I have some family members who believe a version of "don't think about [something undesirable] because it makes it more likely to happen". Similar belief, though in the opposite direction, seems to be propagated by the movie "The Secret" (e.g. ~"think more about [something desirable] and it will happen to you"). Something, perhaps more rigorous, also seems to appear in the arguments for Roko's Basilisk (here, and here) (e.g. ~"thinking about the basilisk makes it more likely to exist").

Question: Superstitions and marketing-motivated-reasoning aside, have there been any logically consistent philosophical theories that allow for thought in the present to control or influence the probability of future events, while also being consistent with the known laws of physics?

Note: I do realize that something like thinking about food increases the probability of going to the refrigerator. But there seems to be some sort of fundamental difference between beliefs mentioned above and the food-fridge-like examples.

  • 1
    You'll have to be more careful. Any libertarian free will theory will allow your desire to move your hand to effect your moving of it, and hence make it influence future events. Such theories are easily reconcilable with physics philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/30415/…
    – Conifold
    Oct 4 '16 at 18:02
  • 'Conservation of Energy' rules out kinesthesis in the present, but the 'butterfly effect' allows small influences in the present to affect larger processes in the future, so ???
    – amI
    Oct 5 '16 at 18:14
  • It is hard to discern from your examples, but do you have in mind some kind of vindication of "mystical connections" by some hypothetical physical means, or do non-mystical effects well known in sociology, like self-fulfilling prophecies, slippery slopes, unintended consequences, etc., also qualify? In which case Merton is your guy.
    – Conifold
    Oct 5 '16 at 18:45
  • @Conifold Yes, mystical effects would be interesting, as long as there is some attempt at keeping them consistent with the LOPs.
    – Justas
    Oct 6 '16 at 6:07
  • yes, the laws of karma. Oct 6 '16 at 7:13

You have ruled out effects on a short timeline, with the refrigerator example, so I will avoid those.

On a large scale, theories like C. G. Jung's notion of the Collective Unconscious, or even basic philological principles of culture, imply that thoughts many people have will enter stories that become cultural contents and influence the behavior of future people.

In the middle scale, given our mass culture, we have Rupert Sheldrake's 'morphogenetic field effect'. If you accept his crossword puzzle experiment, then that implies that a lot of people thinking about the same thing, with no intention of shaping the future, and without purposely communicating anythign about those thoughts, will make it easier to make other people think of that same thing later.

(In the experiment, crossword-puzzle solvers who are active in the cultural milieux at the time those puzzles are done by the masses solve the same puzzles faster than those isolated from the culture during that period, even if neither group actually saw the puzzles, or heard anything memorable about them.)

In a less spooky light (that keeps this effect cultural and denies Sheldrake's overall theory of the practice effect) you can think of this as Marshall McLuhan's notion that the medium is the message. Each message in a medium inflects the medium, making future instances of the message more identifiable. So, for instance, we can get more or less influenced by fashions of which we are not consciously aware, so choices people make now will affect your reactions to clothing tomorrow, next week, or two decades from now.

None of this cultural influence comes anywhere near interfering with physics.

From such perspectives of interconnectedness or psychological intersubjectivity, even the hokum behind The Secret is partially true, in a very statistical way. If you are not thinking about something, you may not notice it happening, nor notice things related to it. So if you are not thinking about your goal, you may not notice an opportunity arise to make it happen. Consciously thinking about a goal, then, can make you more sensitive unconsciously to environmental cues related to the subject, and may help you identify moves you can take toward the goal.

  • Jobermark, the cultural influence effects are very interesting. Thank you.
    – Justas
    Oct 6 '16 at 6:59
  • 1
    I tried to be minimally hokey, but if you mix this notion of cultural currents with the notion from the 'Tavistock/Bion/Alexander' thread of group psychoanalysis, the unconscious processes of every group of people that spend enough time together constitutes a culture. The idea is that everyone's unconscious thoughts are shared through unconscious communication, e.g. body language, and they can gang up together and make you all do something.
    – user9166
    Oct 6 '16 at 18:11
  • To go back to Jung, our underlying primate, primary-process psychology precipitates synchronicity, as our repressed intentions and power negotiations with those around us cooperate against our conscious will to create common effects whenever we are consciously competing, or compete and make friction whenever we are consciously cooperating. (At that point you get the hokey back.)
    – user9166
    Oct 6 '16 at 18:15

See David Bohm's Indivisible Wholeness, described here:


You and the universe are connected. That's as much as a physicist's view can establish. What is possible with that interconnectedness is open to consideration.

For voters who disapprove of links to interviews, here is a summary:

The holomovement is a key concept in David Bohm`s interpretation of quantum mechanics and for his overall worldview. It brings together the holistic principle of “undivided wholeness” with the idea that everything is in a state of process or becoming (or what he calls the “universal flux») For Bohm, wholeness is not a static oneness, but a dynamic wholeness-in-motion in which everything moves together in an interconnected process. The concept is presented most fully in Wholeness and the implicate order published in 1980.

Source: David Bohm, Implicate Order and Holomovement

  • 2
    I see a lot of buzzwords, "holomovement", "wholeness", "interconnected process", but no connection to how thinking about Skynet will make it more likely to happen. Bohmian interpretation of QM is mathematically equivalent to the rest of them, so whatever "wholeness" does it has no effect on future probabilities.
    – Conifold
    Oct 5 '16 at 1:13
  • @Conifold That would be a step into the realm of metaphysical, indeed mystical, speculation. However, the consistency with physics is in Bohm's point abolishing paradigms of rigid separation and solidity, and opening the door to deeper connectedness. Oct 5 '16 at 7:53
  • It's quite vague on how thought would have an effect on future events, but this seems to be the most relevant qoute: "But if you say that the entire ground of existence is enfolded in space, that all matter is coming out of that space, including ourselves, our brains, our thoughts … then the information might gradually vades the space so that matter starts to, you could say that matter is always forming according to whatever information it has and therefore the thought process could alter that information content."
    – Justas
    Oct 6 '16 at 6:30
  • Well found. Another interesting statement is ”The hologram illustrates how “information about the entire holographed scene is enfolded into every part of the film.” Now recall that at the speed of light the photon experiences an infinitely length contracted universe with infinite time dilation. This could mean the Implicate Order achieves it's hologram effect relativistically, by being everywhere at once. Oct 6 '16 at 9:02
  • @Conifold -- But doesn't the whole QFT notion of entanglement mean that what makes contact now affects future probabilities? If properties are not individual to particles, but shared, as a rule, who knows how shared? Particles that join to share a property now may persist in that sharing into the future... They may remain correlated and cause some shared effect, at any distance. These two masses of particles with correlated spin enter different brains and... OK, so I can't seriously say that... But people have. So yes, they are equivalent, and can be rendered equally 'Dr Who'.
    – user9166
    Oct 6 '16 at 17:59


There are websites dedicated to this.


  • 1
    Not helpful. Of the items on the list, the placebo effect is probably the most legitimate. The others are highly suspect and/or have been discredited.
    – Justas
    Oct 6 '16 at 6:56

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