The notion of time travel has long captivated our kind. It has been a fixture in science fiction and fantasy stories for years, but what if it was the case that it was not only possible, but that someone had already created such amazing devices? Believe it or not, there are indeed individuals who have come forward claiming that they have done just that, and proclaimed that not only have they solved the puzzle to making time travel a reality, but that they have already pursued and in some cases even succeeded in constructing such machines. I am not going to lie to you, the world of supposed real time machines is a decidedly bizarre one, one that undoubtedly is bound to raise a few eyebrows, and which is likely populated by its fair share of quackery, but it is regardless a fascinating one that stirs the imagination and invites deep speculation on some of the questions that have remained entrenched within our consciousness. Is time travel possible, and more importantly has it already made progress, even been achieved? If the following cases have any truth at all then the answers to those are "yes," "yes," and "yes."
Perhaps the most well known of the ones we will be looking at was a device supposedly developed by at the Vatican in the 1950s called the “Chronovisor.” The device was not so much a time machine in the traditional sense that you could walk into it and physically travel to other ages, but it was supposedly the next best thing. Allegedly looking somewhat like a TV set with various switches and dials upon it, the Chronovisor purportedly allows its user to see events from history on the screen as if they have been recorded on a videotape, and to even photograph these glimpses through the centuries. The machine is even claimed to be able to see events that will happen in the future.
Supposedly, this device was created by a team of scientists led by a Father Pellegrino Maria Ernetti, an Italian priest who also happened to be a physicist, along with supposedly the help of Nobel laureate Enrico Fermi and the well-respected rocket scientist Wernher von Braun. According to Ernetti, the idea for the machine had come to him as he had been studying the harmonics of Gregorian chants along with a Father Agostino Gemelli at the Catholic University of Milan, when they happened to at one point apparently tune into the clear, unmistakeable voice of Gemelli’s late father, which Gemelli would confirm. This had convinced Ernetti that perhaps events did not just happen and cease to exist, but were rather etched upon time and space forever, stored somehow like sound or video onto a tape. It was this idea that would become the cornerstone for the project to create the Chronovisor, which according to the team of scientists working on it was successful.
Although there was much skepticism when the alleged existence of the machine came to public awareness in the 1970s due to articles in various Italian newspapers, Ernetti insisted that it was real even as he remained totally secretive about it. Very little detail was given on how the machine had been created or how it worked, except Ernetti’s cryptic description that it functioned by “processing residual electromagnetic radiation left over by numerous processes,” and that the device could potentially allow the viewer to tune into any event that had happened throughout history, as they were still out there replaying and floating perpetually through time and space.
Among the many historical and Biblical events and figures Ernetti claimed to have witnessed on the Chronovisor were the French conqueror Napoleon, the Roman philosopher Cicero, the founding of Rome in 753 B.C., the Roman poet Quintus Ennius's play Thyestes, which had allowed them to reconstruct lost pieces of the famous work, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and even the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. It is all very impressive if real, but Ernetti would later claim that he had had the device dismantled out of fear that it could be used by nefarious parties for evil, although it has long been rumored to still exist somewhere in the Vatican. For their part, the Vatican has never really confirmed nor denied the existence of the Chronovisor, however, there was an interesting decree made in 1988 that said anyone using such a device would be promptly excommunicated, which seems like a strange thing to say if such a device were not at least believed to be perhaps real.
This all might sound like a bunch of hogwash, and indeed Ernetti never did show the actual device to anyone to prove his astounding stories, but it must be remembered that he was no quack. He was actually a very respected clergyman, scientist, academic and author, who was most well-known for his pioneering research on chants, archaic music and acoustics. It seems strange that he would risk his well-established reputation by making up wild and fantastical stories of peering into the past and future through a time machine device. Even so, the “proof” he did try to put forward was unconvincing to say the least, most notably a photograph supposedly of Christ on the cross that turned out to be mostly viewed as a fake, although to his credit Ernetti suggested that there had actually really been such a photo but that the real one had been destroyed when the machine was taken apart. When this supposed fake came to light, Ernetti mostly stopped talking about the Chronovisor until his death in 1994, but up to his dying day he was adamant that the machine really did exist and really did work.
