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Tachyonic antitelephone

A tachyonic antitelephone is a hypothetical device in by:
theoretical physics that could be used to send signals into
one’s own past. Albert Einstein in 1907[1][2] presented a
thought experiment of how faster-than-light signals can B−A
∆t = t1 − t0 = .
lead to a paradox of causality, which was described by a
Einstein and Arnold Sommerfeld in 1910 as a means “to
Here, the event at A is the cause of the event at B. How-
telegraph into the past”.[3] The same thought experiment
ever, in the inertial frame moving with relative velocity v,
was described by Richard Chace Tolman in 1917;[4] thus,
the time of arrival at B is given according to the Lorentz
it is also known as Tolman’s paradox.
A device capable of “telegraphing into the past” was
later also called a “tachyonic antitelephone” by Gregory
Benford et al. According to the current understanding ′ ′ ′ t1 − vB/c2 t0 − vA/c2
of physics, no such faster-than-light transfer of informa- ∆t = t 1 − t 0 = √ − √
1 − v 2 /c2 1 − v 2 /c2
tion is actually possible. For instance, the hypothetical
tachyon particles which give the device its name do not 1 − av/c2
=√ ∆t.
exist even theoretically in the standard model of particle 1 − v 2 /c2
physics, due to tachyon condensation, and there is no ex-
It can be easily shown that if a > c, then certain values of
perimental evidence that suggests that they might exist.
v can make Δt' negative. In other words, the effect arises
The problem of detecting tachyons via causal contradic-
[5] before the cause in this frame. Einstein (and similarly
tions was treated scientifically.
Tolman) concluded that this result contains in their view
no logical contradiction; he said, however, it contradicts
the totality of our experience so that the impossibility of
1 One-way example a > c seems to be sufficiently proven.[1]

2 Two-way example
A more common variation of this thought experiment is
to send back the signal to the sender (a similar one was
given by David Bohm[7] ). Suppose Alice (A) is on a
spacecraft moving away from the Earth in the positive
x-direction with a speed v , and she wants to commu-
nicate with Bob (B) back home. Assume both of them
have a device that is capable of transmitting and receiv-
ing faster-than-light signals at a speed of a c with a > 1
. Alice uses this device to send a message to Bob, who
sends a reply back. Let us choose the origin of the co-
ordinates of Bob’s reference frame, S , to coincide with
This was illustrated in 1911 by Paul Ehrenfest using a Minkowski
the reception of Alice’s message to him. If Bob immedi-
diagram. Signals are sent in frame B1 into the opposite directions ately sends a message back to Alice, then in his rest frame
OP and ON with a velocity approaching infinity. Here, event the coordinates of the reply signal (in natural units so that
O happens before N. However, in another frame B2, event N c=1) are given by:
happens before O.[6]

Tolman used the following variation of Einstein’s thought (t, x) = (t, at)
experiment:[1][4] Imagine a distance with endpoints A and
B . Let a signal be sent from A propagating with velocity To find out when the reply is received by Alice, we per-
a towards B. All of this is measured in an inertial frame form a Lorentz transformation to Alice’s frame S ′ moving
where the endpoints are at rest. The arrival at B is given in the positive x-direction with velocity v with respect to


