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The basic premise of a story I've been thinking through is that society finds that they cannot respond to catastrophic events quickly enough and decide to use time dilation to accelerate results of scientific advances. As an example, even when working together on a global problem, it still takes months to work through the science and evidence gathering to safely produce a cure for an emergent disease.

By sending a team of scientists (along with their subjects, if needed) into a place where time moves faster relative to the main population, they can gather evidence in the usual amount of time in their frame of reference and emerge in what seems like a very short amount of time in the frame of reference of the main population. Instead of 6-12 months, to the general population it seems like weeks.

How could time dilation be generated or leveraged in this manner?

  • How could the whole population except the experiment be accelerated relative to the experiment?
  • Alternately, would it be possible to generate enough gravity in the experiment to dilate time this much? (Setting aside issues of how humans would survive in such gravity)
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    $\begingroup$ You can use time dilation to slow your time, but not to speed it up - unless your planet is already in time dilation like Miller's Planet from "Interstellar". $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Oct 27, 2022 at 16:47
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    $\begingroup$ This is basically the plot of Greg Egan's "Orthongonal" series. $\endgroup$
    – chepner
    Oct 28, 2022 at 12:44
  • $\begingroup$ @chepner Yes, but in Egan's universe the geometry is locally Euclidean, not Minkowskian, so time works very differently than it does in ours. $\endgroup$
    – John Doty
    Oct 28, 2022 at 14:22
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    $\begingroup$ Sure, but it's one way to "create" (out of universe) more time for the scientists to find a solution. $\endgroup$
    – chepner
    Oct 28, 2022 at 14:25
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    $\begingroup$ In Orson Scott Card's "Ender's Game', a military genius is put on a relativistic spaceship until his skills are needed decades later. If you have experts who are far ahead of their contemporaries and you can predict roughly when you'll need their skills, it might be sufficient to store them at high speeds. Analogous to putting them in suspended animation and thawing them when needed. But obviously once-in-a-dozen-generations geniuses are rare and generally useful for the challenges d'jour $\endgroup$ Oct 28, 2022 at 17:13

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No, you cannot use time dilation like that.

If you travel close to the speed of light, then time will slow down for you.

So near the speed of light, you can travel to Alpha Centauri (4 light years each away) and back and only age one day, but the earth and everyone else will have aged 8 years.

So if you are a billionaire going to die from some incurable disease, you might gamble on making a round-trip at near the speed of light to 50 light years away and back, return with the Earth having lived through 100 years, and perhaps a cure for your incurable disease will have been found by then. Set up and fund an institute to find a cure before you go, and hope they did their job.

But that's it. You can (without breaking any laws of physics, and technology permitting) use time dilation as a one-way time machine to jump forward into the future, any number of years. But you cannot slow down time for the solar system; the amount of gravity that takes would be lethal long before you could slow down a person even 1%.

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  • $\begingroup$ You forget that time dialation also occurs as you move closer to the center of a gravity well. In theory, if you were to closely orbit a black hole without crossing the event horizon, the slower time would pass compared to someone further from the event horizon. So sending scientists away from this planet to devise a solution for a disease would speed it up, provided the scientists have all the resources they could ever need. But that's only from the POV of the people on the planet. $\endgroup$
    – hszmv
    Oct 28, 2022 at 11:08
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    $\begingroup$ @hszmv You still have this backwards; time slows for the researchers near a black hole, compared to the Earth. If they are within 5% of the Scwarzchild radius of the event horizon, then 4.58 days pass on Earth for every 24 hours the researchers experience. This does not help them develop a cure any faster (and the gravitational differentials between one side of their body and the other would probably kill them). See the following link for a complete explanation of the physics: profoundphysics.com/why-time-slows-down-near-a-black-hole $\endgroup$
    – Amadeus
    Oct 28, 2022 at 11:35
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    $\begingroup$ I'm aware... I just don't have space to cover the physics of the situation in a comment with a fixed character thing. My point was this answer neglected gravitational time dilation. It also is erroneous in that people who are in a slower dilation of time do not perceive time as being slowed down. Time doesn't slow down for me as I approach the speed of light. It slows down relative to those who are stationary. Also my initial post posited a planet with in the radius and the researchers outside of it.+ $\endgroup$
    – hszmv
    Oct 28, 2022 at 12:12
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    $\begingroup$ @hszmv I know they don't perceive it, that is not the point. The question is about developing a cure for a disease in a week rather than a year by using time dilation somehow. Therefore the entire world must have time pass more slowly than it does for the researchers, so they can do a year's worth of work in what is a week for the planet. That would require the planet (or solar system) to be about 1/2500th of the Schwarzchild radius away from the Black Hole, and the gravitational sheer would rip the planet (or solar system) apart. Gravitational relativity is not remotely feasible, either. $\endgroup$
    – Amadeus
    Oct 28, 2022 at 14:39
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    $\begingroup$ @Tomeamis Understood. My point is, for science realism, the Event Horizon of a Black Hole is at the Schwarzchild radius. The planet obviously cannot cross that line. In order to slow down time by a factor of 52 (so only a week passes, instead of a year), the planet would have to be at about 1/2500th of the Schwarzchild radius, from the Event Horizon. and then, the time and gravity differential from one side of the planet, to the other, would rip the planet apart into rubble. And how would the Sun and other planets react to the black hole? For science realism it is not a practical solution. $\endgroup$
    – Amadeus
    Oct 29, 2022 at 10:05
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Move the patient, not the doctors