Weirdly, according to law graduate, author and time travel researcher Alfred Lambremont Webre, as far back as the 1960s the Vatican was supposedly subcontracting and sharing the technology with the CIA and possibly the British MI5 and MI6. According to Webre, this technology was called “quantum access,” and involved the ability to look through time using a device like the Chronovisor. Webre has written a whole book on these devices, entitled Omniverse. As incredible as this might all sound, Webre also makes claims that the Vatican helped found the CIA, and that MI5 and MI6 have also for centuries been “creatures of the Vatican secret service,” as well as claiming that Americans are being teleported to a secret base on Mars, so these claims of “quantum access” have remained pretty dubious and controversial to say the least.
Ernetti is certainly not the only one who has claimed to hold the secret to crafting a time travel device, and there is actually a surprising number of people who are apparently working on such machines, often in their own garages and some of whom have claimed success. One theoretical physicist from the University of Connecticut by the name of Ronald Mallett has spent years trying to build an actual time machine. His obsession with creating such a device started way back in 1955, when Mallett’s beloved father tragically died of a heart attack and set him on a path to one day hoping to build a time machine so that they could be reunite, which would become a full blown obsession that would shape his life. Mallett has said of this:
I would say it was fair to call what I was doing an obsession. I was obsessed with wanting to see my father again. I was obsessed with trying to find out how one could control time. Everything that I became, the whole of my personality, everything about being a physicist, was based on my love for my father, and my desire to see him again. I had a mission. My goal was to figure out how to build the time machine. My whole existence, who I am, is due to the death of my father, and my promise to myself to figure out how to affect time with Einstein’s work as a foundation.
Mallett became convinced that time travel was in fact possible, and went about work on a machine that could utilize lasers to create gravitational fields through which to travel through time, which he says are supported by Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. The specifics are complicated to say the least, involving “weak and strong gravitational fields produced by a single continuously circulating unidirectional beam of light,” and “field equations for the exterior and interior gravitational fields of the light cylinder,” but the important thing here is that Mallett was sure that it was possible and that he could build it. Indeed, he claims that although he has not been successful yet, he has an advanced equation which he says proves that his envisioned machine is at least theoretically possible, and he has said:
By using a circulating beam of laser light, I have been able to mathematically show that this can lead to a twisting of space and time. By twisting time into a loop, it could be possible to travel back in time.
Mallett mostly long toiled away on his machine in secret out of fear of being ridiculed by his peers, but in recent years has become more open about his efforts, which has stirred up quite a lot of interest and raised more than a few eyebrows in the media. His plight has even been the subject of a documentary called How To Build A Time Machine, and he has written his own book on his controversial work called Time Traveler: A Scientist's Personal Mission to Make Time Travel a Reality. However, he has hit a few hurdles along the way. First is funding, with his envisioned machine estimated as perhaps needing at least $250,000 to build a working prototype. Another is that the technology needed for realizing his dream simply doesn’t exist yet. Also is that even if his theory and equations are correct, it likely only means that he would be able to travel back to the point when the machine was actually switched on, making a reunion with his father quite impossible.
Mallett has even speculated that this is why we have not seen time travelers yet, because the first one simply still hasn’t been built and turned on, and has said of this, “When the first time machine is turned on it will be possible for our descendants to contact us but we will not be able to contact our ancestors.” He surmises that the machine would still be useful for sharing information back into the past to do things such as warn of disasters or give other important information from the future, and that the device will begin receiving such messages or even travelers from the future as soon as it is finally switched on.
Of course Mallett’s theories and ideas have had their share of naysayers and critics, including other physicists who believe that what he is proposing is not possible and that his equations are incorrect, but this has not stopped him from continuing on with his work. He still remains convinced that, even if he is not the one to do, it humans will have access to such a device within the next century. For his part, Mallett would like to believe that he is having a sort of pioneering role in advancing these theories, and although he concedes it might not be possible in the end he has not given up pursuing his goal in the slightest, and has said thus:
Even after all these years I still think about him (his father) every day. He is the reason that I am what I am. That is, a theoretical physicist who would like to give to the world the possibility of determining our destiny through time travel. I’m the theoretical guy. The experimental physicists will have to take on the daunting – and very expensive – role of testing my theory.
While at least the premise of Ron Mallett’s ideas and his reputation as a scientist remain sound, there are others supposedly making time machines who have proven to be rather more controversial and mired in doubt. In 2013 there was big news in the form of a bold headline in the Iranian State run news service Fars, stating that a Tehran scientist at Iran’s Center for Strategic Inventions named Ali Razequi had actually successfully built a working time machine called the “The Aryayek Time Traveling Machine.” Wait, say what?
