Monday, 7 April 2008

Can You Change The Past?

If we can change the future by the choices that we make today, is it possible to change the past? Can we unsay some of the hurtful or thoughtless things we said? Can we take the paths we should have taken, but didn’t?

The idea of changing the past is known as retrocausality, and it isn’t as far-fetched as it may sound. In fact, within the field of quantum physics, retrocausality is perfectly possible, although it has yet to be demonstrated.

For retrocausality to work, the past, present and future all have to exist simultaneously. In Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, they do. Many metaphysical and spiritual writers have also commented on the fact that our perception of time is an illusion, and that it is more accurate to describe the universe as functioning by means of state or intent rather than linear clock time.

The idea of retrocausality brings some troubling paradoxes to light, the kind that movies like The Butterfly Effect have portrayed so vividly. Is it really possible to change the past to such a degree that our present changes completely? Would we even want to? Sure, I have things that I might wish had happened differently in my past, but I am who I am today and have the life that I have because of everything (good and bad) that’s happened to me so far, and I quite like my life :). Who will I become if I go back and tweak things?! Even more scarily, what if I somehow changed things in a way that resulted in my parents never meeting, and I never “became” at all? It’s enough to blow your mind!

Perhaps this is a far too literal view of the subject. Scientists and philosophers alike have debated whether there are any limits to retrocausality, with some arguing that, while actual physical changes to events may be impossible, it is possible and sometimes beneficial to change one’s present perceptions of a past event. This may sound like a more wishy-washy view of changing the past, but it can be immensely powerful and liberating, especially when we consider this argument in the light of teachings by people like Eckhart Tolle. He reminds us that the only moment that exists is “now”. The past and the future are always only in our heads. When we remember the past, we remember it now. When we think about the future, we think about it now. And when we get to the future, it is just another “now”.

In addition, let me throw another thought into the mix… if you sit ten people down who have all supposedly experienced the exact same event and ask them to tell you about what happened, you’ll pretty much get ten different stories! Each person’s memory of the event is dependent on their perceptions of the event. Given this, can we even say that an objective past exists? All that actually exists is people’s perceptions of the past. Change those, and you seemingly can change the past as well as make a tangible difference in the present.

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