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Relativity and FTL Travel--PART IV (suggested reading)

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                          Relativity and FTL Travel
                 by Jason W. Hinson (
      Part IV: Faster Than Light Travel--Concepts and Their "Problems"
Edition: 5.1
Last Modified: April 8, 2003
FTP (text version):

     This is Part IV of the "Relativity and FTL Travel" FAQ. It discusses
the various problems involved with FTL travel and how they apply to
particular FTL concepts. This part of the FAQ is written under the
assumption that the reader understands the concepts discussed in Part I of
this FAQ which should be distributed with this document.
     For more information about this FAQ (including copyright information
and a table of contents for all parts of the FAQ), see the Introduction to
the FAQ portion which should be distributed with this document.

Contents of Part IV:
Chapter 6: Introduction to the FTL Discussion
     6.1 A Few Notes On The Meaning of FTL Travel
Chapter 7: The First Problem: The Light Speed Barrier
     7.1 Effects as One Approaches the Speed of Light
Chapter 8: The Second Problem: FTL, Causality, and Unsolvable Paradoxes
     8.1 What is Meant Here by Causality and Unsolvable Paradoxes
     8.2 How FTL Travel Implies Violation of Causality
     8.3 How We Get Unsolvable Paradoxes
Chapter 9: FTL Concepts with these Problems in Mind
     9.1 Tachyons (Without Special Provisions)
     9.2 Using a Special Field/Space/etc. (W/o Special Provisions)
     9.3 "Folding" Space (Without Special Provisions)
     9.4 Space-Time Manipulation (Without Special Provisions)
     9.5 Special Provisions
          9.5.1 Parallel Universes
          9.5.2 Consistency Protection
          9.5.3 "Producing" Restricted Space-Time Areas
          9.5.4 A Special Frame of Reference for the purpose of FTL Travel
Chapter 10: Some Comments on FTL Travel in Star Trek
     10.1 Which Provision is Best for Explaining Warp Travel
     10.2 Subspace as a Special Frame of Reference
     10.3 The "Picture" this Gives Us of Warp Travel
     10.4 Some Notes on Non-Warp FTL Travel and Time Travel in Trek
     10.5 To sum up...
Chapter 11: Conclusion

Chapter 6: Introduction to the FTL Discussion

     The following discussion completes the purpose of this FAQ by
considering faster than light travel with relativity in mind. After this
brief introduction, I will discuss the general problems associated with FTL
travel. These problems will apply differently to different FTL concepts, but
I need to go over the general idea behind the problems first. After this
general discussion of the problems, we will consider their applications to
specific FTL concepts. We will also consider possible, conceptual
"solutions" to the particular problem that seems to plague all FTL concepts.
Finally, because this FAQ is written for the
newsgroup, I will go over some notes and arguments for why "warp" drive
should be explained in a particular way in order to get around the FTL
problems and give us what is seen on the show.

6.1 A Few Notes On The Meaning of FTL Travel

     Before we begin the discussion, I wanted to go over the basic idea of
what we mean by FTL travel. To do so, we should start by noting that most of
space-time through which we would want to travel is fairly flat. For those
who have not read Part III of this FAQ, that means that special relativity
describes the space-time fairly well without having resorting to general
relativity (which applies when a gravitational field is present). Sources of
gravity are few and far between, and even if you travel "close" to one, it
would have to be a significant source of gravity in order to destroy our
flat space-time approximation. Now, some FTL travel concepts we consider
will involve using certain areas of space-time which are not flat (and I
will go over them when we get there); however, the important thing for us is
that all around these non-flat areas, the space-time can be approximated
fairly well as being flat.
     Thus, for our purposes, we can use the following to describe FTL
travel. Consider some observer traveling from point A to point B. At the
same time this observer leaves A, a light beam is sent out towards the
destination, B. This light travels in the area of fairly flat space-time
outside of any effects that might be caused by the method our observer uses
to travel from A to B. If the observer ends up at B in time to see the light
beam arrive, then the observer is said to have traveled "faster than light".
     Notice that with this definition we don't care where the observer is
when he or she does the traveling. Also, if some space-time distortion is
used to drive the ship, then even if the ship itself doesn't move faster
than light within that distortion, the ship still travels faster than the
light which is going through the normal, flat space-time that is not
effected by the ship's FTL drive. Thus, this ship still fits our definition
of FTL travel.
     So, with this basic definition in mind, let's take a look at the
problems involved with FTL Travel.

Chapter 7: The First Problem: The Light Speed Barrier

     In this section we discuss the first thing (and in some cases the only
thing) that comes to mind for most people who consider the problem of faster
than light travel. I call it the light speed barrier. As we will see by
considering ideas discussed in Part I, Chapter 1 of this FAQ, light speed
seems to be a giant, unreachable wall standing in our way. I note that
various concepts for FTL travel may deal with this problem, but here we
simply want to talk about the problem in general.

7.1 Effects as One Approaches the Speed of Light

     To begin, consider two observers, A and B. Let A be here on Earth and
be considered at rest for now. B will be speeding past A at a highly
relativistic speed as he (B) heads towards some distant star. If B's speed
is 80% that of light with respect to A, then gamma for him (as defined in
Section 1.4) is 1.6666666... = 1/0.6. So from A's frame of reference, B's
clock is running slow and B's lengths in the direction of motion are shorter
by a factor of 0.6. If B were traveling at 0.9 c, then this factor becomes
about 0.436; and at 0.99 c, it is about 0.14. As the speed gets closer and
closer to the speed of light, A will see B's clock slow down infinitesimally
slow, and A will see B's lengths in the direction of motion becoming
infinitesimally small.
     In addition, If B's speed is 0.8 c with respect to A, then A will see
B's energy as a factor of gamma larger than his rest-mass energy (Note, I
use an equation for energy here defined in Section 1.5, Equation 1:8):

  (Eq 7:1)
   E(of B in A's frame)  =  gamma*m(B)*c^2  =  1.666*[m(B)*c^2]

where m(B) is the mass of observer B. At 0.9 c and 0.99 c this factor is
about 2.3 and 7.1 respectively. As the speed gets closer and closer to the
speed of light, A will see B's Energy become infinitely large.
     Obviously, from A's point of view, B will not be able to reach the
speed of light without stopping his own time, shrinking to nothingness in
the direction of motion, and taking on an infinite amount of energy.
     Now let's look at the situation from B's point of view, so we will now
consider him to be at rest. First, notice that the sun, the other planets,
the nearby stars, etc. are not moving very relativistically with respect to
the Earth; so we will consider all of these to be in the same frame of
reference. Remember that to A, B is traveling past the earth and toward some
nearby star. However, in B's frame of reference, the earth, the sun, the
other star, etc. are the ones traveling at highly relativistic velocities
with respect to him. So to him the clocks on Earth are running slow, the
energy of all those objects becomes greater, and the distances between the
objects in the direction of motion become smaller.
     Let's consider the distance between the Earth and the star to which B
is traveling. From B's point of view, as the speed gets closer and closer to
that of light, this distance becomes infinitesimally small. So from his
point of view, he can get to the star in practically no time. (This explains
how A seems to think that B's clock is practically stopped during the whole
trip when the velocity is almost c. B notices nothing odd about his own
clock, but in his frame the distance he travels is quite small.) If (in B's
frame) that distance shrinks to zero as his speed with respect to A goes to
the speed of light, and he is thus able to get there instantaneously, then
from B's point of view, c is the fastest possible speed.

     From either point of view, it seems that the speed of light cannot be
reached, much less exceeded. This, then, is the "light speed barrier", but
most concepts people have in mind for producing FTL travel explicitly deal
with this problem (as we will see). However, the next problem isn't
generally as easy to get away with, and it probably isn't as well known
among the average science fiction fan.

