Fortunetelling killed by Time’s arrow

Precognition / clairvoyance / prescience?  Not in our universe!

The gypsy soothsayer says “Cross my hand with silver and I will tell you your true future.”

If such actions could be possible, over our past 70,000 years, the soothsayer’s guild should have become the absolute monarchs of the world.  Ms. Soothsayer must be a charlatan!

Future sight cannot happen – time flow will not let it.

Precognition, and other psychic magic

James Randi skeptic

Fig 1 A  James Randi (1928-…)

The Randi Challenge    James Randi (“The Amazing”), stage magician and skeptic of psychic adepts, offers a $ 1M  prize to anyone who can demonstrate psychic mind-over-matter abilities that he can neither duplicate nor explain.

Many candidates have attempted his challenge for the big prize – not one was psychokinetic, not one was telepathic, not one was clairvoyant.  Not one verifiable psychic seer, ever!  Losers, all.

Figs 1  shows Mr. Randi who is also founder of the James Randi Education Foundation, the group working to bring rationality into our society.  For many years, Randi has ranked as one of my top intellectual heroes!

James Randi -smiling

Fig 1 B   Randi at a lecture

Many photos depict performer Randi as a near look-like to J. K. Rowling’s Dumbledore (or vice versa?).  1A is his standard for skeptical evaluation.  I particularly like 1B of him smiling.

Randi is in a long line people involved in the search for paranormal phenomena, all with null results.  Stage magician Harry Houdini was another skeptic of psychic powers. 100 years ago, he worked to to expose fraudulent Spiritualists and psychics.

Such investigations provide data – that no one can read minds, no one can magically change objects, no one can foretell the future. Hard data from generations of researchers.

Enrico Fermi 1901-54

Fig 2  Enrico Fermi

The Fermi Paradox    Here is another way to view the missing psychic phenomenon.  Let’s apply  Fermi’s Paradox  to such Ought-To-Be situations

Where is everybody?    … Enrico Fermi, 1950

Fermi (1901-1954) was an Italian physicist who moved to America and was instrumental in war-time atomic work. He asked this in casual discussion about extraterrestrial civilizations. He meant – if they exist as the saucer believers claimed, they should have spread throughout the entire galaxy with plenty of time to have arrived by the 1950’s Now.

If they had come, why would such superior galactic travelers not have become the natural Lords & Masters of all Earth’s peoples?  This same question must be asked about psychic adepts, too.

This is not a post about ET calling home. No, this is the 4th posting in our series on the nature of the flow of time. Randi and Houdini’s failure to locate even one verifiable psychic is data that illuminates the nature of time.

Time is not a solid path from start to end

Psychic Precognition Fore seeing future results is a form of time travel – messages received from the future to adjust process unfolding in the Now.  If it could be done, the would-be loser seers would do everything to eliminate the might-be winner seers. This could end with thedestruction of causality or, at least,  the eradication of all precogs.  Hence: no psychic foresight, no mentalist pronouncement of how to avoid failure. All one can do is identify trends and make savvy guesses at probable outcomes; or employ confederates in the magician’s audience (also called spies in the game of life).

Quasi Model  These data indicate that the structure of time does not permit forward or backward information flow. Our not-quite model of future, now and past:

The future is the road not yet laid out, impossible to travel.
The future is the total collection (ensemble) of yet-unrealized probabilities that thread their way to the final instantiation we call Now.

The present is the point for the road’s assembly from all potential building blocks.
The Now is the knitting together, finalization, of Reality from the ensemble of possibilities.

The past is the road paved by our passage, never to be re-traveled.
The past is the record of the the continuously sequential Nows that happen.

