What is truly fascinating is the bizarre events at quantum level are understandable. They are, true, not easy to understand. But you can, with some effort, break with the way you normally think, which was certainly shaped by Newtonian space and the second law of thermodynamics, and think in ways that are alien to these laws and confinements. How is this even possible? What evolutionary advantage is there to knowing the quantum realm even "defies the concepts of ‘before’ and ‘after’"? Yes, it's not easy to grasp how this time-switching works, but you can, if you pay close attention to how it's described, get of a basic picture of what's going on.

We have known for over a hundred years that particles do not have a definite position until they are measured. This was the revolution in physics that even spooked Albert Einstein. Particles are all over the place until we recognize them as being here, with us, in this corner of a magic show surrounded by the darkness of all possibilities. Physicists have now figured out a way to show that events in the quantum realm are also scrambled. B (after) can happen before A (before). In our regular world, which is Newtonian (space) but also thermodynamic (the arrow of time), we move in one direction. We move only from A (before) to B (after).

When I read this story on the quantum switch, I could not help but recall an economic theory by the late philosopher and historian Moishe Postone on the nature of time in capitalism. It's in the last section of his 1993 book Time, Labor, and Social Domination. It presents a similar structure to the quantum events/causal (or normal) events binary. It makes the argument that history in capitalism is specific to capitalism and, as such, is radically different from other forms of history (the way humans experience cultural time—not biological time). Many leftist thinkers believe that class struggle is the motor of human history as a whole. But not Postone. He thinks the motor is not a struggle between the producers and the appropriators of what is produced but a contradiction between value and wealth, or, put another way, exchange value and use value. The two are not the same. The former is abstract, and the latter is material. Because you can't just buy value, you must buy use values (brooms, tables, socks, bikes—material wealth) and value (which finally appears as money). The two values cannot be separated.

But the way one makes money is through exchange value, or value. And the profit of a sale, if all goes right, is drawn from the surplus value of value. Surplus value is made in two ways: one, absolute value; two, relative value. The former is when a boss decreases the time of the day that you work for yourself (the necessities you buy from your wage), and extends the time you work for nothing (surplus value). It is calling of the boss to make you work longer for nothing, more surplus (absolute) value. But it has a limit. When you reach a point where you are only working for surplus value, you are a slave. That can't happen in a free society. So, the boss makes money from new machinery and techniques of production. This increases productivity, cheapens products, and places the boss far in front of his/her competitors. This is relative surplus. But eventually the boss's competitors catch on and catch up, and he/she is back to where they started: regular or low or no surplus value. This forces the boss to develop or find new methods or machines of production. Postonce calls this a "treadmill."

But it also generates capitalist history. Not only with ever-changing and advancing new modes of production, but also consumer products. And so, we are constantly pumping out new products and machines as we move into the future, and as the past recedes, there is a series of products and machines that are simpler and simpler the deeper they are in time. Indeed, the industrial revolution was really about inaugurating the constant revolutionizing of industrial production, which, as Patrick N. Allitt explains in the ninth lecture, "Napoleon Challenges the Empire," in the Teaching Company's course The Rise and Fall of the British Empire, had, as one of its foundations, the cotton gin, which was invented in 1793 and patented the following year. "The cotton gin," he says "facilitated the mass production of [cotton] that was then sent to England to feed its growing textile industry." That is the birth of the industrial revolution. (The South had it so good: there was absolute absolute value from unpaid black labor and increasing relative value from new machines.)

If one thinks of capitalism in this way, history before its emergence in the second half of the 18th century and its consolidation in the 19th, was not linear. Advances were made sometimes, lost sometimes, never hit upon in other times. A group could become more sophisticated or, because of a change in location or climate, more simple. Nothing really stuck and pressed ever-forward. Societies moved backward and forward in the same period of time. It's only when we entered capitalism that history took a directionality like that of the arrow time. When we see progress in the past, explains Postone, it is because we have transhistorized (or universalized) capitalist time, and thereby projected it into a non-capitalist past. This was Hegel to the max.

But there was no such uniformity at all back then. For example, James Gleick opens his book The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood with the assertion that until end of the 18th century, black drummers in West African were ahead of Europeans in the technology of long-distance communication. Some groups over here had this, others over there had that. Everything was scrambled. In the capitalist system, space becomes Newtonian (homogeneous). And time moves as if compelled by the second law of thermodynamics (from order to less order to less and less order). But the force of capitalism is the constant revolutionizing of products and machines that make products (material wealth) in a nervous effort to increase surplus value (order to more order to more and more order). In capitalism, the inputs are less than the outputs.