Chapter 8: The Second Problem: FTL, Causality, and Unsolvable Paradoxes

     In this section we will explore a problem with FTL travel that doesn't
always seem to get consideration. The problem involves ones ability to
violate causality in certain frames of reference with the use of FTL travel.
While this in itself doesn't necessarily make FTL travel impossible, the
ability to go further and produce an unsolvable paradox would make the FTL
travel prospect logically self contradictory. So, I will start by discussing
the meaning of causality and the problems of an unsolvable paradox. I will
then try to show how any form of FTL travel will produce violation of the
causality principle. Finally, I will explain how, without special provisions
being in place, FTL travel can go further to produce an unsolvable paradox.

8.1 What is Meant Here by Causality and Unsolvable Paradoxes

     The principle of causality is fairly straight forward. According to
causality, if there is some effect which is produced by some cause, then the
cause must precede the effect. So, if for some observer (in some frame of
reference) an effect truly happens before its cause occurs, then causality
is violated for that observer. Now, recall our discussion in Section 1.1
concerning when occurrences happen in a frame of reference. There I took a
moment to explain that when I talk about the order of events in some frame
of reference, I mean their actual order, and not necessarily the order in
which they are seen. One can imagine a situation whereby I could first
receive light from the effect and later receive light from the cause.
However, This might be because the effect is simply much closer to me than
the cause (so that light takes less time to travel from the effect I
observer, and I see it first). After I take into account the time it took
the light to travel from each event, then I will find the order in which the
events truly occurred, and this will determine whether or not there is a
true violation of causality in my frame. This true violation of causality is
what I will be talking about, NOT some trick concerning when observers see
events, but a concept concerning the actual order of the events in some
frame of reference.
     Now, one can argue that the idea of causality violation doesn't
necessarily destroy logic. The idea seems odd--to have an effect come first,
and then have the cause occur--but it doesn't have to produce a
self-contradictory situation. An unsolvable paradox, however, is a
self-contradictory situation. It is a situation which logically forbids
itself from being. Thus, when one shows that a particular set of
circumstances allows for an unsolvable paradox, then one can argue that
those circumstances must logically be impossible.

8.2 How FTL Travel Implies Violation of Causality

     I refer you back to Diagram 2-9 (reproduced below as Diagram 8-1) so
that I can demonstrate the causality problem involved with FTL travel. There
you see two observers passing by one another.

                                 Diagram 8-1
                            (Copy of Diagram 2-9)

                                    t     t'
                                    |    /
                                    +   /
                                    |  /       __--x'
                                    + /   __C'-
                       -+---+---+-__o---+---+---+- x
                           *  __-- /|
                          __--    / +
                        --       /  |
                                /   +
                               /    |

The origin marks the place and time where the two observers are right next
to one another. The x' and t' axes are said to represent the frame of
reference of O' (I'll use Op--for O-prime--so that I can easily indicate the
possessive form of O as O's and the possessive form of O' as Op's). The x
and t axes are then the reference frame of the O observer. We consider the O
system to be our rest system, while the Op observer passes by O at a
relativistic speed. As you can see from the two coordinate systems, the two
observers measure space and time in different ways. Now, consider again the
event marked "*". Cover up the x and t axis and look only at the Op system.
In this system, the event is above the x' axis. If the Op observer at the
origin could look left and right and see all the way down his space axis
instantaneously, then he would have to wait a while for the event "*" to
occur. Now cover up the Op system and look only at the O system. In this
system, the event is below the x axis. So to O, the event has already
occurred by the time the two observers are passing one another.
     Normally, this fact gives us no trouble. If you draw a light cone (as
discussed in Section 2.8) through the origin, then the event will be outside
of the light cone. As long as no signal can travel faster than the speed of
light, then it will be impossible for either observer to know about or
influence the event. So even though it is in one observer's past, he cannot
know about it, and even though it is in the other observer's future, he
cannot have an effect on it. This is how relativity saves its own self from
violating causality.
     However, consider the prospect of FTL travel with this diagram in mind.
As O and Op pass by one another, the event "*" has not happened yet in Op's
frame of reference. Thus, if he can send an FTL signal fast enough, then he
should be able to send a signal (from the origin) which could effect "*".
However, in O's frame, "*" has already occurred by the time O and Op pass by
one another. This means that the event "Op sends out the signal which
effects *" occurs after the event which it effects, "*", in O's frame. For
O, The effect precedes the cause. Thus, the signal which travels FTL in Op's
frame violates causality for O's frame. Similarly, since "*" has already
occurred in O's frame when O and Op pass one another, then in his frame an
FTL signal could be sent out from "*" which could reach O and tell him about
the event as the two observer's past. However, for Op, the event "O learns
about * as O and Op pass one another" comes before * itself. Thus, the
signal which is FTL in O's frame violates causality in Op's frame.
     In short, for any signal sent FTL in one frame of reference, another
frame of reference can be found in which that signal actually traveled
backwards in time, thus violating causality in that frame.
     Notice that in this example I never mentioned anything about how the
signal gets between the origin and *. I didn't even require that the signal
be "in our universe" when it was "traveling" (remember our definition of FTL
travel in Section 6.1). The only things I required were that (1) the
signal's "sending" and "receiving" were events in our universe and (2) the
space-time between the origin and "*" is flat (i.e. it is correctly
described by special relativity diagrams). Some FTL ideas may invalidate the
second assumption, but we will consider them a bit later. We will find,
however, that violation of causality still follows from all the FTL travel

8.3 How We Get Unsolvable Paradoxes

     As I mentioned before, violations of causality (as strange as they may
be) do not have to truly, logically contradict themselves. However, it isn't
too difficult to show (starting with the above arguments) that FTL travel
can be used to produce an unsolvable paradox (a situation which contradicts
its own existence). As a note, in the past I have called such situations
"gross" violations of causality.
     I'll illustrate the point with an example (again referring to Diagram
8-1) Remember we said that as O and Op pass, Op can send an FTL message out
(from his frame of reference) which effects "*". However, rather than having
him send a message out, let's say that Op sends out a bullet that travels
faster than the speed of light. This bullet can go out and kill someone
light-years away in only a few hours (for example) in Op's frame of
reference. So, say he fires this bullet just as he passes by O. Then the
death of the victim can be the event (*). Now, in O's frame of reference,
the victim is already dead ("*" has occurred) when Op passes by. This means
that another observer (stationary in O's frame) who was at the position of
the victim when the victim was shot could have sent an FTL signal just after
the victim's death, and that signal could reach O before Op passed by him.
So O can know that Op will shoot his gun as they pass each other.
     To intensify the point I will make, we can let the signal which was
sent to O be a picture of the victim, or even an ongoing video signal of the
victim's body. Thus, O has evidence of the victim's death before Op has
fired the weapon (a plain ol' violation of causality). However, at this
point O can decide to stop Op from firing the gun. But if the bullet doesn't
go out, and the victim never dies, then why (and how) would a video
signal/picture of the victim's dead body ever be sent to O? And yet, O has
that video/picture.
     In the end, it is the death of the victim which causes O to prevent the
victim's death, and that is a self contradicting situation. Thus, if there
are no special provisions (which we will discuss later ) FTL travel will not
only allow violation of causality, but it can also produce unsolvable
     At this point, I want to clearly list the various events which must
happen to produce an unsolvable paradox in our "FTL bullet" example. Through
the rest of our FTL discussion, this will be helpful as a reference listing.

