What If Space And Time Changed Places?

Space and time are intertwined, but possess very different characteristics. If their features were changed, the universe would look very different.

When Einstein came up with the General Theory of Relativity, the world was not particularly friendly toward Germans or German science. The credit for this mistrust solely went to World War II.

But finally, when Einstein’s work made it into the world of science, people found it difficult to understand. Perhaps this was because it is indeed difficult to understand, but also because of what it implied…

It is true that the General Theory of Relativity conceived the universe in a better way. However, it also made people realize that nothing is as it seems in the night sky. In fact, when Chandrashekhar used it to prove the existence of the singularity, Einstein himself didn’t believe him!

Of all that it gave us, one of the most interesting and important concepts of the General theory of relativity was that of space-time.

Previously, no one had even imagined that space and time were inseparable, nor deeply considered their intriguing nature. It was mind-boggling to understand that they are not only conjoined, but also inconsistent throughout the universe.

Since then, we have come a long way in this field through the study of singularity, gravitational waves, and so much more. However, there are still many questions to answer about space-time, like the expansion of the universe, the Big Bang, and more. That being said, have you ever wondered what would happen if space and time exchanged positions? Would it affect the very fabric of the universe? And is it even possible?


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Understanding space and time

Einstein’s theory of general relativity implied that space-time is composed of four inseparable dimensions. It is a malleable play dough at the hands of gravity.

For instance, imagine a massive star whose gravity will be just as massive. It is seen that light travels in a curved fashion around the star depending on its gravity. This is all thanks to curved space-time itself, because as we all know, light cannot bend. This is an example of gravity molding space-time!

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The greater the gravity, the more it affects space-time, as shown in the picture. The Sun is far more massive than the Earth (not to scale) and therefore causes far more distortion in space-time. (Photo Credit : vchal/Shutterstock)

Now, even though space and time are a part of the same structure in which this universe lives, they both couldn’t be more different. Think of a set of twins for instance. These twins are always joined at the hip, so in tune that they complete the other’s thoughts, yet completely different in terms of their personalities.

Space and time can be imagined as such twins – inseparable, what affects one affects the other, but have completely different implications on the universe.

Voyage through space-time

Let’s imagine ourselves as astronauts in a spaceship. With space, it’s very straightforward. Yes, it will bend around heavy objects, just like time, but it is three-dimensional and allows our spaceship to travel in any direction. Thus, we can go in any direction we want.

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A spaceship for our travel through space-time (Photo Credit : Dotted Yeti/Shutterstock)

But with time, it is much trickier. This fourth dimension is as malleable as space under gravity, but just as rigid. It will only allow the spaceship to travel in one direction—forward. Thus, the only option is to move forward in time, never backward. So as we move in whichever direction we want in space, in time we are only moving forward.

But what happens if the personalities of these twins are switched? And could it even happen? And if it can, how?

Switch in space and time

Let’s imagine being in this space-time with the switched personalities. Time was previously very rigid and allowed only forward motion, but now it behaves like space and allows movement in the forward and backward directions.

This means you can travel back in time! Hurray!

However, let’s not be so delighted yet, because what we see from the spaceship isn’t space. Rather it is like looking at an abstract collage painting of many different times. Some (or rather most) of these won’t even make sense! And space… that has become rigid. It will only allow movement in a particular direction, so now our spaceship is doomed.

Unless time also becomes a ‘physical’ dimension like space, the spaceship is going nowhere but the one direction that space is leading us. Creepy, right?

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In this switched space-time, we will see a mad kaleidoscope of different times. (Photo Credit : Fyria/Shutterstock)

The good thing is, this switch has never ever been observed, but does that mean that it doesn’t happen? The truth is, this concept of switching is what helps in understanding the inside of a black hole.

So, if our spaceship somehow lands in a black hole, we will see snapshots of times around us, instead of space. Instead of seeing objects spread throughout space, we will see warped images of different times.

Whether or not these time snapshots would be relevant to us is completely a mystery. At that point, space will only move in one direction, just as time previously had. It would be warped by the gravity leading us in a single direction—to the singularity. If time were physical here, maybe we could escape into one of the snapshots of time on the way to singularity.

If not, perhaps all we see is something that will not make any sense while we fall infinitely. It would be like falling into a mad kaleidoscope with time replacing the dazzling beads… provided that the black hole doesn’t kill us on the way to the event horizon itself!

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About the Author

Megha has done her Masters in Astrophysics from St. Xavier’s, Mumbai with her subject of thesis being Particle Physics, so normalcy is the last thing you expect from her. She is an abject fan of horror and has the crazy part down in the term ‘crazy scientist’. One day, she aims to have the scientist part covered as well.

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