Quantum Probabilities and the Future
“If we attempt to attribute an objective meaning to the quantum state of a single system, curious paradoxes appear: quantum effects mimic not only instantaneous action-at-a-distance, but also…influence…future actions on past events, even after these events have been irrevocably recorded.” 123 – Asher Peres (1934-2005), quantum physicist.
By this logic, the future can impact the past, which means that just by writing this essay I’m affecting it. Seems strange, doesn’t? But this is not an unheard of theory today. We’re used to thinking of the past influencing the future, usually in a linear fashion. But with the increasingly widespread and popular appeal of quantum physics, and the growing interest in how consciousness affects reality, we begin to consider that Time is not linear and, in fact, may not exist at all.
This has fascinating implications for the origins of our ideas. They might come from the future, or the past, or from the collective unconscious of humanity as described by Carl Jung (1875-1961). Of course, these are only some common theories, others include: past lives, parallel reality bleedthroughs, extraterrestrial intervention, extra-dimensional influences, and of course, inspiration by a supreme deity.
What does all this have to do with science fiction?
Science Fiction encourages thoughtful expansion. It speculates on what might be, and in a surprising number of cases, predicts with fair accuracy what’s to come. It’s been said that this is simple chance, merely an exercise in speculative potentials. But if we take quantum mechanics into account, an author’s ideas could come from anywhere, or anywhen.
In 2016, we take ideas of computer networking and artificial intelligence for granted. they exist in our collective reality. Even if we haven’t actually seen an AI for ourselves, we’ve been so conditioned to the thought by popular culture, it’s as if we have.
But these particular ideas have been around for a very long time. Much longer than you might think. Their first mention in science fiction was in a short story called, “A Logic Named Joe” (1946) by Murray Leinster (1896 -1975). How did Leinster accurately envision these things decades before they were publically known? Did he have a deep-throat, whistleblower contact from a secret branch of the government? Although there are reports of later science fiction writers getting their information this way, I don’t think Leinster did. Is it possible he pulled the ideas right out of a consciousness field, in which the past and future are indistinguishable from the NOW? However, he did it, Leinster was quite accurate in many of his speculations. I’ll talk more about him in a future post.
The purpose of this blog is not simply to track the accuracy, or lack thereof, of speculatory guesses in science fiction. I’m more interested in a broader idea — that particular writers were not as much predicting, as “seeing” the future in their heads, or perhaps feeling it in their hearts. (To many spiritualists, it’s the body’s knowing, or clairsentience, that’s the real indicator of Truth.) These writers looked down alternative timelines and envisioned, consciously or not, what they saw there. Some of these potentials came true while others didn’t. But the ones that did seem shockingly accurate. Current technologies, spiritual beliefs, and government conspiracies are laced throughout science fiction stories. Some writers seem obsessed with particular themes — ranging from powerful universal forces manipulating the design of mankind, to universal media manipulation used to create iron-clad new world orders — as if driven to get their messages out through repetition.
Ideas soak into public awareness and become part of the culture, for better or worse. The Wachowski’s “The Matrix” (1999), has long become an integrated cultural concept. But they weren’t the first ones to express the idea of the world as a simulated reality called. Science fiction author, Philip K. Dick (1928-1982), talked about it at the 1977 Metz Sci-Fi Convention in France. You can see the YouTube clip here.
Speculation, or Prophecy?
H.L. Gold, editor of Galaxy Science Fiction magazine, wrote in 1952 that the purpose of science fiction is to present speculation, entertainingly. That its purpose isn’t prophecy but instead, “…fictional surmises based on present factors…When a story hits a future development on the head, it should be considered a minor accident; its main job was not to predict, but the conjecture…” he then adds, “…but the writers are not saying that these extrapolations are anything more than possibilities… good stories… [are] the legitimate province of science fiction.”
