He thinks that the price is considerably lower than people usually suppose–that, in fact, the possibility of backward causation falls out almost automatically from the fact that physics is (with the exception of one particle) time-symmetric. The apparent massive time-assymetry we seem to see is an artifact of the fact that our local universe has low entropy in one direction (the past) and high entropy in the other (the future). This fact gives us the impression that causation can only go one way. (And in our practical macro-realm, this is basically true.) But it’s only an impression, and an inaccurate one.
If almost all physical interactions are time-symmetric (and they are) then when you look at simple micro-physical interactions you might as well say the future state caused the past state rather than the other way around. This doesn’t force you to say it, of course. But if, in certain special cases, you do say it, he argues, you get the results of Quantum Mechanics out of a model that avoids all action at a distance, gets around sticky issues like the measurement problem, and generally takes “god’s dice” out of the picture (though it doesn’t make us privy to the underlying information that gives rise to the “dicelike” appearance of quantum reality. There is backward causation, but not in a way that makes us able to see the future).
I should note that he generally avoids the phrase “backward causation” since he thinks our concept of causation is really only properly applicable at the macroscale (I think!) and the “backward causation” I’ve been discussing is mostly a micro-physical phenomenon (though of course you can magnify it to the macroscale with the right detector setup). I may be failing to do him justice in a way. He uses the phrase “advanced action” instead of “backward causation”. But–my current thinking is that this is a potato/potato issue, that really, what he’s talking about is backward causation even if he’d prefer to avoid the phrase.
His argument hinges on a claim that there has been a presupposition underlying physics for which there is no evidence, namely:
At the microphysical level, temporally forward-looking influences are coherent, and temporally backward-looking influences are not.
To explain what that means, I’ll discuss a similar idea about the macrophysical level. At the macro level, for any particular event, the most usual course of things is for an event’s causes not to be particularly coordinated with each other, while the event’s effects are highly coordinated. Throw a stone into a pool, and the effect–the radiating waves–show a high degree of correlation with each other. Not so much the cause of the process–the stone dropping into the pool doesn’t show much coordination with anything else.
At the macro level, if you watch a film in which causes are coordinated and effects are not, you soon realize you’re watching a film played backwards. What you’re seeing is physically possible, but appears bizarrely improbable, becuase we know that at the macro level, coordination of influence goes forward in time, not backward in time.
Price argues that we have generally assumed the same holds at the micro level as well. But, he argues, there’s literally no evidence that this is so. Another GQ I have then (which I’m not sure will be answered since it’s buried here!) is whether he’s right that there’s no direct evidence that this principle holds at the micro level.