierre drive, trave
lers moving through the wormhole would not locally move faster than light which
travels through the wormhole alongside them, but they would be able to reach the
ir destination (and return to their starting location) faster than light traveli
ng outside the wormhole.
Dr. Gerald Cleaver, associate professor of physics at Baylor University, and Ric
hard Obousy, a Baylor graduate student, theorize that by manipulating the extra
spatial dimensions of string theory around a spaceship with an extremely large a
mount of energy, it would create a "bubble" that could cause the ship to travel
faster than the speed of light. To create this bubble, the physicists believe ma
nipulating the 10th spatial dimension would alter the dark energy in three large
spatial dimensions: height, width and length. Cleaver said positive dark energy
is currently responsible for speeding up the expansion rate of our universe as
time moves on.[22]
Heim theory
In 1977, a controversial paper on Heim theory theorized that it may be possible
to travel faster than light by using magnetic fields to enter a higher-dimension
al space, and the paper received some media attention in January 2006.[23] Howev
er, due to the many unproven assumptions in the paper, there have been few serio
us attempts to conduct further experiments.
Lorentz symmetry violation
The possibility that Lorentz symmetry may be violated has been seriously conside
red in the last two decades, and can be partially tested by ultra-high energy co
smic-ray experiments.[24] In some models of broken Lorentz symmetry, it is postu
lated that the symmetry is still built into the most fundamental laws of physics
, but that spontaneous symmetry breaking shortly after the Big Bang could have l
eft a "relic field" throughout the universe which causes particles to behave dif
ferently depending on their velocity relative to the field;[25] however there ar
e also some models where Lorentz symmetry is broken in a more fundamental way. I
f Lorentz symmetry can cease to be a fundamental symmetry at Planck scale or at
some other fundamental scale, it is conceivable that particles with a critical s
peed different from the speed of light be the ultimate constituents of matter. T
he superbradyon hypothesis considers the possibility that conventional particles
be similar to phonons in a condensed medium (the physical vacuum of our Univers
e), with a critical speed much smaller than the actual fundamental critical spee
d.
In current models of Lorentz symmetry violation, the phenomenological parameters
are expected to be energy-dependent. Therefore, as widely recognized,[26][27] e
xisting low-energy bounds cannot be applied to high-energy phenomena. Lorentz sy
mmetry violation is expected to become stronger as one gets closer to the fundam
ental scale.
Tachyons
Main article: Tachyon
In special relativity, while it is impossible in an inertial frame to accelerate
an object to the speed of light, or for a massive object to move at the speed o
f light, it is not impossible for an object to exist which always moves faster t
han light. The hypothetical elementary particles that have this property are cal
led tachyons. Their existence has not been proven, but even so, attempts to quan
tise them show that they may not be used for faster-than-light communication.[28
] Physicists sometimes regard the existence of mathematical structures similar t
o tachyons arising from theoretical models and theories as signs of an inconsist
ency or that the theory needs further refining.[29]
General relativity
General relativity was developed after special relativity to include concepts li
ke gravity. It maintains the principle that no object can accelerate to the spee
d of light in the reference frame of any coincident observer.[citation needed][c
larification needed] However, it permits distortions in spacetime that allow an
object to move faster than light from the point of view of a distant observer. O
ne such distortion is the Alcubierre drive, which can be thought of as producing
a ripple in spacetime that carries an object along with it. Another possible sy
stem is the wormhole, which connects two distant locations as though by a shortc
ut. Both distortions would need to create a very strong curvature in a highly lo
calized region of space-time and their gravity fields would be immense. To count
eract the unstable nature, and prevent the distortions from collapsing under the
ir own 'weight', one would need to introduce hypothetical exotic matter or negat
ive energy.
General relativity also agrees that any technique for faster-than-light travel c
ould also be used for time travel. This raises problems with causality. Many phy
sicists believe that the above phenomena are in fact impossible, and that future
theories of gravity will prohibit them. One theory states that stable wormholes
are possible, but that any attempt to use a network of wormholes to violate cau
sality would result in their decay. In string theory Eric Gimon and Petr Hořava ha
ve argued[30] that in a supersymmetric five-dimensional Gödel universe quantum cor
rections to general relativity effectively cut off regions of spacetime with cau
sality-violating closed timelike curves. In particular, in the quantum theory a
smeared supertube is present that cuts the spacetime in such a way that, althoug
h in the full spacetime a closed timelike curve passed through every point, no c
omplete curves exist on the interior region bounded by the tube.
