The superluminal, time travelling tachyon might be more than just a theoretical particle. It might be love and hate and hope and nightmares. It might be every thought you ever had.
You’re plummeting from a plane and your parachute won’t open. Time slows as your thoughts accelerate, as your bones accelerate towards solid earth. Then an idea from nothing: You’ve been here before, or somehow knew you would be. You can see how this one turns out, you remember what to do. And time stands still…
From Minority Report to the Lord of the Rings, precognition and prophetic foresight have been a mainstay of science-fiction and fantasy. But mind theorist, and former Bell Labs computer scientist, Dr. Syamala Hari thinks that receiving thoughts from the future may simply be the way the human brain works. “My hypothesis is that [the mind] consists of tachyons, just like the brain’s matter ultimately consists of atoms, molecules, electrons, protons, etc,” says Dr. Hari. She theorises a process whereby the faster than light (FTL) matter—with imaginary mass, experiencing time in reverse—interacts with the “ordinary” matter of our brain to produce phenomenal information such as desires, emotions, feelings, volition and even sense of self.
Weird. Sure. But if you think, or thought, that this is a freak theory, or that Dr. Hari is light years out from accepted science, you’re wrong. Super-luminaries such as Richard Feynman, Roger Penrose, and Stuart Hameroff have all proposed similar models of consciousness involving quantum computation and tachyon tunnelling. “What makes my theory different is how I distinguish between the brain and the mind,” says Dr. Hari. “The mind”—unlike the brain—“is an accumulation of subjective experiences regarding sensory inputs and psychological contents. It is different from the raw kind of data stored on a computer memory.”
The “Hard Problem.”
Beleaguered, you double-tap the screen of your smartphone. With a ding it invites you to pray for assistance, and you squawk into the microphone. You want to know what the hell BBC Focus is talking about. Like a loyal gun dog, your palm sized pal scurries off to retrieve the data you desire and, in mere seconds, it returns with a brace of helpful answers dangling from its Google banner. Information is easy to come by these days… right?
Modern computers made of silicon, metals, and plastics receive inputs, and map information in 1s and 0s. But unless you’re Neo, wired into the Matrix, this stream of symbols might appear little more than mathematical babble. Not to worry. It’s just as unintelligible to the computer. “Computers are not conscious of the meanings of those records,” says Dr. Hari. “Computers cannot create meanings. Meaning is assigned to those bits and qubits by the programmer.”
Many mind theorists suggest that what’s true of silicon and smartphones is also true of carbon and brain organs. We don’t imagine, dream, reason, in neurons and electrons and hormones and synapses. A slab of electrified meat is not alive. Like the programmer assigns meaning to the passage of raw data, and like you interpret meaning from your smartphone’s output, so there is some part of us responsible for projecting the human experience beyond what lifeless matter can tell. But just how subjective experience springs from neural components is what today’s consciousness researchers call: “The hard problem.”
“It is my theory that neural matter interacting with already existing thought—consisting of tachyons—creates new physical neural records and their corresponding meanings,” says Dr. Hari. Similar to how a programmer interfaces with computer hardware, imagine your warm, wet brain interfacing with a cloud of evanescent tachyons—an invisible halo of thought.
Remembering the future.
Enough of this mind bending blarney. You want to clear your head, maybe catch a screening of something vapid and comforting at the local cinema. You can imagine it now: queuing too long for popcorn; sitting in the dark, waiting for the screen to ignite with streaming yellow letters; hearing the orchestral blast that lets you know that you’re entering a galaxy far, far away.
Hang on. You’re not there yet. Being there is a future state, and achieving it depends on you accessing some information pertaining to the future. “[Your] brain has to obtain this future state information from somewhere,” says Dr. Hari. “It has to build a neural map of it in your present memory and label it as ‘future.’ I believe tachyons do this job of passing the future state information into the present memory of the brain.” It’s worth noting that Dr. Hari isn’t saying that the future state information you receive is necessarily a correct vision of the future. Don’t go betting your house on the 16:30 at Kempton just because you can visualise a future state in which you’re collecting a wad of notes from the bookies at 16:40. In her complex theory, experience, memories, imagination, are all intertwined facets of the mind, and the role of tachyons might simply be in the ordering and correct compartmentalisation of knowledge.
How exactly this process might occur is still a matter fierce debate. Equally thorny are the hypothetical consequences of FTL materials interacting with neural matter. “Tachyons may be involved in precognition, premonition, and extrasensory phenomena,” says Dr. Hari. “Foresight may also be an aspect of my theory.” But that’s as far as she’ll be pressed on the matter. She is careful to keep her work parsecs from the speculation of parapsychologists. “The most important effect of [tachyons] moving backward in time would be in our ability to plan, to have goals, or the desire to have something or achieve something. Desire, purpose, goal planning, these are all instincts are about future.”
The Even Harder Problem
Columbia University physicist, and predictor of the muon neutrino, Gerald Feinberg originally coined the term “tachyon” to describe FTL particles. He subsequently spent much of his own time analysing their quantum field properties and trying to trap one of the pesky buggers in his bubble chamber. To no avail. The problem is that snaring theoretical particles has proven to be a profoundly fiddly endeavour, as the half-century hunt for the Higgs Boson proved. Trapping something so fast that it moves backwards in time is another trick entirely. So what can anybody significantly say about an object whose existence can’t yet be measured?
Most physicists today think it unlikely that tachyons exist as, to put it bluntly, they offend various laws of physics. But Dr. Ian Bailey, lecturer in accelerator physics at Lancaster University and a member of the Cockcroft Institute of Accelerator Science and Technology, thinks that this doesn’t necessarily preclude the tachyons existence. “There is nothing fundamentally in the equations themselves which would stop there being a particle which travels faster than the speed of light,” says Dr. Bailey.
But he cautions us that, even if a particle is capable of breaking Einstein’s speed limit, there remains a larger problem to Dr Hari’s theory: “The question of whether a tachyon, if it existed, would carry information is a tricky one. The postulates of special relativity tell us that ‘information’ can’t travel faster than the speed of light in a vacuum… Simply having an FTL particle doesn’t mean that it can carry any information faster than the speed of light”
That’s a big one. Tachyon theories of mind aren’t just dependent there being any such thing as tachyons, but on FTL particles being able to convey meaningful information to a biological entity. So it’d be prudent not to mistake your déjà vu for latent precog abilities just yet. Don’t go supporting a kickstarter project for a tachyon TARDIS either. But, whatever you do, don’t stop dreaming.
“In science, the final arbiter of the truth of a theoretical prediction has to be experimental data—no matter how correct, or how outlandish, the theory may appear mathematically,” says Dr. Bailey. “If we found we could transmit information faster than the speed of light, then immediately we’d have profound consequences. We could effectively send information backwards in time and all the strange paradoxes of time travel, which are normally the realm of science fiction, would have to be treated as real possibilities.”
Using the water and carbon and electricity trapped inside your skull, you imagine a future beyond the lifetime of your consciousness. Tachyons trapped inside an astronomical bubble chamber deliver data from the future. A team of programmers interacts with nebulas of tactile plasmas and endeavour to discern meaning from the information. Some semblance of order. Something we might understand…