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LATEST DIALOGUES Retrocausality: Can the Present Affect the Past?



The present moment is the source of a chain of interdependence. This absolute point includes all changing phenomena, all impermanent existence, the entire cosmos.

 ~ Taisen Deshimaru

The entire field of becoming is open and accessible; past and future coexist in the eternal now.

 ~ Nisargadatta Maharaj

As conscious humans, we take for granted the inherited assumption that time flows in one direction, in a linear fashion—from past to present to future. Several physicists, though—including those as well-known as Richard Feynman and John Wheeler—have speculated that this may not always be the case: time can flow in both directions and occasionally the present can influence the past.

The ability of present events to affect those that happened in the past is known as retrocausality. While physicists have more work to do to flesh out this theory, proponents say that a double-headed arrow approach to time can explain other concepts in quantum mechanics, including entanglement.

Entangled particles are those that share a special relationship. Their entanglement begins while they are close together, but even when they are separated by vast distances, measurements made to one particle can still affect the other in predictable ways.

Physicists have struggled to explain this behavior, with some suggesting that information passes between the particles to keep them ‘in sync.’ That, however, would require information to move faster than the speed of light, which violates Einstein’s theory of relativity.

Retrocausality may hold the solution to that problem. According to this theory, when something is done to one particle in the present, the effects travel back in time to a point when the two particles were close together. In that way, information from the future is transferred between the two particles. These effects then carry forward into the future—without violating relativity.

This, of course, appears to replace one strange phenomenon—particles communicating instantaneously across vast distances—with another—the present affecting the past. But if you look at time as laid out in the same way as space—with past, present and future all existing at once—it’s easier to comprehend. Movement of information across time—even into the past—is similar to movement of information across space.

As enticing as retrocausality sounds, physicists still have more work to do before it can be called a full-fledged theory.

“Those of us who do want to investigate retrocausality have to come up with the goods,” Matt Leifer, a physicist at the Perimeter Institute, told Nautilus.

Retrocausality may not open the way for a broad shaping of our past. Proponents admit that we would only have a “limited amount of control over the past.” These effects would be more noticeable at the quantum level. This would also preserve the movement of the universe from its highly ordered initial state following the Big Bang to a more chaotic future.

From a non-dual perspective (which is free of the mind’s conceptual filtering and therefore not really a perspective) there is only a ceaseless moment; there aren’t a series of moments, only the incessant now beyond the narrative of time. In this sense, all phenomena are causeless and all stories (including those about the past, present future) coexist momentarily, flickering in and out of eternal existence. At this point we need no longer use temporal words or terms, or at least we can employ them with lightness while deeply rooted in this enduring stability. The pull of the ticking clock and its dizzying force which seems to push us toward the future bringing with it remnants of the distant past, decelerates. Or rather, our expanded focus seems to alter the very time mechanics of the universe effecting all that ‘was’, is, and ‘will be’. All impermanent phenomena arise and dissolve in us, are made interdependent by us, causelessly. For cause and effect are a single movement, an interwoven dance of being, expressions of the same creative existence.

Now is not a time. Here is not a place.

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Science and Nonduality provides a forum where preeminent scientists, philosophers, teachers, artists and a large, international community gather to explore and advance the new paradigm emerging in spirituality, that is both grounded in cutting-edge science and consistent with the ancient wisdom of nonduality — the deep understanding of the interconnectedness of life.

2 Responses to “Retrocausality: Can the Present Affect the Past?”

  1. March 19, 2016 at 7:38 pm, Jim-el said:

    The seemingly rhetorical question heading this article is definitively answered in the longest paragraph, near the end. The truth is that the present (as the unnamed author has literately stated) effects (meaning “causes”) the past to exist at all — an answer from a paradigm different from the one in which the original question was asked.

    Our collective cultural indoctrination into the linear-time syndrome makes us give far too much attention to the cause-and-effect phenomenon, which, like the earth being essentially flat, is only partly true, or important.

  2. March 20, 2016 at 6:29 am, ProfStuckey said:

    Great article, it’s good to see SAND recognizing retrocausality. In addition to the retro-time-evolved language used in this article, there is another way to understand retrocausality, i.e., per an adynamical global constraint. In that view, as the last paragraph implies, the adynamical global constraint works in the block universe to produce time-evolved dynamical physics in precise analogy to the Absolute Principle working in the timeless undifferentiated Pure Being to produce time-evolved consciousness. As Matt Leifer suggests, the retrocausality community needs to produce the goods, i.e., the adynamical global constraint, and we have done just that in Relational Blockworld, e.g., I have a presentation proposal for SAND16 on this very topic

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