Does the Past Exist Yet? Evidence Suggests Your Past Isn't Set in Stone
Is it possible we live and die in a world of illusions? Physics tells us that objects exist in a suspended state until observed, when they collapse in to just one outcome. Paradoxically, whether events happened in the past may not be determined until sometime in your future -- and may even depend on actions that you haven't taken yet.
In 2002, scientists carried out an amazing experiment, which showed that particles of light (photons) knew -- in advance − what their distant twins would do in the future. They tested the communication between pairs of photons to determine whether they were either a wave or a particle. Researchers stretched the distance one of the photons had to take to reach its detector, so that the other photon would hit its own detector first. The photons taking this path already finished their journeys − they either collapse into a particle or don't before their twin encounters a scrambling device.
Somehow, the particles acted on this information before it happened, and across distances instantaneously as if there was no space or time between them. They decided not to become particles before their twin ever encountered the scrambler. It doesn't matter how we set up the experiment. Our mind and its knowledge is the only thing that determines how they behave. Experiments consistently confirm these observer-dependent effects.
More recently (Science 315, 966, 2007), scientists in France shot photons into an apparatus, and showed that what they did could retroactively change something that had already happened. As the photons passed a fork in the apparatus, they had to decide whether to behave like particles or waves when they hit a beam splitter. Later on - well after the photons passed the fork - the experimenter could randomly switch a second beam splitter on and off. It turns out that what the observer decided at that point, determined what the particle actually did at the fork in the past. At that moment, the experimenter chose his history.
Of course, we live in the same world. Particles have a range of possible states, and it's not until observed that they take on properties. So until the present is determined, how can there be a past? According to visionary physicist John Wheeler (who coined the word "black hole"), "The quantum principle shows that there is a sense in which what an observer will do in the future defines what happens in the past." Part of the past is locked in when you observe things and the "probability waves collapse."
But there's still uncertainty, for instance, as to what's underneath your feet. If you dig a hole, there's a probability you'll find a boulder. Say you hit a boulder; the glacial movements of the past that account for the rock being in exactly that spot will change as described in the Science experiment.
But what about dinosaur fossils? Fossils are really no different than anything else in nature. For instance, the carbon atoms in your body are "fossils" created in the heart of exploding supernova stars. Bottom line: reality begins and ends with the observer. "We are participators," Wheeler said "in bringing about something of the universe in the distant past." Before his death, he stated that when observing light from a quasar, we set up a quantum observation on an enormously large scale. It means, he said, the measurements made on the light now, determines the path it took billions of years ago.
Like the light from Wheeler's quasar, historical events such as who killed JFK, might also depend on events that haven't occurred yet. There's enough uncertainty that it could be one person in one set of circumstances, or another person in another. Although JFK was assassinated, you only possess fragments of information about the event. But as you investigate, you collapse more and more reality. According to biocentrism, space and time are relative to the individual observer, we each carry them around like turtles with shells.
History is a biological phenomenon − it's the logic of what you, the animal observer experiences. You have multiple possible futures, each with a different history like in the Science experiment. Consider the JFK example: say two gunmen shot at JFK, and there was an equal chance one or the other killed him. This would be a situation much like the famous Schrödinger's cat experiment, in which the cat is both alive and dead − both possibilities exist until you open the box and investigate.
"We must re-think all that we have ever learned about the past, human evolution and the nature of reality, if we are ever to find our true place in the cosmos," says Constance Hilliard, a historian of science at UNT. Choices you haven't made yet might determine which of your childhood friends are still alive, or whether your dog got hit by a car yesterday. In fact, you might even collapse realities that determine whether Noah's Ark sank. "The universe," said John Haldane, "is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose."
Robert Lanza, M.D., Scientist, TheoreticianBiocentrism (BenBella Books) lays out Lanza's theory of everything.
"I don't believe in yesterday, by the way."
The past is set in stone, right? Everything we have learned tells us that you can not change the past, 88-MPH DeLoreans notwithstanding. However, it would probably surprise you to learn that many highly respected scientists, as well as a few out on the fringe, are questioning that assumption, based on real evidence.
For example, leading stem cell scientist, Dr. Robert Lanza, posits that the past does not really exist until properly observed. His theory of Biocentrism says that the past is just as malleable as the future.
