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A computer program has finally solved a time travel problem that has left scientists baffled for decades and halted the development of a time travel machine.
The grandfather paradox in which a time traveller travels into the past and kills their own grandfather, preventing the existence of one of their parents and therefore themselves – has finally been solved.
But the problem is, if the protagonist doesn’t exist, then how could they go back in time to set off the chain of events in the first place?
The paradox is often extended, in various guises, to regard any action that alters the past – such as Marty McFly avoiding the amorous attention of his mother, Lorraine, and ensuring she marries his father, George, in Back to the Future.
Meanwhile, physicists such as Stephen Hawking use the impossibility of such causal chains (called, in physics-speak, “closed time-like curves”) to argue that travel into the past must be impossible.
There has, of course, always been the possible solution that invokes the “many worlds” interpretation of quantum mechanics. That says that when you travel back in time you end up in an alternate universe, so any damage you might wreak affects that universe only, not the one you were born in.