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Inspired by the Paycheck and Minority Report movies.

So far as I can tell, physical time travel is impossible for humans, and so I searched to see the future possible scientific or theoretical possibilities, and after surfing around, based on these two answers from another SE site it seems theoretically possible.

Is there any actual science behind the “time viewing” used in Paycheck?

  • The question is from @Iszi.

No one has brought up the variable of bending space time then shooting the laser through it... Theoretically that is possible. If space/time is a fabric as Einstein predicted it can be warped stretched and pulled in any direction. So if you could theoretically do that time viewing would be possible. Probably not for our species we aren't smart enough but to say it is impossible is outright rubbish.

  • From @john doe answer.

Yes, the explanation given in the film (that with a powerful enough telescope you can 'see around' the curvature of the universe, assuming of course the universe has a definite shape, AND furthermore that that shape is round or spherical) is 'technically speaking' the accurate explanation according to several certain schools of theoretical physics, although, as all physics is concerned, also debated and refuted in others.

I should add that the whole part of 'dialing in' a certain time or date is probably complete crap, but what the heck, if we can except any of the premises of relativity or quantum theory, why not, lets go with it.

From @rahdragonfly answer.

So based on that, it seems like technologically it's possible, but now I'm curious can it happen biologically, that it's also possible to seeing the future?

My real question is what organs or method (it's not required to be the same method as the Paycheck one) are needed for a biological creature to be able to see into the future?

Without using technology like that used in the two movies and literally seeing the future personally either from visions or mental imagery like dreams or hallucination or direct vision, not predicting events or certain stuff to infer a conclusion about future events like most scientists do. The creature in my mind is an intelligent type but I won't exclude a non-intelligent creature either.

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    $\begingroup$ I think genetic engineering coulde be used to develop a new organ inside the brain made of new types of nerve cells that could trigger the superpower of premonition, in a similar way that genetic mutations make people with schizofrenia see, hear and feel things that don`t exist. $\endgroup$ – Sabrine Crystal Santos Sep 3 at 1:42
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    $\begingroup$ And people that see, hear and feel things that don't exist do not make those things real. If you have an organ that feeds you "future-memories" it will be just as useful as an organ that feeds you LSD. I mean, unless that organ has some way of knowing the future. To illustrate if the OP asked how can we see light: it's not the neurons that make us see, is the whole eye, the photoreceptors, the visual cortex... Your answer would be "special neurons". That's, of course, not enough of an answer: any system that interacts with the brain will involve special neurons. Now, what's that system? $\endgroup$ – Oxy Sep 3 at 11:32
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    $\begingroup$ I don't think there is any current science which would allow this. So "reality-check" seems a bad tag, as an answer to that would be "nope". We can predict the future, but quantum uncertainty combined with world being a chaotic system pretty much says, that according to our current understanding of the universe, future isn't set. In other words, you are free to come up with whatever space-bending and/or multiverse explanation, and they'll all be about equally "realistic". Maybe remove the tag? (Also read its description about answers recommended to include yes/no.) $\endgroup$ – hyde Sep 4 at 14:14
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    $\begingroup$ A biological creature would need... Patience. edit There is no known way in physics to "see the future", so the question needs some sort of context. Fictional physics works great in fiction if done well and is internally consistent. If the question can include some sort of premise or mechanical/non-biological method of seership, then better answers can be proved for a biological solution. $\endgroup$ – hamncheez Sep 4 at 16:17
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    $\begingroup$ build a tesseract in the vicinity of a black hole: Interstellar. go inside and find the aisle at the time of your interest. $\endgroup$ – dlatikay Sep 4 at 20:49

13 Answers 13

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Make it really, really smart

Literally seeing the future is, from a perspective of modern science, impossible. Even theories that may allow some degree of time travel through relativity run up against problems when trying to resolve predestination paradoxes and the like.

Most modern science fiction stories tend to prefer branching timelines to linear ones - the future changing the past is possible because it creates a new timeline. This produces less paradoxes than linear time theories, but it bodes poorly for any would-be fortune teller because knowledge of the future naturally allows one to change it. The butterfly effect may make such information useless, especially when trying to see far in advance.

