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Will we ever be able to freeze time?

The American poet Delmore Schwartz once wrote: “Time is the fire in which we burn.”  We are born, we live and we die. Yet throughout history, we have been fascinated with the possibility of sidestepping time, from fairy tales like Sleeping Beauty to stasis fields and suspended animation in science fiction.

美国诗人施瓦茨(Delmore Schwartz)曾写道:"时间就是燃烧我们的火焰"。我们出生,活着,然后死去。但在整个人类历史中,我们一直沉迷于任何能战胜时间的可能性,从睡美人的童话故事到科幻小说中的时间停滞场和休眠假死。

In 1971, Joseph Hafele and Richard Keating placed four atomic clocks on aeroplanes, which flew twice around the world, first eastward, then westward. They were then compared with reference atomic clocks, and found to disagree.

1971年,哈菲尔(Joseph Hafele)和基廷(Richard Keating)在飞机上放置了四个原子钟,然后让飞机绕地球飞行两次,第一次向东飞行,第二次则向西飞。然后将两次飞行的原子钟与作为正常参考值的原子钟进行比较,发现时间出现差异。

As the Hafele–Keating experiment proved, the rate at which time passes is circumstantial and situational. “If you are travelling at super-relativistic speeds, which are close to the speed of light, or near a black hole (and somehow not being destroyed by it) the amount of time you will experience is going to be less than the amount of time of someone else,” says Katie Mack, an assistant professor at North Carolina State University.

正如哈菲尔-基廷实验证明的那样,时间流逝的速度会依情境和态况而改变。北卡罗来纳州立大学助理教授麦克(Katie Mack)说,"如果你以超级相对论的速度旅行,这种速度接近光速,或靠近黑洞(且是在不被它破坏情况下),你经历的时间流逝将少于他人的时间。"

Astronauts onboard the International Space Station experience time-dilation, as they age a little bit slower than people on Earth. “They are moving quickly, so they are affected by special relativity, but they are also further from the Earth, so they get less gravitational effects,” explains Mack.


However, this time dilation is only measured in seconds. In order to obtain significant time dilation, immense gravitational fields or near-lightspeed travel would be required. Both are completely untenable at present.


Despite the comedic overtones, the sci-fi series Red Dwarf provided an intriguing theory for stasis fields; “Just as X-rays can't pass through lead, time cannot penetrate a stasis field. So, although you exist, you no longer exist in time, and for you time itself does not exist.”  This, along with some further technobabble, was designed so the character Lister could remark, “As simple as that?” It is nonetheless thought-provoking.

尽管有喜剧色彩,但科幻系列《红矮星号》为时间停滞场提供了一个有趣的理论; "正如X射线不能通过铅一样,时间也不能穿透停滞场。所以,虽然你存在,但你若身在停滞场中即不存在于时间中,你本身也将不复存在。"这一点,以及剧中设计的一些技术可行性,使得剧中角色李斯特(Lister)都不禁评论道,'真的这么简单吗?'。虽然如此,却发人深省。

Time may be relative, but it remains a fundamental aspect of our reality. “X-rays and lead are one thing, but time and stasis fields are quite a bit trickier. It’s very clever time. It can go around corners, and doesn’t ever stop unless you get stuck at a party with a dentist,” says Doug Naylor, co-creator of Red Dwarf.

时间可能是相对的,但时间仍然是我们现实世界的一个基本存在。《红矮星号》的共同创造者雷洛(Doug Naylor)说,"X射线和铅是一回事,但时间和停滞场则不是那么的简单。时间可以是十分狡猾的。正如口腔的细菌可以绕过角落,除非你遇到一个牙医,否则它永远不会被抓住"。

Changing the perception of time is much easier than stopping it. “You can have a really big difference in how you experience time, but it does not stop,” says Mack.


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The American defence-research agency Darpa is currently developing biostasis to slow down the body at a molecular level. Biostasis would extend the so-called “golden hour” – the time that wounded troops have to reach medical attention.

美国国防研究机构的高级研究计划局(Darpa)目前正在研究生物停滞技术,以在分子水平上减缓身体新陈代谢的速度。生物停滞会延长所谓的"黄金时刻" 即受伤后必须接受医疗照顾的关键时间。

Biostasis intends to slow down the speed at which life operates. “I originally conceived the programme to explore a diverse array of potential technologies, ranging from molecular pharmacology to biocompatible materials chemistry and engineered intrinsically disordered proteins,” explains programme manager Dr. Tristan McClure-Begley of Darpa’s Biological Technologies Office.

