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    Future Influence: The Quantum Physics Of Precognition Or Pseudoscience?
    By Sascha Vongehr | November 3rd 2011 10:28 AM | 13 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Sascha

    Dr. Sascha Vongehr [风洒沙] studied phil/math/chem/phys in Germany, obtained a BSc in theoretical physics (electro-mag) & MSc (stringtheory)...

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    From time to time and against strong resistance from the scientific establishment, inspired scientists come out of the closet and dare to publicly consider whether the future can influence the present. Is it in principle possible that we may be able to partially perceive the future say via evolved emotional responses? Future influence has been proposed by Roger Penrose in order to explain how certain crystals grow. So called quasi-periodic crystals avoid additions of atoms into places and orientations that are perfectly allowed while growing, but whose occupation would lead to future mismatches in the resulting, larger crystal (this is due to quasi-periodic crystals not having periodic order over large distances like usual crystals). The idea involves backward causation, also called retrocausality: The consistency of the future state guides the present growth via quantum interference.



    Others have suggested that the future’s influence made high energy accelerators fail [Test of Influence from Future in Large Hadron Collider]. And of course it is mentioned in ‘psi’ studies like “Feeling the Future: Experimental Evidence for Anomalous Retroactive Influences on Cognition and Affect” [1].


    A Short But Sadly Necessary Detour: Orthodoxy and Dogma in Modern Science

    As so often, the scientific establishment is confronted with the awkward situation of having to explain why standard methods like classical significance analysis, which is criticized by those in the know for twenty years at least, are acceptable in for example medical studies on the safety of a new vaccine but not when results put into doubt what powerful players or mere orthodoxy want us to believe.


    A fashionable reply is “extraordinary claims need extraordinary evidence”. Sounds somehow reasonable, which is the most important aspect of it, because this motto often serves to hide the argument from authority by one more step: Who decides what counts as extraordinary rather than expected? In order to have the argument from authority appear like good science, one uses Bayesian statistics. Any undesired scientific significance can be diminished by mixing it with a so called ‘prior’ probability, which is often merely a held belief that is, even if perhaps true, nevertheless put on false support, which at times badly backfires in terms of public trust into science.


    A recent example is the 6 sigma OPERA confirmation of previously indicated faster than light particles. It was of course rejected, but the way it was rejected is not quite what distinguishes the scientific method from religion. Effectively, the significance was multiplied with a prior equal to zero, namely the dogma insisting on faster than light being impossible, period. However, those who did not get caught up in orthodoxy know that relativity is quite likely a merely emergent, low-energy phenomenon, thus faster than light phenomena are expected at high energies. Something similar may be the case also for future influence: On closer inspection, an unpopular phenomenon is expected and perhaps fundamentally happens all the time and is ordinary rather than extraordinary.


    She has her customers anyway. Misinterpretations of science are much more detrimental if scientists employ them.


    According to the forced ‘consensus’ in the scientific community, you gamble your career away if you do not point out the disclaimer that absolutely nothing inside of quantum physics travels back into the past, as Daryl Bem must point out every once in a while. It is true, nothing goes into the past in known quantum physics, so you should have no problem with regurgitating this bit of political correctness. However, neither does anything travel into the future – not even in classical physics actually, but certainly not in quantum theory! Quantum physics as we know it today is fundamentally time symmetric, and without introducing some sort of classicality (via open systems' decoherence in a dissipative environment) or non-classical arrow of time by hand (via for example eternal chaotic inflation of the universe), there is neither any influence of the future nor the past.


    The Naïve Picture of a Box-Lever-Pulley World

    The always cock–sure defenders of the true truth, physicists like me, usually refuse any future influence out of hand with arguments that are a confused mess of mutually exclusive classical perspectives. The future is supposed to be influenced by the past and not the other way around because the predominant metaphysical world view of physicists is still pre-Kantian and has neither absorbed the lessons from relativity nor those from quantum physics:


    The directly real world’s history is envisioned as a branching tree where we journey along starting at the stem, being pushed up higher by the ‘flow of time’. Whenever we get to a branching, something decides which way to go, say branch A or branch B. If the choice is B, all future branches will be branching away from only that branch B, so the influence of the present decision travels further into the future and influences the future. (There isn’t even any meaning to “influence” from the future if there is no branching that splits the opposite way; no decisions need to be taken when we follow the future back into the past, arriving at the main trunk.)


    There are two aspects badly wrong with this naïve view:


    1) There is fundamentally no decision between A and B. Either B was determined, in which case there was no branching in the first place, or if there is an actual branching, A and B are fundamentally equivalent (“parallel universes”). In any case, there is no ‘decision’ that travels forth.