Event Listing and Comments:

  1. As observers O and Op pass by one another (as they are shown in Diagram
     8-1) Op uses some method to send out an FTL bullet from his reference
     frame. The event "O and Op pass one another" will be called the
     "passing event" from here on.
  2. The bullet strikes and kills a victim who's death is the event marked
     "*" in Diagram 8-1. This event occurs after the passing event in Op's
     frame of reference, but it occurs before the passing event in O's
  3. A third observer is at the victim's side as he dies and thus he
     witnesses the death. This third observer is stationary in O's frame of
     reference (i.e. his frame is the same as O's), so the victims death
     ("*") occurs before the passing event (when the bullet was fired) in
     this third observer's frame. Thus, the third observer has witnessed a
     result which comes from an event in his future--he has information
     about a future event in his frame of reference.
  4. The third observer sends this information about the future to O using
     an FTL signal, and in the third observer's frame of reference, O can
     receive this information before the passing event occurs (and thus
     before the bullet is fired).
  5. O receives the message and learns of the victims death before the
     bullet is fired. He thus knows about the bullet being fired--an event
     in his own future which will occur at his very location.
  6. O uses this information to prevent Op from firing the bullet, thus
     causing a self-inconsistent situation--an unsolvable paradox.

     It is important to note that the real crux of this problem does not
come from the form of the FTL travel used, but from the relationship between
the two, ordinary frames of reference for observers (O and Op) who never
themselves travel FTL. This ordinary relationship (determined by relativity)
can be demonstrated through experiments today, and as long as the exact same
experiments can be performed in the future to yield the same results, then
this argument must still hold. This is the power of this problem, and we
will see that the special provisions we will discuss later must concern
themselves with the ability of the observers to use the relationship between
themselves in order to produce unsolvable paradoxes. Thus, the provisions
will not be specifically concerned with the form of FTL travel used or the
future theories which might suggest FTL travel, because the problem we have
discussed here will be present regardless of either of these considerations.

     And so, we have discussed the two problems which arise with FTL travel.
Our next job is to consider various, specific FTL concepts in light of these
problems. If your not interested in the discussion of the various forms of
FTL travel, and you want to take my word for it that they will all suffer
from the problem discussed above, then you may want to skip to the "Special
Provisions" section.. I'll leave that to the reader.

Chapter 9: FTL Concepts with these Problems in Mind

     Next, we want to ask about how one might try to get around these
problems. Many of you have heard of ideas which get around the light speed
barrier problem. For example, if we can do our traveling in some other,
parallel "space", then we won't be bothered by the light speed barrier in
our own space. However, these ideas have a much harder time getting around
the second problem. In fact, to get around the second problem, we will see
that special provisions will have to be made.
     Therefore, the format of this discussion will involve the following.
First, we will look at the various concepts which exist for possibly
allowing FTL travel. I will show how each of them allows one to get around
the light speed barrier problem, and I will explain how (without special
provisions) none of them can bypass the second problem--producing unsolvable
paradoxes. Finally, I will introduce some special provisions (beyond the
basic assumptions made for the FTL concepts) and show how one can imagine
using these provisions in conjunction with some of the FTL concepts to get
around the second problem.

9.1 Tachyons (Without Special Provisions)

     Tachyons are hypothetical/theoretical particles which would travel FTL.
The concept of the tachyon attempts to get around the infinite energy
requirements which the light speed barrier problem poses on a particle as it
approaches the speed of light. This was accomplished by demanding that the
particle have certain characteristics which we will discuss here.

     First, consider the energy and momentum. Recall that we can write the
energy (E) and the momentum (p) of a particle of mass m as expressed in
Equation 1:8 and Equation 1:6 which are duplicated here:

  (Eq 9:1--Copy of Eq 1:8)
   E  =  gamma * m * c^2

  (Eq 9:2--Copy of Eq 1:6)
   p  =  gamma * m * v

Where gamma is defined in Equation 1:5 as gamma = 1/(1 - v^2/c^2)^0.5. From
this we find that |p*c|/|E| = |v|/|c|, which is greater than 1 if v is
greater than c. We can thus write

  (Eq 9:3)
   E^2 < p^2*c^2  (for an FTL particle).

But since we can also express the energy squared as defined in Equation 1:7:

  (Eq 9:4--Copy of Eq 1:7)
   E^2  =  p^2 * c^2  +  m^2 * c^4

we find that the only way to get E^2 < p^2*c^2 is if the mass squared is
negative (because then m^2*c^2 reduces the sum in Equation 9:4). The mass
would then be the square root of a negative number, and such an obviously
unreal number is called an imaginary number (imaginary numbers may seem odd,
but they have important uses in mathematics). In general we express such
imaginary numbers as a product of a real number multiplied by something that
symbolizes the imaginary square-root of negative one: i = sqrt(-1). So, the
mass of a tachyon is imaginary. Further, from the equation for gamma, we
find that it too is imaginary if v is greater than c, but it is also
negative because we have the i in the denominator of gamma, and 1/i = -i.
(We can show this as follows: start with 1/i = 1/sqrt(-1) and multiply and
divide the right-hand side by sqrt(-1) (which doesn't change the value): i =
sqrt(-1)/(sqrt(-1)*sqrt(-1)). The top of that equation is just i, and the
bottom is sqrt(-1)^2 = -1. Thus 1/i = i/(-1) = -i.) That would mean that
from Equation 9:1, the energy would still be a real, positive number
(because to get E we multiply the i in the imaginary m by the -i in gamma to
get -i^2 = -(sqrt(-1)^2) = -(-1) = +1). The same would be true for the
momentum, p = gamma*m*v.
     I would like to note that I have read elsewhere that the energy would
be negative for a tachyon, but this doesn't seem to be the case.
     The final interesting property of tachyons I will mention comes from
noting that as their velocity increases, the value of their gamma will
become a smaller, negative, imaginary number (because when v/c > 1,
1/sqrt(1-v^2/c^2) is a negative, imaginary number that decreases as v gets
larger). That means that the value of a tachyons energy will decrease as the
speed of the tachyon increases--or in other words, as the tachyon loses
energy, it gains speed. One result of this is that if a charged tachyon were
to exist, then because it would travel faster than light, it would give off
a radiation known as Cherenkov radiation. This would take energy away from
the tachyon and cause it to go faster and faster, continually giving off
more and more energy. Neutral tachyons, however, wouldn't do this.

     In any case, we can consider the possibility that tachyons exist and
always travel faster than light. They then never have to cross the light
speed barrier, and they do not have infinite energy (but their mass is
imaginary and their energy decreases as their velocity increases). However,
they still cause trouble because of the second problem--if you can use them
for FTL communication, they can be used to create unsolvable paradoxes using
the same arguments as we used in our "FTL bullet" example.
     To explore the question of using tachyons for FTL communication, one
can apply quantum mechanics to the energy equation of the tachyon. What one
finds is that either (1) the tachyons cannot be localized, or (2) the actual
effects of a tachyon cannot themselves move faster than light. In either of
these cases, the tachyon cannot be used to produce an FTL signal.
     A third idea would also allow the tachyon to exist without the
possibility of using the tachyon to send FTL signals. The basic idea is that
there would be no way to distinguish between the situation through which you
could receive a tachyon and the situation though which you could transmit a
tachyon. To show what I mean, consider Diagram 8-1 yet again. From the O
frame of reference, a tachyon could be sent "from" * and "to" the origin.
However, as long as you cannot distinguish between the transmitter and the
receiver, then the Op observer could reinterpret this as a tachyon being
sent "from" the origin "to" *. Neither, then, will believe that the tachyon
went backwards in time. Obviously, there is no way for a message to be sent
(because then you could identify the sender and decide which way the tachyon
"really" went), and it wouldn't be quite right to call this FTL travel.
However, it would allow tachyons to exist (though uselessly) without causing
any problems.
     And so, we find that with tachyons, one of the following must be true:

  1. Tachyons do not exist,
  2. Tachyons exist but cannot be used to send FTL signals, or
  3. Tachyons exist and can be used to send FTL signals, but some special
     provision will keep anyone from using them to produce an unsolvable

9.2 Using a Special Field/Space/etc. (W/o Special Provisions)

     This next concept is often found in FTL travel methods of science
fiction. The basic idea is that a ship (for example) can use a special field
or travel in another space/dimension in order to "leave" the physics of our
universe and thus not be limited by the speed of light.
     Again, we see that this concept is basically designed to get around the
light speed barrier problem; however, it doesn't deal very well with the
problem of producing unsolvable paradoxes.
     Though the FTL observer or signal which travels using this concept
would leave the realm of our physics, the relationship between two observers
(like O and Op) who stayed behind (within the realm of our physics) would
not be effected. This means (if you recall the points made earlier about the
"second problem") that the arguments for producing an unsolvable paradox
must still hold (unless there are special provisions), because those
arguments were based on the relationship between the two observers who
themselves never traveled FTL (and thus never left the realm of our
     Thus, we very quickly see that with any such methods (as long as no
special provisions apply) one can produce an unsolvable paradox.