The most plausible method for "seeing the future" is just to make the creature super-intelligent. From the perspective of most animals that are incapable of predicting things far in advance, humans are capable of "seeing the future"; a creature with more information processing ability than humans would be able to predict things better than we can. It will not be perfect, but it's more plausible than trying to view the future directly.

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    $\begingroup$ @LiJun If you want it to actually see the future, you're not going to make it plausible scientifically, so don't bother trying. Just say the creature has "tachyon sensors" or some other kind of made-up technobabble and leave it at that. $\endgroup$ – IndigoFenix Sep 3 at 10:12
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    $\begingroup$ This is basically the way it was done in the Dune series. There were no special physical attributes, but through breading and a special drug, a super intelligent person was created who could see the possibility of many timelines and was able to make choices to pick out the path they liked. $\endgroup$ – km678 Sep 3 at 13:21
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    $\begingroup$ A short story by Stanilaw Lem features a supercomputer which can predict the future for about up to two minutes, by being able to calculate all possible futures and choose the most probable one. As the problem space grows too large and as no system can model the universe with itself inside it, it cannot see further in the future than about two minutes. However, as on such a short time-frame the butterfly effect is minuscule, the predictions are always completely accurate. If you ask about events further than that time limit, it will give only very vague and useless answers. $\endgroup$ – vsz Sep 3 at 14:13
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    $\begingroup$ This is the only answer meeting the "reality-check" tag. $\endgroup$ – R.. Sep 3 at 17:16
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    $\begingroup$ Super intelligence might let you accurately predict the USSR will collapse in 2 years, but if you want to accurately predict Stalin will be hit by a drunk driver in 1 hour you'll need a god-tier data gathering network too. $\endgroup$ – mjt Sep 4 at 17:11
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Heinlein described a pretty neat way to conceive our existence in time (which is not unlike the one shown in Donnie Darko) :

Someone outside of time could perceive us as some sort of continuous sausage (or worm), a superposition of all our states at each instant, from the moment we are born to the moment we are dead. In the novel he describes a machine that can send a small electrical impulse down this "sausage" to the moment of death, which would then rebound and come back to the machine. He uses this machine as a tool to predict the time of death (by measuring the time of travel of the impulse).

So, if we use this concept to answer your question : Your creature would have an organ (in the brain ?) capable of creating and receiving such impulses and sending them to itself in the past or future. It could communicate with itself, asking questions and sending answers, in the form of memories or thoughts (which already are electrical impulses, right).

You'd think "What happens tomorrow" and the question would be translated from the brain to your new organ, broadcasted into the future (through your own life-thread) until an answer is sent back and translated to your brain.

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    $\begingroup$ There'd be a problem with being physically possible to send a certain number of questions/data to the future - if you predict something 10 years in the future that signal will be occupying one section of the organ for the next 10 years, although that might be an interesting restriction $\endgroup$ – somebody Sep 4 at 17:16
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They need the ability to warp space-time

As evident from the sources in your question, seeing the future is impossible for mere mortals as we are restricted to viewing things in three dimension (i.e. length, width, height) and time is the fourth dimension. Our axis on time is such that we travel through it linearly, and thus we can only see whatever position of time we occupy at the current time.

However, according to certain theories, time, which is tied to space, can be warped by warping incredible amounts of space, such as the space warp found inside a supermassive black hole cluster or the curvature of the universe. Said warped time may jump forwards or backwards (as opposed to merely dilating). So, in other words, in unproven theory, it is possible to see forward in time by space warping. So all your biological creature needs is the ability to space warp.

What part of the body can do that? None that I know of. There's no component to a human being that can perform that function, nor any chemical reaction present in organic life or otherwise that can warp space-time. The usual explanation I fall back on is that there exists a 'superstructure' within the fourth dimension inside of said organics (aka a tesseract), which, having free movement in all four directions, can allow said organic to warp space-time and see into the future. Of course, having a three dimensional structure house a four dimensional structure isn't great, thus this would qualify as 'soft sci-fi' at best. Hope this helps.