For a pandemia, this is a way very rich people will escape.. it can also be used if the number of patients is limited.. and very precious.. they have to be saved in some way.

Your doctors will move forward slower than you in time. When they would travel fast, you'll wait for ages before they return.

Better send the patient on a journey.. slowing time down for them, so they have enough time to "wait" for the doctors research.

In SF you could of course consider sending the patients into a close orbit around a black hole or something, so the doctors on the planet have all the time to find a cure, while the patients wait "100 years" in a space ship that reappears near the planet after a few months of their own time, to receive the medicin in time ?

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Travel back in time

There's no simple way to speed up time in a bubble. Gravity slows down time, it makes the problem worse. You could theoretically dyson the solar system to slow down time locally there, but that's such an absurdly expensive solution that it's not realistic. As such, the simple alternative is to travel back in time.

Find a wormhole that allows them to travel back 6 months in time, study in seclusion, and then pop out with the solution.

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  • $\begingroup$ Or let them work, and then travel back in time. As long as they survive and don't spread the disaster back in time (e.g. : diseases) the result is about the same :) $\endgroup$ Oct 27, 2022 at 14:26
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    $\begingroup$ @Tortliena That's actually the better solution. The first (traveling back in time, then study) presumes the amount of time they'll need to crack the case. If they finish early, that's months of waiting! $\endgroup$
    – BMF
    Oct 27, 2022 at 23:57
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    $\begingroup$ Time-travel ALWAYS introduces more issues than it solves. From scientific point of view both time travel and accelerated time are equaly implausible, and time acceleration don't have nearly the number of issues. $\endgroup$
    – Negdo
    Oct 28, 2022 at 13:17
  • $\begingroup$ @Negdo exactly. If you are going to go the non science route may as well just handwave in a magic time slow down device since it accomplishes the same thing without all the ridiculous silliness time travel brings in $\endgroup$
    – eps
    Oct 28, 2022 at 17:33
  • $\begingroup$ I'd argue if you're capable of time travelling, you can bootstrap your way to infinite knowledge -you just keep hopping back in time once you've discovered the solution to the next thing, and tell it to your previous self. A superintelligent AI is probably a pre requisite for this, but time travel certainly causes more problems $\endgroup$
    – lupe
    Oct 28, 2022 at 22:22
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Exotic material with negative mass

@NepeneNep is right, that general relatively will normally be working against you.

There is a hypothetical alternative: if you can get your hands on so-called "exotic matter" that has negative mass, you could create a local area with less gravity, and time would pass more slowly within that region.

It is worth noting two things:

  • Exotic matter is purely hypothetical. As far as I'm aware, there is no evidence to suggest that anything exists that fits the description. Exotic matter comes up in every discussion of the Alcubierre drive.
  • The effect of gravity on time is very small, so you would probably need a simply gargantuan amount of exotic matter (probably many hundreds of Solar masses' worth) to slow time noticeably. Simply obtaining that much matter is itself an unimaginably difficult task.

I would also remind you that your scientists have to actually inhabit this region for a while, which means it will matter what are the other effects of negative mass and less gravity. Like, if the negative gravity is that strong, would people and objects be repelled from the center of negative gravity? It could be very hard to actually perform scientific research (or even eat a meal) in a region of spacetime with such a strong and unusual curve.

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For what it's worth, Greg Egan did this plot in the Orthogonal trilogy by setting it in an alternate reality where the metric signature of spacetime is ++++ instead of −+++. That flips the sign in the time dilation factor from $\sqrt{1-v^2}\le 1$ to $\sqrt{1+v^2}\ge 1$, so you can put the scientists in a rocket ship to give them more time.

