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Sunday, April 24th, 2005
6:28a - The Eftial Corporation: Bringing the Stars to You -- Today!
So, in the wake of suddenly being able to write again, I'm thinking about FTL systems. First major problem is the correspondence principle: if I posit new fundamental theories of physics, everything we've experimentally confirmed now must remain accurate as a special case. Thus, while the modern relativistic paradigm has replaced Newtonian mechanics, Newton's formulae remain quite accurate for the special case of low-velocity motion in relatively (no pun intended) flat space. So my new physics, while allowing eftial travel, must retain relativity as a special case.

Problem: this means causality pretty much goes out the window. Unless, of course, I assume what the linked site calls "consistency protection" (parallel universes have always sounded to me like an attempt to force quantum mechanics into something our puny human brains can make pictures out of, and privileged reference frames violate correspondence). But here's where my thoughts are getting weird -- what if I don't assume it? What if causality isn't ironclad?

My idea (which I freely admit is mostly based on Tristan's Crystals of Madness) is as follows: there exists a means whereby local alterations can be made to the fundamental constants (c, e (charge on an electron, not Euler's number -- changing that is a thorny kettle of fish indeed), h, etc.). As a general rule, anytime you turn this on, everything in the vicinity is rapidly and violently disorganized. For example, since everything we do occurs at non-relativistic velocities, raising c sounds harmless. But you've just significantly upped the output of the fusion core, and altered the permeability and permittivity of space, meaning every electron orbital on the ship changes shape and size, meaning every chemical reaction on board has just completely changed its properties... and suddenly it's a toss-up whether the core explodes before the crew melts into goo, or after... But let's assume that you can somehow balance this with changes to other constants, and as such come up with sets of "safe" values -- ones at which desired results, particularly changes in the definition of "relativistic velocity," can be achieved without killing the crew, frying their equipment, or blowing up the ship. Assume it takes a lot of power, so you need a full-scale spacecraft (if the eftial drive is too cheap, you have people going to other planets in submarines!), but can be done safely enough to develop an interstellar economy.

The researchers developing this system assume a form of consistency protection, but they're not quite right. While most of the disruption to causality is blocked, a little bit does slip through every time the drive is used... and given centuries of use, cause and effect start to break down in high-traffic areas.

I'm busy working on poking this for major flaws, and working out logical consequences. For example, sitting here and thinking about velocity, I've realized one of two things has to be true: either velocity is an absolute, defined by kinetic energy, or it's a percentage of c. In the former case, if you're moving at 300 km/s, and you flip the drive on and triple c, you're still moving at 300 km/s. In the latter, when you triple c, your velocity jumps instantly up to 900 km/s. Am I correct in thinking that the ninefold increase in kinetic energy has to come from somewhere? What does this do to conservation of momentum? Speaking of which, I can't remember -- does light have momentum, or just energy? Am I violating conservation of momentum by tripling the speed of the light on board the ship?

I've already got most of a setting to work this into, by the way, but not really anything more than very nebulous characters, as yet. I can have the setting without necessarily working all the details of the drive out because my story begins more or less at the moment of its discovery, and it's an STL universe before that. The idea about causality breaking down is kind of something in the background I won't necessarily mention, but might inform a later story in the same universe.

current mood: contemplative

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