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June 16, 2010

The Future of the Past

By Michael Byron

Essay on the ultimate meaning of reality and the final destiny of the cosmos based upon contemporary quantum physics experimental findings.


Occasionally I come across ideas so profoundly shocking, that I would simply reject them as being batshit craziness, except that due to their rigorously scientific, falsifiable nature, and due to the academic reputation of the researchers involved, I can't. Perhaps the most intuitively "obvious" notion that most people possess is that time flows from past to future. The arrow of causality inexorably flows in one direction only: From past to future.

The April 2010 edition of Discover magazine contains an article summarizing what may be among the most profound research ever undertaken into the ultimate nature of reality. Entitled: "Back From the Future" the article summarizes recent research in quantum physics which appears to demonstrate conclusively that the future influences the past. The arrow of causality points BOTH directions: from past to future AND from future to past! [i] [ii] [iii]

On considering this possibility, I do believe that the long established principle of quantum entanglement, most probably entails this dual arrow of causality. Experiments have demonstrated that when two or more elementary particles such as photons become entangled, any change to one particle, such as measuring its previously undetermined spin, causes an instant corresponding change in this property for the other particle--even if they were separated by light years. This effect propagates far faster than the speed of light. It appears to propagate instantaneously across any distance. Entanglement is telling us something deep and fundamental about the nature of our universe--but what? The answer seems to be that time and space are not the absolutes which they appear to us to be.

In retrospect, this really is not too surprising. The universe is unimaginably vast and complex. Living organisms, existing in a given location, at a particular moment in time, need to, quite literally, focus only on that small restricted subset of all information which imparts immediate survival value to them.

Sight is obvious. The Earth's atmosphere is transparent to solar radiation--light--at one narrow bandwidth:

Hearing is also obvious. Given the density of our atmosphere, motion in it will produce compression and expansion of the local atmosphere--"sound". This can provide a great deal of information about our environment. Molecules will float in this atmosphere. Detecting them tells us about whatever emitted them. Is it something we might wish to eat--or is it something which might wish to eat us? Thus smell and its closely related sense of taste have survival value. Similarly with the sense of touch which allows us to be aware of whatever is directly interacting with our bodies.

With these senses, living organisms create a "lifeworld" containing survival relevant information. Within this lifeworld, simple notions of causality possess great survival value: "If I climb the tree BEFORE the bear--which I see, hear and smell, and so reasonably can assume is there--gets here, I will not get eaten, otherwise, I will get eaten" When it comes to survival, timing is everything. I once expressed this idea as a poem:


All that we unquestioningly think that we know,

does ultimately, from five fallible senses grow,

our reality is thus naught but a fragile web, wrought,

of disparate strands woven together, like as not,

with chords of reflexive, unreasoned, presumption,

so that, that which we upon first thought,

believe to be so, is only Mind's tentative assumption.

Time, in a universal context, might behave in a more esoteric manner; however, in terms of survival, awareness of this reality is likely both unnecessary and detrimental to the central task of survival. And so we would not naturally be aware of such things. Yet, this does not mean that a more complex reality, as evidenced by the experiments, I am writing about, does not exist.

Here is a concise summary of the actual experiment:

The experiment consisted of measuring the spin of a large number of elementary
particles at 2:00 pm, 2:30 pm and sometimes measuring them also at 3:00 pm.
They used a very imprecise weak measuring technique which "mostly" ensured
that the spin was not changed by the measurement, while producing great
uncertainty about whether they had measured the actual spin accurately. The
question explored was how the imprecisely measured statistical spin would change
from 2:00 pm to 2:30 pm in the presence of a further measurement at 3:00pm
and in its absence. The difference in the change of spin between these
two experiments leads them to conclude that measuring at 3:00pm impacted
upon the results observed at 2:30pm.

They also explored the question of whether this implied that one could
predict the future from the results observed at 2:30pm... i.e. would these
results oblige them to test or not test again at 3:00pm. What would
happen if they exercised free will in not complying with the statistical
observations suggesting that they had or had not measured spins at 3:00pm.
Though the math isn't given the suggestion is that free will is nor
compromised by the observed results. The results at 2:30pm might suggest
that one was going to measure again at 3:00pm but the confidence level that
one will is so low, that if one doesn't the results can then be explained
as caused by the innate uncertainty inherent in the weak measurements
performed, which while in this case would be anomalous, are not statistically

The article stresses that the experiment is essentially statistical in
nature. There is no suggestion of anything definitive been possible to
say about the spin of any one photon, as consequence of a future
measurement. However, there was noticeable and repeatable difference in
results measured at 2:30pm, under the two experimental conditions of
again measuring or not measuring at 3:00pm.[iv]

All in all, these results are counterintuitive! The statistically clear result is that decisions made in the future change results obtained in the past. Yet this casual effect is statistically weak. Only by combining a large number of measurements does the effect become more probable than the margin of error. According to one of the researchers, Chapman University physicist Jeff Tollaksen, this observation is telling us something very profound about the deep nature of the universe:

