Retrocausality, or backwards causation, is a concept of cause and effect in which an effect precedes its cause in time and so a later event affects an earlier one. In quantum physics, the distinction between cause and effect is not made at the most fundamental level and so time-symmetric systems can be viewed as causal or retrocausal.[page needed ] Philosophical considerations of time travel often address the same issues as retrocausality, as do treatments of the subject in fiction, but the two phenomena are distinct.
Philosophical efforts to understand causality extend back at least to Aristotle's discussions of the four causes. It was long considered that an effect preceding its cause is an inherent self-contradiction because, as 18th century philosopher David Hume discussed, when examining two related events, the cause, by definition, is the one that precedes the effect.[page needed ]
In the 1950s, Michael Dummett wrote in opposition to such definitions, stating that there was no philosophical objection to effects preceding their causes. This argument was rebutted by fellow philosopher Antony Flew and, later, by Max Black. Black's "bilking argument" held that retrocausality is impossible because the observer of an effect could act to prevent its future cause from ever occurring. A more complex discussion of how free will relates to the issues Black raised is summarized by Newcomb's paradox. Essentialist philosophers have proposed other theories, such as the existence of "genuine causal powers in nature" or by raising concerns about the role of induction in theories of causality.[page needed ][page needed ]