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.)


[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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