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  • $\begingroup$ ah ok i add science fiction tag base on your explanation. $\endgroup$ – Li Jun Sep 3 at 0:37
  • $\begingroup$ @LiJun I'm confused. Were you looking for a fantasy answer? $\endgroup$ – Halfthawed Sep 3 at 0:38
  • $\begingroup$ Halfthawed hard science actually, but since the answer look like impossible for science i add science fiction tag in it to accomodate answer $\endgroup$ – Li Jun Sep 3 at 0:41
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    $\begingroup$ @Halfthawed What if the 3 dimensional body were actually housed within the tesseract (reversing the alien's body structure from what you mentioned), but as we can only percieve a single instance of that 4th dimensional shell, we see a static armor that we mistake as a carapace/exoskeleton? Thus, the simpler form is actually a structure within the more complex one. $\endgroup$ – HA Harvey Sep 3 at 0:57
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    $\begingroup$ Then the situation is either akin to a sticker on a cube, or the alien is legitimately fourth dimensional and it can time travel through the fourth dimension (but not the fifth dimension) $\endgroup$ – Halfthawed Sep 3 at 2:24
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Probably not quite what you were aiming at here, but...

In a more 'humanist' way, you might be able to "see" the future if you're really good at predicting what people will do given a certain situation. That is, if you can "read" people sufficiently accurately, you might be able to predict what that one individual will do when faced with a specific situation. Multiply that up by many, many people and you might be able to predict what a population will do when faced with a certain situation.

According the the Meterological Office, the weather is "chaotic" and so ostensibly can't be predicted this way either. However, as we see, with enough data points, people can get pretty good at predictions of it - and as we develop new ways to get more data points, we get better at it.

However, (apparently) truly random things like the balls in the lottery machine can't be predicted. Presumably there are other galactic events that are also truly random, so we need a way to predict those. Anyone capable of all the other predictions would be incredibly "special" and so could probably just update their predictions quickly when a random event occurs, and hand-wave away the details of why they were doing so.

In summary then, you need to be able to understand people incredibly well so that you can predict the movement of an entire population over a long time frame. You also need a vast knowledge of, and vast number of data points around the world/universe to be able to predict (seemingly) chaotic events not related to people. And you also need to ban the use of lottery machines ;-)

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    $\begingroup$ See Asimov's Foundation trilogy for inspiration. $\endgroup$ – dhinson919 Sep 3 at 13:43
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The great scientist John Wheeler once posited a solution explaining Quantum Electro Dynamics, or some such thing, and it required that electrons flow back in time as forward in time.

If an organism had the capacity to send electrons back in time from its own neurons to earlier versions of itself, it could effectively communicate across time.

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Super intelligence is an important part of the equation that has already been brought up, but as many comments have pointed out, you need more data points than a single, organism can collect.

To put this in perspective: Imagine you want to guess what John will do tomorrow. If you only watch him for a few seconds, your intelligence is irrelevant. You might be able to guess all sorts of things about him based on his cloths, mannerisms, accent, etc. but no amount of attention to detail will tell you that he is planning to leave work early to drive his kid to a football game.

However, if you had John and his kids under 24/hr surveillance, and were capable of mentally processing all of that surveillance, then you would absolutely know that the they are planning on going to the game. Moreover, you'd also have a good idea that John is a bit of a workaholic, and breaks his promises about half the time. The super intelligence comes in here in being able to read all the nuances that normally tell you if he will actually follow through or not changing that statistical 50:50 to a much more like a 90:10 certainty. Throw in surveillance on John's friends, wife, coworkers, and clients, and you can eliminate further points of uncertainty boosting it to more of 99:1 probability

To be able to really model out the future you need everyone and everything in a closed system under 24/hr surveillance. So... as for the actual question: You need a being capable of establishing a massive psychic network so that it can see and hear everything that everyone is doing all the time, and it needs virtually limitless processing abilities to be able to crunch and learn from all that data in real time. Such an organism is improbable, but could possibly exist if you worked out the science for all those of psychic connections.