According to sources, the machine is reportedly about the size of a desktop computer, costs about $400 dollars to produce, and is able to take readings from an individual which it runs through complex algorithms to accurately predict the next 5 to 8 years of a user’s life, which can be useful for things such as predicting a foreign attack, predicting currency fluctuations, and “determining the future sex of a child,” because that’s, important? I guess? Purportedly, the Iranian government has supposedly chimed in that the device is very real and already operation. Razequi said of his machine:
I have been working on this project for the last 10 years. My invention easily fits into the size of a personal computer case and can predict details of the next 5-8 years of the life of its users. It will not take you into the future, it will bring the future to you.
Of course, with such a bold proclamation there has been perhaps not surprisingly immediate skepticism, and the idea that this is all just a part of Iran’s ever churning propaganda machine, or even originating in news from a normally otherwise legitimate agency that was meant to be used as a joke. This is not helped by the fact that, rather than an advanced theoretical physicist, Ali Razequi has turned out to be a serial inventor responsible for patenting a wide range of assorted gadgets, and his educational background has remained murky and ambiguous, calling into question claims that he is even a real scientist at all. In fact, it has been said that “Iran’s Center for Strategic Inventions” is just a fancy sounding place that is not even a real organization at all. Add to this other questionable claims by Iranian news services, such as new advanced fighter jets that turned out to be poorly photoshopped hoaxes. The whole story should be taken with a grain of salt, is what I’m saying.
Nevertheless, Ali Razequi has insisted that it is all true and that the device is being kept by the Iranian government, who he believes is keeping it under wraps for now out of fear that a foreign government will steal the technology. If keeping the whole invention quiet is their aim, then they have failed spectacularly. The story became a viral sensation almost immediately among media outlets in the West and has received much talk and debate by both skeptic and believer alike. Whether there really is such a machine or not, it certainly makes for an entertaining idea.
Perhaps just as dubious was a claim by a woman from the village of Exeter, England, who in 2015 said that she had created a time machine in her garage, and what’s more, was actually placing ads on a classifieds website Gumtree looking for someone to join her on her first journey. The woman claimed that her machine had successfully made mice disappear, although how this is evidence of time travel remained unexplained. The whole ad reads:
For the past few months I have been working on a design for a time machine in my garage. So far I have been able to make mice disappear but I don't know if they are going back or forward in time? I'm looking for a time travel partner, male or female who is open minded with a good sense of humour to accompany me on my first human transportation. Owner drivers would be a plus as the machine needs to be taken to a wide open space like a beach to prevent property damage. Happy to split fuel costs :-) Looking forward to hearing from you soon
The ad apparently caught the interest of enough people that the position was quickly filled, and the one who placed it claimed that she had received “an overwhelming number of requests for interviews.” It is unknown who this person is or even who the alleged creator of the time machine is, and the story seems as if it must definitely be a hoax. Nevertheless, there was a countdown to the event posted on a website called “www.myrealtimemachine.com,” where it was promised all would be revealed and the event would also allegedly be live-streamed, although the site no longer appears to be working and so sadly it is unclear what happened with this rather bizarre story.
How about those of you who would like your very own time machine? If so, then you’re in luck, because apparently you can order a device called the “Hyper Dimensional Resonator,” or HDR, which was supposedly created in 1981 by a man named Steven L. Gibbs after receiving the advanced plans from his future self. Gibbs then worked on the machine, perfected it, and finally claims to have built a fully-functioning device which is supposed to enable time travel to the past or future, astral projection, and even impart healing powers. The device apparently looks like a small box, with various dials and switches on it, and purportedly works through utilizing electromagnets, quartz crystals, and “time coils,” whatever those are.
The best thing of all is that you can buy one of these incredible machines for yourself for around $400, and there have been numerous stories from those who have claimed to have bought and successfully used the device to jump forward and backward in time, as well as even to alternate timelines and parallel dimensions. Some users have even claimed to have brought objects back with them, but that these souvenirs have a habit of disintegrating in short order.
