The Transactional Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics

29 May

Quantum mechanics has been a favorite topic of research for me for a long time. I believe there is ultimate truth hidden within it, especially as we refine our understanding of what we have observed in such mind-boggling experiments as the double-slit experiment or the delayed-choice quantum eraser experiment, and especially the Elitzur-Vaidman Bomb testing problem.

There are two main interpretations for what is going on, the Copenhagen interpretation (currently the most accepted), and the Many-Worlds Interpretation.

Neither ever seemed “right” to me. It didn’t seem “right” to Einstein either and he famously spent many years arguing against the Copenhagen Interpretation.

I read about a different theory that I had never come across before called the Transactional Interpretation. THIS one feels right. It was first postulated by John G. Cramer, Professor of Physics at the University of Washington in 1986.

What is it? In a nutshell, it assumes that probability waves travel backward in time as well as forward in time. This explains many paradoxes present in current Quantum theory.

Here is a great blog entry about Transactional Interpretation:

Some good quotes from there:

It turns out that if you don’t just look at the particle that’s sending out the radiation but also look at the one that’s absorbing it, the second particle’s backward-in-time wave reinforces the first particle’s forward-in-time wave between the particles, but the second particle’s backward-in-time wave cancels out the first particle’s backward-in-time wave, which is why you don’t see a backward-in-time wave before the first particle; and the second particle’s forward-in-time wave cancels out the first particle’s forward-in-time wave, which is why you don’t see a forward-in-time wave after the second particle has absorbed it.


  • Step 1: The emitter sends out an “offer wave” forward in time (OW /Retarded wave).
  • Step 2: The absorber responds with a “confirmation wave” backward in time (CW /Advanced wave).
  • Step 3: The process repeats until energy and momentum is transferred and the transaction is completed (wave function collapse).

His concluding paragraph is especially striking for reasons I highlite in bold:

An additional advantage of the transactional interpretation seems to be that time is relegated from being some grand causal factor to being just another co-ordinate. This parallels what happens in classical dynamics – where, since everything is determined by everything else, the entire behaviour of the universe can be portrayed as a static unchanging configuration in 3-plus-1-dimensional space and the entire notion of “cause” disappears. This precedent seems to say that a physical theory that requires concepts of causality is in some way flawed. If the transactional interpretation of quantum mechanics really does remove that flaw then it is something we have been waiting for for a long time.

Casualty, for those unfamiliar with it, is basically the law that everything must be caused by something else. This is the backbone behind many creationists belief that ‘something’ (someone) caused the big bang, or caused matter, life etc. This theory, as stated in the quoted paragraph, removes causality, literally from the equation. Time is not a flowing foward thing, but a static coordinate. We may experience life flowing forward, but the behavior of particles in the Quantum scale seem to indicate that is not the nature of the universe, that it ‘actually’ exists without time as we know it. Trasnactional theory explains how photons can ‘know’ things about events that have not occurred (as in the case with Quantum computers or the Elitzur-Vaidman Bomb testing problem. The photons “know” the future because they receive Advanced waves from the future after sending out retarded (scientific term for it) waves from the present and react to that. It is why some people formulated the many-worlds interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, to explain this almost psychic ability.

Einstein even joked that if Quantum Mechanics was true, then he’d have to believe in telepathy. He called entanglement of particles ‘spooky action at a distance’. Quantum mechanics goes against everything we hold to be true, and is still shocking today as much as it was in the 1930’s, probably more so.

What was even more interesting that reading about the transactional interpretation of quantum mechanics is that an experiment in 2004 seems to prove it. It is called the Afshar experiment. The provided link explains it in detail, but in a nutshell it seems to disprove or at least cast serious doubt in the much-cherished Copenhagen interpretation of Quantum Mechanics. This has caused a enormous controversy amongst physicist, who are pretty much united in believing Afshar’s conclusions are wrong but all differ on why they feel it is wrong. John G. Cramer feels that this experiment definitely proves his Transactional interpretation, and there are quite a few physicists that agree with him.

it appears that the Transactional Interpretation is the only interpretation of the three discussed that has survived the Afshar test. It also appears that other interpretations on the market (Decoherence, Consistent- Histories, etc.) fail the Afshar Test.

