Guest post: Time Dilation as a Trope

Despite the recent explosion of time travel stories, time dilation remains an untapped treasure trove. In this guest post from Roy Huff we learn something about time dilation as a trope.

This is a guest post from author Roy Huff.

Author Roy Huff
Roy Huff

Roy Huff is a huge science fiction and fantasy lover! He also happens to be an award-winning, best-selling fiction and nonfiction author.

Currently he’s busy with his time travel novel which I hear will avoid the trope of the time paradox by embracing the multiverse theory. I’m looking forward to reading and reviewing it – but it won’t be ready until Autumn! Until then we can read his article…

Time Dilation as a Trope (Roy Huff)

I’m not sure when I first discovered time dilation in fiction. It could’ve been from an early 80’s superhero movie or Tom Baker, the fourth Doctor in Dr. Who. But what I do remember is watching many Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes with spatial anomalies, time dilation’s big sister.

One of my favorite examples though was in Unending, a Stargate SG-1 episode written and directed by Robert C. Cooper. In Unending, Samantha Carter used a time dilation “field” to buy decades for each fraction of a second outside the field. In the truest sense, that was a spatial anomaly.

Time dilation only allows those accelerating near light speeds to experience time slower than those around them. It only lets them move forward in time. That “tiny” detail aside, I can’t argue with Unending’s effect. I must’ve watched it a dozen times.

It also happened to air when I was 30 years old, the same year I returned to school after a decade-long break and my second of three bankruptcies. It was a tumultuous period and a great opportunity to dive deep into fantasies of what could’ve been if only I had more time.

Time travel romance, or pure romance, stories also use time dilation as a means for star-crossed lovers to glimpse a fleeting romance. Gene Kelly’s 1954 Brigadoon accomplished the same feat, but without the time dilation.

Writers use the trope in near-light-speed intergalactic ships. But it’s an underutilized mechanism for forward time travel. More often, you find authors using suspended animation or cryo-storage (think Genesis by Ken Lozito).

Of course, there’ve been attempts. Alastair Reynolds’ 2008 House of Suns, Pat Murphy’s 1999 There and Back Again, and Poul Anderson’s The Long Way Home are a few.

Despite the recent explosion of time travel stories, time dilation remains an untapped treasure trove. It’s a wide-open field of unexplored fiction too tempting for me to pass up.

I think it would fit nicely in a space opera, military sci-fi series.

Stay tuned.

Roy Huff

About the author

Author Roy Huff
Author Roy Huff

I’m a Hawaii-based author, research scientist, and teacher. At a young age, I struggled in a family plagued by severe poverty and mental illness. After high school, I moved to the islands and haven’t looked back.

Despite my challenging youth, or perhaps because of it, I embrace optimism, science, and creativity. I still dream of traveling into space and discovering the secrets of the universe. But until then, I make Hawaii my home, where I create new worlds with the stroke of a pen.

You can follow Roy on his website, Facebook page, Instagram and Twitter (@realroyhuff).

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Eternalism, time dilation and the land of nod

Eternalism is where all moments in time co-exist. Can dreaming give us a clue as to how we can train our brain to access the past or future as well as experience the present?


There’s an idea called eternalism which is where all moments in time co-exist. There’s no past, present or future – just time, and different segments of that time can be experienced by calling on it (though on a practical footing, I’m not sure how…)

This idea came to mind a few days ago when I was watching a video clip on youtube. Being an English gentleman I naturally wanted to be sipping a cup of tea during my viewing pleasure so I clicked pause and put the kettle on. Whilst I was waiting for it to boil I took a moment to look out of the lounge window.

There’s something in the air

The sun was shining, sending forth its electromagnetic radiation of multiple frequencies. Despite this, my neighbour had smoke chugging out of his chimney from his wood fire. A couple of planes were scratching contrails across the sky. So much for the visible – I knew that the pilots would be in radio contact with air control. A gaggle of schoolgirls were texting on their data connected smartphones as they walked by. I could see the TV was on in the house over the road (the one with the satellite dish), and cars zipped by with open windows, music from the radio streaming outside.