It also has many many other effects on physics, chemistry, and biology, but perhaps you could gloss over those.

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  • $\begingroup$ The side (or actually main) effects on physics are so profound that chemistry and biology would be changed beyond recognition. This cannot be simply swept under the rug. $\endgroup$
    – Trang Oul
    Nov 2, 2022 at 10:05
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You can't get there from here.

The problem is that time dilation is a side effect of spacetime curvature. If you make spacetime more curved, then time moves slower within that curved space.

You want the opposite effect. You want spacetime flatter, and there isn't much curvature to flatten out where we are. Thus, you'd have to make up your own rules. Maybe you can invent a hyperspace where time moves faster.

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You've not got the science-based tag on this one, so let's go nuts and say "temporal distortions".

Temporal Distortions

In the Star Trek: TNG episode Timescape, the central characters encounter "pockets of temporal distortion" where time moves faster or slower. In the episode, this is caused by some sort of space creature making its home inside the "quantum singularity" powering a Romulan vessel. All of this is nonsense, but no one save pedants (myself, for example) blinks twice at it.

You probably wouldn't have a quantum singularity, but your scientists could've invented a Zero Point energy source that they could use to make "energetic mass shadows", which cause time-space distortions without the deleterious effects of gravity on human-scale entities. (Which is also nonsense, but passes muster.)

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Use a simulated reality

Speeding up reality is a VERY distant dream that we don't even have the foundational science to begin exploring. But that does not mean that we can't make faster than real-life simulations of reality. While it may take 9 months for a rocket to get from Earth to Mars, we can use computer models to map out all of the forces that will act on that rocket over the course of its flight very quickly, effectively compressing 9 months of experience into a just a few seconds of simulation. So the simulated reality in your computer could be described as accelerated time.

As for your actual problem of safely curing diseases: the traditional method takes real organisms, injects them with real drugs, and waits real amounts of time to see what happens... but in the near future, this will not be necessary. We've already mapped out the entire human genome, and are close to mapping out every single chemical process that makes our bodies function.

Chemistry, once you know what chemicals you are working with, is rather predictable. The entire biochemistry of a human body is much too complex for a single human to grasp, but well within the abilities of an adequately powerful super computer to work out. While you can't necessarily map out each molecular reaction in a timely manner, what you can do is create extremely accurate probability matrixes of how each type of cell in your body will react with a given parthenogen and drug, and this can be done very quickly, making ball park predictions on 100s of thousands of possible drugs in a matter of hours. This is more or less how the first Covid detection kits were produced so quickly. Then, once you've isolated the few most promising drugs, you start testing them against more and more accurate (and time consuming) models of the body with various dosages and common drug interactions to see which ones will be safe on a grander scale. Then at last, you run the most highly detailed simulations of the most promising drugs just to make sure there are no long term side effects when taking the whole body into account.

These sorts of simulations are getting better all the time, as are our computers for running them on. In the not too distant future, the exact problems your describing will be solved faster and faster not by speeding up time, but by speeding up simulations giving us nearly instant solutions to problems that now take years of research. It will take time for society to accept this as "safe", but eventually being able to produce millions of fast, cheap, near perfect simulations will prove to be even more reliable than the thousands of expensive and time consuming real world simulations we can manage today. Once the benefits of large sample sizes you can manage with simulations outweighs the risk of thier level of inaccuracy, the need for any real world testing will be completely obsolete.

So, by the time people have the technology to make such a time dilation device, the problems it is meant to overcome will already be solved by much cheaper and lower tech means.

And the best part here is that researchers don't need to sacrifice years off of thier lives going into a time dilation chamber to do thier work, and no test subject needs to be injected with any unproven substances to see if they will work or not.

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Alcubierre drive + Portals = fun

Accelerating faster and faster is problematic for time travel. As we approach the speed of light, our relativistic mass increases requiring more and more energy input until we hit 99.999999c or so and we need basically infinite energy to go any faster. Also, during that acceleration period, our sense of time has shifted so far from the time frame from whence we left that when we finally manage to stop moving, who knows how many years have passed outside of our reference frame.

An Alcubierre drive, on the other hand, does not accelerate. At least, not according to the current models that predict its behavior. No, these models assume that the drive just is going faster than light-speed instantaneously. Is this due to an inconsistency in what is most likely an impossible engine with our current understanding of physics?

Most likely.

But we need to speed up time for a group of individuals, and we need it now. So, we have a crazy idea.

One thing about the Alcubierre drive in particular is that it take a region of space-time and isolates it, which is great for us. Within this region, we could move about, eat, and do science all we want (assuming said region contains things like a spaceship with an atmosphere and a floor and such).