"In other words, you can see the effect of the future on the past only after carrying out millions of repeat experiments and tallying up the results to produce a meaningful pattern. Focus on any single one of them and try to cheat it, and you are left with a very strange looking result--an amplification with no cause--but its meaning vanishes. You simply have to put it down to a random error in your apparatus. You win back your free will in the sense that if you actually attempt to defy the future, you will find that it can never force you to carry out post selection experiments against your wishes. The math, Tollaksen says, backs him on this interpretation: The error range in single intermediate weak measurements that are not followed up by the required postselection will always be just enough to dismiss the bizarre results as a mistake. Tollaksen sums up this confounding argument with one of his favorite quotes from the ancient Jewish sage Rabbi Akiva: "all is foreseen; but freedom of choice is given." Or as Tollaksen puts it: I can have my cake and eat it too." He laughs".[v]

An insert to this Discover article, entitled: "Does the Universe Have a Destiny?" explores the topic of whether these new findings, in the context of other quantum physical and cosmological findings, imply that the universe actually has a "destiny" a final state, which because in some sense it already exists, is reaching backwards through time (from our limited perspective) to change reality, such that it becomes consistent with that ultimate final state of the universe.

Again, one hesitates at the seeming counter-intuitiveness of this; however the principle researcher profiled is Paul Davies, a world renowned cosmologist at Arizona State University. Davies possesses considerable credibility.

Years ago Frank Tippler, a physicist at Tulane University wrote about something like this in his book The Physics of Immortality. That work, unlike Davies current research was not well received by the scientific community, apparently because Tippler attempted to relate the ultimate state of the universe, which he called "the Omega Point," with God.

Davies, wisely for a practicing scientist, simply hypothesizes that the universe's ultimate state (which he does not seek to characterize) is influencing the historical evolution of the universe. This is posited as being the solution to the anthropic principle, which seeks to explain why the universe we live in is so improbably hospitable towards life. The apparent answer is that life existing far in the future of the universe is causing (has caused?) the universe's fundamental properties to become self-consistent with its existence in the far future.

If so, this means that life, intelligent life, is not a cosmological aberration in an otherwise dead universe. Life's existence is central, indeed causative, to the existence of our particular universe. Since everything in our universe became quantum entangled at the instant of the Big Bang, instantaneous causation, without regard to what we think of as "time" and "space" this actually makes sense. In one timeless, quantum entangled, "eternity", the self-conscious universe is self-creating/has self-created/will self-create.

Even while the apparent ultimate destiny of our universe--the victory of Life over entropy--is set, we each possess free will to determine the exact details as to how this occurred/will occur--and to determine what our individual roles in this cosmic victory will be/are.

My own take on all of this is that unknowably far in the future of the Cosmos, Life, in the form of the ultimate civilization, manifesting the ultimate degree of emergence, encompassed everything. The victory of consciousness over matter, and its quantum foam underpinnings, was then complete.

I conclude from all of this that, as bleak as our present sometimes seems to be, as bleak as events in our near future will likely be, we should always go forward trying to do what we believe to be right. Those actions which are supportive of Life--all life, not just human life--those actions which are supportive of fairness, justice, equality, contribute towards the consolidation of a deep emergence which will win out against entropy, decay, dissolution, death, in the end. We just don't know how, or when--nor would we want to know, as that would negate free will.

Alternatively, this knowledge should not lead us to become complacent. The Universe, or more likely, the Multiverse[vi], is vast beyond human imagining. Knowing that Life somewhere, somewhen, was ultimately successful, does not tell us anything at all about the fate of our particular world, and our species. If we, ourselves, are to play a role in the creation of this living future, then we must do something, rather than nothing, in our here and now.

In conclusion: Don't despair--act. We can have an integral role in the self-creation of our universe, and in the ultimate victory of conscious Life, over formless chaos and entropy.

Submitters Website: http://www.MichaelPByron.com

Submitters Bio:

Michael P Byron is the author of The Path Through Infinity's Rainbow: Your Guide to Personal Survival and Spiritual Transformation in a World Gone Mad. This book is a manual for taking effective action to deal with the crises of our age including global climate change, peak oil, and political failure to deal with these and other problems. His previous book is Infinity's Rainbow: The Politics of Energy, Climate and Globalization. Byron-has a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of California, Irvine.--He teaches all aspects of Political Science and Political Economy in local colleges in the San Diego area.- He was the Democratic Party's candidate for United States Congress in California's 49th Congressional District in 2004. In 2002,-he- ran as a write-in candidate upon discovering that the Republican incumbent, Darrell Issa, had no major-party challenger.

Mike lives in Oceanside, CA with his wife, Ramona Byron. Both are Navy veterans.