I couldn’t help wonder about all stuff in the air. Some things we put there for our convenience (thought sometimes it’s inconvenient for others…) It’s all there for our taking. Like my own WiFi connection which I was planning on reconnecting to in a few moments. At my convenience.

Sadly I’m no technical buff, but I find technology immensely interesting. Whilst I can use WiFi and understand its basic principles, I don’t actually know how it really works – how does information get carried along a wave?

And how can a video be on pause on WiFi? Is the electromagnetic wave also on pause? Does it now stand stationary, or temporarily reduce it’s frequency from a number of gigahertz to zero, awaiting for my beck and call? Is my paused 40 minute video stored somewhere along a wave of a fixed length to hold the length of the film clip? What if I move my phone around in my lounge, would it encounter a different part of the em wave and I’d be watching a different part of the movie?

And this is just my paused video! What about all of the videos? Or the other information out there on the web? Other media, sound files, web pages, all kinds of things, all co-existing somewhere out there waiting for me to access them at any time I like. Things off the web even. Pick up a phone and you can start talking to anyone about anything you like. They’re all waiting for your call…

Frasier Crane - I'm listening!
Frasier Crane – I’m listening! (Image source:

Is all of this information out there floating around waiting for me to access it?

Accessing time

Is this like eternalism, that all time is out there, waiting for us to access it? Can we choose which bit we’d like to access? Any moment, and we call it the present?

I suspect that in my WiFi reality, I’d request certain information, and that part wings it way over to me along optical fibers and WiFi airways. Much like when someone asks me to remember a specific moment and we can choose to ‘relive’ a certain part of our history.

I can’t remember which famous person said it, but someone had problems remembering his future, and I must admit that I suffer the same problem. (Notice the irony that I also can’t remember bits of the past too…). But I think dreaming comes quite close – we dream of brighter futures, for instance.

The land of nod

Those of us who remember our dreams often find that they are complete stories.

A colleague once told me that this is because our brains aren’t capable of producing a movie-like plot each and every night in real-time; when we dream we actually dream in snippets and our brains are clever enough to interpolate through the gaps (much like it’s able to recreate sight in our blind spot) to produce a seemingly continuous dream.

In this way, dreams might appear to span several days or even longer – a ‘dream feature’ alluded to in the movie “Inception” where time passes faster in dreams than in the real waking life.

In other words, when our brain joins the dots its net effect is to stretch out time.

The idea of stretching time isn’t so far-fetched – I expect that most of us have heard of time dilation, and further, I expect that we’ve all hit the snooze button on the alarm clock and been surprised at how quickly it goes off again. I know this: I never have enough time in bed!

If interpolation can stretch time can we somehow get to extrapolate it so that we can get into the future?

You are feeling sleepy…

Hypnotism - an alternative path to the land of nod
Hypnotism – an alternative path to the land of nod. Image source:

Under hypnosis (a dodgy form of suggested dreaming) a person can allegedly transfer their point of view from one point in space to another, or to more accurately recall certain moments in their visible history. Once we find the temporal analogue to this then perhaps we can say that we’ve cracked eternalism.

Perhaps we’re already closer than we thought. “In 1996 a National Institutes of Health panel judged that hypnosis might help alleviate pain from cancer and other chronic conditions.” 😉 (emphasis added, source.)

Hmm, I think I’ll sleep on this…


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The Monday Morning Meeting Mix-up

It’s Monday morning and I’m thinking back to a team meeting we had last week.

Generally speaking, one might argue that the purpose of a meeting is to filter down information from management to lower levels, or to allow the exchange of knowledge between workers at the rate of the slowest attendee.

When it comes to defining “rate”, I can’t help thinking that a meeting is perhaps hidden corporate speak for time dilation.

My team leader has neither friended me on FB, doesn’t follow my tweets, and is not a regular reader of this excellent time travel blog. So be assured that what I write now is no cheesy attempt at brown nosing. Point is – he’s a good egg. He has a lot of well-deserved respect from his team, and personally I think he works blimming hard to ensure that things go as smoothly and as efficiently as possible.

But sling a team meeting in the works and you may as well throw a spanner into a time machine and hope for the best.

timing of a meeting

Look at the timing. The meetings are usually held on a Thursday. This is the time of the week when we’ve got over the manic Monday morning and the Wednesday mid week blues and we’ve reached maximum efficiency when we’re peaking in productivity and creativity.