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Your creature can't see the future, because there is no such thing as THE future, there is only a (probably infinite) set of possible futures, that are more or less probable. So to take a current (9/03/19) example, weather forecasters can predict the future track of a hurricane like Dorian, and say that it will almost certainly move along the US east coast, is highly unlikely to affect Alabama, and won't get anywhere near Nevada. But it's pretty well impossible to predict where hurricane Fernand is going to go, or even if what is now a tropical depression will actually develop into a hurricane: https://www.kbtx.com/content/news/National-Hurricane-Center-Tropical-development-expected-in-Gulf-of-Mexico-559253891.html

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First you should examine what the Future is.

In our universe, the Future has a bunch of distinct properties.

First, it is events with Timelike separation; this applies both to the Future and the Past however. And I assume "I can remember the past" doesn't qualify for your problem.

Second, there are some extremely tiny symmetry breaks in physics involving the weak interaction. These are ridiculously tiny on human scales; they may help explain why we live in a matter-dominated universe, but not why we can remember the past and not the future.

Third, there is some orientation differences involving matter-antimatter and the Future. (This is called CPT symmetry. The previous weak interaction thing is one of the small symmetry breaks.)

Forth, there is a ridiculously huge entropic gradient, with a source of ridiculous amounts of entropy in the far past.

Human-scale "Newtonian" experience of time is almost entirely the Forth thing. What makes the Future distinct from the Past is that entropy flows from the Past into the Future.

This flow is caused by the ridiculously steep Entropic gradient left over from the Big Bang; most of it is in the form of unfused Hydrogen/Helium.

This means in the direction from the Past to the Future, the Sun is emitting huge piles of highly structured photons. These photons are absorbed by photosynthesis organisms and produce a flood of entropic "food", which is in turn eaten by animals (sometimes recursively).

There isn't a similar Entropic "source" somewhere in the future for food to be converted into photons and soaked up by splitting things into Helium/Hydrogen. The lack of this "future Entropic source" means that carrying information from the Future to the Past is basically impossible.

You can generate local entropic sources in the future. Doing so is usually called "building something", and information carried is called "predicting" -- you shed huge ridiculous piles of entropy in order to build a structure (like an animal or an egg), or do insane amounts of "thinking" to figure out what will happen next.

The problem is, without ridiculously strong evidence that there is an "entropic source" in the future, it is far more likely that what you build is actually not the cause of an "entropic source" but actually some other lower entropy event; ie, you give birth to a baby, which means there will be an adult that will come from that baby. But any specific adult is far less likely than "some adult"; in many cases, a dead teenager may be more likely than an adult coming from that baby.

Predicting the future then comes from arranging things so that particular baby is extremely likely to grow into an adult (possibly with particular features).

Entire civilizations can be built up with structures to make that family of outcomes you desire be the ones that are the result (reverse cause) of your baby.

A local entropic gradient reverse is ridiculously difficult to pull off due to the steepness of the universal entropic gradient we are trying to flip over.

Imagine there was an infinitely tall cliff. And everything was falling down it at a few trillion km/s, including the air surrounding everyone. There might not even be gravity in this scenario -- just a whole bunch of things falling.

Going "up" the cliff would seem impossible. The air is moving so fast that when you try, you end up just slowing down a small amount of air.

So "up" is the past, and "down" is the future in this scenario.

The cliff itself is perfectly smooth, but has drawings on it. You can see the pictures fly by as you fall. The story on the wall, well, maybe it was painted bottom to top; but to someone falling, they can only see the story going in one direction.

A biological creature that wants to see the story in the other direction needs to figure out how to (a) avoid the wind resistance problem, and (b) in the "future", extend an appendage 1 trillion km/s upwards to report back what is going on "below" the location in question.

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The hard science answer, for science as we understand it, is "a different universe". One where the rules of causality are a little different.

Since this is fiction, you can hand-wave it. Vernor Vinge did some really high-grade hand-waving in his "zones" universe, where what we believe about the laws of Physics being the same everywhere, is not the case. You might try something similar for causality violations -- you need some interesting constraints or explanations if you don't want readers who happen to be physicists to go "Aaargh" and hurl your book into the bin.

Alternatively, go down the route that fantasy uses. Magic exists. Magic is not explained. Turn off your inner scientist for the duration. It's fun.