Specific experiments in Quantum Mechanics appear to prove this conjecture. In the "Delayed Choice Quantum Eraser" experiment, "scientists in France shot photons into an apparatus, and showed that what they did could retroactively change something that had already happened." (Science 315, 966, 2007)
Paul Davies, renowned physicist from the Australian Centre for Astrobiology at Macquarie University in Sydney, suggests that conscious observers (us) can effectively reach back in history to "exert influence" on early events in the universe, including even the first moments of time. As a result, the universe would be able to "fine-tune" itself to be suitable for life.
Prefer the Many Worlds Interpretation (MWI) of Quantum Mechanics over the Copenhagen one? If that theory is correct, physicist Saibal Mitra from the University of Amsterdam has shown how we can change the past by forgetting. Effectively if the collective observers memory is reset prior to some event, the state of the universe becomes "undetermined" and can follow a different path from before. Check out my previous post on that one [reposted below].
Alternatively, you can disregard the complexities of quantum mechanics entirely. The results of some macro-level experiments twist our perceptions of reality even more. Studies by Helmut Schmidt, Elmar Gruber, Brenda Dunne, Robert Jahn, and others have shown, for example, that humans are actually able to influence past events (aka retropsychokinesis, or RPK), such as pre-recorded (and previously unobserved) random number sequences
Benjamin Libet, pioneering scientist in the field of human consciousness at the University of California, San Francisco is well known for his controversial experiments that seem to show reverse causality, or that the brain demonstrates awareness of actions that will occur in the near future. To put it another way, actions that occur now create electrical brain activity in the past.
And then, of course, there is time travel. Time travel into the future is a fact, just ask any astronaut, all of whom have traveled nanoseconds into the future as a side effect of high speed travel. Stephen Hawking predicts much more significant time travel into the future. In the future. But what about the past? Turns out there is nothing in the laws of physics that prevents it. Theoretical physicist Kip Thorne designed a workable time machine that could send you into the past. And traveling to the past of course provides an easy mechanism for changing it. Unfortunately this requires exotic matter and a solution to the Grandfather paradox (MWI to the rescue again here).
None of this is a huge surprise to me, since I question everything about our conventional views of reality. Consider the following scenario in a massively multiplayer online role playing game (MMORPG) or simulation. The first time someone plays the game, or participates in the simulation, there is an assumed "past" to the construct of the game. Components of that past may be found in artifacts (books, buried evidence, etc.) scattered throughout the game. Let's say that evidence reports that the Kalimdors and Northrendians were at war during year 1999. But the evidence has yet to be found by a player. A game patch could easily change the date to 2000, thereby changing the past and no one would be the wiser. But, what if someone had found the artifact, thereby setting the past in stone. That patch could still be applied, but it would only be effective if all players who had knowledge of the artifact were forced to forget. Science fiction, right? No longer, thanks to an emerging field of cognitive research. Two years ago, scientists were able to erase selected memories in mice. Insertion of false memories is not far behind. This will eventually perfected, and applied to humans.
At some point in our future (this century), we will be able to snort up a few nanobots, which will archive our memories, download a new batch of memories to the starting state of a simulation, and run the simulation. When it ends, the nanobots will restore our old memories.
Or maybe this happened at some point in our past and we are really living the simulation. There is really no way to tell.
No wonder the past seems so flexible.
Here's an interesting idea. To avoid an impending disaster, all you have to do is forget your past. So says physicist Saibal Mitra at the University of Amsterdam. Even changing the past seems to be possible, believe it or not.
His idea is predicated on accepting our old friend, the Everett interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, aka the Many Universes theory. According to Mitra, if the collective observers’ memory is reset prior to a cataclysmic event, such as a species ending asteroid impact, the state of the universe becomes "undetermined." As a result, it has an equal likelihood of following any of the many subsequent paths, most of which should have nothing to do with an asteroid impact. And so, by selectively forgetting our past, we can avoid certain doom by starting with a clean slate of future outcomes. See this New Scientist article.
There is something unsettling about the logic, but his paper seems to be on firm footing: http://arxiv.org/abs/0902.3825. And the implications are fascinating. Not happy with how last year's Superbowl turned out? Keep a single copy of the event, erase everyone's memory, replace all archived bits of history relating to the game, and then we can all sit back and watch the recording again. Mitra says if we do that, there's a good chance Arizona will win. Watching the same tape! Well, maybe not the same tape. Because once the universe became undetermined again, the physical tape could have encoded any number of outcomes.
This is vaguely reminiscent of "Last Thursdayism," which is one of the possible aspects of Programmed Reality. Once the universe is reset from an observational standpoint, we would never know the difference and an entirely different future course of events is possible. If you make the restart point somewhere in our current past, then the recent past can be changed too. Programmed Reality explains it all!
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