生物技术办公室的项目经理贝格利(Tristan McClure-Begley)博士解释道,生物停滞旨在减缓生命运作的速度。"我最初构思这个计划是要探索各种潜在技术,从分子药理学到生物兼容性的材料化学和工程本质的无序蛋白质等。"

Biostasis could also potentially extend the shelf life of blood stores and other pharmaceuticals by slowing down the reaction times of the chemicals. “One of the most pressing potential applications of biostasis technology is in the preservation and storage of therapeutic biomolecules like vaccines, antibodies, and enzymes,” explains McClure-Begley. “Being able to reliably preserve the functional capacity of those products without a costly and cumbersome cold chain [frozen storage] is a major goal of the programme.”


However, biostasis is only intended for medical emergencies, not long-term use. We need to look to nature for inspiration on longer-term solutions.


Some creatures, such as wood frogs, exhibit a capability known as cryptobiosis, which is where all metabolic processes have apparently stopped, yet they remain alive, allowing them to survive being frozen solid.  Other animals, such as bears, can enter hibernation – where their metabolism slows down considerably – and reawaken months later.


Humans already do this medically, albeit to a much lesser extent. In cases of cardiac arrests or brain injuries, therapeutic hypothermia can be used to cool down an injured patient and put them in a low-metabolic state for a couple of days, allowing the body time to recover.


Based on this treatment, Torpor is being developed to induce hibernation in astronauts for NASA‘s Mars mission.


The process for Torpor works in two key phases: the initial cooling period during, which involves sedation, and the subsequent warming/waking period. “In a clinical setting you are under pretty heavy sedation and using invasive cooling systems, but we are looking at new pharmaceuticals that can minimise the amount of sedation required to enter this state and simplify the cooling process,” explains John Bradford, President and Chief Operating Officer of SpaceWorks.

冬眠的过程分为两个关键阶段:初期冷却期,包括辅以镇静剂作用,以及随后的升温/清醒期。SpaceWorks总裁兼首席执行官及运营官布莱德福德(John Bradford)解释道,"在临床治疗中,您会使用很重的镇静剂量并使用侵入式冷却系统以进入冬眠,但我们正在研究能够最大限度地减少镇静剂量并简化冷却过程的新药物"。

It has been shown that dropping our body temperature by as little as 5°C allows us to reduce our metabolism – the chemical processes within our body in order to maintain life – by over 50%.  “Animals that hibernate do live longer, so there is a recovery factor. If you are in this state for six months, there will be some recovery, possibly three months, given the metabolic rate drops by 50%,” says Bradford. “However, this aspect is not our primary motivation and a lot more research will be required to quantify this effect, if any.”


Torpor could also potentially be used for patients awaiting organ donations.


The aforementioned technologies slow the metabolic rate, but how plausible is the suspended animation of science fiction? The most well-known of these is cryonics, which involves freezing a body to approximately -190°C (-310°F) with the aim of reviving the patient later.


However, placing someone in a cryogenic state is a lot more complicated than simply freezing them.  “We wash out the blood and then infuse the patient with a cryo-protective solution,” explains Victoria Stevens of Cryonics UK.

然而,将某人置于低温状态比简单地冻结要复杂得多。英国研究人体冷冻法的斯提芬斯(Victoria Stevens) 说,"我们冲洗血液,然后给患者注入低温保护液"。

“Rather than turning them into a solid state, it turns them into a glass state, thereby reducing ice crystal damage.”


Cryonics is only used after the heart has stopped. The idea is that medical science will advance sufficiently in the future to allow revival and treatment. “Nobody has been revived yet, as we currently do not have the technology to be able to do that,” says Stevens. “If we did, then we probably would not need to cryo-preserve in the first place.”


Although hundreds have already been cryo-preserved, cryonics is an extreme process. “This is a completely experimental development that has not reached its conclusion,” admits Stevens.


In 2001, 13-month-old Erika Nordby was trapped in snow and entered a hibernation-like state for approximately two hours, before being successfully revived. During that time, Erika had no heartbeat and was clinically dead. Whilst this may offer some hope that we could one day develop suspended animation, it was an isolated incident that has not yet been replicated.

2001年,13个月大的诺德拜(Erika Nordby)被困在雪中并进入冬眠状态大约两个小时,然后成功复活。在那两小时的时间中,诺德拜没有心跳,被认为是临床死亡。这让我们期望有朝一日能够开发出休眠假死的技术,但诺德拜个案是一个还不能复制的孤立事件。

As time is a fundamental aspect of our reality, we cannot stop it any more than we could stop depth or width. Furthermore, practical time dilation would necessitate such complex engineering and energy requirements that it remains unfeasible.


Could bio-engineering projects be the solution to this seeming impossibility, finally allowing us to sidestep time?


“Maybe,” says McClure-Begley. “But don’t stay up at night waiting for it.”




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