The final chapter of the X-Men’s 50th anniversary story dropped last week, concluding the timestream-spanning fracas that was “Battle of the Atom.” Well, really, the issue has always existed and always will exist. Our perception of forward flow is an illusion and all of time exists eternally and simultaneously, just like all of space. That’s if you believe the relativistic arguments of physicists like Brian Greene, Sean Carroll, Adam Frank and Einstein himself. Find out more in this video, taken from the PBS adaptation of Greene’s book, “Fabric of the Cosmos.”
That’s a mind-numbing potential reality that could not only sink trivial things like free will and control over one’s destiny, but it also scuttles a good time travel story. Although really, there aren’t many that make a lot of sense. The tale of the five original X-Men being transported to the present, where they mingle with their current selves, is especially thorny. “Battle of the Atom” hinges on whether they should be sent back or not, ignoring just how impossible that would be. Turns out getting here (now?) was the easy part.
Traveling to the future is possible (kind of), but you probably can’t just pop in out of thin air. From ‘All New X-Men’ #2
Pick Up the Pace
The simplest way to get to the future is to do nothing. We’re all passing “through” time at the same rate when we’re at rest. My kind of journey; one you can take sitting on your ass.
But we’re never truly at rest. The Earth revolves around the Sun at a speed of about 100,000 miles per hour, and the whole solar system itself flies through the galaxy at rates almost 7 times that. Constant velocity, according to Einstein, is the same as being at rest, but the fact we’re changing directions (making revolutions instead of straight lines) makes those motions accelerations. And one thing we know for sure from relativity is objects undergoing accelerations “pass” through time at different “speeds.”
Sorry Mr. Traveler, you won’t get anywhere just sitting there. No sooner than the rest of us, anyway.
Can’t Go Home Again
Sending someone BACK in time is significantly more difficult, as the future mutants found out when they tried to return their teenage counterparts in Uncanny X-Men #8. But wait, how did THEY do it, then?
‘Battle of the Atom’ #1
But wait – the rule is that you can’t travel THROUGH space faster than light. What if space ITSELF is being spun around and accelerated? Back to the black hole! Maybe there are some so massive, rotating so rapidly, that they drag spacetime around them, like a spinning top in molasses, so you could achieve faster than light speed through the back door. Entirely theoretical, and you’d probably be torn apart.
Cyclops narrowly avoids being erased from history. From ‘Battle of the Atom’ #1.
That’s sort of solved if you follow Hugh Everett’s many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, in which every physical possibility (every mathematically viable solution to the quantum wave function) is realized somewhere, creating an infinite number of alternate universes. A traveler to the past could just end up in (or start another) one of those other universes. Most physicists don’t ascribe to Everett’s idea, though, and just about everyone agrees it would be impossible to test.
A Glimpse into the Future
I won’t even get into the wonkiness proffered by director Bryan Singer to explain Wolverine’s consciousness being sent back in time in 2014’s Days of Future Past film. He recently told Empire Magazine, “The principle I looked at is this theory that until an object is observed, it hasn’t really happened yet. The time-traveler whose consciousness travels through time I call The Observer, and until The Observer returns to where he travelled from, the result hasn’t occurred yet.”
He’s doing what now? How’s that?
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