The Art and Science of Time Travel

2023-24 CAST Cross-Disciplinary Class

Screenshot from Steeplechase, a short film about time travel starring quantum physicists Michele Reilly and Seth Lloyd, filmed in Belarus and directed by renowned Russian artist Andre Kezzyn in 2021.

Navigating time travel: its history and future


The concept of time travel is an ancient one. Long before H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine, stories about time travel appeared in Hindu, Jewish, Christian, and Islamic tradition, and in Japanese and Irish legend. Time travel—and its attendant paradoxes—figures prominently in contemporary narratives and films. The last century has seen a radical transformation in the scientific concept of time travel, beginning with Einstein’s theories of special and general relativity, and more recently with quantum mechanical theories of how time travel could take place.

The Art and Science of Time Travel is a class co-taught by Seth Lloyd, professor of mechanical engineering, and Michele Reilly, scientist-in-residence in quantum mechanical engineering, investigating time travel and other physical paradoxes in the contexts of human narrative and contemporary scientific understanding. Students will learn the fundamental science of time travel in relativity and quantum mechanics, read and view classic time travel narratives and films, and construct their own time travel narratives and representations. With guidance from the instructors and the course’s artistic advisors, the class culminates in a group project in the form of a script or screenplay.


Upcoming Events

2.984 & CMS.343 The Art and Science of Time Travel
Offered Fall 2023

Co-Taught by Seth Lloyd, Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Michele Reilly, Scientist-in-Residence in Quantum Mechanical Engineering


Professor of Mechanical Engineering Seth Lloyd is the director of the W.M. Keck Foundation Center for Extreme Quantum Information Theory (xQIT) at MIT, the director of the Program in Quantum Information at the Institute for Scientific Interchange, and Miller Fellow at the Santa Fe Institute. 

Lloyd earned an AB in physics from Harvard University; an MAS in mathematics and an MPhil in history and philosophy of science from Cambridge University; and a PhD in physics from Rockefeller University. After postdoctoral fellowships at Caltech and Los Alamos, Lloyd joined the MIT faculty in 1994, where he teaches and conducts research in quantum information theory and complex systems.

Biography: MIT Department of Mechanical Engineering

Michele Reilly works with mathematicians, physicists, and computer scientists on some of the hardest problems at the intersection of these fields: projective closed timelike curves (P-CTCs), black holes, and quantum computers simulating quantum gravity. These are mathematical objects which sound like science fiction, the same way rockets were in the early twentieth century. 

As a scientist-in-residence in quantum mechanical engineering at MIT, Reilly has spoken on quantum computing at IBM Haifa (2017) and Princeton University (2018–19), and for the Foundational Questions Institute as a member contributor (2014–2022), the Austrian Academy of Sciences, and the Institute for Quantum Optics and Quantum Information, Vienna (2021). 



Scientific Advisors

Alan Guth (MIT), Edward Farhi (MIT), David Deutsch (Oxford), Roger Penrose (Oxford), Kip Thorne (Caltech), Leonard Susskind (Stanford), and Lorenzo Maccone (Pavia)

Artistic Advisors:
Andrey Kezzyn (Berlin), Daniel Arsham (New York), Susan Steinberg (PhD, MIT; filmmaker, Harvard), and Karim Hassan (videography) 

Supported with a grant from the MIT Center for Art, Science & Technology (CAST). Co-presented by CAST, MIT Department of Mechanical Engineering, MIT OpenCourseWare, and MITx.