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The Present Affecting the Past…Wait What? Yes, and Here’s Proof.

Back to the Future Style.

Photo by Kevin Ku

As outrageous as it may sound, the notion of influencing the past has been a topic of research both in physics [1] and medicine. In this article, we’ll see particularly one study in the health department. It may sound like science fiction but there are experiments on the matter that makes the whole thing real.

The main experiment and proof of a retroactive effect is as follows:

A group of people prayed for the well-being of patients with bloodstream infections. The results show that the people that received prayer had both a shorter length of stay at the hospital and a fewer days of fever than the control group (no intervention). The thing is, people prayed to patients that were discharged 4 to 10 years ago…

In other words, the effect of praying to people that were ill years ago changed their outcome. People from the praying group became more healthy than the group without any intervention….but at the time no one was praying for them!

Let that sink in for a minute.




And another minute.




If you don’t understand it yet, don’t worry. We’ll get back to it in detail in a couple of minutes.

Now before you start yelling at this nonsense, I just want to point out that this study was published in a reliable peer-reviewed medical journal: The British Journal of Medicine (BMJ).

If you compare what is known as the impact factor (IF) of a journal, the average number of times a paper published in that journal will be cited outside of it that is, you get a pretty decent average for BMJ. While the well-known Nature journal has an impact factor of 43, the BMJ has a 27.6 IF, which is not that far behind. So it’s pretty solid for what we’re going to see next.

To state that praying can affect an outcome we first have to look at the evidence on how consciousness influences the world around us. How the mind can affect something outside of it I mean. And then we’ll tap onto this shocking discovery: retroactive effect of prayer on former sick people.

I just ask that you keep an open mind while reading about these experiments. Remember that in the history of science when findings didn’t fit in, some breakthroughs happened in our conception of reality. Think of the repercussions of our conception of Earth as being flat, but new evidence suggested otherwise. It took time (and many lives) to digest it.

So for now, just pause your judgment, and let’s dive in.

1. Consciousness affecting the material world

Physicists have found that by merely observing a quantum event there’s a change in the outcome of an experiment. By looking you change reality.

This is best exemplified with the double-slit experiment accounting for what’s called the observer’s effect.

Photo from Wikipedia

Suppose you send individual electrons through this double slit. You would have to see them arrive at the screen one by one. There shouldn’t be any interference in their path but… over time researchers found that a band of interference built up on the other side.

It seemed like each particle passed simultaneously through both slits at once, interfering with itself. How was that possible? Because it was behaving as a wave instead of as a particle, as you would see when water ripples collide with each other.

But if the researchers placed a detector behind just one slit, which would allow them to observe if a particle goes through it or not, the interference didn’t happen. So by merely observing the electron’s path (and without disturbing its motion) the outcome changed. That’s the observer’s effect.

If it was strange before, well now it doubled.

As Bohr’s assistant, Pascual Jordan, said:

“We ourselves produce the results of the measurement”

Another line of experiments dealt with how mental intentions could interact with physical devices. In this case, researchers focused on a device called a random number generator. This gadget throws a sequence of numbers that can’t be reasonably predicted and, according to our present understanding, unless you physically link with it, you won’t be able to change its behavior.

The question they asked was:

Could a random number generator become less random due to mental intentions directed at it?

Two meta-analyses, a procedure that merges findings from multiple studies, found that there’s a correlation between human intention and the output of these devices[3] & [4]. This means that when consciousness is directed towards the device, there is some kind of interaction that doesn’t happen by chance.

Example of a random number generator device from Amazon

While these experiments consider a one-on-one interaction with the machine, there’s also a global experiment looking at how a collective mental intention can influence these devices.

If we massively focus on the same thing, will that change the randomness too?

That actually happened during the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers on September 11th in 2001. A global network of random generators experienced a significant deviation that day while people focused on that one event [5]. No physical source could have influenced all those globally spread devices so something else must’ve caused that deviation. Anyway, there’s much more research to do on the matter, but something did leave a mark on those devices.

Somehow what we thought of as an objective world out there, doesn’t seem quite so. This separation between our subjective experience and the objective reality seems to blur. Our consciousness is inevitably part of the world and it has a measurable effect on it. It might be a small effect, but there’s something there.

2. Prayer and distant healing

We’ve seen that the mind doesn’t seem to be outside of what we call the objective world. Plus it can have a direct effect on it. If there is some kind of two-way-street interaction, then mental intentions can also have an impact on the “real” world.

Bear with me just a little while longer. We have to cover some ground before we can look at how mental intentions can affect time-displaced patients.

If we haven’t first established that our mind can impact the health of others, how are we going to look at it in a time-displaced setting?

Back to the topic at hand.

We know of the placebo effect. The notion that the sole belief in a treatment reflects positively on the body of the believer. A treatment with objectively no therapeutic value, becomes effective due to our mental intentions. If we believe prayer can cure us for instance, we have at least a 15% chance to have a significant improvement due to the placebo effect [2]. And it can be way above that percentage.

Not bad for a treatment based on belief.

Now this relates to influencing our own body, but what happens when people try affecting the health of others with mental intentions such as prayer or distant healing?

Photo by Ben White

A group of researchers compiled a list of 23 studies on distant healing to assess the efficacy of this type of intervention. They considered different forms of distant healing such as prayer, mental healing, spiritual healing, etc.

While not being definitive, they found that overall there is a positive treatment effect of these practices [6]. And a more recent study compiled another 11 studies and confirmed the positive effects of benevolent intentions [7].

These are some promising results if we want to further study mind-matter interactions.

There’s much more work to be done of course, but we can agree that there’s some sort of effect when you look at treatments that involve mental intentions.

