In the BBC TV series "Dr. Who," the Tardis -- the Doctor's machine for traveling through time and space -- is disguised as a blue police box. As a Time Lord, The Doctor lives outside of time -- his life has no clearly definable past, present and future.

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Science fiction has thoroughly covered the topic of time travel, starting with H.G. Wells' "The Time Machine" in 1895 and continuing right up to modern movies like "Déjà Vu" starring Denzel Washington. But physicists have also explored the nature of time and the plausibility of time travel for more than century, beginning with Albert Einstein's theories of relativity. Thanks to Einstein, scientists know that time slows as moving objects approach the speed of light. Gravity also slows time. This means that, in one sense, all of us can already consider ourselves time travelers in a limited way because we experience a tiny time warp (a difference of only nanoseconds) when we, for example, take a flight on an airplane. But physicists who study time travel today search for plausible ways to create a time warp large enough to allow noticeable travel into the past or future.

In his book "How to Build a Time Machine," physicist Paul Davies writes, "The theory of relativity implies that a limited form of time travel is certainly possible, while unrestricted time travel -- to any epoch, past or future -- might just be possible, too." This astonishing statement begs an important question: If time travel did indeed become a reality, how would it affect our world as we currently experience it?

First, it's important to realize that building a time machine would likely involve enormous expense, and the sheer complexity of such an apparatus would mean only a limited group of time travelers would have access to it. But even a small group of "astronauts" traveling through time and space could conceivably have a tremendous impact on life as we know it today. The possibilities, in fact, seem almost infinite.

Let's begin by assuming that it's possible to create a complete loop in time travel -- that time travelers could travel back into the past and then return to the future (or vice versa). Although scientists view traveling to the future as a much less problematic proposition than traveling to the past, our daily lives wouldn't change much if we could only send time travelers backward or forward in time, unable to recall them to the present. If we could, in fact, complete this loop of time travel, we can conjure up an incredible array of possible effects.