This is nothing new. Google "Scharnhorst effect".
The idea is that two conducting plates placed within a few micrometers of each other should experience an attractive force mediated by virtual particles (the Casimir effect). It has been calculated that the refractive index of this space is very, very slightly less than one; since the refractive index (n) is equal to c / v, where v is the speed of a photon in a medium, it follows that a photon may be able to travel faster than c in that space.
What's not clear is whether the wavefront can travel faster than c, which is what you need if you are going to send information ftl. There's some debate on whether that is possible.
The problem with sending information ftl is that if you accept special relativity, it is possible to set up paradoxical situations. For example I can in some circumstances send you a message and receive the reply before the message was composed.
In a nutshell, you can have at most two of the following without creating a logical contradiction:
(1) Causality as we know it on a macro scale. (2) Special Relativity (specifically the part that says that the laws of physics are uniform in all inertial frames of reference). (3) FTL travel as envisioned in sci-fi.
Of course it is possible the universe works quite differently from how we think it does. There are a number of interesting ideas for ways of traveling FTL. They tend to take the form of this: if X (which hasn't yet been shown to be impossible) is possible, then FTL travel is possible. For example, if negative mass is possible then an Alcubierre warp drive (google it) is possible. But those things also mean that if X is possible, the universe starts to look like a pretty unfamiliar place. But that in itself wouldn't surprise me all that much.
By the way, the guy who wrote the whitepaper you mentioned is also the guy behind Project Icarus, a project to design a fusion powered interstellar probe. That's neither here nor there as far as whether his ideas on an FTL drive are possible.
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What about quantum physics? The very existence possibility of a tachyon domain was posited by using negative mass variables and square roots of negative 1 imaginary numbers in the special relativity equation. The math suggests that a tachyon will approach absolute velocity as the tachyon sheds mass and energy.
Light speed is merely an asymptote boundary that cannot be crossed by bradyon domain matter and energy. Similarly, Absolute Zero is an aysmptote. Strange behaviors occur at realized fractyon domain states, a domain the other side of the Absolute Zero asymptote. Fractyon for fractal (fractional) dimensions. Where ten potential dimensions exist in the bradyon domain, and twelve in the tachyon domain, one sum total for the fractyon domain, human perception only perceives at best seven bradyon dimensions, and three or four of the seven only ephemerally. I perceive fully in at least four. Many of my contemporaries have difficulty with more than two or three.
A possible area where fractyon domain behaviors may allow faster than light transmissions or travel is in that domain the universe is the size of a golf ball representing the gamut of fractal points underlayering the known and knowable bradyon domain. Any two fractal points are comparatively close to one another in space and time and entropic state.
Contrarily, a fully evolved tachyon may if it's shed enough mass and energy accelerate to an infinitely rapid state. There would be no need for more than one instance; it would be everywhere and everywhen in this current universe instance at once.
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quote:Contrarily, a fully evolved tachyon may, if it's shed enough mass and energy, accelerate to an infinitely rapid state. There would be no need for more than one instance; it would be everywhere and everywhen in this current universe instance at once.
For some inexplicable reason, that sounds infinitely improbable to me.
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It's not clear whether tachyons exist, but if they *do* exist, then either special relativity is wrong or commonsense notions of causality don't hold, OR (third choice) tachyons do not interact with ordinary matter.
Lets assume that tachyons exist and can interact with ordinary matter. And since we're talking about making sci-fi true, let's throw out special relativity and say that causality holds in the universe. Tachyons can be used to signal across arbitrarily long distances at as close to instantaneous as you please, but it's not clear how you would use that fact to get a person from here to KOI-1686.01 (the most Earth-like planet yet posited) 1033 light years away. After all, that person has *real* mass, not imaginary mass. If mass is conserved, you can't convert him into a bunch of tachyons (unless there is a way to generalize mass conservation, e.g. conserving the energy content of matter while phasing it in an imaginary direction).
I think if tachyons exists and can interact with matter, that suggests some kind of teleportation is the most likely form of FTL travel. Using tachyons, you might send the information in the person's body over the thousand light years and create a perfect copy of him at KOI-1686.01. A system of copying which destroyed the original would for all practical purposes look like teleportation. Clifford Simak used a copying system like this in his Hugo Award winning WAY STATION.
Alternatively since FTL information transmission is possible, it may be possible to transmit matter as well, albeit in a heretofore unforeseen way that may have nothing to do with tachyons. Tachyons in this scenario simply establish that that special relativity has a loophole that enables FTL information transfer and we assume that loophole allows ordinary, non-exotic matter to be transferred as well.
The existence of exotic matter with negative mass is a different kettle of fish. This would allow FTL travel somewhat like we see it in Star Trek -- although you still have to chuck out causality or special relativity.
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Tachyons are as far as the current state of scientific knowledge purely hypothetical. Fractyons are more so implausible. But in human imagination, either or both are within the realm of possibility. Let loose the wings of imagination.
Tachyons interact with ordinary matter close to the light speed asymptote when their mass-energy signature is comparatively high and velocity is barely superluminal. However, having minute profiles, little energy and mass, by and large, their degree of interaction is insignificant in the short term. Galactic long term, on the other hand, their cumulative influence is significant. For example, the ongoing hyperinflation of the universe is caused by these exotic energies. A centrifugal force.
Contrarily, exotic dark matter, fractyons receding from the space-time continuum inverts gravity forces, small force accumulating over distance repels bradyon matter. Instead of the inverse square law of gravity, twice the distance one-quarter the effect, twice the distance four times the effect of the minute force pushes bradyon matter apart. Also a centrifugal force.
Perceiving time as simultaneously forward, backward, and lateral: with width, depth, and height properties and doubled temporal force, means time is not solely linear. However, humans as of now are only able to perceive a small window of the present, some backward perception, and some forward perception.
The Big Shred is theorized to be a mere twelve or so billion years in the future. The universe will shred into disolute subatomic wave-string particles with a texture akin to an ephemeral steel wool. In that state, the universe's precipitated dimenions will collapse and unify through disolution of the four atomic forces into a universal singularity. A centripetal force. The next Big Bang will take place in . . .
Some readers aren't able to see past fantastical science fiction's dubious science. Some readers thrill at the possibilities awe and wonder improbabilities and impossibilities excite. Let's go to Deneb for the month of August? It's but an eyeblink away in imagination. But about 2,600 years away in temporal continuum displacement.