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    $\begingroup$ Rules of causality? I've looked over the fundamental laws of physics, and I don't see them. They seem almost all time-symmetric (well, CPT symmetric), with the exception of some weak particle interactions with tiny effects (ridiculously tiny) on human scales. Vinge's zones tends to have physics being the near-identical (or very similar) on Newtonian scales; only at extreme situations does it differ (Relativity scales). $\endgroup$ – Yakk Sep 3 at 17:16
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    $\begingroup$ @Yakk If you know the future but can do absolutely nothing about it right down to the atomic level, you are part of a closed time-like curve which is wierdness compatible with GR. But if you are able to change anything so that the future you know is changed and does not now happen, a causality violation has occurred: effect preceded cause. Maybe, of course, you are just good at predicting and you did not know anything, in which case no problem. $\endgroup$ – nigel222 Sep 4 at 7:46
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    $\begingroup$ @Yakk Vinge had spatially and time-varying laws of physics. By Noether's theorem, that implies non-conservation of both momentum and energy. Which might be the key to hyperspatial jumping and FTL travel, though how is not spelled out. He's also playing with Penrose's ideas about a link between gravity and consciousness (hence, the Transcend, far out of the galaxy's gravitational well, and the unthinking depths, deep within, which we discover may be mis-named). Again, not spelled out. Good hand-waving. $\endgroup$ – nigel222 Sep 4 at 7:57
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Just thought I'd weigh in on this question as a long time ESP "enthusiast" :)

For some time, in those very very rare occasions where anything ESP / Parapsychology related is looked at scientifically, the most "probable" source of human ESP abilities is a rather small piece of the brain called the pineal gland (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pineal_gland). Perhaps a creature with a larger pineal gland than our own would have such abilities.

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The Future Can Not Be Deduced.

Omniscience cannot be the end product of any intellect that could meaningfully communicate with our kind of life.

There are hard limits to the amount of knowledge one can have about the state of a system. Hard limits to the accuracy of any model. Non determinism is baked into any description of the universe.

Consider just a few examples:

  • Chaos theory.

  • The n-body problem.

  • Boltzmann's statistical mechanics.

  • The ideal gas law.

  • The second law of thermodynamics.

  • Quantum electrodynamics, which perfectly marries theory and experiment.

  • The laws of motion, in general rapidly become non linear, even though ballistics is something we've mastered.

All of these discoveries are powerful and rigorously tested arguments against omniscience. No matter how powerful the intellect, what it cannot do is stand in a frame of reference and predict the future.

Back To The Future

Now, I recall reading decades ago something about Maxwell's wave equations being time invariant, so any EM transmitter broadcasts into the past as well as the future, except 180 degrees out of phase, so tomorrow's news would be cancelled out, or something like that.

EDIT: Decoherence is the term used for the time invariance of quantum mechanics, apparently. Seems like the Observer negates this at this level. I don't think this will help, the only force we can grow a nose for is electromagnetic.

The point was that lots of physics works perfectly well both ways in time, assuming 2 dimensional time. All bets are off if time is multidimensional. Since we should be calling it spacetime, this is almost certainly the case.

The Broken Symmetries of the Mexican Hat Dance

There is a thing called symmetry breaking which might explain these things. The canonical example is a marble on a sombrero. This is symmetrical. We don't see this a lot, because the symmetry state is not the stable state. The stable state is the marble on the brim. Not symmetrical. This system under stress will go from symmetry to asymmetry. AKA symmetry breaking. If you happen upon this system, most likely you'd not view it as a symmetrical system, although that is exactly what it was. Here's a better explanation.

So we have a couple of asymmetries in our observed world.

  1. Where is all the antimatter?

  2. Why do we see time go one way, when much of our math works perfectly fine both ways?

Seems to me that work on the antimatter problem might, as is so often the case, stumble upon something totally unexpected. In this case a way to interpret EM waves moving backwards in time. The link would be the symmetries and the math needed to explore them. You'd need to build something to detect whatever your math told you might be there. This is how we found the background microwave emissions. Looking for something else completely, built a detector, oh dang, it's noisy, oh wait! turned out that the noise was actually significant.