time t = 0 in her frame.8×0) = 500 in Alice’s frame.2 3 NUMERICAL EXAMPLE WITH TWO-WAY COMMUNICATION the Earth. Comparing the coordinates in each frame.8c for 450 days. x′ = γ (a − v) t When Bob receives Alice’s message. So. The coordinates of the reply = 360. imagine that Alice and Bob are aboard frame.6×450 = 270 days have elapsed when he re- t′ = γ (1 − av) t ceives the message. the same event must have the following x′. t′ = 270. ordinates in Bob’s frame: At some point they pass right next to each other. in Bob’s frame the event of Alice sending the message she uses the tachyon transmitter to send a message to Bob. t′ co- spaceships moving inertially with a relative speed of 0. it should now be at po- t′ = L a−v sition x′ = −2. and Alice is 1−(v/c) 1 moving in the negative x′ direction at 0. he immediately uses The reply is received by Alice when x′ = L .6)×(0 − 0. ate some bad shrimp” until 300 days elapsed since she passed Bob. she should now be at position x′ = −0. t of some event in Alice’s As an example.4c 1 − av in the −x′ direction for 135 days. The Lorentz transformation says that if we know the coordinates x. happens at position x′ = (1/0.6.Bob’s frame that were found in the earlier paragraph. t = 450. I just ate some bad shrimp”. 3 Numerical example with two-way These numbers can be double-checked using the Lorentz communication transformation. x = γ (x − vt) vious section. so Bob’s clock only shows that 0. she calculates that since the tachyon sig.− 0. Each one also and γ = 0. t′ = 405. Time dilation for inertial observers is symmetrical.6. Likewise. In Alice’s frame. ing Alice’s message happens at position x′ = (1/0.6)×(450 − days in her frame. and Bob is moving in the positive x direction at 0. while and light-days for distance.8×405 reach him. t When Alice’s clock shows that 300 days have elapsed = 450. which sends ing the message happens at x = 0. by the same factor of 0. the message she receives back from him will = −324 light-days as well. This means that 2a she receives a message from Bob saying “Don't eat the later than she sent her message.8×450) = 0 light-days. in his frame Alice receives reach her at time: his reply at x′ = −324.days. Due to the effects of time dilation. event of Bob receiving a tachyon signal from Alice). meaning that in his frame he receives it at x′ = 0. which are the same coordinates for from her at 0. in her signal are given by: frame√ Bob is aging more slowly than she is by a factor of γ 1 = 1 − (v/c)2 . and since Bob has been traveling away 0.4c in the ship’s own frame. and time t′ = (1/0.8c.4×135 = −324 light-days in his frame. if v > 1+a 2 shrimp!" only 243 days after she passed Bob. of Bob receiving Alice’s message happens at x = 360.8c. at t′ = 270 + 135 = 405. frame he remains at rest at position x′ = 0.4c for 150 days. in Bob’s frame the event of Bob receiv- nal has been traveling away from her at 2.8×300) = −400 saying “Ugh.8×450 = 360 light-days in her frame as well.6)×(300 − 0. In this case v=0. in this case 0.4×150 = 360 light. he should now be at po. I just Bob before she sends her message to him in the first place. in Bob’s γ = √ 1 2 is the Lorentz factor. and Al- ice defines the position and time of their passing to be at ( vx ) position x = 0. Using the Lorentz transformation. we see that in . so L ′ 1 1 − av Alice’s clock should only show that 0.6 . However.8c. where the origin of the coordinates was the Where v is Bob’s speed along the x-axis in Alice’s frame.8c in the −x direction Since the message Alice sent to Bob took a time of La to for 405 days. In c is the speed of light (we are using units of days for time Alice’s frame she remains at rest at position x = 0. he calculates that since the tachyon signal has been traveling away from him at 2. So. in her frame Bob receives Alice’s message at x traversed in her rest frame. In this frame Alice is at rest at position x′ = L meaning that this is the moment the signal catches up with . At t = 450 days light-days. and the event out signals that move at 2.6×405 = 243 days T = +t = + L a a a−v have elapsed when she receives his reply. t = 300. the event of Alice send- has a tachyon transmitter aboard their ship. and time t′ = (1/0. while Bob defines t′ = γ t − 2 it to be at position x′ = 0 and time t′ = 0 in his frame (note c ′ that this is different from the convention used in the pre. where L is the distance that the signal Alice sent to Earth Bob. while she then T < 0 and Alice will receive the message back from wasn't supposed to send the message saying “Ugh. we find that since she passed next to Bob (t = 300 days in her frame).8c. so in these units c = 1). and since Alice has been traveling at 0.8×360) = 270 days. so in Bob’s frame Alice is ag- ( ) ing more slowly than he is. so Bob’s reply constitutes a warning about her own future. This means his own tachyon transmitter to send a message back to L that t = γ(a−v) and thus: Alice saying “Don't eat the shrimp!" 135 days later in his frame. sition x = 0.6)×(360 it should now be at position x = 2.

