Card reader

08Nov09

“In general, it is believed, because of causality, that backward causation, in the sense that what happens at a later time influences what happens earlier, does not occur.”

I expect that, like me, when you came across this statement in your recent reading about particle physics you nodded in agreement. Generally it is comforting to know that day to day events are not affected by intervention from the future.

But Holger B. Nielsen and Masao Ninomiya at the University of Copenhagen and the Okayama Institute for Quantum Physics have made me think again about this. In their articles (here and here) they suggest that the Large Hadron Collider (the LHC – that big machine buried in Switzerland) may be subject to interference or even sabotage from the future when it starts running.

They suggest that perhaps the experiments of the LHC might be disrupted by events from the future because we are not meant to discover the Higgs Boson particle. They are too rational to say that this might be divine intervention, simply that there might be some as yet unknown law of physics in which the future intervenes in the present to prevent discoveries.

So they have proposed an experiment to test this theory. In simple terms they propose to make the decision on whether or not to start up the LHC dependent upon the selection of a card from a randomly shuffled pack.

It would not be an ordinary pack of cards. For a start there would be about 2 million of them. One of them would say “Do not start the LHC”, a few others would say “Operate the LHC at reduced power” and the vast majority would say “Proceed as planned with LHC experiments”.

At odds of two million to one, the chances or picking the “Do not start” card are pretty low. So low that it is almost inconceivable that the experimenter would pick it under normal circumstances. Therefore if the cards are randomized and the leader of the team does pick the “Do not start” card or one of the “Operate at reduced power” cards, then it is likely that the event has been influenced by an external force which intends to stop or curtail the experiment.

If a “Proceed as planned” card is selected then it becomes much less likely that the ‘future intervention’ theory is correct…until there is a mysterious accident that disables the machine, perhaps.

Either way, the scientists argue, there is very little to lose by trying out the experiment with the big pack of cards.

I’m sure that this theory has relevance beyond particle physics. There could be all sorts of decisions which might be subject to unexpected interference from the future. Perhaps all our decisions are subject to a future-based approvals process. When things go wrong it’s because the future intervened…

That’s why I’m now working hard on a new iPhone application. It generates 2 to 15 million ‘cards’ in a  virtual deck. As a user, faced with a decision, you enter your preferred outcome on several million of the cards (you only need to enter it once, the program takes care of the duplication). Then you enter the opposite condition on one or two cards. You shake the iPhone to shuffle the cards and then tap the screen to make a random selection.

If you pick the millions to one card which proposes the opposite course of action, you should pay close attention.

I now need to decide whether to submit this application to the Apps Store as a free app, or whether I should charge 59 pence. What do you think?



3 Responses to “Card reader”

  1. 1 Ben

    Alex, I suggest you do the inevitable and put several million 59p cards in the deck. If it comes out saying it should be free you will know the theory is correct. Damn!

  2. Ben has hit the nail squarely on the head. I expect to see it in the app store soon

  3. 3 Karl

    Sounds like a 99p app to me!


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