George Musser writes: The objective world simply is, it does not happen,” wrote mathematician and physicist Hermann Weyl in 1949. From his point of view, the universe is laid out in time as surely as it is laid out in space. Time does not pass, and the past and future are as real as the present. If your common sense rebels against this idea, it is probably for a single reason: the arrow of causality. Events in the past cause events in the present which cause events in the future. If time really is like space, then shouldn’t events from the future influence the present and past, too?
They actually might. Physicists as renowned as John Wheeler, Richard Feynman, Dennis Sciama, and Yakir Aharonov have speculated that causality is a two-headed arrow and the future might influence the past. Today, the leading advocate of this position is Huw Price, a University of Cambridge philosopher who specializes in the physics of time. “The answer to the question, ‘Could the world be such that we do have a limited amount of control over the past,’ ” Price says, “is yes.” What’s more, Price and others argue that the evidence for such control has been staring at us for more than half a century.
That evidence, they say, is something called entanglement, a signature feature of quantum mechanics. The word “entanglement” has the same connotations as a romantic entanglement: a special, and potentially troublesome, relationship. Entangled particles start off in close proximity when they are produced in the laboratory. Then, when they are separated, they behave like a pair of magic dice. You can “roll” one in Las Vegas (or make a measurement on it), your friend can roll the other in Atlantic City, N.J., and each die will land on a random side. But whatever those two sides are, they will have a consistent relationship to each other: They could be identical, for example, or always differ by one. If you ever saw this happen, you might assume the dice were loaded or fixed before they were rolled. But no crooked dice could behave this way. After all, the Atlantic City die changes its behavior depending on what is going on with the Las Vegas die and vice versa, even if you roll them at the same moment.
The standard interpretation of entanglement is that there is some kind of instant communication happening between the two particles. Any communication between them would have to travel the intervening distance instantaneously—that is, infinitely fast. That is plainly faster than light, a speed of communication prohibited by the theory of relativity. According to Einstein, nothing at all should be able to do that, leading him to think that some new physics must be operating, beyond the scope of quantum mechanics itself. [Continue reading…]