– From a PowerPoint presentation given by John G. Cramer

I am excited about this because as I said before, it “feels” right and helps explain the almost psychic behavior of photons in quantum computers. They react to possibilities that have NOT YET Occurred in our present. This is to put it mildly, a huge mind-fuck.

It eliminates the need for an observer, and therefore solves all the observer-based paradoxes of the Copenhagen interpretation such as Wigner’s Friend and Schrodinger’s cat.

I read an interesting blog entry that states Transactional Interpretation is very similar to how TCP/IP works on the internet, with the added factor of information being sent backward in time of course. That same blog entry has this paragraph which got me very excited:

As we have seen, there is actual experimental evidence that electrons and photons seem to “know” in advance what they will encounter on the other side of a double-slit experiment.

This is easily explained by the Transactional interpretation. The electrons or photons send out retarded waves into the future which interact with whatever lies beyond the slits. If there are detectors that are turned on, the retarded waves interact with them, if there are no detectors, the waves interact with some electrons on a projection screen instead. In either case, an advanced wave is sent backwards in time from the detectors or the projection screen to the point of origin of the electrons or photons so that they “know” how to behave before they get to the two-slit screen.

and here is a good summary of the three interpretations discussed in my blog entry:

1. The Copenhagen interpretation – Absolute reality does not exist, but there are an infinite number of potential realities. When conscious observers come along, the Universe collapses into reality when observed. So it is never safe to turn your back on the Universe, because you never know what it might be up to behind your back while you are not looking! The Copenhagen interpretation solves the age old question of, “If a tree falls in the forest, and nobody hears it, does it make a sound?”, with, “Of course not, because there is no tree and there is no forest!”. So the Copenhagen interpretation does not go very far as an explanation of quantum mechanics. In fact, you could explain just about anything with a similar argument.

2. The Many-Worlds interpretation – Absolute reality really does exist, but it is spread across an infinite number of realities in an infinite number of parallel universes. This is more of an explanation of quantum mechanics than the Copenhagen interpretation, but it comes with the high cost of a large amount of real estate.

3. The Transactional interpretation – There is only one reality and it “really” does exist. The only thing we have to contend with is the idea of the future sending waves back into the past. But we already have experimental evidence that this really happens!

As you can see, the Transactional interpretation comes with much less philosophical baggage than either the Copenhagen or Many-Worlds interpretations.

As Einstein famously said regarding the Copenhagen interpretation, “Do you really believe the moon does not exist if you do not look at it?”

I am thrilled to come across an interpretation of Quantum mechanics that makes sense to me, in my gut, and helps explain phenomena I have experienced and seen such as Remote Viewing.

In fact, Cramer is currently setting up an experiment that would allow the receiver to receive a message 50 microseconds before it was sent by the sender (using entangled particles), demonstrating retro-causal signaling. Basically, getting information from the future.

Also, this transactional interpretation of quantum mechanics would help explain the Bereitschaftspotential observed in human brains.

– Article talking about how Dr. Cramer needs funding to prove his theories

Public donates over $35,000 to fund Dr. John G. Cramer’s research – This article has information about how to donate to Dr. Cramer and the University


12 Responses to “The Transactional Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics”

  1. dazz May 29, 2008 at 6:07 pm #

    I dislike this theory.
    That’s not to say I think it’s false. Whether it’s true or not, I don’t like it because if things are moving backward in time, it means “future” actions have already been decided from our point of view.
    I can’t begin to imagine the damage proof of fate would cause. The concept of free will would be disproven, and with it, personal responsibility. “It wasn’t my fault, your honor, it was my destiny to murder those people!”.

    • bboyneko May 29, 2008 at 8:13 pm #

      that’s why quantum mechanics fascinates me so much, it has ENORMOUS philosophical implications. I am of the opinion that consciousness itself is directly related to quantum mechanics for example.