9.3 "Folding" Space (Without Special Provisions)

     Another concept which pops into the minds of science fiction lovers
when considering FTL travel is that of "folding" space. Basically, the idea
is to bring two points in space closer together in some way so that you can
travel between them quickly without having to "actually" travel faster than
light. Of course, by our definition of FTL travel in Section 6.1 (where the
light you are "racing" against goes through normal space between the
starting and ending points) this would still be considered FTL travel.
     A frequently used approach for picturing this idea is to think of two
dimensions of space represented by a flat sheet of paper. Then consider
yourself at some point on the paper (call this point "o"). If you want to
travel to some distant point ("D"), you simply fold/bend/crumple/etc the
paper and place "o" and "D" close to one another. Then its just a matter of
traveling the now short distance between the points.
     Again, we see an FTL concept which is built in order to get around the
problem of the light speed barrier. However, we will see, once again, that
the second problem of FTL travel is not so easily fixed.
     We begin to understand this when we consider again the sheet of paper
discussed above. Every object in that two dimensional space has a place on
the paper. However, because objects may be moving, their position depends on
the time at which you are considering them. Basically, if you are sitting at
"o", you imagine every point on that sheet of paper as representing space as
it is "right now" according to your frame of reference. However, as we have
discussed, what is going on "right now" at a distant location TRULY depends
on your frame of reference. Two observers at "o" in two different frames of
reference will have two different ideas of what events should be represented
on the paper as going on "right now". This difference in simultaneity
between different frames of reference is what allowed for the "unsolvable
paradox" problem to exist in the first place. Thus, even though you "fold"
the paper so that you don't "actually" travel faster than light, you don't
change the fact that you are connecting two events at distant points (your
departure and your arrival) which in another frame of reference occur in the
opposite order. (In the other frame of reference, you aren't just bending
space, you're bending space-time such that you travel backwards in time.) It
is that fact which allowed the unsolvable paradoxes to be produced.
     In the end, unless special provisions are present, one can use this
form of FTL travel in our FTL bullet example (I refer you back to the
listing of events in Section 8.3). Op will fold space in his frame of
reference to connect the passing event with the event "*", while the third
observer will fold space from his frame of reference to connect the event
"he sees the victim die" with an event "O learns of the victims death before
the FTL bullet is sent". Thus, you can used this method to produce an
unsolvable paradox as we discussed earlier.

9.4 Space-Time Manipulation (Without Special Provisions)

     The final concept we will discuss before looking at special provisions
is what I call space-time manipulation. The idea is to change the
relationship between space and time in a particular region so that the
limitation of light speed no longer applies. This is basically confined to
the realm of general relativity (though the more simplified concept of
"changing the speed of light" can also be handled by the arguments in this
section). We won't worry too much about the particulars of how GR can be
used to produce the necessary space-time, because the arguments that will be
made will apply regardless of how you manipulate space-time in the region of
     There are two general types of space-time manipulation to consider. The
first I will call "localized", because the space-time that is effected is
that surrounding your ship (or whatever it is that is traveling FTL). A
basic example of this is the idea for FTL travel is presented in a paper by
Miguel Alcubierre of the University of Wales (the paper is available via the
world wide web (URL= In the paper,
Alcubierre describes a way of using "exotic matter" (matter with certain
properties which may or may not exist) to change the space time around a
ship via general relativity. This altered space-time around the ship not
only keeps the ship's clock ticking just as it would have if the ship
remained "stationary" (in its original frame of reference), but it also
"drives" the ship to an arbitrarily fast speed (with respect to the original
frame of reference of the ship before it activated the FTL drive).
     The second type is thus "non-localized", and it involves the
manipulation of space-time which at least effects the departure and arrival
points in space-time (and perhaps effects all the space-time between). A
basic example of this is the idea of a wormhole. A wormhole is another
general relativity concept. Again, exotic matter is used, but here
space-time is effected so that two distant locations in space are causally
connected. You can enter one "mouth" of the wormhole and exit from the other
very distant "mouth" so as to travel FTL (by our definition in Section 6.1).
     Both of these concepts get around the light speed barrier problem, but
again we will argue the case for the problems with unsolvable paradoxes. To
do this, we will first carefully describe the situation in which a couple of
FTL trips will occur. Let's call the starting point of the first trip "A". B
will then be the destination point of that trip. Also, consider a point (C)
which is some distance to the "right" of B ("right" being defined by an
observer traveling from A to B), and finally consider a corresponding point
(D) which is to the right of A. Diagram 9-1 uses two dimensions of space (no
time is shown in this diagram) to depict the situation (at least from some
particular frame of reference).

                                 Diagram 9-1

                                | A          B
                                | D          C
                      (x and y are spatial dimensions)

     Now, let's go back to the FTL bullet example through which we first
explained the unsolvable paradox problem. In this case, the FTL bullet
travels from A to B through space-time manipulation. (The event "the bullet
leaves A" is event (1) in our list from Section 8.3). This means that all
the space-time along the bullet's path between A and B might be affected by
the space-time manipulation. Thus, we can no longer assume (after the
bullet's trip) that a space-time diagram such as those we have drawn (which
only apply to special relativity, not GR) will still apply. However, the
space between D and C does not have to be effected by the FTL drive. Because
of that we can make our argument by considering the following events:

   * (a) Op sends an FTL bullet from A to B (using space-time manipulation)
     as the "passing event" occurs
   * (b) The bullet strikes and kills a victim at B (event "*" in Diagram
   * (c) The third observer witnesses the death. However, now (because the
     FTL travel of the bullet may have changed the space-time between A and
     B, we can no longer assume that our space-time diagram of the situation
     is correct. It may be that with the changed space-time, this third
     observer's frame of reference no longer has the victim's death
     occurring before the passing event. However, we can continue as
   * (d) The third observer sends a signal over to C using ordinary
     (slower-than-light) means.
   * (e) An observer at C sends an FTL signal to D. Since the space-time
     between C and D need not be effected by the bullet's FTL travel, our
     space-time diagrams can be applied.
   * (f) An observer at D receives the signal before event (a) (and thus
     before the bullet effected any space-time).
   * (g) The observer at D can now send a signal over to O, and O can
     receive it before (a) occurs.

     The above events show that even though the space-time may be changed
between A and B during the bullet's trip, the O observer can still know
about and use the fact that the victim was killed in order to prevent the
victims death. We use the same arguments we did in the section concerning
the "second problem" (Section 9.1 ), except that the two FTL portions (the
bullet and the signal from the third observer) are sent from two different
locations so that neither is affected by the other's effects on space-time.
Thus, as long as there are no special provisions, this form of FTL travel
will still allow for unsolvable paradoxes.

