Moving Forward (Backward)

“Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past. – George Orwell


John Cramer, the physicist at the University of Washington who first proposed the Transactional Interpretation of entanglement, is currently working on the realistic possibility of sending information back in time. The subjective experience of his experiment’s success — receiving a laser signal before it has been sent — would be that of observing effect before cause.

A central issue raised by retrocausal signaling is what Cramer calls the immaculate conception paradox:

“Suppose… you receive from yourself in the future the manuscript of a wonderful novel with your name listed as the author. You sell it, it is published, it becomes a best-seller, and you become rich and famous. When the time subsequently comes for transmission, you duly send the manuscript back to yourself, thereby closing the timelike loop and producing a completely consistent set of events. But the question is, just who actually wrote the novel?

Clearly, you did not; you merely passed it along to yourself. Yet highly structured information (the novel) has been created out of nothing. And in this case, Nature should not object, because there are no inconsistent timelike loops.”

Cramer — whose credentials include work at the Brookhaven National Laboratory’s Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider, work at CERN (the world’s largest particle physics laboratory), and the position of director of the UW’s nuclear physics laboratory in the 1980’s — was unable to secure traditional funding for his time experiment. At last tally, private donations had reached over $40,000, enabling him to move forward with his research. Cramer has said that he will start making measurements this month.

Strange Science Takes Time – MSNBC: Cosmic Log


~ by theobservereffect on January 29, 2008.

11 Responses to “Moving Forward (Backward)”

  1. It is sad that funding agencies won’t support groundbreaking research like this. Even if he fails we will have learned something. Personally, I think the “arrow of time” only applies to an aggregate of particles. Sending signals back in time seems possible, but sending a macroscopic object back in time is a unlikely as teleportation of a macroscopic object – too much uncertainty to do it reliably.

    On the other hand, if we could send signals back in time, why haven’t we received one yet? In theory, a researcher who could do this would pick a suitable candidate (perhaps him or herself) to receive it such that it became widely known and well publicized. The fact that this hasn’t happened suggests to me a fundamental limitation, perhaps on how far back a signal can travel, or perhaps on our ability to accomplish this at all. That said, I’m glad Cramer will be able to finally test his idea.

  2. Perhaps we do receive signals sent back in time… That might explain anomalous cognition and other paranormal phenomena (such as UFO sightings).

  3. It might, but wouldn’t it make sense (in fact, given this discussion) that a future researcher would make the reverse-time signal as unambiguous as possible so as to be interpreted as such? Again, I think it might be possible in a limited sense, but there are problems related to uncertainty, probabilities, and temporal decoherence that seem to make it unlikely. Plus, one still needs to find an “out” for standard logic which relies on causality.

  4. Perhaps it is (will be?) unambiguous to that future researcher… Or, perhaps, the ambiguity is (will be?) intentional. 😉

  5. Well, I suppose we’ll simply have to wait and see. But I’m betting that large scale time travel isn’t feasible (but that small scale – i.e. on the scale of single particles) might be. 😕

  6. Maybe not. But then there’s no measuring our perceptual prejudices (not yet, anyway). 😉

    The questions we ask are based on those prejudices, and the answers we seek have everything to do with what we perceive as intuitively “correct.” That being the case, interdisciplinary research which examines the role of the observer (and includes the study of consciousness/perception) in retrocausality may, in part, give us answers. Not necessarily the answers we were after (i.e., large-scale time travel), but insights into the nature of causation which are more incredible — and yet infinitely simpler — than we ever imagined.

  7. True enough, though I’m not sure I’d classify causation as a perceptual prejudice, per sé. While it certainly “feels” better to believe in causality, that’s, of course, not why I think it is necessary on a macroscopic scale. My assertion is based on essentially the large numbers hypothesis, i.e. statistically speaking, the more complex the system is, the smaller the probability of perfect reversibility becomes (and reverse time travel implies perfect reversibility).

  8. It isn’t that I classify causality itself as a perceptual prejudice, but the notion of time-forward causation to the exclusion of other possibilities. As much as macroscopic time travel appeals to human fantasies, we may need to “rephrase” the time question in order to get the real answer. Macroscopic time travel would involve a causal loop, whereas time-backward causation does not.

    I am familiar with the complexity/reversibility issue; I also wonder if we are even capable of observing otherwise.

    How would we know?

  9. Well, again, I appreciate the fact that we may be biased by our relativistic viewpoint (I mean that in a purely physical sense), but that would mean large portions of mathematics and physics would be completely overturned. In any case, I think we will eventually know one way or the other since experiment will tell us.

    Now, as for your statement, “Macroscopic time travel would involve a causal loop, whereas time-backward causation does not” I’m not sure I understand what you’re saying. Microscopically, I already accept reverse-time causation is possible – in fact it is observable to some extent.

    As a note, a buddy of mine, Ken Wharton, at San Diego State, is currently in the process of working out this exact problem – is the universe time symmetric or not. Personally, I’ve been working on studying the behavior of qubits on closed time-like curves (following up on Dave Bacon’s paper from a few years ago). As it stands, several of the inherent processes are reversible (but, again, it’s microscopic).

  10. “Symmology” creator Ken Wharton?

  11. Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. 🙂 Cheers! Sandra. R.

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