No other psychic adepts, either

Telepathy   Mind reading would not require time travel.  A short delay to process brain wave emissions is no issue because understanding someone’s thoughts in past tense would be no big deal.  But Mr. or Ms. Telepath could not, in an auditorium, detect the ultra-long wavelength, ultra-low intensity emissions from external brains.   M_ Telepath would need ultra-close contact with subject to even have a chance. It is true that commercial electronics are being developed for human mind control over robotics, and a small time delay between thought⇒ transducer⇒ robot is no problem.  Nevertheless, no human-to-human transmission has ever been reliably verified, though Randi and Houdini have shown many tricksters have tried.

Teleportation or Levitation  Both are impossible because they require physics excluded from our universe.  Teleportation requires moving something from here to there at faster than light speed (in Relativity we call it moving along a space-like path); levitation would require a repulsive gravity field that can not exist.

Larry Niven late 1960s

Fig 3   Larry Niven (1938-…), late 1960s prior to his signature beard,  probably at his MIT lecture

Time travel  stories
past and present

Science Fiction   At his innovative peak in the late 1960s, SciFi author Larry Niven (Fig 3) gave a lecture to MIT physics students.

He described the experience in an essay in his 1971 book (of mostly fiction),  All The Myriad Ways.

Some of those stories may be dated, but it is still a “fun read” –  and his essays have not been matched.

The essay  The Theory and Practice Of Time Travel  has a discussion of how English does not come preloaded with verb tenses for time travel (nor does any other language).  He argues persuasively that were time machines invented, there would be temporal war battles of epic sweep with continuous time-track modifications until the final one, where the time machine is never invented.

About Niven MIT 1968Niven’s essay concludes–

Niven’s Law   “If the Universe of Discourse permits the possibility of time travel and of changing the past, then no time machine will be invented in that universe.

The other essay The Theory and Practice of Teleportation is delightful.

Other stories   There is a huge body of time travel stories starting well before Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889), or H.G. Wells’ A Time Machine (1895); both used entertainment for pointed social commentary.

Here are several personal favorites that feature how changes to the past generate unexpected futures.  In each, the dice of reality are re-tossed and probabilities re-shuffled; all predictability is lost.  The list is in no particular order, nor is it complete.

  • Branch Point (1996) by Mona Clee.  Hero goes back to block nuclear war., She must do this several times because after each change, she  lives through the new decades to see nuclear bombs fall again. Final(?) solution – one last jump.
  • Trinity Paradox (1991) Kevin Anderson, Doug Beason. Hero goes back to stop the atomic bomb development at Los Alamos. She then lives through to an unpleasant end.  Much the same looping but a different story line. Good read.
  • 11/22/1963  (2011) by Stephen King.  Hero attempts to stop the assassination of John Kennedy by the time travel ploy. King’s largest impossibility – the hero can jump forward to check his terrible repercussions, then can jump back to try again. And again.
    Lots of fun.  Same time loop thing.  Can’t happen.

These stories work because the heros keeps their time travel a deep secret – no time war destruction occurs … nice for the plot line, would secrecy actually be possible?

Time’s arrow blocks psychic abilities

click for a list of our discussions about the Time-path

At the end of one of our earlier time posts we described the inevitable nastiness that must follow discovery of a technique to send messages between the present and it’s future.

Niven summarized this best, and shows the reason that Randi will never come close to finding a true psychic practitioner.

But even if we were to only use Fermi’s reasoning, all self proclaimed psychic adepts in our society must be con artists.


Charles J. Armentrout, Ann Arbor
2015 May 25
Listed under Generala post in the thread   General > Time Path
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About LastTechAge

I am a physicist with years of work in fusion labs, industry labs, and teaching (physics and math). I have watched the tech scene, watched societal trends and am alarmed. My interest is to help us all improve or maintain that which we worked so hard to achieve.
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2 Responses to Fortunetelling killed by Time’s arrow

  1. Randi also makes a kind of prediction( rather, an educated guess) . In particular, about the psychic/faith healing powers of John of God of Brazil. Randi went so far as to say that Lisa Melman, who chose to be treated by this quack and forgo medical treatment for breast cancer would die of the disease. Unfortunately, Randi’s predilection proved right.


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