Can one get trapped in the space/time continuum?

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pnrjulius eNotes educator| Certified Educator

At one particular point in the spacetime continuum? No. That point would have to be a singularity, and they either don't exist at all or exist only at the cores of black holes. (We're still fuzzy on that point because black holes are weird and we still can't get General Relativity and quantum mechanics to work together consistently.)

But can you be stuck in the spacetime continuum? Well, yeah; everything is! The spacetime continuum is just... space and time. If something is somewhere at some time, that thing is in the spacetime continuum. And as far as we know, there is no way to make something not in space and time. (Abstract concepts such as "algebra" and "liberty" arguably aren't, but they aren't exactly things, either.)

The reason we use "spacetime" instead of just space and time has been alluded to above; based on Einstein's theories of Special and General Relativity we now know that time isn't the same for everyone everywhere. My time slows down, from your perspective, when I move relative to you. (Your time also slows down relative to my perspective---both can work because we don't actually agree on what constitutes "right now"!) My time also slows down relative to you (and we both agree on that) if I am under stronger gravity than you. Both of these effects are extremely weak at normal speeds and normal gravity, but as you approach the speed of light or get near a black hole they become very important.

As a result of these effects, time isn't something that's constant across all observers. Neither is space, which also changes with motion and gravity. But spacetime, it turns out, is. If you define the distance between two objects in spacetime as the usual Pythagorean distance `sqrt{x^2 + y^2+ z^2}` with one extra term for time, this is an invariant "distance" (the spacetime metric) that all observers agree on: `s = sqrt{x^2 + y^2 + z^2 - c^2 t^2}`

To clarify, no, as far as we know, time travel is impossible. If it is possible, it's not simply a matter of going faster than the speed of light (which is probably impossible) or going "really slowly" (which doesn't even make sense). It would most likely require some sort of wormhole, a connection between two distant points in spacetime that would allow instantaneous travel between them. And as far as we know, wormholes are either impossible or would destabilize in a billionth of the blink of an eye.

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bandmanjoe eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In a manner of speaking, you already are.  The space time continuum incorporates three-dimensional space with one dimensional time, so instead of having space or time, we have space-time.  In space-time, objects that are in motion experience time at a slower rate than those that are motionless.  In Einstein's theory of relativity, if we could move at a rate close to the speed of light (300,000,000 meters per second), we could dramatically slow the rate of time.  

It might be said that space-time does not grow, develop or evolve. Space-time, like a wave-particle, is a continuity that has instants or scope.  Anything that exists is fixed somewhere along this linear measurement known as space-time.  When we read about important figures in world history, they existed at that particular moment of space-time.  We exist at our fixed places in space-time.  Those who will come after us will exist at their fixed places in space time acting like particles in a wave-particle.

If you are speaking of time travel, Einstein addressed that as well.  If we could travel faster than the speed of light, theoretically, we should be able to travel into the future.  If we go slower (much slower) than the speed of light, we theoretically should be able to go into the past.  Of course, this is all dependent on manipulating speeds much faster than technology is capable of, and, as a result, is theoretical conjecture. 

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