A backward linear projection of this event along your time axis would be equivalent to you bouncing light off of a future object. You'd amplify this, clean up the noise, put it on a monitor and that would be a flatlander's view of the future. It would not be completely accurate, so you'd triangulate ( just like you would with any other EM source ).

The Birds and The Bees

So: We have light from the future. "Future light" or something similar. This is now a biology problem. Snakes use infrared to hunt. Bees use UV to navigate. Birds sense magnetism. Sharks use electricity to find prey. Some few humans might have the ability to sense, feel, taste, whatever this "Future light." ( Snakes taste infrared, using their tongue. ) Perhaps it manifests as an ability to interpret the images intuitively. Maybe it's like a test for colour blindness, that 99.9% of people fail, but a few say "No, that's a picture of your dad, getting an award." ( It's you! Congrats! )

Find 3 of these people, or breed them, and you'll have a way to triangulate future events biologically. It comes out of research into broken symmetries, matter vs antimatter, or matter vs dark matter, assuming dark matter is actually a thing and not just a vast but understandable reluctance to junk a whole bunch of theory that works perfectly. It would not be the first time, or even the second. Even great minds are not above fudging the equations.

Keep in mind however, that this is literally foreshadowing. You'd need to use this light to make a hologram or some other 3D representation, math might help, but you and your seers still live in Flatland.

These people would have existed for all of human history, except the triangulation is the key, right? Something good or bad is always about to happen, this is why Cassandra was ridiculed. Nope, what you need is at least 3 of these people to get actionable data on the future, to triangulate a projection for study, interpret it, and then you have to trust that they are not projecting their thoughts and desires into the image. Also, gobs and gobs of processing power. You know, like say..

So looks like it's a mutation carried by XX humans, which is also your precogs in Minority Report. Really, for your story, these women should be drifting towards the lab for a variety of vague reasons.

Oh, they'd probably present with synesthesia, because there could be a variety of ways to map this "Future Light" onto whatever system detects it. The point is that it's a kind of light, light that has been around forever, and a formerly useless mutation might be able to detect it.

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A biological creature would need the same advanced technology to see into the future that a robot or computer would need to use. Some sort of time travel see-into-the-future device.

I have extremely strong doubts that any biological organ could serve as a "futureoscope" and expect that the biological creature would have to use a super advanced planet-sized machine generating artificial wormholes at the very least to see into the future, and probably something much much impressive than that.

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Some scientists in Jerusalem achieved entanglement of photons across time. The photons never existed at the same time, yet they were part of an entangled pair.

Source: Entanglement Swapping between Photons that have Never Coexisted (E. Megidish et al - Physical Review Letters 110, 210403 – Published 22 May 2013.

From the abstract:

Using entanglement swapping between two temporally separated photon pairs, we entangle one photon from the first pair with another photon from the second pair. The first photon was detected even before the other was created. The observed two-photon state demonstrates that entanglement can be shared between timelike separated quantum systems.

Entangled particles are pairs that a perfect correlation on one of their properties. The most popularly known form is that of spin entanglement, in which the total spin of the pair is zero and each particle has a spin that is the opposite of the other. Moreover, changing one particle's spin causes the other to change its spin as well to keep the total spin of the system zeroed.

So let's say some calcium ions in your brain from today are entangled with some ions in your brain from ten years from now. Any change in the action potential of the neurons they belong to in either time might be felt by the same neurons in the other time. In this way, you can not only receive information from the future, but from the past as well (remember, your current you is "past me" for your future you).

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    $\begingroup$ Entangled pairs do not transmit any information. This misconception is really tired. $\endgroup$ – R.. Sep 3 at 17:16
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    $\begingroup$ @R.. Please read about the Zeno effect. It was demonstrated experimentally in 2017. researchgate.net/publication/… $\endgroup$ – Renan Sep 3 at 17:38
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    $\begingroup$ @R.. That would be educational. Between peer reviewed papers published in journals and comments in SE sites, I side with peer reviewed journals though. $\endgroup$ – Renan Sep 3 at 17:43
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    $\begingroup$ Debunking outsourced. $\endgroup$ – R.. Sep 3 at 17:49
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    $\begingroup$ Linked question has received an answer that seems plausible. $\endgroup$ – R.. Sep 3 at 19:13

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