Backward Causation
Faye (Jan)
Source: Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, 2001-10
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Abstract

Sometimes also called retro-causation1. A common feature of our world seems to be that in all cases of causation2, the cause and the effect are placed in time so that the cause precedes its effect temporally. Our normal understanding of causation3 assumes this feature to such a degree that we intuitively have great difficulty imagining things differently. The notion of backward causation4, however, stands for the idea that the temporal order of cause and effect is a mere contingent feature and that there may be cases where the cause is causally prior to its effect but where the temporal order of the cause and effect is reversed with respect to normal causation5, i.e. there may be cases where the effect temporally, but not causally, precedes its cause.

The idea of backward causation6 should not be confused with that of time travel7. These two notions are related to the extent that both agree that it is possible to causally affect the past. The difference, however, is that time travel8 involves a causal loop whereas backward causation9 does not. Causal loops for their part can only occur in a universe in which one has closed time-like curves. In contrast, backward causation10 may take place in a world where there are no such closed time-like curves. In other words, an ordinary system S taking part in time travel11 would preserve the temporal order of its proper time during its travel, it would keep the same time sense during its entire flight (a watch measuring S's proper time would keep moving clockwise); but if the same system S were to become involved in a process of backward causation12, the order of its proper time would have to reverse in the sense that the time sense of the system would become opposite of what it was before its back-in-time travel13 (the watch will start to move counter-clockwise). So neither backward causation14 nor time travel15 logically entails each other and time travel16 is distinct from back-in-time travel17.

  1. History
  2. Philosophy
  3. Paradoxes
    … 3.1 The Bootstrap Paradoxes
    … 3.2 The Consistency Paradoxes
  4. Physics
    … 4.1 The Wheeler-Feynman Absorber Theory
    … 4.2 Tachyons
    … 4.3 Quantum Mechanics18
    … 4.4 Two alternatives
    Other Internet Resources
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First published Mon Aug 27, 2001; substantive revision Tue Feb 16, 2010; see Stanford Archive: Backward Causation.

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