Time Travel and its Paradoxes (an interactive introduction) Timothy Chambers April 2006
(A) Motivation (1) Quiz: In which source might we find the following declaration: “In short, general relativity suggests that if we construct a sufficiently large rotating cylinder, we create a time machine”? a. Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine b. Journal of Psychic Research c. Physical Review-D Answer (c):
Source: Frank J. Tipler, “Rotating Cylinders and the Possibility of Global Causality Violation” Phys Rev. D 9, 2203–2206 (1974) (Online at: http://prola.aps.org/abstract/PRD/v9/i8/p2203_1)
(2) So time machines would appear to be consistent with the “Field Equations for Einstein’s Relativity.” But what follows? (a) Optimist’s Argument
 If Einstein’s equations are (sufficiently) true and complete, then time travel is possible  Einstein’s equations are (sufficiently) true and complete. Thus, time travel is possible
(b) Pessimist’s Argument
 If Einstein’s equations are (sufficiently) true and complete, then time travel is possible * But time travel is impossible* Thus, Einstein’s equations are false/too “permissive”
(3) (Q) On what grounds do pessimists argue, a priori, that time travel is impossible?
(A) Answer: several (1) Time travel entails historical skepticism (which is absurd) (2) Time travel entails a false picture of time (3) Time travel entails paradoxes of “personal identity” (4) Time travel entails paradoxes of “causation/agency”
(B) A First Bundle of Time-Travel Paradoxes
(1) Should time travel’s believers be skeptical about our knowledge of the past?
 If time travel is possible, then it’s possible that there were people—time travelers—alive during the Triassic Age1  If it’s possible that there were people alive during the Triassic Age, then we don’t know that “the first people arose 2 million years ago” [C1] So, if Time Travel is possible, then we don’t know that the first people arose only 2 million years ago.  But of course we know that the first people arose only 2 million years ago! [C2] So, Time travel isn’t possible
(2) How could time travel make sense—there’s “Nowhen to go!”2
 If my friend, the Time Traveler, is now walking in the Triassic Age, then the Triassic Age now exists  But the Triassic Age is in the past  Past times no longer exist So, it’s impossible that my friend…is now walking in the Triassic Age
(3) Time Travel entails contradictions of “personal identity”3
 If time travel is possible, then it’s possible that I go back to 1979, and visit New York City  But Tim lived in Wisconsin in 1979 [C1] So, if time travel is possible, then it’s possible for Tim to be in two places at once  But it’s impossible for a person to be in two places at once [C2] Thus, time travel is impossible
Here, I allude to H.G. Wells’ famous line: “[My friend, the time traveler] may even now—if I may use the phrase—be wandering on some plesiosaurus-haunted Oolitic coral reef, or beside the lonely saline lakes of the Triassic Age.” From: “Epilogue,” The Time Machine (1898 ed.) Online at: http://www.bartleby.com /1000/ 2 A recent airing of the paradox appears in William Grey, “Troubles With Time Travel” Philosophy 74 (1999): 55–70 3 This paradox is famously aired and explained in David Lewis’s classic, “The Paradoxes of Time Travel” American Philosophical Quarterly 13 (1976): 145-152.
(C) The Grandfather Paradox
(1) The Basic Worry: “Consider Tom. He detests his grandfather, whose success in
munitions trade built the family fortune that paid for Tom’s time machine. Tom would like nothing so much as to kill Grandfather, but alas he is too late. Grandfather died in his bed in 1957, while Tom was a young boy. But when Tom has built his time machine and traveled to 1920, suddenly he realizes that he is not too late after all. He buys a rifle…and there he lurks, one winter day in 1921, rifle loaded, hate in his heart as Grandfather walks closer, closer….”4
(2) The Worry, Step-by-Step:
 If time travel is possible, then Tom can put himself in the vicinity of his Grandfather in 1921.  If Tom can put himself in the vicinity of his Grandfather in 1921, then Tom can bring it about that his Grandfather dies a childless man.  If Tom brings it about that his Grandfather dies a childless man, then Tom wouldn’t exist;  But Tom can bring it about that his Grandfather dies a childless man only if he does exist. So, since time travel’s possibility implies a contradiction—i.e., that Tom both exists and doesn’t exist—then time travel is impossible.
(3) Responses to the paradox:
(a) Premise  is false—while time travel is a physical possibility, it’s not an engineering possibility. (Or: something will always crop up from preventing Tim from building his time machine.) (b) Premise  is false—no matter how propitious Tom’s situation is, something will crop up to prevent his killing Grandfather
(c) Premise  are false—the Multiverse Model5
(D) For Further Reading… (1) Paul J. Nahin, Time Machines: Time Travel in Physics, Metaphysics, and Science Fiction, 2nd Edn (American Institute of Physics Press: NY, 1999). Worth the price just for the Bibliography. An engineer, Nahin offers many helpful “tech notes” to explain the mathematics/physics to the uninitiated. His philosophical method is rather blunt, though.
From Lewis, op cit., page 149. For more, see David Deutsch and Murray Lockwood, “The Quantum Physics of Time Travel,” Scientific American (March 1994).