FTL phenomena
In these examples, certain influences may appear to travel faster than light, bu
t they do not convey energy or information faster than light, so they do not vio
late special relativity.
Daily motion of the Heavens
For an earthbound observer objects in the sky complete one revolution around the
earth in 1 day. Proxima Centauri, which is the nearest star outside the Solar s
ystem, is about 4 light years away.[31] On a geostationary view Alpha Centauri h
as a speed many times greater than "c" as the rim speed of an object moving in a
circle is a product of the radius and angular speed.[32] It is also possible on
a geostatic view for objects such as comets to vary their speed from subluminal
to superluminal and vice versa simply because the distance from the earth varie
s. Comets may have orbits which take them out to more than 1000 AU.[33] Circumfe
rence of a circle radius 1000 AU is greater than one light day. In other words,
a comet at such a distance is superluminal in a geostatic frame.
If a laser is swept across a distant object, the spot of light can easily be mad
e to move at a speed greater than c.[34] Similarly, a shadow projected onto a di
stant object can be made to move faster than c.[35] In neither case does any inf
ormation travel faster than light.
Closing speeds
An observer may conclude that two objects are moving faster than the speed of li
ght relative to each other, by adding their velocities according to the principl
e of Galilean relativity.
For example, two fast-moving particles approaching each other from opposite side
s of a particle accelerator will appear to be moving at slightly less than twice
the speed of light, relative to each other, from the point of view of an observ
er standing at rest relative to the accelerator. This correctly reflects the rat
e at which the distance between the two particles is decreasing, from the observ
er's point of view and is called the closing speed. However, it is not the same
as the velocity of one of the particles as would be measured by a hypothetical f
ast-moving observer traveling alongside the other particle. To obtain this, the
calculation must be done according to the principle of special relativity. If th
e two particles are moving at velocities v and −v, or expressed in units of c, β and
−β, where
then this relative velocity (again in units of the speed of light c) is
,
which will always turn out to e less than the speed of light, regardless of the
velocities of the two particles.
Proper speeds
If a spaceship travels to a planet one light year (as measured in the Earth's re
st frame) away from Earth at high speed, the time taken to reach that planet cou
ld e less than one year as measured y the traveller's clock (although it will
always e more than one year as measured y a clock on Earth). The value o taine
d y dividing the distance travelled, as determined in the Earth's frame, y the
time taken, measured y the traveller's clock, is known as a proper speed or a
proper velocity. There is no limit on the value of a proper speed as a proper sp
eed does not represent a speed measured in a single inertial frame. A light sign
al that left the Earth at the same time as the traveller would always get to the
destination efore the traveller.
Phase velocities a ove c
The phase velocity of an electromagnetic wave, when traveling through a medium,
can routinely exceed c, the vacuum velocity of light. For example, this occurs i
n most glasses at X ray frequencies.[36] However, the phase velocity of a wave c
orresponds to the propagation speed of a theoretical single frequency (purely mo
nochromatic) component of the wave at that frequency. Such a wave component must
e infinite in extent and of constant amplitude (otherwise it is not truly mono
chromatic), and so cannot convey any information.[37] Thus a phase velocity a ov
e c does not imply the propagation of signals with a velocity a ove c.
Group velocities a ove c
The group velocity of a wave (e.g. a light eam) may also exceed c in some circu
mstances. In such cases, which typically at the same time involve rapid attenuat
ion of the intensity, the maximum of the envelope of a pulse may travel with a v
elocity a ove c. However, even this situation does not imply the propagation of
signals with a velocity a ove c[38], even though one may e tempted to associate
pulse maxima with signals. The latter association has een shown to e misleadi
ng, asically ecause the information on the arrival of a pulse can e o tained
efore the pulse maximum arrives. For example, if some mechanism allows the full
transmission of the leading part of a pulse while strongly attenuating the puls
e maximum and everything ehind, the pulse maximum is effectively shifted forwar
d in time, while the information on the pulse does not come faster than c withou
t this effect.