    2) The branching is for no reason other than oversight supposed to only branch into the future, having thus more possibilities in the future than in the past. However, without some sort of expansion of the space of all possible states (which stays constant in quantum physics and only grows in a certain classical description), the present is not only remembered by different futures, but it has also come from the congruence of different pasts, which may be news to many but is basically the widely accepted constructive interference discussed below. If you on principle (say because of quantum physics) cannot find out whether on Monday a certain circumstance is either this or that way, both are equally connected to your situation right now, regardless of whether that Monday is next or last week.


    None of this is “philosophizing”; all of it is strictly sticking to good operational physics being careful not to corrupt proper terminology. Evolution and real history needs classical physics and it is not completely known yet how classical physics arises from the partially explored quantum foundation. Ironically, skeptics especially refuse quantum future influence as pseudoscientific abracadabra.


    Hey, “skeptics”, wake up, we know since forever that there is no future influence in classical physics. That is the very core of “classical”! Guess what guys; stop the presses; the world has a relativistic quantum description.



    Interference of Histories is the Hallmark of Quantum Physics

    According to orthodoxy, the reason for quantum mechanics being mentioned in connection with consciousness or future influence is plainly “one is weird, the other is weird, so mingle them together” (actual reason given by a peer reviewer rejecting my scientific article – this is how low “peer review” in modern science has sunk, and do not expect editors to step in to protect standards).


    For those of us who are not just career technicians crunching boring statistics staring at CERN computers or massaging theories to maximize the number of articles that can be generated, the connection between quantum physics and future influence is obvious, perhaps even more obvious than the one between conscious observation and quantum phenomena: Classically, stuff just happens or does not happen, period. Quantum mechanics is all about the ‘mechanics’ of quantum interference, where one classically allowed path or history destructively interferes with another one so that both possibilities do actually not happen after all, but a different one instead, one that for example interfered constructively with yet other potentialities.


    That classical paths, say those of electrons traversing the double slit in Young’s double slit experiment, destructively interfere (destroy each other), is accepted knowledge. You will not be criticized for “The dark spot in the interference pattern comes from all the paths going there destructively interfering with each other so that nothing arrives.” You are allowed to assume there ‘first’ exist such paths actually traversed by virtual particles but ‘then’ they destroy each other (in a causal rather then temporal sense). You are allowed to talk this way, because at least this interpretation toes the classical Party-line concerning time: The past and cause (interference on the paths) creates the future (observed interference pattern). Such interpretations, much like the infinity of virtual particle loops, describe the way we mathematically calculate, and we use this way to calculate because it comes easy to our classical intuition.


    We must equally refuse or accept future influence. If histories A, B, and C are all classically possible, but C is mostly observed because it leads to a stable or in some way self-consistent result, while A and B would lead to outcomes that are seldom observed, it will be proper to describe the situation “as if” the future outcome, the future destructive decoherence, de-selects paths A and B already in the present. Otherwise, physics is mostly going along paths of the A and B type but then just stops like some may think happens for the unobserved alive Schroedinger cats (a possible description, but certainly not what defenders of the mainstream had in mind).


    Do not misunderstand “as if” in the previous paragraph. Widely accepted descriptions seemingly involving past influence in quantum physics are precisely as much “as if”! How much influence there actually is from the future or the past neither depends on known quantum physics nor known classical physics but on precisely those transitions between them which we know still little about. The question is for example whether such influence can extend into the classical macro realm. Well, there have been quite some surprises lately for example in quantum biology.


    If interest exists, we can discuss whether evolution could ever pick up on such quantum mechanisms to allow precognition, we can go into whether future influence is the whole point of quantum physics, but we will not discus whether virtual particles are really real or whether tachyons time travel (they don’t). (UPDATE: Here is the follow up post, the most interesting of which may be the discussion in its comment thread.)

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    [1] Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 100, 407-425 (2011) [Note: Citing peer reviewed papers does not imply commitment to their claims.]

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    Comments

    Interesting post! Can't say I fully understood the section on interference of histories. Could you explain it with diagrams and/or equations? Some citations on "retrocausality" might help too!

    mhlongmeyer
    I have always been interested in interpretations of what some call quantum eraser experiments, and FWIW I would appreciate further development of your thoughts in that direction, if you are so inclined. 