9.5 Special Provisions

     Thus far, we have seen that the second problem is not easily gotten
around using any FTL concept. However, we have also insisted during our
arguments that none of these FTL concepts include "special provisions". The
specific provisions we were referring to will be discussed here. Basically,
these are ideas which allow one to bypass the second problem in some way,
and the ideas are generally not specific to any one form of FTL travel. They
don't require that you bend space-time in some way or that you travel in
some other universe or that you be made of some specific form of matter when
you do your FTL traveling. What they do require is for the universe itself
to have some particular property(ies) which, in conjunction with whatever
form of FTL travel you use, will prevent unsolvable paradoxes.
     There are four basic types of provisions, but we can express the
general idea behind them all before we look at each one specifically. Recall
that in producing the unsolvable paradox in our "FTL bullet" example, there
was a series of events listed, each of which had to occur to produced the
paradox. The provisions simply require that at least one of these events be
prevented from occurring. With the first and second provisions we will
discuss, no restrictions necessarily have to be placed on the actual FTL
travel, and any of the events (even those not directly dealing with the FTL
travel) can be the "disallowed" event. The other two provisions place
restrictions on the actual FTL travel in certain cases in order to prevent
the unsolvable paradox.

9.5.1 Parallel Universes

     In the first provision, one of the events in our list is not so much
prevented as it is "transferred" to or from another (parallel) universe or
reality. For example, say O has just received the information about the
victim who dies at the "*" event, and O is waiting to stop Op from firing
the FTL bullet. However, before he stops Op, he could find himself
transferred to a parallel universe. In this universe he is able to stop Op
from firing the bullet. The unsolvable paradox is resolved because the
information about the death at "*" was not from the universe in which O
stopped Op. Instead, O brought the information from a very similar parallel
universe when he came over.
     As another example, the bullet which killed the victim could have
appeared from a parallel universe rather than being sent from Op in "our"
universe. In this case, it is the "other universe bullet" which kills the
victim. This bullet could seem to come from Op in our universe, though it
actually came from an Op in the parallel universe. So, O is lead to believe
that the bullet came from his own Op, and O stops Op from firing the FTL
bullet. However, he doesn't prevent the death of the victim because the
bullet which did the killing came from the "other universe Op". Again, the
paradox is resolved.
     Now, in that second case, the FTL bullet wasn't just performing FTL
travel, but was involved with inter-dimensional travel. However, the second
FTL signal in which the information is sent from the third observer to O
(event number 4 in our list) was allowed. Thus, though this provision can
effect the FTL trips, it doesn't have to forbid either of them.
     In the end, as long as one of the events is forced to transfer to or
from a parallel universe, there will be no unsolvable paradox (although why
or how the inter-universe transfer would occur is left unanswered). Also, we
should note that this provision could be applied with any of the FTL
concepts we have discussed in order to allow them to exist without being

9.5.2 Consistency Protection

     The second provision is what I am calling "consistency protection". The
idea is that the universe contains some sort of built-in mechanism whereby
some event in our list of events would not be allowed to occur.
     An example of such a mechanism can be found when we look at the
situation through quantum mechanics. (A theory of Steven Hawking called the
"chronology protection conjecture" (CPC) attempts to do just that--the jury
is still out on this theory, by the way, and will probably be out for a long
time.) In quantum mechanics (QM), we do not think in certain terms of
whether or not an event will occur in the future given everything we can
possibly know about the present. Instead we consider the probability of an
event (or string of events) occurring. One form of consistency protection
would insist that QM prevents the unsolvable paradoxes because the
probability of all the events occurring so as to produce an unsolvable
paradox is identically zero.
     Under this explanation using QM, our bullet example would be resolved
through arguments similar to this: It may be that the Op observer is unable
to produce the FTL bullet (perhaps his FTL gun fails), thus averting the
paradox. If he is able to get the FTL bullet on its way, then perhaps the
bullet will end up missing its mark. If it does hit the victim, then perhaps
the victim's friend will be unable to send an FTL signal back to the O
observer (perhaps his FTL message sender fails). If the signal to O gets
sent, it still might not be received by O. If O receives it, he may be
unable to stop Op from firing the bullet. In any case, this particular QM
explanation would insist that one of these events must not occur, because
the quantum mechanics involved forces the probability of all of the events
occurring to be zero.
     To sum up, this provision requires that some mechanism exists in the
universe that would prevent at least one of the events from occurring so
that the unsolvable paradox does not come about. This mechanism does not
have to specifically target any of the FTL trips/messages which one might
want to make/send, but it could disallow any of the events which must be
present for the unsolvable paradox to occur. We should also note that this
provision (just like the last) can be apply regardless of the FTL concept

9.5.3 "Producing" Restricted Space-Time Areas

     This provision is sort of an extension on the previous one, but its
mechanism specifically targets the FTL travel so as to restrict one of the
FTL trips or messages one must use to produce an unsolvable paradox.
Remember that in the list of events for our FTL bullet example, there were
two different FTL portions (the FTL bullet and the FTL message from the
third observer to O). This provision would cause the sending or receiving of
one of these "messages" to strictly prohibit the sending or receiving of the
other. I will try to illustrate the basic way in which such restrictions
could work to always prevent unsolvable paradoxes. I will then give an
example where this provision is implemented with a particular FTL concept.
     For the illustration, we need to consider each of two possibilities
within our FTL bullet example. In the first possibility, the Op observer is
allowed to send his FTL bullet which strikes the victim, but that FTL trip
must then restrict the third observer's ability to send the FTL message to
O. In the second example, the third observer happens to decide to send some
FTL signals to O at some point before the event "*" (which is the event in
our example that usually marked the victim's death). Now, we let the third
observer continue to send those FTL signals until some point after "*".
Then, if the victim dies at "*" because of the FTL bullet, then since the
third observer is sending FTL signals to O at that point, he would be able
to tell O about the victim's death, and the paradox would still be possible.
Thus, in this second case, the FTL bullet must not be allowed to strike the
victim (the FTL travel of the bullet is restricted because the third
observer sends FTL signals to O).
     So, how would these restrictions work in these two possible cases?
Well, as it turns out, if all unsolvable paradoxes are going to be averted
while only placing restrictions on particular FTL trips, then there must be
a very specific provision in place. To explain this, we will look at both
possible situations, and consider diagrams which explain each one. (Note
that these diagrams are drawn a little differently from Diagram 8-1 so as to
better show the point I am trying to make here.)

                                 Diagram 9-2

                                      t     t'
                                 .    |    /
                               .      +   /
                             .        |  /       __--x'
       .                   .          + /   __C'-
         .               .            |/__--
      +---+.--+---+---+.--+---+---+-__o---+---+---+- x
             .       .          __--./| .
               .   .        __--  . / +   .
                 *      __--    .  /  |     .
                    __--      .   /   +       .
                __--        .    /    |         .
       (Case 1--The FTL bullet is allowed to strike at the event "*")