- Sprague de Camp (1907-2000) said something similar in his essay, “Where Were We?” (Galaxy, February 1952, p.p. 4-12) when he catalogs hits and misses in science fiction predictions. However, he also made the point that “…when the Martians land, or tyranny clamps down on the world, or we bomb ourselves into barbarism, science fiction readers at least won’t rush about crying, ‘It’s impossible! It just can’t be!’ They’ll have been through it all before. The possibility…is that we’ll turn out to have been too conservative…It will be interesting, to put it calmly, to see what some citizens of 2000 A.D. will say in reviewing the stories in Galaxy Science Fiction. I’d rather like to be one of them.”
One wonders about de Camp’s own prophetic abilities considering that he died in the year, 2000.
Pulp Science Fiction
The pulp era spans the post-WWI years to well into the Cold War era of the 1950’s, although the later dates are controversial and can be considered a transitional period in science fiction development. For my purposes, and this is a personal distinction only, I consider the end of the pulp era to be the 1957 Sputnik launch and the subsequent 1958 inception of NASA. Science fiction changed dramatically after that, becoming more cerebral and less melodramatic adventure stories.
But that’s only the first level of change, the most obvious. On a deeper level, the focus turned from the admiration of heroism in mankind, to technology — the machine, or part-machine —becoming idealized as man’s savior. This is when we enter the transhumanist era, when man and machine grow close and, at times, indistinguishable.
The concepts of transhumanism go back to the 1920’s, but it was evolutionary biologist and eugenicist, Julian Huxley’s influential 1957 paper that gave it it’s official start. (Interestingly, Julian Huxley was Brave New World author, Aldous Huxley’s, brother.)
Today’s science fiction is in love with the machine, attributing perfection to it’s sleek, cold form. Through this, humanity is exploring the idea of what it means to be human by reflecting on what is not, and can never be.
Robots and cyborgs aren’t generally romanticized in pulp stories. In fact, they’re frequently seen as horrible villains. But in the transhumanist era this has changed. The question is asked — can a machine have a soul? If it can, perhaps machines aren’t all that different from humanity.
In Stanislaw Lem’s Cyberiad (1974), machines are shown as stand-ins for men, acting with all the (better) qualities of humanity, including spiritual natures. Modern author, Kage Baker (1952-2010), does the same with her cyborgs in the Company Series. But Baker has a greater purpose than Lem, she’s writing about the end of the transhumanist period. Her cyborgs rediscover a spiritual nature, not out of the machine-mind, but in a sort of mystical ascension to a higher vibration of reality. The distinction between man and machine vanishes as Mendoza, Nicholas, Edward, and Alec become something beyond the dichotomy, something transcendental. This new state is a great unknown. In her epilogue to The Sons of Heaven (2007) Baker writes, “It is a new dance. They are inventing the steps as they go…”
The Company Series shows a fascinating new stage in the evolution of the science fiction narrative, going beyond the machine-as- hero. Now, a spiritually-evolved human has taken over the heroic role. Is this an accurate speculation? I guess we’ll find out. In “Where Were We?” L. Sprague de Camp notes, “…even if we cannot point to any one story with confidence, here is the real future, the mere concept of a different future is an enormous advance.”
I completely agree.
1.Brukner, Caslav, Markus Aspelmeyer, and Anton Zeilinger, Complementarity and Information in “Delayed-choice for Entanglement Swapping,” 2004. (http://aspelmeyer.quantum.at/docs/82/downloads/foundations-of-physics-vol.pdf)
2.Ma, Xiao-song, Stefan Zotter, Johannes Kofler, Rupert Ursin, Thomas Jennewein, Časlav Brukner & Anton Zeilinger, “Experimental delayed-choice entanglement swapping,” Nature Physics 8, 479–484, 2012. (www.nature.com/nphys/journal/v8/n6/full/nphys2294.html)
3.Peres, Asher, Delayed choice for entanglement swapping, Department of Physics, Technion—Israel Institute of Technology. (http://arxiv.org/pdf/quant-ph/9904042.pdf)
Photo by Nick Russill, 2005