Once that space-time region is isolated, it folds space "in front of" and "behind" the isolated region, and these folds make it such that the region is suddenly being pulled and pushed by the space-time pressure differential to instantaneously faster-than-light speeds. At these speeds, we would be moving backwards through time.

Thing is, we don’t want to do that, necessarily, we just want to speed up time for our perspective. In order to achieve this, we rapidly turn the drive on and off. Duty-cycle it, if you will. In theory, for each minor jump back in time, we move forward slightly more before the drive kicks back on, and this “temporal pulsing” would effectively speed up time for our frame of reference while everyone else’s is unchanged.

One more small problem, though: during the times when the drive is on, we will be moving extremely fast, and would definitely end up several lights years away from where we started even though the drive is being turned off just as often. We solve this with portals (or wormholes, or whatever you want to call a point-to-point space-time tunnel). We have the tech to make an Alcubierre drive, so we have the tech to establish tunnels that face each other and allow us to travel in an infinite straight line without moving too far from our initial starting point. Now you're thinking with portals.

The effect of these phenomena would be strange to behold. First of all, the portals would likely create weird optical illusions by being so close together, with their own affects on space-time. The ship with the drive would likely appear to either be rapidly flashing in and out of visibility, or be translucent and shimmery, depending on the frequency of the temporal pulsing.

Now, onto the questions: IF we can make portals, why do we need to use an Alcubierre Drive? Also, why not just go back in time six months and then come back or something similar?

For the portals, I believe it is impossible to establish a portal at a point in time before the present, so we would have to create the portal now, wait 6 months, create another wormhole, and then the points could be connected through time, something-something-closed timelike curve; however, no one wants to wait that long, and we need our cures now. So immediately connected P2P tunnels it is.

Why not just go back in time with the drive? The concept of duty-cycling has long been used to keep devices from overheating. Perhaps the drive works to go back in time, but only in short hops, and this method is the best we can do with the current state of the drive technology. Or the exotic matter that fuels the drive is very scarce and pulsing the drive is more efficient than running it continuously and achieves the same overall goal.

At any rate, here are some relatively plausible explanations to futz with space-time and relativity. Enjoy.

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    $\begingroup$ This doesn't make sense. There is no reason to believe that folks inside the Alcubierre region will travel backwards in time: we would still expect time's arrow to point forward because that region will still be causally connected to the exterior and governed by entropy; it is not a "pocket" universe. I'm also skeptical that the Alcubierre drive is assumed to jump from rest to top speed instantly. $\endgroup$
    – Tom
    Oct 27, 2022 at 23:08
  • $\begingroup$ Well, that's obviously a pair of very fair analyses. This answer is an exceptionally loose reading of several space-time phenomena (you could argue a semantically tangential reading) with the sole goal of creating an explanation which the OP may use to explain this very essential scenario that they are trying to achieve for the sake of building a fictional world. $\endgroup$
    – Tmartin
    Oct 28, 2022 at 0:26
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As others have said, as far as we know time can be slowed, not accelerated (except by removing the source of current factor that is slowing it down). But as it's SF, you can decide that if gravity can slow down time, that certain exotic force/phenomena can accelerate it. That can be pretty much anything, from exotic particles that create negative gravity, fifth fundamental force, to reversing the polarity of the neutrino flow.

But no matter the method, there are issues with time dilation. Both of known ways are extremely energy intensive, and gravity as a way to slow down time is a bit unhealthy. So the odds are good that any way to accelerate time would similarly be energy intensive and/or harmful for people. You should take that into account. Because if a society can afford something so energy expensive, why would they have issues with solving problems in timely manner? Even with our current technology we developed a vaccine for a very virulent new virus in a couple of months, and then distributed said vaccine through most of the planet. More technologically advanced society would solve it's issues even faster (if they are dire enough, you can never underestimate bureaucratic red-tape). But if the way to accelerate time is just harmful, the solution would be to just put computers into accelerated time, and let the software solve the problem without much input from scientists.

As for time-travel, that is a trap that always introduce way more issues than it solve. Number of times it was used properly in literature can be counted on fingers of one hand...

As for a solution to your issue: quantum/extremely fast computers or AI. If you can create advanced enough simulations of human body, you could easily computate a cure for practically any disease. And if you want scientists involved, you can introduce matrix-style virtual reality, where mind is practically uploaded into a computer, and thus can be run at faster rate. So if you cannot accelerate time, then do the next best thing: accelerate scientists' perception of time!

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