Cosmic strings, wormholes and black holes: what scientists know about time travel and teleportation

How do time travel and teleportation look from the point of view of modern science and will they ever be possible (sproiler: yes)?

Forbes publishes an excerpt from the book “What the Future Looks Like,” which Alpina non-fiction publishes in late November.

 In the book, a team of authors led by the British theoretical physicist Jim Al-Khalili tries to answer the question of what humanity will face in the future. 

How will the climate change, what will be the transport and what will happen if artificial intelligence takes over us? 

Will people be happier with pills and healthier with individual DNA treatments? What miracles of technology can we expect? 

What revolutions in everyday life? Forbes publishes the final chapter of the book on the distant future. In it, Al-Khalili tries to answer the question of whether time travel and teleportation are possible.


The basic idea of teleportation is to transfer matter from one point to another without having to overcome the physical space between them. It can often be found in science fiction books, films and video games. And she got there earlier than you think.

As far as we know, the very first mention of a teleportation device is contained in the book by Edward Page Mitchell, “A Man Without a Body,” written in 1877: it tells about a scientist who invents a machine that can decompose a living person’s body into atoms and then send them, like electric current, through wires to some receiving device that provides reunion. The most surprising thing is that the book appeared not only before the discovery of the electron, but even before a clear explanation of the nature of the atoms themselves.

Fast forward half a century, in 1929, when Arthur Conan Doyle published a story entitled «Disintegration Machine» about a device that can divide matter into parts, and then recreate it in its original form. One of the characters in the story asks the question: “Are you able to imagine the process by which you, the organic being, <…> gradually dissolve in space, and then, thanks to the reverse change in conditions, reappear?” Two years later, the American writer Charles Fort first introduced the teleportation neologism to explain the mysterious disappearances of people and objects and their alleged appearance elsewhere. The fort attributed this type of incident to the number of anomalies along with mysterious supernatural and paranormal phenomena that could not be explained in the framework of the generally accepted scientific picture of the world. Thanks to the interest of the writer, a whole class of “Fortean phenomena” appeared.

The modern idea of a teleportation device became public property in 1958 with the release of the sci-fi horror movie The Fly, in which a scientist inadvertently mixes fly genes with his DNA into a teleportation booth. However, the most famous and long-lived artistic embodiment of the idea of teleportation for many people around the world was the «transporter» aboard the starship Enterprise, and the phrase one of the heroes said before teleporting — «teleport me, Scotty» — has become almost winged. When the image of such a device appeared in the head of the creator of the Star Trek series Gene Roddenberry in the mid-1960s, he was motivated by a desire to save on special effects: to show how the characters first disappear in a special compartment, and then appear immediately on the surface of the planet, it was much cheaper and easier than portraying the descent from the Enterprise on some space shuttles.

This, of course, is all very curious, but what can serious science say about this? The idea of transferring matter from one place to another without having to overcome the distance between two points may seem ridiculous, but in fact there is nothing unusual in it, provided, of course, that you go down to the level of quantum interactions. In a process called quantum tunneling, subatomic particles such as electrons “jump” from one point to another when they don’t have enough energy.

For clarity, we can give an example of a ball that is thrown into the wall and which disappears, and then reappears on the other side of the wall without any consequences for it. There is absolutely nothing fantastic about this. Moreover, the radiance of our Sun, and therefore the maintenance of life on Earth, is possible only due to the fact that hydrogen atoms are able to connect with each other due to the tunnel effect, despite the presence of a seemingly irresistible force field between them.

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