In ordinary entanglement, two particles (usually electrons or photons) are so intimately bound that they share one quantum state — spin, momentum and a host of other variables — between them. One particle always “knows” what the other is doing. Make a measurement on one member of an entangled pair, and the other changes immediately.
Physicists have figured out how to use entanglement to encrypt messages in uncrackable codes and build ultrafast computers. Entanglement can also help transmit encyclopedias’ worth of information from one place to another using only a few atoms, a protocol called quantum teleportation.
In a new paper posted on the physics preprint website arXiv.org, Olson and Queensland colleague Timothy Ralph perform the math to show how these same tricks can send quantum messages not only from place to place, but from the past to the future. The equations involved defy simple mathematical explanation, but are intuitive: If it’s impossible to describe one particle without including the other, this logically extends to time as well as space.
“If you use our timelike entanglement, you find that [a quantum message] moves in time, while skipping over the intermediate points,” Olson said. “There really is no difference mathematically. Whatever you can do with ordinary entanglement, you should be able to do with timelike entanglement.”
Olson explained them with a Star Trek analogy. In one episode, “beam me up” teleportation expert Scotty is stranded on a distant planet with limited air supply. To survive, Scotty freezes himself in the transporter, awaiting rescue. When the Enterprise arrives decades later, Scotty steps out of the machine without having aged a day.
“It’s not time travel as you would ordinarily think of it, where it’s like, poof! You’re in the future,” Olson said. “But you get to skip the intervening time.”