Novikov self-consistency principle

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The Novikov self-consistency principle, also known as the Novikov self-consistency conjecture, is a principle developed by Russian physicist Igor Novikov in the mid-1980s to solve the problem of paradoxes in time travel, which is theoretically permitted in certain solutions of general relativity (solutions containing what are known as closed timelike curves). Stated simply, the Novikov consistency principle asserts that if an event exists that would give rise to a paradox, or to any "change" to the past whatsoever, then the probability of that event is zero. In short, it says that it's impossible to create time paradoxes.


History of the principle

Physicists have long been aware that there are solutions to the theory of general relativity which contain closed timelike curves, or CTCs—see for example the Gödel metric. Novikov discussed the possibility of CTCs in books written in 1975 and 1983, offering the opinion that only self-consistent trips back in time would be permitted. In a 1990 paper written by a number of authors including Novikov, Cauchy problem in spacetimes with closed timelike curves[1], the authors write:

Among the coauthors of this 1990 paper were Kip Thorne, Michael Morris, and Ulvi Yurtsever, who in 1988 had stirred up renewed interest in the subject of time travel in general relativity with their paper Wormholes, Time Machines, and the Weak Energy Condition,[2] which showed that a new general relativity solution known as a traversable wormhole could lead to closed timelike curves, and unlike previous CTC-containing solutions it did not require unrealistic conditions for the universe as a whole. After discussions with another coauthor of the 1990 paper, John Friedman, they convinced themselves that time travel need not lead to unresolvable paradoxes, regardless of what type of object was sent through the wormhole.[3]

In response, another physicist named Joseph Polchinski sent them a letter in which he argued that one could avoid questions of free will by considering a potentially paradoxical situation involving a billiard ball sent through a wormhole which sends it back in time. In this scenario, the ball is fired into a wormhole at an angle such that, if it continues along that path, it will exit the wormhole in the past at just the right angle to collide with its earlier self, thereby knocking it off course and preventing it from entering the wormhole in the first place. Thorne deemed this problem "Polchinski's paradox".[4]

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