Have you ever made a mistake that you wish you could undo? Correcting past mistakes is one of the reasons we find the concept of time travel so fascinating. As often portrayed in science fiction, with a time machine, nothing is permanent anymore—you can always go back and change it. But is time travel really possible in our universe, or is it just science fiction?
Our modern understanding of time and causality comes from general relativity. Theoretical physicist Albert Einstein’s theory combines space and time into a single entity—”spacetime”—and provides a remarkably intricate explanation of how they both work, at a level unmatched by any other established theory. This theory has existed for more than 100 years, and has been experimentally verified to extremely high precision, so physicists are fairly certain it provides an accurate description of the causal structure of our universe.
For decades, physicists have been trying to use general relativity to figure out if time travel is possible. It turns out that you can write down equations that describe time travel and are fully compatible and consistent with relativity. But physics is not mathematics, and equations are meaningless if they do not correspond to anything in reality.