    Looks like you're going to have to sort through a flood of people advertising their mystical experiences though.  I guess it comes with the territory.
    vongehr
    Quantum erasers partially brought me to this topic. What happens if conscious beings (Schroedinger cats like us) are inside these experiments (our world is such an experiment), how is their experience consistent with erasure? I touchedon this by asking what happens if all the cats are dead - where do the living ones go? But that is just the beginning. There is a can of worms opening once one thinks about the cats' perspectives.
    Timothy Connet

    Novice comment:
    I read in Genius - Autobiography of Richard Feynman, by Gleck, on page 254, it shows a diagram of the path of an electron.   The picture is my interpretation of that graph.  I have heard that a positron is the definition of an electron going back in time.   Is this a good addition to your article about the future influencing the past?
    vongehr
    "going back in time" is no worse than "going forward in time", because they are both very misleading. Fundamentally, nothing is going anywhere in time at all, simply because it would need time (a second one) to do so. You can go along space, and the change is measured via time, everything else is confusion.
    That positrons are electrons going back in time can be a useful description. The main problem with it is that electrons do not go forward in time.
    Halliday
    Sascha:

    Have you heard of the Transactional Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics?  I can't say I've studied it much, but it does preserve the time symmetry, and does allow for some transfer of information from future to past.

    Anyway, just a thought.

    David
    vongehr
    Yes, I once looked into this when working on the Bell stuff. I found that interpretation to be a step backwards. He uses retarded and advanced waves as has been done before, but I think not in a promising way. If I interpret it correctly, it tries to argue against modal realism and desperately holds on to a simple world picture, even if this makes stuff going backwards through time and faster than light necessary.
    Nevertheless, this is indeed touching on future influence and your mentioning it is very much on topic, because this is future influence seriously considered by established scientists (long before transactional QM).
    Thor Russell
    OK, here is what I was referring to on chat:

    Entaglement, locality and information

    I have followed physics for a while, and given some but not by any means exhaustive thought to things like locality, dimensions and information etc.  My experience with digital computers etc has shaped the way I think, and I am sure I am not alone in that, here is my starting perspective:

    Basically everything is about information and how it is processed. Matter, energy, physical dimensions have no special "real" meaning but are just patterns in how things interact. Due to dealing a lot with digital systems, it is tempting to try to think of things in these terms andtry to "force" them onto the real world.

    So, consider the following simple "world"

    There are 100 possible places a "particle" in this world can be can be, the places are the numbers 00-99.  Time goes in discrete ticks, and at any point in time the particle is in one place, say 04 or 23.  So the boxes could be thought of in  a 1-d number line from 0-99 but now consider how the particle moves.

    From one time period to the next it can move from say 44 to43, 34, 45, 54 or stay where it is.

    Or if it is at 25, then it can go to 15,24,35,26.

    In other words the way the particle moves makes you think that instead of a 1-d space, it is in fact 2d, with the point 25 really being(2,5). So dimensions are emergent, and appear from how particles move. Now the distance from 33 to 55 would be 4, because a particle could go 33-43-44-45-55, rather than 55-33 = 22. So distance is measured by how particles move.

    However there is no reason why particles cannot move in different ways.  If a different particle can move from 33-55 in two steps say 33-44-55, then distance is not uniquely defined, but it it still easy to imagine this world being consistent, pretty much like in chess with the pieces having different moves.

    So for entaglement, it means something like the distance between two entagled photons is always zero from their "perspective" even though they may be at positions say 10 and 70 and heading further apart.Or another way of thinking about it, they are like a coin with the "heads" side at 10, and the "tails" side at 70. If you measure one as "heads" then of course the other will be "tails". Two particles but only one piece of information. Measuring one is going to instantly affect the other as distance isn't uniquely defined anyway.

    Now I don't expect this accurately describes our actual world, but what is the simplest thing wrong with it, Is relativity completely incompatible with it, or is there some experiment to show that entaglement doesn't work this way? This will help me move on to different explanations.

    I am not putting this forward as an explanation of how things work but instead what the intuitive starting position of someone with my background may be.

    Who shares my view, does working with computers make you think like this also? I am not attached to locality, but I am to reality being basically digital as it is easier for me to think about. Given two possible explanations I would prefer the digital one unless it is shown not to be possible.
    Thor Russell
    vongehr
    This discussion should be in the comments under a different article. Anyway, you need to stop playing with models for transforming locality into weird representations that are phenomenologically the same and start instead understanding that a hidden reality (hidden variables) as such are the problem. Your classical computer is a hidden reality that is directly real and thus is proven to not be able to get you a quantum probabilities, whatever transformations you do.
    What you talk about here has been done, namely the 3+1 dimensional general relativity can arise from a holographic theory that has non-general relativistic physics happening on the 2+1 boundary. Meaning, gravity can emerge in such ways, but that has been known (to those who are more clever than the science mainstream) all along. However, true quantum entanglement you can on principle not get from transforming a classical basis. Don't waste your time on trying - understanding that it does not work only needs a few weeks.
    Thor Russell
    Oh I guess the model it is just locality transformed. 
    Thor Russell
    from my layman point of view, i'd like to see another post on this topic. i am interested in all the suggestions you make:

    "We can discuss whether evolution could ever pick up on such quantum mechanisms to allow precognition"

    This should be a really interesting topic, but i doubt we can go much further up the level of almost groundless speculations. How can we decide if Tegmark is right or Hammeroff/Penrose are right regarding the possibility of the brain to allow quantum effects with a substantial role in brain computation? If it is very hard to tell if birds can exploit "quantum sensors" to see the earth magnetic field (as by your previous post), how can we even think about getting to know if (and, most important, how) quantum effects influence our consciousness or, even worse, allow precognition abilities?
    And, if this is really what you are getting at ("Is it in principle possible that we may be able to partially perceive the future say via evolved emotional responses?"), from a biological/evolutionary perspective, how could such a mechanism evolve, given that, if it really exists, it is at most sporadical and with little to no survival usefulness, at least in human beings? the only reason i can think about it is to see it as an old relic from pre-language times, but this is more science-fiction than pseudo-science. I personally had a few of what could be described as "precognitive experiences", all related to my brother, but i still think that coincidence and self-suggestion is more probable than "quantum precognition" in the brain.
    The main problem is related to the mechanism by which quantum effects on a microscopic level (If they can happen in the brain) can reflect on a macroscopic level interacting with the complex system of the brain and consciousness.
    We don't know if quantum processes can happen in the brain. Most important, we don't know the mechanism by which these hypotetical quantum processes develop and influence the macroscopic processes in the brain. We don't even know how the brain works in the classical way, how can we even start to think about quantum consciousness?

    "we can go into whether future influence is the whole point of quantum physics"

    This is almost as interesting as the argument above, and i think it is a much less controversial topic to discuss about (at least outside of mainstream science, in MSS i guess it still is quite controversial). For example, i don't have any problems in thinking about the possibility that our universe was born by cause of something that will happen in the future (something a là "omega point" but, following Deutsch, without the religious implications made by Tipler (and Teilhard de Chardin)), just as quasicrystals takes orientations and places according to future costraints. I think focusing on these topics could also give us clues and hints about the relationship between quantum and semiclassical reality, in the universe and in our brains.

    vongehr
    i'd like to see another post on this topic.
    Thank you for your interest. I have written two more parts. To come tomorrow if I get to it.
    How can we decide if Tegmark is right or Hammeroff/Penrose are right regarding the possibility of the brain to allow quantum effects with a substantial role in brain computation?
    Precognition may be independent of that issue.
    If it is very hard to tell if birds can exploit "quantum sensors" to see the earth magnetic field
    But it is not hard anymore. It basically has been shown - well, needs to be confirmed of course.
    how could such a mechanism evolve, given that, if it really exists, it is at most sporadical and with little to no survival usefulness, at least in human beings?
    How could it have evolved that you sneeze easier when you look into bright light? There are millions of little things that seem to give absolutely minute selective advantage. It comes from the huge numbers of individuals and times involved and because evolution acts on gene pools rather than individuals and a few other relatively novel findings in evolutionary theory. This problem and its solution is not specific to precognition.
    i still think that coincidence and self-suggestion is more probable than "quantum precognition"
    Agreed!
    The main problem is related to the mechanism by which quantum effects on a microscopic level (If they can happen in the brain) can reflect on a macroscopic level interacting with the complex system of the brain and consciousness.
    Disagreed. I will explain on that in the third part after the next one.
    i don't have any problems in thinking about the possibility that our universe was born by cause of something that will happen in the future (something a là "omega point" but, following Deutsch, without the religious implications made by Tipler (and Teilhard de Chardin)), just as quasicrystals takes orientations and places according to future costraints.
    Yes, there is no problem at all. The future is just another parallel possibility. There is fundamentally no time flowing anyway, so the whole having one's pants in knots about the future is being stuck in classical physics and pre-philosophical thinking. I just do not get why so many with high IQ and being interested in science cannot get their head around it and refuse it as if it implies evil moral relativism. That is something I do not understand.
    "How could it have evolved that you sneeze easier when you look into bright light?"

    I dunno, maybe everyone who sneezed at night when it was dark were eaten by animals hunting at night, leaving only us "sneeze when looking into bright light" evolved humans ? hahaha