Will Advances in Propulsion Continue to Follow a Predictable Curve?
What Is the Real Limit to How Fast We Can Go?
From the very dawn of civilization, and probably much farther back still, human beings have valued the property of speed. When we first observed cheetahs running on the plains of the Serengeti to capture wildebeest we were probably stunned by their swiftness and agility. Observations of logs or rocks rolling down hill no doubt eventually led to the invention of the wheel and machines that could carry us by animal power at great speed, without the need to use our legs in the process. Since the beginning of time up to the present we have envied the ability of anything capable of moving fast through its natural surroundings, whether it’s a diving eagle or the revving engine of a high performance sports car.
It is only logical then as technology has progressed that we have valued the idea of going faster and faster, while traveling in safe and comfortable surroundings while doing so. First it was through the use of animal power provided by horses and dogs, then steam engines, and ultimately the creation of millions of gas or diesel powered automobiles, ships, trains and planes. This led to the invention of rocketry and the ability to go so fast that we could escape the pull of Earth’s gravity and visit other nearby worlds, even if only by robotic probes.
In our current science fiction visions of the future, we tend to extend this pattern of advancement indefinitely into the ages to come. We think up faster and faster modes of travel through space such as through the use of warp drive, via wormholes, or by riding on faster than light tachyon beams. Yet is this a flawed premise, a holdover from a more primitive impulse in our reptilian brains to escape danger by running away as fast as possible? Are we victims of our own limited frame of reference? The idea that we have to move through space in some manner to actually traverse it may eventually become obsolete.
We view everything in space as being enormously distant and impossible to reach with current technology, from twinkling star systems in the night sky with any potentially habitable planets they may have in orbit to far-flung galaxies billions of years beyond our reach. Even with the most advanced forms of propulsion that we can imagine to date, we place limits on how far and how fast we can go. Science tells us it is a barrier of energy, that there simply is not enough power. To go beyond certain velocities such as the speed of light, Einstein showed that infinite energy would be required as the mass itself of the spacecraft would become infinite at light speed, a theoretical impossibility.
Yet there’s another principle in science that negates the need for speed at all in any form. The idea of quantum entanglement, one of the most fundamental principles of quantum physics, states that particles can be entangled, or in instantaneous communication with each other, regardless of the amount of distance between them. This suggests that space itself is in a sense an illusion of our senses, and that from a higher dimensional point of view beyond the three dimensions we are aware of, everything, everywhere is in contact. Many experiments have validated quantum entanglement, and recent ones have shown that larger conglomerates of matter, not just individual particles, are also entangled.
If such a principle is fundamentally true, it means that travel in space doesn’t involve or require any form of propulsion system that we can think of in the conventional sense. Travel then, ultimately becomes one of joining together entangled particles through some sort of extra-spatial realm. Or, rather, it means making use of the information exchange that entangled particles are involved in; and on a funamental level, everything is nothing more than information, including the placement and movement of atoms in our own bodies.
In fact, quantum entanglement represents a form of "transportation" that is in fact infinite in velocity. Science fiction refers to this principle using the concept of teleportation, but its an idea much older than the last few centuries of scientific discovery have revealed. Ancient texts in many forms, including the Bible, speak of people who were able to instantly appear in one place, and then another, without needing to cover any distance in between to get there.
The spaceships of the future then may not be anything at all like what we’ve currently envisioned. Were teleportation to become a reality, based on making use of fundamental properties of quantum entanglement, we wouldn’t even need space craft at all to go from planet to planet or galaxy to galaxy. All we would need are the containers of our own bodies (and perhaps not even those), to take along for the ride, as a form of luggage you wouldn’t want to do without.
Such a method of "propulsion" also tends to invalidate the way we currently think of alien visitation in modern fiction and UFO accounts. Will future generations imagine "alien abductions" where the beings simply appear, take victims and disappear, without the need for any kind of space craft to get here? We tend to see the unknown and the future from the limited perspective of what we know of the past and present. Perhaps its time to discount the past as obsolete, and use current theories to imagine a new future, one of revolutionary, not linear changes.