     In this diagram we mean to illustrate case one in which the FTL bullet
leaves the "passing event" (i.e. the origin, "o") and is "received" by the
victim who immediately dies at event "*". Now, I have also drawn parts of
two light cones (marked with dots). One part is the "upper half light cone
of the event '*'," and the other is the "lower half light cone of the
passing event, 'o'". The upper half light cone of "*" contains all events
which an observer at "*" (like the third observer in our bullet example) can
influence without having to travel FTL. All observers agree that all events
in this area occur some time after "*" (as discussed in Section 2.8). Also,
the lower half light cone of "o" contains all the events which could effect
"o" (which, remember, is the event at which the FTL bullet is sent) through
non-FTL means. Thus, as long as no FTL signal/traveler can leave as an event
in the upper half light cone of "*" and be received as an event in the lower
half light cone of "o", then all unsolvable paradoxes will be averted. There
would be no way for the third observer to witness the death of the victim
and afterwards get a signal to O before the bullet is fired.
     Now, that seems to be straight forward. We just need to make this
provision: When an FTL signal is transmitted as event T, and it is received
as event R, then it must be impossible for any information to be sent as an
event in R's upper ("future") light cone and end up being received as an
event in T's lower ("past") light cone. If the universe restricted FTL
travel in this way, it would be impossible to produce unsolvable paradoxes.
     However, we can see that the matter can get a little complicated when
we consider things from O's frame of reference (which is also the frame of
the third observer). In this frame, after the third observer witnesses the
victim's death at "*", the event "the bullet leaves" hasn't occurred yet. He
might then argue that no FTL signal has yet been sent which would keep him
from sending a FTL message to O. The problem with his argument is that he
has already witnessed the result of the FTL bullet being sent (even if it
hasn't occurred in his frame yet). Thus, any FTL signal he tries to send to
O (in the lower half light cone of the origin/passing
event/bullet-being-fired event) must be prevented from being received by O.
     Ah, but what if he (the third observer) just happened to decide to
start sending FTL signals to O (just to chat) before the bullet strikes the
victim? That leads to our second case. Here, then, is a diagram we will use
to describe this second case.

                                 Diagram 9-3

                                      t     t'
                          .           |    /
                            .         +   /     .
                              .       |  /    .  __--x'
                                .     + /   ._C'-
                                  .   |/__.-
      +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+-._o-.-+---+---+- x
                                __-- /R
                 T          __--    / |
               . * .    __--       /  |
             .   s  _.--          /   +
           .    __--   .         /    |
   (Case 2--The FTL bullet may not be allowed to strike at the event "*")

     Now, there are a few extra events here. The point "s" marks the point
where the third observer starts sending FTL signals to O while "T" marks the
point where he finishes sending those FTL signals. The point "R" marks the
point where O receives the last message which was sent at "T". Now, here we
have drawn the upper and lower half light cones of interest, and according
to our discussion above, it would be impossible for Op to send his bullet at
the origin, "o" (which is in the upper half light cone of R) and have it
"received" by the victim at "*" (which is in the lower half light cone of
T). So, according to that argument, the bullet doesn't strike while the
third observer is sending FTL signals to O, and so the third observer never
tells O about the victim's death.
     However, this doesn't HAVE to be what happens, and we might just end up
back at the first case. You see, either (1) the signals sent by the third
observer are all successful, and the FTL bullet is restricted from striking
the victim at "*" (that's the second case); or (2) the FTL bullet does
strike the victim at "*" and any FTL signals that the third observer sends
after "*" are restricted from reaching the O observer before the bullet is
fired (this is the first case, even though the third observer was sending
signals to O just before the bullet hit). The obvious question, then, is
"which one of these two cases actually occurs?" The answer happens to be,
"it really doesn't matter." You see, as long as one or the other does occur,
the situation remains self consistent and no self inconsistent paradoxes are
produced. Roll some dice and pick one, if you like, or let some unknown
force decide which happens. It really doesn't matter for our argument. Is
that a bit odd? Yes. Is it self-inconsistent so as to produce unsolvable
paradoxes? No.
     Finally, as example to show this provision in action with a particular
FTL concept, let's consider a case where space-time manipulation is used via
a wormhole. Recall that in our discussion of this FTL concept in Section
9.4, we showed that one can still produce unsolvable paradoxes. Notice, that
there still must be two FTL parts (we discussed one FTL "trip"--the
bullet--from A to B and another--an FTL message--from C to D). Now, to
prevent the paradox, the existence of the wormhole that allows the bullet to
travel from A to B could forbid the existence of the wormhole that allows
the FTL message to go from C to D. This is a situation where case 1 applies,
and here the way the provision is satisfied comes from the conceptual
ability of one wormhole's existence to forbid the existence of another

     And so, we have a provision which simply restricts (in a very
particular way) certain FTL trips because of other FTL trips. We have found
that there doesn't have to be a discernible answer to the question of
whether trip A disallows trip B or trip B disallows trip A, but as long as
it is one case or the other, this provision will keep all situations self
consistent and thus avoid unsolvable paradoxes.

9.5.4 A Special Frame of Reference for the purpose of FTL Travel

     The fourth and final provision is (again) something of an extension to
the previous one. This provision also forbids certain FTL signals, but it
does so in a very specific and interesting way (there will be no question as
to which trips are allowed and which are not). To explain this provision, I
will start by describing a situation through which the provision could be
applied. I will then explain how the provision works, given that particular
     Now, as I describe the situation, I will use the idea of a "special
field" to implement the "special frame of reference". However, it isn't
necessary to have such a special field to imagine having a special frame of
reference. I am simply using this to produce a clear illustration.

     So, join me now on a journey of the imagination. Picture, if you will,
a particular area of space (a rather large area--say, a few cubic
light-years if you like) which is permeated with some sort of field. Let
this field have some very particular frame of reference. Now, in our
imaginary future, say we discover this field, and a way is found to
manipulate the very makeup (fabric, if you will) of this field. When this
"warping" is done, it is found that the field has a very special property.
An observer inside the warped area can travel at any speed he wishes with
respect to the field, and his frame of reference will always be the same as
that of the field. This means that the x and t axes in a space-time diagram
for the observer will be the same as the ones for the special field,
regardless of the observer's motion. In our discussion of relativity, we saw
that in normal space, a traveler's frame of reference depends on his speed
with respect to the things he is observing. However, for a traveler in this
warped space, this is no longer the case.
     For example, consider two observers, A and B, who both start out
stationary in the frame of reference of the field. Under normal
circumstances, if A (who starts out next to B) began to travel with respect
to B, then later turned around and returned to B, A would have aged less
because of time dilation (this is fully explained in Section 4.1 of Part II
if you are interested). However, if A uses the special property of this
field we have introduced, his frame of reference will be the same as B's
even while he is moving. Thus, there will be no time dilation effects, and
A's clock will read the same as B's.
     Now, for the provision we are discussing to work using this special
field, we must require that all FTL travel be done while using this field's
special property. How will that prevent unsolvable paradoxes? Well, to
demonstrate how, let's go back to our FTL bullet example and consider one of
two cases. In case 1, we will let Op's frame of reference be the same as the
frame of reference of our special field. With this in mind, let's go through
the events listed in Section 8.3 once again; only this time, we will require
any FTL travel to use the special property of the field we have discussed.
     So, here is the new list of events given that the special frame of
reference of the field is the same as Op's frame. Remember, our new
provision requires that any FTL trip will have to use the property of our
special field, thus the object/person/message traveling FTL will be forced
to take on the frame of reference of our special field (Op's frame in this
example). (It may be good for you to review the original list before reading
this one):

  1. Again (just as in our original argument), as observers O and Op pass by
     one another, Op uses some method to send out an FTL bullet. This time,
     as the FTL method is activated, our new provision requires the bullet's
     frame of reference to become the frame of reference of the special
     field. However, since Op's frame is the same as that of the special
     field in the case we are considering, the bullet will still be sent out
     from Op's frame of reference, just as it was in our original argument.
  2. Again, the event marked "*" occurs after the "passing event" in Op's
     frame, so again the bullet can travel FTL to strike and kill a victim
     at "*", and again that event occurs before the "passing event" in Os
  3. Again, a third observer (who is in O's frame of reference) witnesses
     the victim's death, and again the death will have occured before the
     bullet was sent in his frame of reference. Thus again this third
     observer will have information about an event which will happen in his

