Doctor Who theory of 'wobbly time' could be correct as scientists make major breakthrough

A theory about time being “wobbly” has been regularly used in hit sci-fi TV show Doctor Who and now it may prove to be correct thanks to a major breakthrough.

Two pillars of physics are fundamentally at odds. Quantum mechanics describes the forces that dominate on the atomic level and Einstein’s theory of general relativity predicts how gravity shapes cosmic events. Both have never been proven wrong but are mathematically incompatible.

But Professor Jonathan Oppenheim, a physicist at University College London, is behind a radical new theory that would unify them and change the way we think about “spacetime”. Spacetime fuses the dimensions of space and time into a four-dimensional model which helps us understand things like how different observers perceive where and when events occur.

The new “postquantum theory of classical gravity” suggests that instead of time strictly ticking away predictably, the rate at which time flows would wobble, randomly fluctuating like the ebb and flow of a stream, creating unpredictability.

This would support a theory put forward in BBC’s Doctor Who, with the 10th Doctor (David Tennant) saying in 2007: “People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect but actually, from a non-linear, nonsubjective viewpoint it’s more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, time-wimey stuff.”

The phrase is used throughout the series to explain the complexity of time and how humans don’t really understand it.

“The rate at which time flows is changing randomly and fluctuating in time,” said Oppenheim, although he clarifies that time would never actually go into reverse. “It’s quite mathematical,” he added. “Picturing it in your head is quite difficult.”

This proposed “wobbliness” would result in a breakdown of predictability, which, Oppenheim says, “many physicists don’t like”. There are even a number of fellow physicists betting against Oppenheim’s theory, taking 5,000:1 odds that it will be proven correct.

A second paper, led by Dr Zach Weller-Davids at Canada’s Perimeter Institute, proposes an experiment to uncover the “wobbles” in spacetime through tiny fluctuations in an object’s weight.

For example, the International Bureau of Weights and Measures in France routinely weigh a 1kg mass. If fluctuations in the measurements are below a certain threshold, the theory can be ruled out.


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