Can we go back and change the past?

Aug
14
2015
by
Lynne McTaggart
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One of the most basic assumptions about intention is that it operates according to a generally accepted sense of cause and effect: if A causes B, then A must have happened first. This assumption reflects one of our deepest beliefs, that time is a one-way, forward-moving arrow. What we do today cannot affect what happened yesterday.

However, a sizeable body of the scientific evidence about intention violates these basic assumptions about causation. Research has demonstrated clear instances of time-reversed effects, where effect precedes cause. Indeed, some of the largest effects occur when intention is sent out of strict time sequence.

 

One of the most basic assumptions about intention is that it operates according to a generally accepted sense of cause and effect: if A causes B, then A must have happened first. This assumption reflects one of our deepest beliefs, that time is a one-way, forward-moving arrow. What we do today cannot affect what happened yesterday.

However, a sizeable body of the scientific evidence about intention violates these basic assumptions about causation. Research has demonstrated clear instances of time-reversed effects, where effect precedes cause. Indeed, some of the largest effects occur when intention is sent out of strict time sequence.

These studies offer up the most challenging idea of all: that thoughts can affect other things no matter when the thought is made. In fact, they may work better when they are not subject to a conventional time sequence of causation.

Princeton University’s former dean of engineering Robert Jahn and and psychologist Brenda Dunne discovered this phenomenon when they investigated time displacement in their random event generator trials. In some 87,000 of these experiments, volunteers were asked to attempt to mentally influence the ‘heads’ and ‘tails’ random output of random event generator (REG) machines in a specific direction anywhere from three days to two weeks after the machines had run.

As a whole, the ‘time-displaced’ experiments achieved even greater effects than the standard experiments.

The very idea that intention could work equally well whether ‘backward’, ‘forward’ or in sequence made Jahn realize that all of our conventional notions of time need to be discarded. The fact that effects were even larger during the time-displaced studies suggested that thoughts have even greater power when their transmission transcends ordinary time and space.

Future shock
Dean Radin, chief scientist for the Institute of Noetic Science, also tested the possibility that, under certain conditions, a future event can influence an earlier nervous-system response. He made ingenious use of a strange psychological phenomenon called the ‘Stroop effect’, named after its discoverer, psychologist John Ridley Stroop, originator of a landmark test in cognitive psychology.

The Stroop test uses a list of the names of colours (e.g. ‘green’) printed in different coloured inks. Stroop found that when people are asked to read out the name of a colour as quickly as possible, they take much longer if the name of the colour does not match the colour of the ink used (e.g. if the word ‘green’ is printed in red ink) than they do if the name and the colour of the ink match (e.g. if the word ‘green’ is printed in green ink).

Psychologists believe that this phenomenon has to do with the difference in the time it takes the brain to process an image (the colour itself), compared with the time it takes to process a word (the colour name).

Swedish psychologist Holger Klintman devised a variation on the Stroop test. Volunteers were asked first to identify the colour of a rectangle as quickly as they could, then asked whether a colour name matched the colour patch they had just been shown. A large variation occurred in the time it took his volunteers to identify the colour of the rectangle. Klintman discovered that the identification of the rectangle colour was faster when it matched the colour name shown subsequently. The time it took for people to identify the colour of the rectangle seemed to depend on the second task of determining whether the word matched the rectangle colour. Klintman called his effect ‘time-reversed interference’.

In other words, the later effect influenced the brain’s reaction to the first stimulus.

Radin created a modern version of Klintman’s study. His participants sat in front of a computer screen and identified the colours of rectangles that flashed up on the screen as quickly as possibly by typing in their first letter. The image on the screen would then be replaced by the name of a colour, and the volunteer would then have to type either ‘y’ (yes) to indicate that the name of the colour matched the colour of the rectangle or ‘n’ (no) to indicate a mismatch.

Radin varied the second part of the design, so that, after the participant had identified the colour of the rectangle, he or she would also have to type in the first letter of the actual colour of the letters of the colour’s name. For instance, if the word ‘green’ flashed up but was coloured blue, he or she would have to type in ‘b’.

In four studies of more than 5000 trials, all four showed a retro-causal effect. Somehow, the time it took to carry out the second task was affecting the time it took to carry out the first one.

The implications are enormous. Our thoughts about something can affect our past reaction times.

 

So what on earth is going on?

Radin discovered more evidence that our mental influence is operating ‘backwards’ in an ingenious study examining the probable underlying mechanism of intention on the random bits of an REG machine. Radin first ran five REG studies involving thousands of trials, then analyzed two of his most successful experiments through a process called a “Markov chain”, which mathematically plots how the REG machine’s output got from A to B.

For this process, he made use of three different models of intention: first, as a forward-time causal influence (the mind ‘pushes’ the REG in one direction throughout the influence); second, as a precognitive influence (the mind intuits the precise moment to hit the REG in its random fluctuations to produce the intended result by ‘looking into the future’ and passively ‘bringing back’ this information into the present); and third, as a true retrocausal influence (the mind first sets the future outcome and applies all the chain of events that will produce it ‘backward’ in time).

Radin’s analysis of the data had one inescapable conclusion: this was not a process running forward, in an attempt to hit a particular target, so much as an “information” flow that had traveled back in time.

Seed moments
So if we’re not reaching back in time, but our future is affecting the present as it unfolds, just how much of the past can we change in the sticks-and-stones world of real life?

Psychologist William Braud has pondered this issue at length. He once observed that those moments in the past most open to change might be ‘seed’ moments when nature has not made up its mind – perhaps the earliest stages of events before they blossomed and grew into something static and unchangeable: the brain of a child, which is far more open to influence and learning than an adult’s; or even a virus, which is far easier to overcome in its infancy. Random events, decisions with equally likely choices, or illness – all probabilistic moments are those most open to change.

Although our understanding of the mechanism is still primitive, the experimental evidence of time reversal is fairly robust. This research portrays life as one giant, smeared
-out here and now, and much of it – past, present and future – open to our influence at any moment.

But that hints at the most unsettling idea of all. Once constructed, a thought is lit forever.

 

Lynne McTaggart

Lynne McTaggart is an award-winning journalist and the author of seven books, including the worldwide international bestsellers The Power of Eight, The Field, The Intention Experiment and The Bond, all considered seminal books of the New Science and now translated into some 30 languages.

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