But that is where the "agains" stop. You see, in the original argument event
(4) was possible in which the third observer sends this information about
the future to O via an FTL signal. In the frame of reference of O (and the
third observer), that FTL signal could be sent after the victim's death and
arrive at O before the passing event (when the bullet was fired). But now,
as the FTL signal is sent, it must take on the frame of reference of the
special field. That frame of reference is the frame of Op, and in that frame
the victim dies after the bullet is fired. So, in the new reference frame of
the message (forced on it by the provision we are making) the bullet has
already been sent, and thus the FTL message cannot be received by O before
the bullet is sent.
     From the frame of reference of the third observer, he simply cannot get
the FTL signal to go fast enough (in his frame) to get to O before the
bullet is sent. From Op's frame of reference (that of the special field) any
FTL signal (even an instantaneous one) can theoretically be sent using our
provision. However, from O's frame (and that of the third observer) some FTL
signals simply can't be sent (specifically, signals that would send
information back in time in Op's frame of reference--look again at Diagram
8-1 to make this clear). This prevents the unsolvable paradox.
     We can also consider case 2 in which the special frame of reference of
the field is the same as O's frame of reference. In this case, any FTL
traveler/signal/etc must take on O's frame of reference as it begins its FTL
trip. Thus, as Op passes O and tries to send the FTL bullet from his frame
of reference, the bullet will have to take on O's frame as it begins is FTL
trip. But in O's frame of reference, the event "*" has already occurred by
the time O and Op pass one another. Therefore, from the FTL bullet's new
frame of reference (forced on it by the provision we are making), it cannot
kill the victim at the event "*" since that event has already occurred in
this frame. Thus, the paradox is obviously averted in this second case as
well because of our provision.
     So, in the end, if all FTL travelers/etc are required to take on a
specific frame of reference when they begin their FTL trip, then there will
be no way an unsolvable paradox can be produced. This is because it takes
two different FTL trips from two _different_ frames of reference to produce
the paradox. Under this provision, if you are sending tachyons, the tachyons
must only travel FTL in the special frame of reference. If you are folding
space, the folding must be done in the special frame of reference. If you
are using the special field itself to allow FTL travel, then you must take
on the field's frame of reference. Etc. If these are the cases, then there
will be no way to produce an unsolvable paradox using any of the FTL
     As a final note about this provision, we should realize that it does
seem to directly contradict the idea of relativity because one particular
frame of reference is given a special place in the universe. However, we are
talking about FTL travel, and many FTL concepts "get around" relativity just
to allow the FTL travel in the first place. Further, the special frame
doesn't necessarily have to apply to any physics we know about today. All
the physics we have today could still be completely relativistic. In our
example, it is a special field that actually has a special place in the
physics of FTL travel, and that field just happens to have some particular
frame of reference. Thus, the special frame does not have to be "embedded"
in the makeup of the universe, but it can be connected to something else
which just happens to make that frame "special" for the specific purpose of
FTL travel.

     And so, we have seen the four provisions which would allow for the
possibility of FTL travel without producing unsolvable paradoxes. For the
case of the real world, there is no knowing which (if any) of the provisions
are truly the case. For the purposes of science fiction, one may favor one
of the provisions over the others, depending on the story one wishes to

Chapter 10: Some Comments on FTL Travel in Star Trek

     Since this document is meant for the newsgroup,
it seems appropriate to take all we have discussed and apply it to what we
see in Star Trek. Of course, it would be foolish to assume (unfortunately)
that the writers for the show take the time to learn as much about these
concepts as we now know, and I am certainly not implying that a conscious
effort was made to incorporate what we know to be true in a consistent way
on the show (after all, this _is_ Star Trek :'). However, interestingly
enough, if we apply the concepts correctly, we can explain most of what Star
Trek has shown us. That is what I will try to do here.

10.1 Which Provision is Best for Explaining Warp Travel

     First, we might want to consider the four provisions and try to decide
which one would best fit Trek so that everyday warp travel couldn't be used
to produce unsolvable paradoxes.
     So, let's consider both the first and second provisions. In these
cases, neither of the two FTL trips in our FTL bullet example will
necessarily be forbidden. So, if we consider that example yet again, we can
make the following argument: Let Op be the Enterprise. Then, rather than
sending a bullet, the Enterprise could itself travel from the origin to "*".
It could then (through ordinary acceleration) change its frame of reference
to match O's. Then it could travel from "*" (or just after "*"--we have to
give them a little time to do their acceleration) back to the O observer,
and it could get to O BEFORE it ever left for its first FTL trip (i.e. we
put the Enterprise in place of the FTL signal sent by the third observer).
Thus, since neither the first or second provision has to forbid any of these
actions, the Enterprise could use everyday warp travel via this method to
easily travel back in time without having to do something as dangerous as
zipping around the sun (as they have had to do on the show).
     In addition, if the first provision governed normal warp travel, then
making different trips from different frames of reference would introduce
the possibility that you would find yourself being transferred to another
parallel universe to prevent unsolvable paradoxes. Also, if the second
provision governed normal warp travel, it would require Star Trek ships to
be careful as to which frames of reference they were in when they decided to
enter warp. After all, they may not want to accidentally meet themselves
from a previous trip (in which case the universe may destroy them to protect
self consistency). So, there seems to be some daunting arguments against
using either the first or second provision to keep ordinary warp travel from
producing unsolvable paradoxes in Trek.
     Okay, what about the third provision? With that provision it would be
impossible to use ordinary warp travel as a "time machine". However, this
provision does cause certain noticeable restrictions on some FTL trips
(remember, it allows certain FTL trips to prevent other FTL trips). There
could be cases where the Enterprise would be prevented from completing its
warp trip on time because of an FTL signal sent by someone else. We
certainly don't see that on the show (not surprisingly). So, considering
this provision, I can't easily point out any arguments to support using it
to keep warp travel from being self inconsistent.
     This leaves us with the fourth provision, and I think you will see that
it the provision of choice for the purposes of Trek. Of course, this fourth
provision must involve some special frame of reference; therefore, we might
first ask about where this special frame might come from. Thus, I will make
a proposal for answering such a question in the next section, and then I
will present what I believe are strong arguments for using the fourth
provision to keep normal warp travel from being self inconsistent in Trek.

10.2 Subspace as a Special Frame of Reference

     When we discussed the fourth, "special frame of reference" provision, I
introduced the idea of a field which had a particular frame of reference.
For Star Trek, we can imagine subspace to be this field, and we can let it
pervade all of known space. Then, subspace (or at least some property of
subspace) would define a particular frame of reference at every point in
space. When you entered warp, you would take on the frame of reference of
subspace and keep it, regardless of your velocity with respect to subspace.
This would ensure that normal, everyday warp travel would not produce
unsolvable paradoxes (as we discussed in Section 9.5.4).
     So, what does this provision give us that the third provision didn't?
Well, by assuming that subspace defines a special frame of reference, we can
explain some interesting points on the technical side of Trek. For example,
in the "Star Trek the Next Generation Technical Manual" (and in other
sources) we see that the different warp numbers correspond (in some way) to
different FTL speeds. But when they say that Warp 3 is 39 times the speed of
light, we must ask what frame of reference this speed is measured in. With
subspace as a special frame of reference, it would be understood to mean "39
times the speed of light in the frame of reference of subspace."
     The same idea can be applied to references made to impulse-drive-only
speeds. In the Technical Manual, they mention efficiency ratings for
"velocities limited to 0.5c." They also mention the need for added power for
"velocities above 0.75c." But these velocities are all relative, and so we
must ask why these normal, slower than light velocity of the Enterprise
should matter when considering efficiencies, etc. After all, the Enterprise
is always traveling above 0.5 c in SOME frame of reference and above 0.75c
in some other frame of reference. However, since impulse is supposed to use
a subspace field to "lower the mass of the ship" (so that it is easier to
propel), we could argue that the speed of the ship with respect to subspace
(assuming subspace defines a special frame of reference) would effect
efficiencies, etc.
     Further, there is a much more documented example which refers to warp
10. As many of you know, warp 10 is supposed to be infinite speed in the
Next Generation shows. That means that the event "you leave your departure
point" would be simultaneous with the event "you arrive at your
destination". But, as we have discussed, the question of whether two events
are simultaneous or not truly depends on the frame of reference you are in.
So, we ask, in what frame of reference is warp 10 actually infinite speed.
Again, we can use the frame of reference of subspace to resolve this issue.
Warp 10 would be understood to be infinite speed in the frame of reference
of subspace.
     Finally, using this provision, there would be a standard, understood
definition for measuring times, lengths, etc. Times would be measured just
as it would tick on a clock in the frame of reference of subspace, and
distances would be measured just as they would be by a ruler at rest in the
subspace frame of reference. Basically, the feeling we have for the way
things work in every day, non-relativistic life would be applicable to Trek
by using the subspace frame of reference as a standard, understood reference
     And so, I believe that the fourth provision gives us the best
explanation for how normal, everyday warp travel in Trek could be self