Apparently one researcher, Patricia Griffin Ress, who is the author of the book Dangerous Information: The Further Time-Travel Experiments/Studies of Steven L. Gibbs, actually met with Gibbs and said that when the device was switched on “clouds formed in the room, and sparks danced around the chandelier.” After that, Ress claimed that she began to notice things in her everyday life that had changed somehow, leading her to believe that the machine had altered her reality somehow or sent her into a parallel dimension. Mysterious Universe’s own Jason Oufutt actually bought one of these devices and wrote a very good, very entertaining article on this particular machine and his weird experiences with it here. I highly recommend reading it. If you still want your own HDR, they are apparently still available, but don’t expect it to work all the time, if at all. If it does not work for you, rest assured that the machine is probably in working order and that it is all your fault. That’s because, according to Gibbs, a powerful faith in God is required to fuel the machine, saying:
These coils are specifically designed to pick-up and amplify soul-induced white light energy. Since the device, the way I believe, is tuned into the creator … only the people who have pure intentions can use the device. It takes your soul energy … and steps it up through the diode circuit.
Incredibly, while some of these machines we have looked at so far may be pure wishful thinking, there are plenty of people out there who have actually applied for patents through the US Patent System for their various time machine designs. One of the machines that has been applied for a patent is a “Method of space compression time dilation machine,” which was filed by a Wasfi Alshdaifat. The machine in this case seeks to dilate and break the 4th dimension, and by doing so allow the user to travel through the realm of time. The concept is that focused gamma rays (are gamma rays ever a good thing?) will be used to dilate time and slow it down, using equipment including “a hydraulic circuit”, “six adjustable bases”, “six sets of convex lenses” and an “electronic control unit.” It is all very complex, with part of the patent reading:
A method for making space compression, time dilation machine, depending on the known principles of space contract, and accompanied time dilation, in addition to a new assumption, that space and time are wavy, if the 3-dimensions of space are compressed, the 4th-dimension time which is vertical on the space is dilated, such that the time waves frequency are decreased, due to the elongation of the observed length of the time waves.
Simple then, right? Another patent that has been filed is perhaps more well-known, and that is the one for a “Method of gravity distortion and time displacement,” from a Marlin B. Pohlman. The idea is to use the device to warp gravitational fields and sort of jump across the ensuing chasms into different times through use of what is called “Robert Geroch’s Splitting Theorem,” which I won’t even try to pretend to understand, and seek to “simulate the effect of two point masses on nearly radial orbits in a 2+1 dimensional anti-de Sitter space resulting in creation of circular timelike geodesics conforming to the van Stockum under the Van Den Broeck modification of the Alcubierre geometry.” Got all of that? Spookily, Pohlman has had a rather tumultuous reputation, having been through chemotherapy for health problems and in 2013 pleading guilty to drugging and sexually assaulting four women. Probably not the person we want in control of a time machine, but rest assured his patent has not yet been approved, and has been criticized for having a load of mathematical errors in his design anyway.
A very bizarre patent was also filed in 2009 by one Mitchell Kwok, for a device called the “practical time machine,” as practical as anything calling itself a "time machine" could be anyway, that would theoretically allow time travel by using a virtual world built by intelligent super robots in order to utilize “atom machines” to manipulate the world on a molecular level to cycle back to whatever time one wishes and “generate a perfect timeline of planet Earth.” The bizarre patent also explains that events from the past or future could be cut and pasted onto the present with this method, but besides the fact that it is all so very odd, it also depends on atom manipulating super robots that are nowhere close to being a reality.
Lastly there is the patent filed by Takahiro Towata in 2010, which seeks to devise a method of time travel by “fitting a time axis forming an event in a four-dimensional space in special relativity to a sine curve.” In layman’s terms, going really, really fast to travel through, warp, alter, and manipulate time. This particular patent uses ideas that have been thrown around for while, such as traveling faster than the speed of light to initiate time travel, but is mostly all based on unproven, highly theoretical ideas.
While there is no way of knowing if any of the cases we have looked at have produced anything near to a time machine, we at least can ask whether the concept of time travel is even possible or not. This is a highly contested and hotly debated subject, with a myriad of theories on how it could possibly work and a fair share of scientists claiming that it is downright impossible. For what it’s worth, the acclaimed physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking has himself weighed in on this and shared his own ideas on how to make a somewhat plausible, functional time machine.
According to Hawking, one of the secrets lies in the 4th dimension, that mysterious realm beyond the 3 dimensions of width, height and a length of the universe we see all around us, in a domain where things have a length into space and time as well. In order to travel through this 4th dimension, Hawking says that it is imperative to make use of those theoretical portals known as “wormholes,” which supposedly serve as shortcuts though the fabric of space and time, in order to find the wrinkles and crevices in time and punch through them to arrive on the other end at a vastly separate place and time.