in that case it could theoretically be possible to [1] Einstein.branching timelines in the context of the many-worlds in- dently Bob’s reply does move forward in time in his own terpretation. earlier paragraph). 4: 411– possibly remove such paradoxes. a feature of send a message at three o'clock if and only if relativity which has no analogue in classical physics.6)×(243 − 0. If the event of Alice receiving Bob’s They concluded that superluminal particles such as reply happens at x′ = 0. ately on receiving one from A at three o'clock. Suppose A and order of the events of the signal being sent and received is B enter into the following agreement: A will an example of the relativity of simultaneity.[5] wrote about such paradoxes in general. in Alice’s frame Bob’s • Steins.4c in one frame.In recent decades. concept of a tachyonic antitelephone as calculated using the Lorentz transformation. and likewise • Ansible if one frame can observe a signal that moves backwards in time.739c. • All You Need Is Kill. there have been various proposed ways formation. position)/(difference in time) = 360/150 = 2. a South Park episode featuring a “time up with the times given in earlier paragraphs. a message to reach A at one o'clock immedi- munication must necessarily lead to causality violation. t′ = 243 in her frame (as in the tachyons are therefore not allowed to convey signals. This sort of possibility for symmetric tachyon signals is necessary if tachyons are to respect the first of the two postulates of special relativity. and Novikov self-consistency principle or through the idea of at time t′ = (1/0. since the time it was sent was t′ = 270 and the time it was received was t′ = 405. In Bob’s offering a scenario in which two parties are able to send frame. Alice’s signal moves back in time (he received it at a message one hour into the past: t′ = 270. This is a nates of his sending the reply can be assumed to be the genuine paradox. . a visual novel dealing with the concept signal moves backwards in time (she received it before he of a tachyonic antitelephone sent it). 3 Alice’s frame her tachyon signal moves forwards in time 4 Paradoxes (she sent it at an earlier time than Bob received it). either by invoking the sition x′' = (1/0. exactly the same as the speed of Alice’s original signal in her own frame. and it has a (difference in position)/(difference in time) of 360/207.[9] a has a comic which explores the possible to move forward in time at 2. a light novel dealing with the Thus the times of sending and receiving in each frame. And in his frame (difference in position)/(difference in time) for his signal is 324/135 5 In popular culture = 2.4c. and he does not receive one at one o'clock.6)×(0 − 0. So evi. so the coordi. made explicit use of the Lorentz transformation. in Bob’s frame Alice receives his reply at po. "Über das Relativitätsprinzip und avoid causality violations. The fact that the two frames disagree about the munication are well known.739c. about 1. B sends which is key to understanding why in relativity FTL com. which says that all laws of physics must 6 See also work exactly the same in all inertial frames. Albert (1907). and it has a (differ- ence in position)/(difference in time) of 400/230. Then the exchange of messages will take place neously after receiving Alice’s message. then according to the Lorentz trans. if tachyons were allowed to have 7 References a “preferred frame” in violation of the first postulate of relativity. any other frame must be able to observe such • Temporal paradox a phenomenon as well. frame. but it was sent at t′ = 500). match • Go God Go. if and only if it does not take place. Retrieved 2 August 2015. And by using the Lorentz transformation we can see that the two • Prince of Darkness. This is another key idea in un- derstanding why FTL communication leads to causality violation in relativity. a causal contradiction. before we phone”.4c.4c. Bob is assumed to have sent his reply almost instanta. and between being sent and received we have (difference in Benford et al. about The paradoxes of backward-in-time com- 1. a horror film where warnings are tachyon signals behave symmetrically in each observer’s sent from the future via tachyon transmissions frame: the observer who sends a given signal measures it • xkcd.8×0) = 405 days. This implies that if it’s possible to send a signal at 2. t′ = 270 in Bob’s frame. same: x = 360.[8] die aus demselben gezogenen Folgerungen” [On the rela- tivity principle and the conclusions drawn from it] (PDF).739c. t = 450 in Alice’s frame.8×243) = −324 light-days. the observer who receives uses of a tachyonic antitelephone it measures it to move back in time at 1. it • Grandfather paradox must be possible in any other frame as well. Jahrbuch der Radioaktivität und Elektronik. and x′ = 0. Likewise.

2: 263–265. Albert Einstein’s special theory of rel- ativity. Benjamin. D. Reading: Addison–Wesley. . Igna- towsky’s Treatment of Born’s Definition of Rigidity II]. “Velocities greater than that of light”. [7] David Bohm. John. p.I. doi:10. doi:10. ISBN 0-201-04679-2 [4] R. The theory of the Relativity of Motion.2. 1965 [8] Kowalczyński.263. Princeton: Princeton University Press.A. xkcd. Retrieved 2017-03-01. Bibcode:1970PhRvD. OCLC 13129939. Cassidy.1007/BF02080670. The Collected Papers of Al- bert Einstein. Renn. Springer Science+Business Me- dia. [9] “xkcd: Local News”. L. 12: 412–413. [5] Gregory Benford. et al. Book. “Zu Herrn v. Bibcode:1984IJTP. “The Tachyonic Antitelephone”.2.. A.263B. 252. The Special Theory of Relativity.. 23 (1): 27–60. P. Physical Re- view D. Jerzy (January 1984).. Volume 2: The Swiss Years: Writings. (1981). (1911). Emergence (1905) and early interpretation (1905– 1911).1103/PhysRevD.. A. New York: W. Jürgen... C. In Stachel. Retrieved 2 August 2015. Ignatowskys Behand- lung der Bornschen Starrheitsdefinition II” [On v. Albert (1990). University of California Press. “On the relativity principle and the conclusions drawn from it”. Newcomb (1970).. 54.27K. Physikalische Zeitschrift. p.4 7 REFERENCES [2] Einstein. International Journal of The- oretical Physics.23.. David C. Tolman (1917). 1900- 1909. [6] Ehrenfest. [3] Miller. “Critical com- ments on the discussion about tachyonic causal paradoxes and on the concept of superluminal reference frame”.com. ISBN 9780691085265. W.

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