This is the time of the week where we’ve got 3 days work behind us to build on, and the Friday feeling and weekend ahead of us to look forward to.

Psychologically, it couldn’t be better! We’re on a roll – we’re buzzing! Innovative, developing, whittling down that stack in our inbox. Proposals are made and sent off. Queries are received and answered. Scientific breakthroughs are discovered and published.

So yeah, why not stick us in a team meeting for two hours to curb all that?

Meeting time

Sitting in a meeting is like Einstein sitting on a hot stove. Minutes from the last meeting are read, and minutes from this meeting taken. Minutes. Time drags on, not just within the meeting where my poor boss can’t get a word in edgeways before some cretin picks him up on the letter of what he’s speaking about and not the spirit, but also intra- meeting.

This is where things that have been discussed many many months ago in similar meetings still receive undue attention.

Fred Blogs is still unhappy with his off-site connectivity. Mary May still thinks IT services are responsible for her poor performance. John Smith still has troubles with his time sheet and no-one likes the default meeting scheduler. But all that was last Thursday, and we came back to work on Friday full of the joys of the looming weekend. Work hard, play hard.

And today it’s Monday. The laptop won’t connect to the server and the screen has frozen.

Was it really 4 days ago – over half a week – that I was sitting in the meeting? It seems like yesterday 🙁


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Hands off, Einstein, she's mine!

The results from my experiment with time dilation are in: despite playing with the twin paradox, kissing my wife makes the universe a safer place!

My experiment with a pretty girl. Hands off, Einstein!

Last week I posed the question if I kiss my beautiful wife for a minute and for her it seems like an hour, does that make me a good lover?

The results are in. (Don’t worry – this remains a post relating to time travel! 😉 )

Time dilation from kissing.
Image credit: Prashant Soni

My wife feels pretty much the same as I do, i.e. when she kisses me for a minute it seems like a second.

This has interesting ramifications – and not just for my pride! 😉

If we’re both kissing for a minute and each perceive it to last a second, two questions are raised:

Where has all the time gone?

Our bodies are tangled in real time for a minute, so somewhere 59 seconds remain unaccounted for. Where has that time gone?

The obvious answer is that love clouds the brain and as a result we simply think slower and subsequently perceive time differently. Amorous or amorphous? So let’s be a little more scientific; let’s talk time dilation.

Did the Earth move bringing a change in the reference frame? Or were we swept off our feet taking us to a lower gravitational potential? I’ll say yes on both counts, and the time as experienced by us and that experienced by external observers (which I hasten to point out that there were none – despite living in Holland!) differed.

But how does it stand for the passage of time within the ‘experiment’?

The original postulation was that time passes at differing rates for the (willing) kisser and the (perhaps not so willing) kissee. But it turns out that my wife feels the same as I, i.e. that she suspects that during her minute of kissing, an hour has passed for me.

So question 2…

Have we stumbled on the twin paradox?

If both of us feel that for us time is passing more quickly than for the other, have we bumped into a kind of reverse twin paradox?

The twin paradox is where one twin zooms off at high speed and comes back to find that he’s aged less than his Earth bound brother. The paradox arises (though disputed by some experts on wikipedia) that the laws of sibling rivalry mean that the brothers argue, in this case about who has moved relative to who and thus which one of the two has aged less.

The parallel with my wife is that we argue which one of us is experiencing the second and which one experiences the hour.

Well. There are ways to make up with your wife after an argument! 😉

One possible explanation for the paradox is that the traveling twin accelerated away from the other, had a change of mind and slowed down to a stop, turned round, and came back home again. Or in other words, there was a change in the reference framework and special relativity no longer holds. i.e. the twins are identical in looks, but not in experience. They are different from each other. (Obviously; one’s into space travel and the other one wants to sit at home writing up his blog). I still suspect that if the twins were truly identical in all respects, and experienced identical circumstances, the paradox would remain.


So the mindset needs to be the same. But bringing this back to my wifey, if we are both feeling the same way then there is a very real risk that universe will shake itself apart because nature abhors paradoxes.

