Thursday, January 05, 2006

Remembering the Future

Can we travel through time? Check out Chris F. Masse's ruminations on reversing the psychological arrow of time. Geek-a-riffic!


Matt McIntosh said...

"The far-fetched hypothesis here would be that the mind kind of behave according to quantum mechanics"

Not bloody likely, according to MIT physicist Max Tegmark's calculations. Quantum superpositions decohere on a timescale of between 10^-13 and 10^-20 seconds. Even the fastest neurons fire on a timescale of about 10^-3 seconds or so, so any quantum effects in the brain would be drowned out by mundane classical ones.

Jeff Brown said...

I don’t have any useful comment on whether paranormal things happen, but I recall a mundane explanation for the sensation of precognition: The brain has a time-stamp mechanism that it uses for filing experiences. That mechanism can err; when it does, the memory of pondering an event can feel like it came before the event.

I don’t know where I read that. If I remember right, though, the hypothesis was: It’s probably important that we remember external events in the right order. However, remembering our own thoughts in the right order, and coordinating the two sequences (internal vs. external) might be less important: errors therein, though they might lead to superstition (I’m extrapolating now) won’t significantly endanger an organism’s chances of reproduction.

Glen Whitman said...

Masse's argument looks pretty weak to me, though I'm far from an expert. He refers to "a theoretical possibility for information going backward in time" posited by microphysics, but he doesn't link to anything about it. Instead, he links to material on the quantum entanglement, which (to simplify greatly) says there can be an instantaneous connection between two events separated in space. Even if you take that to mean there can be timeless causation (and I'm not convinced it does), it still doesn't show backwards causation or backwards transmission of information.

Tom W. Bell said...

Penrose, among others, has argued that microtubules in neurons might allow quantum effects to affect human cognition. For a review of his argument, with some skeptic comments, see this article.

I'll let Masse defend himself, if he sees fit. I didn't take him to offer a very comprehensive argument, however. Rather, I took him to simply be poking around some interesting possibilities. I see no harm in that; rather, it's great fun and, if not taken too seriously, potentially useful.

Jeff Brown said...

The link immediately above this comment looks dead. (Feel free to delete this comment.)

Tom W. Bell said...

You mean mine, Jeff? Let me try again. I was trying to link to this article, otherwise known as the article at I hope one of those works!

Tom W. Bell said...

Chris couldn't seem to post a reply from his computer, so he's asked me to forward one on his behalf. Here 'tis:

The EPR paradox is this: a couple of correlated (i.e., separated twin) sub-particles (A and C), coming from the source B, are proven (theoretically and experimentally) to exchange information instantaneously. Since "instantaneously" means, by definition, faster than the speed of light, the appearance is that the EPR correlation contradicts Einstein's special relativity.

Olivier Costa De Beauregard proposed an interpretation of the EPR paradox that fits with both quantum mechanics and Einstein's theory. Number one, OCDB says that the experimental physicist (not just the equipment, as they say in quantum mechanics) is part of the experience —that the experimental physicist knows the result of the experiment is important for the next argument. Number two, OCDB says that the information on the state of the sub-particle A goes backward in time to the point in time when the twin sub-particles A and C were together in the source B, and from there, the information goes forward in time (that's the normal way) from B to C. So what you have, in the end, is an information going instantaneously from A to C, but not the straight way —from A to B (B being in the past of A) and then from B to C. As you see, OCDB interprets the EPR correlation as a causal zigzag.

The far-fetched hypothesis here would be that our mind kind of behave according to quantum mechanics —and, thus, can send information back in our own past mind.

An interesting experiment (PEAR) has been undertaken at Princeton. The idea was to have people trying to influence a random-event generator. In their own words: "Over the laboratory’s 27-year history, thousands of such experiments, involving many millions of trials, have been performed by several hundred operators. The observed effects are usually quite small, of the order of a few parts in ten thousand on average, but they compound to highly significant statistical deviations from chance expectations."