10.3 The "Picture" this Gives Us of Warp Travel

     Given the previous discussion, we see that the fourth provision seems
to fit Star Trek like a glove. Thus, it may be best for us to view warp
travel in Star Trek like this: Subspace is a field which defines a
particular frame of reference at all points in known space. When you enter
warp, you are using subspace such that you keep its frame of reference
regardless of your speed. Not only does this mean that normal warp travel
cannot be used to produce unsolvable paradoxes, but since in warp your frame
of reference would no longer depend on your speed as it does in relativity,
relativistic effects in general do not apply to travelers using warp. Since
relativistic effects don't apply, you also have a general explanation as to
why you can exceed the speed of light in the first place.
     (As a note, this is similar to Alcubierre's idea for "warp" travel
(mentioned earlier), but in his idea the traveler did not take on a
"special" frame. Instead, he took on the frame he had before entering warp,
but that allows two trips from two different frames of reference to produce
an unsolvable paradox. If we add subspace as a special frame of reference to
Alcubierre's idea, we could get a self consistent situation which would be
very similar to what we see in Trek.)
     For more information on how this might conceptually work in the science
fiction world of Trek (at least one way I imagine it) you may want to read
my other regular post, "Subspace Physics"
(URL= Here, however, we can at least use
this "picture" of warp to consider how the outside universe might appear to
someone traveling at warp speed. Remember, at any point the warp traveler's
frame of reference it is as if he is sitting still in subspace's reference
frame. We could illustrate the way such an observer would picture a
particular event by using the following idea: Picture a string of cameras,
each a distance (d) away from the one before it. Let these cameras all be
stationary in the frame of reference of subspace, and let them all be
pointed at the event of interest. Further, let each camera have a clock on
it, and let all the clocks be synchronized in the subspace frame. Then, we
can set each camera to go off with the time between one camera flash and the
next being d/v (where v is the FTL velocity of the observer we want to
illustrate). Then, each picture is taken in the subspace frame of reference,
but the string of pictures (one from each camera) would form a movie in
which each frame was taken from a different place in space from the previous
frame. Thus, we can use this to produce a film of how an event would look to
a warp traveler.
     Of course, in Trek they have subspace sensors which do all their seeing
for them (faster than light, of course). However, the above does illustrate
one's ability to use this view of warp travel to answer various technical

10.4 Some Notes on Non-Warp FTL Travel and Time Travel in Trek

     Now, there are cases in Trek where FTL travel exists without
necessarily using subspace (and thus the subspace frame of reference would
not apply and would not prevent unsolvable paradoxes). For example, if the
wormhole in Deep Space Nine is assumed to be the same as a wormhole we
theorize about today, then it wouldn't need to deal with subspace to allow
FTL travel. (Now, what they call a wormhole doesn't necessarily have to be
what we call a wormhole, but for this illustration, let's assume it is). So,
if the wormholes in Trek aren't bounded by the subspace frame of reference,
we could imagine a situation whereby they could be used to cause unsolvable
paradoxes. This is true for any form of FTL travel in Trek which might not
use subspace. However, I propose that in cases where subspace isn't used (so
that its special frame of reference could not prevent unsolvable paradoxes)
then the first or second provision, "parallel universes" or "consistency
protection", would apply. In that way, we can allow for
non-warp/non-subspace-using FTL travel in Trek while still preventing
unsolvable paradoxes.
     Further, consider time travel in Trek. Actual time travel couldn't be
accomplished by using subspace alone (the subspace frame along with the
fourth provision would prevent it). However, I propose again that such
travels in time should not be able to produce unsolvable paradoxes because
the "parallel universes" or "consistency protection" provisions would apply
(since subspace alone couldn't be in use to produce the time travel).
     For example, consider the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode,
"Time's Arrow" (in which Data's severed head is found on 24th century Earth,
and Data eventually travels back in time to (unintentionally) leave his head
behind to be found). Now, after the head was found, one of the crew (let's
say Riker, just to use an example) could decide to try to produce an
unsolvable paradox. Riker may decide to do everything in his power so as to
keep Data from going back in time. He may even try to destroy Data and his
head to accomplish this task. Of course, Riker isn't the type of person to
do this, but what if he was? Well, in that case, he would be trying to
produce an unsolvable paradox, and the first or second provision would
prevent it. For the first provision, the head found in the 24th century
might have actually come from a parallel universe. For the second provision,
we could imagine various ways in which Riker might fail in his task of
trying to keep data from going back in time. Further, we could consider the
case in which he would succeed in producing an unsolvable paradox and we
could insist that such situations would destroy themselves or prevent
themselves from ever happening.
     Such a situation is seen in a particular Voyager episode. In this
episode, members of the crew are caught in a "subspace fissure", and they
travel back in time. By the end of the episode, their trip back in time has
produced a self-inconsistent situation. That series of events then becomes
impossible and ceases to exist by the closing credits. This could be seen as
a result of having the "consistency protection provision" apply to a case
where the subspace frame of reference is bypassed via "subspace fissures".
     So, even though we can be relatively sure that this was not the
intention of the writers, the situations shown do seem to comply with the
concepts we have developed.

10.5 To sum up...

     To sum up, we have found that by introducing a special frame of
reference which would be "attached" to subspace, and by further insisting
that any type of FTL/time travel done without using subspace be governed by
the "parallel universe" or "consistency protection" provisions, we will not
only have a self consistent universe for our Star Trek stories, but we can
also (coincidentally) explain many of the "but how come...?" questions which
some Star Trek episodes produce.

Chapter 11: Conclusion

     In Part I of this FAQ, I presented some of major concepts of special
relativity, and here in Part IV, we have discussed the considerable havoc
they play with the possibility of faster than light travel. I have argued
that the possibility of producing unsolvable paradox is a very powerful
deterrent to all FTL concepts. Further, we have introduced four basic
provisions, at least one of which must be in place so that FTL trips/signals
(sent using any of the FTL concepts) cannot be used to produce unsolvable
paradoxes. Finally, we looked at the science fiction of Star Trek while
considering all that we had discussed. We concluded that warp travel could
be governed by the fourth provision (via subspace defining a special frame
of reference) while all other FTL travel (or time travel) could be governed
by the first or second provisions. This, I believe, best explains what we
see on Star Trek.
     If you have not read Part II or Part III of this FAQ, and you are
interested in learning more about relativity (special and general), then you
may want to give them a look.
     As the end result of producing this FAQ, I hope that I have at least
informed you to some extent (or perhaps just helped to clarified your own
knowledge) concerning relativity and the problems it poses for FTL travel.

Jason Hinson

lems it poses for FTL travel.

Jason Hinson

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