At the same time – and I can’t stress this strongly enough – kissing my wife without consent is a highly dangerous activity. Universes have heaved under the strain of the knowledge, black holes have collapsed, and supernovae have extinguished themselves and hidden themselves under a safe rock.

There we have it. Kissing with consent in the time2timetravel HQ makes the universe a safer (and much happier) place!



safer universe
Image credit: Marc Garrido I Puig

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Giraffe in the hole

I admittedly don’t know the hows or whys, but have you ever thought of what would happen if a giraffe fell into a black hole?

Giraffes have their head some 2 meters above the rest of their body, so in theory their head experiences a faster passage of time than their lower body which is in a greater gravitational field.

My bad hand writing lead my teachers to state that I thought quicker than my body – maybe it’s the same with giraffes too? Or the temporal variation across the length of their neck might explain why their heads lean forwards in front of their body when they run somewhere; their head gets there first.

Or it thinks it does.

Giraffe in a black hole
Giraffe in the hole

Somehow (and I admittedly don’t know either the likelihood of the whys or how this situation might arise…) I got round to thinking about a giraffe falling head first into a black hole.

Gravitationally speaking, the situation is now reversed – the head being in a greater gravitational force would experience time passing slower than their body which is further away from this gravitational monstrosity.

I see two effects here. One is that the giraffe will stretch as gravitational forces differ along the length of the giraffe. And in turn, this will exacerbate the gravitational difference leading to more stretching…and so on. It’s a positive feedback.

But the time dilation provides a negative feedback – time at the head end passes slowly whereas at the foot end it passes more quickly. Would the difference allow for the feet to catch up with the end, effectively providing some sort of asymptotic compression?

Maybe there’s some sort of equilibrium length for a neck. Say…about 2 meters?


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That syncing feeling

Syncing Forward is a powerful novel and it’s really touching me. I’m fearful of medical things and biology and as a protective husband and father of two young daughters all of my sensitivities are getting mashed through the grinder. Time travel? Make it horror…

At first I wasn’t sure if Syncing Forward by W. Lawrence was a time travel novel.

The main character (Martin) is injected with a drug which slows his metabolic rate to such an extent that a few moments for him are several hours for everyone else. When he’s back to his normal self, time has marched on, carrying his family and world with it.

Then I thought a bit more. In effect this is similar to time dilation, and whilst not strictly time travel it does sort of fall into my own self-defined version of time travel in that the time traveler experiences time at a different rate to the normal ambient rate…albeit with no control.

And so, at least for now, I’m calling the main character a time traveler (as do some of the characters within the book) and I feel justified in writing this post on a time travel blog!

I’m only on page 156 but it’s freaking me out!!

Syncing Forward is a powerful novel and it’s really touching me. I’m fearful of medical things and biology and as a protective husband and father of two young daughters all of my sensitivities are getting mashed through the grinder.

Time travel? Make it horror.

This is the human side of time travel. Not the “feeling dizzy” stuff from H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, but that of zooming forwards in time and missing time spent growing up with your family. The emotional stuff. The stuff which makes us human and not robotic drones.

I’m on the train coming home from work. Nothing unusual in that, except that I’m 2 hours early because there’s going to be chaos on the trains and I’m heading home quickly before that nonsense begins and I get stranded without my family and get stuck in some random spot wherever the Dutch train service sees fit.

I’m reading how Martin is slowing down and how he’s missing his family. It’s nearly bringing tears to my eyes…I can understand his pain. He sees messages and photos his family leave him, but of course it’s nothing compared to the real thing. To actually being with them.

I need to take to a break from the emotional strain and let my wife know I’ll be home early. I send her a message on my phone and the reply comes. She’s looking forward to seeing me. “Wifey typing…” I wait for an eternity for the message.

love from my wife, hearts from my daughter
love from my wife, hearts from my daughter

It’s a little similar but I guess nothing close to the intensity Martin is experiencing. He’s separated from his family not by some 45 minutes of travel time but by months or years of difference in metabolic rate.

I get my message. Love from my wife, and various characters of hearts and other things – which ultimately mean the same thing – from my youngest daughter.