Unfortunately, while these wormholes are theorized to exist all around us, these real-life time tunnels are just a billion-trillion-trillionths of a centimeter across, far too small to be of use to us as is. Also, even if we could somehow enlarge these wormholes to useable dimensions, Hawking thinks that such a time machine would “violate a fundamental rule that governs the entire universe - that causes happen before effects, and never the other way around.” This means that the universe would be set to immediately eliminate paradoxes and for this reason a larger wormhole couldn’t ever work, in this case because radiation influx would cause the wormhole to immediately collapse upon itself, thus preventing the paradoxes. Hawking has said:
I believe things can't make themselves impossible. If they could then there'd be nothing to stop the whole universe from descending into chaos. So I think something will always happen that prevents the paradox. Somehow there must be a reason why our scientist will never find himself in a situation where he could shoot himself. And in this case, I'm sorry to say, the wormhole itself is the problem. Any kind of time travel to the past through wormholes or any other method is probably impossible, otherwise paradoxes would occur. So sadly, it looks like time travel to the past is never going to happen. A disappointment for dinosaur hunters and a relief for historians.
However, Hawking does think that time travel to at least the future is possible, and has explained how it could be possibly done, one idea being by utilizing a black hole. It is a very complicated concept, but the basic premise is that matter drags and slows down time itself, with increasingly, heavier, more massive objects having more of a time-slowing effect. It is for this reason that the mass of Earth has an effect on the clocks of GPS satellites, because they are experiencing time at a minuscule, almost imperceptibly slower pace that nevertheless makes it necessary for them to occasionally adjust their onboard clocks. For this reason, something like a black hole, some of the most massive things known to man and with gravitational forces from which even light cannot escape, would have a dramatic effect on time, essentially making them time machines in a sense. Hawking has explained this rather mind-bending concept thus:
I like to imagine how a spaceship might be able to take advantage of this phenomenon, by orbiting it. If a space agency were controlling the mission from Earth they'd observe that each full orbit took 16 minutes. But for the brave people on board, close to this massive object, time would be slowed down. And here the effect would be far more extreme than the gravitational pull of Earth. The crew's time would be slowed down by half. For every 16-minute orbit, they'd only experience eight minutes of time. Around and around they'd go, experiencing just half the time of everyone far away from the black hole. The ship and its crew would be traveling through time. Imagine they circled the black hole for five of their years. Ten years would pass elsewhere. When they got home, everyone on Earth would have aged five years more than they had. So a supermassive black hole is a time machine.
Of course, there are obvious dangers and impracticalities involved with using black holes for time travel, so Hawking has put forward yet another idea on how time travel, at least to the future, could be achieved, which is by going extremely, ludicrously fast. By approaching the speed of light, 186,000 miles per second, which has been reliably established as being the ultimate cosmic speed limit. To put it in the simplest terms, as an object approaches this speed barrier, time upon it flows more slowly in relation to everything around it, and the reason why is that nature seems to do so in order to maintain this set limit on speed. Because of this time-slowing phenomena at speeds close to that of light, passengers aboard such a space ship could essentially travel into the future, because if, say, 150 years had passed on earth, only a week would have passed for those aboard the ship. According to Hawking:
It really is that simple. If we want to travel into the future, we just need to go fast. Really fast. And I think the only way we're ever likely to do that is by going into space. The fastest manned vehicle in history was Apollo 10. It reached 25,000mph. But to travel in time we'll have to go more than 2,000 times faster. And to do that we'd need a much bigger ship, a truly enormous machine. The ship would have to be big enough to carry a huge amount of fuel, enough to accelerate it to nearly the speed of light. Getting to just beneath the cosmic speed limit would require six whole years at full power.
This is all very interesting, but obviously well beyond our current capabilities to achieve. So what of those who claim that they can or have built real time machines? Have they managed some incredible breakthrough that has allowed them to get around any limitations that our current understanding of the universe impose? Is it really possible to fashion a time travel device with our current tools, and if so has it been done? Whatever the answer to that may be, it seems clear that there are many who are willing to keep trying, and it remains a subject that fascinates humankind. Whether time travel is or will ever be possible may be open to debate, but it is certainly an enthralling proposition to think about.