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These scientists are convinced that the future can influence the past

Published Mar 26th, 2023 9:02AM EDT
quantum physics questions, universe
Image: Ulia Koltyrina / Adobe

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We’ve all heard of the “consequences of our actions,” where something in our past somehow brings about something in our future. Another common way to look at it is through the eyes of sowing seeds. You reap what you sow. However, some scientists think that it could also work the other way, through something they call retrocausality, which means your actions in the future somehow influence the past.

It seems a little crazy, and maybe even a little outside the box, to think that we could somehow influence our past by what we do in the future. However, many scientists out there are starting to focus more heavily on this idea of retrocausality and what it means. It’s a bit of a mind-bending twisty, turny way of thinking, but does that make it inherently incorrect?

According to Kenneth Wharton, who recently co-authored an article on the subject, looking at how the future affects the past could help answer some nagging questions scientists have struggled with in quantum physics. These problems exist on the tiniest scale of atoms, but they can still have a great deal of influence on the world around them. Understanding how retrocausality affects that, though, isn’t exactly easy.

Conceptual 3D illustration of quantum entanglementImage source: ezstudiophoto / Adobe

Research into this insane-sounding phenomenon has appeared in journals like Foundations of Physics, where scientists can really try to break down the fundamentals of what holds our world together. The quantum realm doesn’t appear to follow all the same rules as our own physical realm –governed by the more classical ideas of physics. So, why should we rule out the possibility that retrocausality exists?

Some of the big differences we see between the quantum realm and our own is how quantum objects can often become synced up in what scientists call quantum entanglement. Despite being light-years apart, these objects appear to act on the same timeline. This quantum entanglement throws many of our assumptions about the universe into loops.

For many scientists, understanding this phenomenon requires us to “kill” one of our most treasured physics ideals. Others hold locality as that ideal. Locality says objects shouldn’t be able to interact at a distance without a mediator. Even still, other scientists want to kill the concept of “realism.” For Wharton and others, retrocausality seems to be the answer that holds it all together.

Emily Adlam, who studies retrocausality as a postdoctoral associate at Western University’s Rotman Institute of Philosophy, told Motherboard that an argument exists that retrocausality could help make sense of quantum mechanics in a time-symmetric way.

Studying quantum mechanics has allowed us to uncover many new truths, including the existence of time reflections. But, proving the part that retrocausality plays in the quantum realm could help reshape everything we understand about cause and effect.

Josh Hawkins has been writing for over a decade, covering science, gaming, and tech culture. He also is a top-rated product reviewer with experience in extensively researched product comparisons, headphones, and gaming devices.

Whenever he isn’t busy writing about tech or gadgets, he can usually be found enjoying a new world in a video game, or tinkering with something on his computer.

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