I’m missing them – and my eldest daughter who right now is learning how to swim. I can’t wait to see them. And to misquote W. Lawrence’s dedication…I pray that nothing will ever separate us.

30 minutes to go…


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The height of time dilation

The office move at work means a change in height for many departments. Will the time dilation as defined by GR be noticeable? Time will tell!

In a few weeks our department at work is changing floor.

Instead of being at the heady heights of the 3rd floor, we’re going down to the 2nd. This is to allow the IT department to move into our old office cubicles.

But I think I’ve found the real reason. According to GR theory, time passes slower in higher gravitational fields. In other words, time will pass slower for us on the 2nd floor than for those on the 3rd floor.

If we work in an environment where time runs slower, presumably we are able to perform more tasks in the same duration. It’s not that we have more time, but that we become more efficient.

Conversely, for the IT crowd up on 3rd floor, they won’t have less time for their tasks, it’s just that time will be zooming on ahead and if they’re not careful it will run completely ahead of them.

Will it make a measurable difference? We’ll duly find out. It already seems to take an eternity for the phone call to IT services to be answered without time actually running slower for us than for them.

Time will tell!


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Is time travel really impossible?

Maybe some don’t dare to believe that time travel is possible, but this view is changing! The understanding of the science behind time travel is improving

Is it or isn’t it…who really knows?

Most of us probably don’t dare to believe that time travel is possible, but I think this is changing! The understanding of the science behind time travel is getting better understood, and an increasing number of scientists are now finding ways which one day might unlock the mystery of the time machine blueprint. The hard study and the calculations continue.

But even if we don’t know how to travel in time now…that doesn’t mean it’s impossible…does it?

Why isn’t time travel impossible?

There are so many paradoxes associated with time travel that you could well be forgiven for thinking that time travel is not possible. The “grandfather paradox” – where you go back in time and kill your grandfather (why would you do that?!) thus preventing your own existence to go back and kill him in the first place is perhaps the most famous of these paradoxes.

Or if time travel was possible, surely we would have met time travelers who have come to our time from another time by now?

Grandfather paradox? It’s all relative!

So on the face of it, it would seem that the idea of time travel is just that…an idea. It has certainly captured the attention of many science fiction authors, and even poets. And recently…scientists. Yes, there have already been many eminent scientists who have gained funding for looking into the possibility of time travel – and to find a way to make it happen. They do this by turning to Einstein’s theory of relativity.

Einstein’s theory of relativity is used to describe our understanding of time and space. Actually, time and space are so heavily intertwined that they are referred to collectively as “timespace” as one affects the other. By studying the theory of relativity, scientists hope to discover a solution to its equations which permit time travel. So has there been any success?

Interestingly, success has been found in the opposite sense…that is to say that nothing has been found which forbids time travel. So that is good news for those of us who would like to travel in time – though we are still no closer in finding out how we can do this. Or are we?

Time dilation

The theory of relativity describes “time dilation”. Time dilation refers to how a second of time can take longer in some situations than in others. This is slightly different to the perception of time which Einstein himself has been quoted as saying “When you are courting a nice girl an hour seems like a second. When you sit on a red-hot cinder a second seems like an hour. That’s relativity.”

Here’s an example of time dilation. There are 2 identical clocks. Let’s call then clock A and clock B. Clock A is put on a jet plane, whilst clock B stays on the ground at the airport. The jet plane takes off, travels at high velocity around the world and lands back at the airport. The times on the two clocks are compared…clock A (the clock which was on the plane) shows that less time has elapsed than shown by clock B at the airport. Why? Because travelling at speed causes time to slow down. That is time dilation.

Another example of time dilation is seen in the satellites used in GPS navigation. In this case, there are two causes of time dilation. The first is the high speed relative to the Earth at which the satellites travel, and the second is the decrease in gravitational potential the satellites experience in orbit. The clocks on board the GPS satellites actually need to be corrected for the effect of time dilation!

The existence and reproducibility of time dilation is a good step towards realising the possibility of time travel. But are we any closer to making our time machine?

Faster than light

Perhaps. Experiments have been conducted which have shown that faster than light speed travel might be possible with some sub atomic particles and arguably this is a step in the right direction for moving on towards building a time machine. However, the energy input required is astronomical, and to reiterate…this was only a sub atomic particle! Perhaps the understanding of an alternative theory of timespace would show a solution to time travel where the energy requirement is not a practical limitation.

