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Modern physics shows that it’s possible to manipulate time. But does that mean we can travel to the past? And what does this say about what time actually is. Is the future real? Is the past? Do other points in time exist in the same sense that the present does?

In this second episode of the Monitor’s six-part series, “It’s About Time,” hosts Rebecca Asoulin and Eoin O’Carroll talk to a physicist, a philosopher, and a novelist who have all made it their life’s work to answer the question: What is time?

The physicist – Ron Mallett – designed a real (theoretical) time machine based on Albert Einstein’s theories of relativity. According to Einstein, time isn’t a rigid, invariant backdrop. Instead, it can be stretched, warped, and perhaps even curved into a closed loop where an object traveling through it ends up just where – and when – it began. 


Einstein’s work inspired Dr. Mallett, whose career in theoretical physics was sparked by the death of his father when he was 10. “I thought, if I understand Einstein, I can understand how to build a time machine,” Dr. Mallet says. “I can go back and see him again.”

Of course, time travel is still firmly in the realm of science fiction. So Rebecca and Eoin turn to sci-fi writer Ted Chiang, who wrote the short story that was the basis of the 2016 film “Arrival.” He says thinking about time travel can help us make meaning out of the trajectories of our lives. 

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