      • dazz May 29, 2008 at 10:26 pm #

        What, no “I think therefore I am”?
        I think of consciousness as a case of the whole being greater than the sum of it’s parts. Is who I am and what I’m thinking at any given moment simply the result of a complex calculation of carbon atoms at certain coordinates in time and space? Or is there something more to it?
        I’ve thought about time in the way you’ve described it before. We THINK time is linear because that’s how we live it. Breakfast, lunch, then dinner. But it’s like the Earth being flat, it only LOOKS that way from a small viewpoint. People think of time as a straight arrow, but I think of it more like a sphere. Or better yet, an ocean. All different points existing simultaneously, and if so, the human kind is what makes us swim in it, rather than drift along being plankton. Think about how easily a person’s perception of time can be disrupted, even in something as simple as dreaming.
        I’m fascinated by it too, but it would suck to find out we’re all just actors reading a script. …Then again, why would the universe have a scripted plan guiding every molecule, star and person if there wasn’t some point to it all? If everything right down to the tiniest microscopic detail is “supposed” to happen, then the question is for what reason? If I’m just another domino in the universal pile, I’d bloody like to damn well know why my tipping the next one is effing important – or not.
        A scripted universe with NO point is even more worrisome. If we’re living in the existential equivalent of a Uwe Boll movie, I want out!

      • bboyneko May 30, 2008 at 3:20 am #

        This thread might greatly interest you:
        It’s about consciousness as it relates to this new quantum interpretation.

  2. son_of_ottie May 29, 2008 at 6:53 pm #

    I’m an armchair physicist at best. I LOVE watching shows on The Science Channel and others that deal with these problems. From Einstein’s Special Theaory of Relativity to string theory to Bathroom Reader articles about Bucky Balls, I am fascinated by all of it and know nothing about any of it.
    But what you say about this third theory “feeling right” is very true. The others require a fantastical leap of imagination requiring, nearly, something akin to mental illness to believe. I mean, when people think no one exists but THEM and we’re all in their HEAD don’t we put that person in a room tied to a gurney? (Of course anyone who thinks this theory is true would have to employ circular logic dictating that being aware of the crazy person who believes I’m in his head COULD mean I created him in MINE!!) And that’s just nuts!
    Anyway, it seems like, if I’m understanding you correctly because I haven’t followed your links yet, that while it’s the natural state of the universe to use time more fuidly it is not in our nature to experience it that way which is why we need all this math to figure it out. Like colors or sounds outside the spectrum of our senses.
    Does that make sense?

  3. Anonymous May 30, 2008 at 3:09 pm #

    Telepathy and I got it… naturally
    I think I stumbled on the telepathy dimension cause I think I unlocked a part of my brain unlocking supreme knowledge through Love. That is why Einstein didn’t realize this cause we all have it but we don’t realize it until me. I also believe that imagination is a dimension of quantum mechanics. Also emotions and belief has much power in the quantum world.

  4. turnselfoff June 3, 2008 at 4:44 am #

    ocham’s razor anyone?

    • bboyneko June 3, 2008 at 5:07 am #

      occam’s razor is misapplied so much. For example, which is a simpler explanation for disease, that tiny, invisible self replicating non-living entities called virsuses invade tiny, invisible units of a living creature called cells, hijack their mechanics of reproduction in order to convert the cell into a virus factory, etc. or that demons cause it?
      Many times the more complex explanation is the correct one, especially when dealing with biological or physical processes.

  5. Anonymous March 17, 2009 at 2:26 am #

    transactional interpretation
    This also implies that mind control is real.

    • Anonymous March 8, 2010 at 7:43 am #

      Re: transactional interpretation
      Hi, I’ve been writing about the Transactional Interpretation and glad to see your interest in it here. There is genuine ‘collapse’ in TI (but it’s ‘observer-free’), and also genuine ‘becoming’ based on real possibilities; so worries about fatalism in TI are unwarranted. See recent papers on this at, including one with John Cramer:
      R. E. Kastner

  6. Anonymous May 6, 2009 at 4:04 pm #

    Touch Pro IS Awesome
    Sweet, someone else that thinks the Touch Pro > iPhone. I have a blog and have written a lot about the Touch Pro, including how to do some custom stuff and much more:


  1. Space is not real – A great idea for unifying Quantum theory with Relativity « Adventures of Carbon Atoms - May 7, 2010

    […] 1 Dec Wow I just came across a mind-blowing paper today..all I can say is wow. This is as exciting to me (perhaps more so) than when I came across the transactional interpretation of quantum physics. […]

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