Conclusion: the answer is…

Having said that the subject of time travel is now receiving more attention from scientists, that is not to say that all scientists are in support of the existence of time travel. Many scientists have discredited the idea entirely, and it is clear that the question of whether time travel exists or not is still a topic of hot discussion.

So is time travel possible?

I think that presently, it is not possible in the way that we would like it to be – the days of the fabled time machine are far away. I do hope that one day in the future we will be able to travel back to the past, or into the future and experience other times just as we can experience and enjoy the present, though at the same time I am cautious about the possible dangers. Many of us are still not able to navigate safely through space (just think of all of those road accidents…) and I’m sure that navigating through time is a much more complex issue.

And we still don’t know about those time travel paradoxes…

Thankfully, even if real life time travel doesn’t exist, we can still read about it in science fiction!

For a more detailed look on the possibility of time travel (and how), take a look at my time travel 101 main page. If you have time! 😉

What is the role of the speed of light in time travel?

You’ve probably found that there are many references to the speed of light when reading about time travel. This brief articles hopes to explain the relationship between the two.

The speed of light is not just the speed that light travels – in some ways that can be considered to be a coincidence. The speed of light is the speed limit of the known physical universe, and is just shy of 300 million meters per second. This speed limit relates to everything, including the transfer of information. This might be counter-intuitive, but there is no such thing as “instant”! (And I’m not one to argue with Einstein!)

So how is this related to time travel?

Einstein’s theories show that time can dilate in a number of circumstances. Time dilation is where the passage of time occurs at a different rate in one situation than it does in another. For example, time passes more quickly for someone experiencing a lower gravitational acceleration than for someone who is subjected to high gravitational forces. Another example, and relevant to our discussion here, is that time passes more slowly for someone who is travelling at speed in comparison to someone who is stationary.

This means that if someone flew in a jet engine at high speed, his watch would register a shorter time of flight that someone who remained standing in the airport waiting for his return (this might explain why planes are always late! 😉

The greater the difference in relative velocities, the greater the effect of time dilation. For the velocities that we are easily able to acheive in everyday life, the effect of time dilation is very small (in the order of milliseconds.) However, if we could gain very high velocities, and travel at them for sufficient lengths of time to accrue the time differences, the effects can be noticeable.

This is of significance to the time traveller. If I travelled at a sufficiently high velocity, my experience of the passage of time is slower for that of someone waiting for me to come back. In practical terms, in my point of view, I’d fly for say 1 year, but someone waiting for me would have waited for a year and a month. In effect then, I have travelled 1 month into the future.

If then, I travel at a greater speed, the effects of time dilation are proportionally greater; I travel at twice the speed I did before for 1 year, and my expectant welcome committee would have waited for 1 year and 2 months.

It follows that the faster I travel, the further into the future I can transport myself. It also means that my journey doesn’t need to last as long – instead of travelling at high speed for 1 year, I can travel at a faster speed for 1 month. Or an hour. Or a second. There is greater efficiency in time travel at higher speeds.

And we know that the fastest speed we can travel is the speed of light! This is why achieving light speed is considered to be important in time travel.

There are two important things to note here…

The first is that in this way, time travel into the future is possible, but not the past.

The second is a possible time travel paradox – the so called twin paradox. I mentioned that I travelled at high speed for one year, whilst someone remains stationary on Earth. But relatively speaking…who’s to say that I wasn’t stationary, and it was the Earth-bound person who moved away at speed? In real terms, each of us would find that the other person has experienced more time than themself, and this is not possible!

Actually, the ‘solution’ to this quandary is in the means by which I gain high velocity. If my journey starts on the Earth, my velocity is zero in relation to my observer. I then accelerate to high velocity. Here then is the solution – acceleration brings about a further time dilation effect for me as the traveler (as well as time dilation by moving further away from Earth’s gravitational field). These differences would ensure that our relative experiences of time passage are different from each other.

As a side note – what would happen if the speed of light really could be exceeded?

I hope that this explains the relationship between the speed of light and time travel!