Temporal Physics/Engineering 404: Retrograde Causal Time Travel

Instructor: Galen T. Pickett

Desk: HSTS 204

Working hours: MWF 10–10:50

The class meets: MWF 11–11:50, HSTS 100

Welcome to Phys/TempE 404: Retrograde Causal Time Travel! This is a required course in the upper division of the physics program at Miskatonic State Institute of Technology. Many of you are also taking this course as an advanced elective in your temporal engineering programs — welcome to the Department of Physics (and give up hope!). My office is on the second floor of the Hall of Science and Temporal Studies. When my door is open please feel free to stop by for any issues – related to classes, science or why there are portals built into every stairwell leading to the second floor spilling you to the first stage. Seriously, during office hours: WADA — ask me anything — but only during office hours and only in my office, please and thank you in advance!

In this course, we will explore the basics of ordinary space-time travel in “past” and “future” cones of light. In your elementary courses, you explored the causal structure of ordinary spacetime. Niven’s theorem is the basis for the conclusion you should have drawn from this course of study, namely: “Any universe in which arbitrary time travel is possible will spontaneously destroy any condition in which this mechanism is discovered or used.”

We will explore practical violations of Niven’s theorem. Namely, you will be happy to know that well over half of the students who attempt to take this course will get a passing grade! Ultimately! At some point, either in the distant future, the distant past, and, for some of you, right now!

As the final project is to create a time machine using what you have learned in this course and materials from the Undergraduate Project Lab, you will be required to sign the attached liability waiver indemnifying the institute (and your humble teacher) if your work accidentally (or deliberately) obliterates your existence, the existence of the institute, or perhaps the Universe itself.

The textbook we will have used this semester will be published in just over 100 years: The Shadow Out of Time: Principles of Time-like Closed Orbits in Spacetime (2nd edition) by a giant in our field, co-winner of the 1963 Nobel Prize and former member of our department, Professor Howard Lovecraft. The bookstore had several copies of this book two years ago, but if you can get your hands on the 4th edition, you can definitely use it. Several problems in Chapter 5 will have been numbered differently in the 4th edition than in the 2nd, so you’ll need to consult your classmates if you have a later edition of the book. The 3rd and 1st editions do not exist (see Niven’s Law), so anyone who intends to use them will earn an additional 10% credit bonus on each problem set I assigned last semester.

We’ve had a total of eight problem sets in this course, each of which is due today at 4 p.m. in the drop box of our on-campus learning management system, ChalkboardHole. I know you are now used to the unreasonable demands we place on MSIT students. We ask you to “sip water from a fire hose” regularly, but I’m sure you’ll be able to complete the bulk of the work and submit it before the deadline. As our school motto says: No brainy, ergo no Civis sumor, ‘If you can’t figure this out for yourself, you don’t belong here’, which, rendered student-vulgarly in the graffito crypts of Randolph Carter Hall, yields ‘only life can kill you’ and ‘IHTFP’.

The final exam was held last month, and I uploaded your final grades to ChalkboardHole where you can inspect them. Some of you may have counseling questions, such as “how did I fail a course I haven’t taken yet?” This is of course a completely natural question.

If you have any further questions about your grades or the allocation of points, please do not hesitate to contact me by e-mail. I receive thousands of e-mails every day, from the distant future and the past: from 1700s crackpots asking me to look at their heartbreaking manuscript, the Principia Mathematica, to the veiled and not-so-veiled threats from cosmic beings of immeasurable power who are hurting us – or would if I did not immediately take advantage of their latest investment opportunity. One of them, the bursar of the institute, will certainly be in contact with each of you. Answer those emails. Please.

The medium-term project involves the fairly minor task of sending a message to your great-grandparents asking them to open a paid account with the institute. A passing grade on the midterm project will almost certainly fund all of your MSIT education.

My policy regarding late or missing assignments is complete the final project. No late work will be accepted for credit. The only exception to this policy is for the final project. Completing your time machine will earn you an arbitrarily long extension. But I doubt you need it in this case.

Anyone wishing to drop out of the course could also, as part of the mid-term project, send themselves the appropriate message two weeks ago.

I hope you have enjoyed this semester, I have been looking forward to it, and with hindsight, for quite some time.

The story behind the story

Galen T. Pickett reveals the inspiration behind Temporal Physics/Engineering 404: Retrograde Causal Time Travel.

While in spring the thoughts of young people may turn slightly to thoughts of love, my thoughts in late summer invariably turn to thoughts of “dear me, where has all the time gone… I have to prepare my program!” The end point of the panicked realization that I was (again) out of time was a daydream of a program you see here.

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