Universal expansion
The expansion of the universe causes distant galaxies to recede from us faster t
han the speed of light, if comoving distance and cosmological time are used to c
alculate the speeds of these galaxies. However, in general relativity, velocity
is a local notion, so velocity calculated using comoving coordinates does not ha
ve any simple relation to velocity calculated locally.[39] Rules that apply to r
elative velocities in special relativity, such as the rule that relative velocit
ies cannot increase past the speed of light, do not apply to relative velocities
in comoving coordinates, which are often descri ed in terms of the "expansion o
f space" etween galaxies. This expansion rate is thought to have een at its pe
ak during the inflationary epoch thought to have occurred in a tiny fraction of
the second after the Big Bang (models suggest the period would have een from ar
ound 10−36 seconds after the Big Bang to around 10−33 seconds), when the universe ma
y have rapidly expanded y a factor of around 1020 to 1030.[40]
Astronomical o servations
Apparent superluminal motion is o served in many radio galaxies, lazars, quasar
s and recently also in microquasars. The effect was predicted efore it was o se
rved y Martin Rees and can e explained as an optical illusion caused y the o
ject partly moving in the direction of the o server,[41] when the speed calculat
ions assume it does not. The phenomenon does not contradict the theory of specia
l relativity. Interestingly, corrected calculations show these o jects have velo
cities close to the speed of light (relative to our reference frame). They are t
he first examples of large amounts of mass moving at close to the speed of light
.[42] Earth  ound la oratories have only een a le to accelerate small num ers o
f elementary particles to such speeds.
Quantum mechanics
Certain phenomena in quantum mechanics, such as quantum entanglement, appear to
transmit information faster than light. According to the No communication theore
m these phenomena do not allow true communication; they only let two o servers i
n different locations see the same event simultaneously, without any way of cont
rolling what either sees. Wavefunction collapse can e viewed as an epiphenomeno
n of quantum decoherence, which in turn is nothing more than an effect of the un
derlying local time evolution of the wavefunction of a system and all of its env
ironment. Since the underlying ehaviour doesn't violate local causality or allo
w FTL it follows that neither does the additional effect of wavefunction collaps
e, whether real or apparent.
The uncertainty principle implies that individual photons may travel for short d
istances at speeds somewhat faster (or slower) than c, even in a vacuum; this po
ssi ility must e taken into account when enumerating Feynman diagrams for a par
ticle interaction. .[43] However, macroscopically these fluctuations average out
, so that photons do travel in straight lines over long (i.e., non quantum) dist
ances, and they do travel at the speed of light on average. Therefore, this does
not imply the possi ility of superluminal information transmission.
There have een various reports in the popular press of experiments on faster th
an light transmission in optics—most often in the context of a kind of quantum tun
neling phenomenon. Usually, such reports deal with a phase velocity or group vel
ocity faster than the vacuum velocity of light. But, recall from a ove, that a s
uperluminal phase velocity cannot e used for faster than light transmission of
information. There has sometimes een confusion concerning the latter point.
Quantum teleportation transmits quantum information at whatever speed is used to
transmit the same amount of classical information, likely the speed of light. T
his quantum information may theoretically e used in ways that classical informa
tion can not, such as in quantum computations involving quantum information only
availa le to the recipient. In science fiction, quantum teleportation is either
used as a asis for teleportation of physical o jects at the speed of light, pr
esuma ly preserving some important aspect of the entanglement etween the partic
les of the o ject, or else is misrepresented as allowing faster than light commu
nication.
Hartman effect
Main article: Hartman effect
The Hartman effect is the tunnelling effect through a arrier where the tunnelli
ng time tends to a constant for large arriers.[44] This was first descri ed y
Thomas Hartman in 1962.[45] This could, for instance, e the gap etween two pri
sms. When the prisms are in contact, the light passes straight through, ut when
there is a gap, the light is refracted. There is a finite pro a ility that the
photon will tunnel across the gap rather than follow the refracted path. For lar
ge gaps etween the prisms the tunnelling time approaches a constant and thus th
e photons appear to have crossed with a superluminal speed.[46]
However, an analysis y Her ert Winful from the University of Michigan suggests
that the Hartman effect cannot actually e used to violate relativity y transmi
tting signals faster than c, ecause the tunnelling time "should not e linked t
o a velocity since evanescent waves do not propagate".[47]
Casimir effect
In physics, the Casimir effect or Casimir Polder force is a physical force exert
ed etween separate o jects due to resonance of vacuum energy in the intervening
space etween the o jects. This is sometimes descri ed in terms of virtual part
icles interacting with the o jects, due to the mathematical form of one possi le
way of calculating the strength of the effect. Because the strength of the forc
e falls off rapidly with distance, it is only measura le when the distance etwe
en the o jects is extremely small.