Note: These benefits come from a different source than the placebo effect, since the studies controlled for that variable. So there’s another cause of improvement here.

3. Retroactive Prayer

Uf…it has taken us a while to get here, right?

We now want to see how mental intentions from the present can influence the past.

The prayer intervention in this experiment was carried out 4 to 10 years after the patient was hospitalized due to bloodstream infection. They divided 3393 patients into two groups with a random number generator (like the one we saw earlier). Once separated, they selected one group to be prayed upon with a toss of a coin. The other group was left aside as a control.

Since it was a double-blind experiment, all information that could influence the behavior of the medical staff and the people praying were withheld from them until after the intervention. This reduced their risk of affecting the outcome in a voluntary or involuntarily way (e.g. through body language).

So we get:

  • 2 groups with people assigned to each group randomly. So you don’t get all the patients with better health in one group beforehand.
  • The people praying not knowing anything but the first name of the patient. They did a short prayer for each of the patients while having minimum knowledge of their whereabouts.
  • The medical staff was kept in the dark about key aspects that could put at risk the validity of the outcomes.

What happened then?

When they compared both groups, they saw some strange results.

  • The number of deaths in the intervention group was 2.1% lower than the control group. Not a significant difference though.
  • The number of days’ stay at the hospital and duration of fever was significantly shorter in the prayers group.

So how the hell did that happen???

There wasn’t any difference between both groups apart from one of them being prayed upon. And remember, everything was already written in paper since it had already happened:

  • The number of deaths caused by the blood infection
  • The number of days they stayed in the hospital
  • The number of days they had fever

What’s the probability of there being a positive outcome for one group over the other if all patients were randomly selected for each group? I’ll remind you that they didn’t put the patients with better results in one group and the ones with the worst health in the other one.

It was random!

The experiment had a great design: double-blind, controlled, randomized, etc. So we can’t blame this strange results on the design at least. We have to keep looking for a possible explanation. This outcome questions the order of causality.

Praying to a circumstance that happened years ago and changing its outcome is unheard of!

Photo by Dan DeAlmeida

Final thoughts

To be able to grasp the idea of the retroactive effect of prayer we had to discuss two topics first:

  • Mind-matter interaction: we saw that the mind is part of what we call the objective world, and these two can influence each other. We looked at the observer’s effect in the double-slit experiment and the effects of mental intention in random number generators.
  • Distant healing effect: a compilation of studies regarding different forms of distant healing (prayer being one as well), found that there is a positive effect of this treatment on patients’ health.

Once we saw that mental intentions could affect the physical world, we had to take the next step: time-displaced prayer. A well designed and peer-reviewed study found that praying 4 to 10 years later, changed patients’ past outcomes.

In other words, directing benevolent intentions in the present towards people that had already gone through treatment in the past, reduced the length of stay at the hospital and duration of fever.

Explanation? None yet.

I’ll just leave you with one last thought. This type of experiment is unconventional and it raises many questions, but the worst thing we can do is judge and disregard it us impossible. Let’s remember what some experienced people in their field said about things they considered impossible that turned out to be true:

  • “Heavier than air flying machines are impossible” (Lord Kelvin, president of the Royal Society, 1895)
  • “Everything that can be invented has been invented” (Charles H Duell, commissioner of the United States Patent Office, 1899)
  • “The earth is flat”

Well…except for that last one. Sadly it’s still a trend among many.….no comment there.

So even if we can’t explain it with a well-grounded theory, that doesn’t make these results less valid. We need to keep testing our conceptions and be flexible enough to change them when evidence arises.

There’s so much we don’t know that it would be such a shame to close our eyes to the unknown when there’s so much we could see if we kept them open.



[1] Aharonov, Y., Cohen, E., & Elitzur, A. C. (2015). Can a future choice affect a past measurement’s outcome?. Annals of Physics, 355, 258–268.

[2] Cota, G. F., de Sousa, M. R., Fereguetti, T. O., Saleme, P. S., Alvarisa, T. K., & Rabello, A. (2016). The cure rate after placebo or no therapy in American cutaneous leishmaniasis: a systematic review and meta-analysis. PloS one, 11(2).

[3] Bösch, H., Steinkamp, F., & Boller, E. (2006). Examining psychokinesis: The interaction of human intention with random number generators — A meta-analysis. Psychological bulletin, 132(4), 497.

[4] Radin, D. I., & Nelson, R. D. (1989). Evidence for consciousness-related anomalies in random physical systems. Foundations of Physics, 19(12), 1499–1514.

[5] Nelson, R. D., Radin, D. I., Shoup, R., & Bancel, P. A. (2002). Correlations of continuous random data with major world events. Foundations of Physics Letters, 15(6), 537–550.

[6] Astin, J. A., Harkness, E., & Ernst, E. (2000). The efficacy of “distant healing”: a systematic review of randomized trials. Annals of internal medicine, 132(11), 903–910.

[7] Schmidt, S. (2012). Can we help just by good intentions? A meta-analysis of experiments on distant intention effects. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 18(6), 529–533.

Braud, W. (2000). Wellness implications of retroactive intentional influence: exploring an outrageous hypothesis. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, 6(1), 37.

Schmidt, H. (1982). Collapse of the state vector and psychokinetic effect. Foundations of Physics, 12(6), 565–581.

Olshansky, B., & Dossey, L. (2003). Retroactive prayer: a preposterous hypothesis?. Bmj, 327(7429), 1465–1468.

Ball, P. (2017). The strange link between the human mind and quantum physics. Retrieved from on the 13th of May, 2020.

By Pavle Marinkovic on .

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