We can also quote the spectacular case of the thought experiment of Einstein, Po
dolski and Rosen (EPR paradox) which could e realized in experiments for the fi
rst time y Alain Aspect in 1981 and 1982 in the Aspect experiment. In this case
, the measurement of the state on one of the quantum systems of an entangled pai
r forces the other system to e measured in the complementary state. Thus functi
ons quantum teleportation.
An experiment performed in 1997 y Nicolas Gisin at the University of Geneva has
demonstrated nonlocal quantum correlations etween particles separated y over
10 kilometers.[48] But as noted earlier, the nonlocal correlations seen in entan
glement cannot actually e used to transmit classical information faster than li
ght, so that relativistic causality is preserved; see no communication theorem f
or further information. A 2008 quantum physics experiment also performed y Nico
las Gisin and his colleagues in Geneva, Switzerland has determined that the "spe
ed" of the quantum non local connection (what Einstein called spooky action at a
distance) is at least 10,000 times the speed of light.[49]
Delayed choice quantum eraser
Main article: Delayed choice quantum eraser
Delayed choice quantum eraser (an experiment of Marlan Scully) is a version of t
he EPR paradox in which the o servation or not of interference after the passage
of a photon through a dou le slit experiment depends on the conditions of o ser
vation of a second photon entangled with the first. The characteristic of this e
xperiment is that the o servation of the second photon can take place at a later
time than the o servation of the first photon, [50] which may give the impressi
on that the measurement of the later photons "retroactively" determines whether
the earlier photons show interference or not, although the interference pattern
can only e seen y correlating the measurements of oth mem ers of every pair a
nd so it can't e o served until oth photons have een measured, ensuring that
an experimenter watching only the photons going through the slit does not o tain
information a out the other photons in an FTL or ackwards in time manner.
Varia le speed of light
Main article: Varia le speed of light
In conventional physics, the speed of light in a vacuum is assumed to e a const
ant. There exist theories which postulate that the speed of light is not a const
ant. The interpretation of this statement is as follows.
The speed of light is a dimensional quantity and so, as has een emphasized in t
his context y João Magueijo, it cannot e measured.[51] Measura le quantities in
physics are, without exception, dimensionless, although they are often construct
ed as ratios of dimensional quantities. For example, when you measure the height
of a mountain you really measure the ratio of its height to the length of a met
erstick. The conventional SI system of units is ased on seven asic dimensional
quantities, namely distance, mass, time, electric current, thermodynamic temper
ature, amount of su stance, and luminous intensity.[52] These units are defined
to e independent and so cannot e descri ed in terms of each other. As an alter
native to using a particular system of units, one can reduce all measurements to
dimensionless quantities expressed in terms of ratios etween the quantities e
ing measured and various fundamental constants such as Newton's constant, the sp
eed of light and Planck's constant; physicists can define at least 26 dimensionl
ess constants which can e expressed in terms of these sorts of ratios and which
are currently thought to e independent of one another.[53] By manipulating the
asic dimensional constants one can also construct the Planck time, Planck leng
th and Planck energy which make a good system of units for expressing dimensiona
l measurements, known as Planck units.
Magueijo's proposal used a different set of units, a choice which he justifies w
ith the claim that some equations will e simpler in these new units. In the new
units he fixes the fine structure constant, a quantity which some people, using
units in which the speed of light is fixed, have claimed is time dependent. Thu
s in the system of units in which the fine structure constant is fixed, the o se
rvational claim is that the speed of light is time dependent.
While it may e mathematically possi le to construct such a system, it is not cl
ear what additional explanatory power or physical insight such a system would pr
ovide, assuming that it does indeed accord with existing empirical data.