'The Myth of Quantum Consciousness.'

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Pete Tar

Senior Member.
Good essay.
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/victor-stenger/the-myth-of-quantum-consc_b_788798.html

Some excerpts...

A new myth is burrowing its way into modern thinking. The notion is spreading that the principles embodied in quantum mechanics imply a central role for the human mind in determining the very nature of the universe. Not surprisingly, this idea can be found in New Age periodicals and in many books on the metaphysical shelves of book stores. But it also can appear where you least expect it, even on the pages of that bastion of rational thinking, The Humanist.

In an article in the November/December 1992 issue entitled "The Wise Silence," Robert Lanza says that, according to the current quantum mechanical view of reality, "We are all the ephemeral forms of a consciousness greater than ourselves." The mind of each human being on earth is instantaneously connected to each other -- past, present and future -- as "a part of every mind existing in space and time."

...


In Lanza's interpretation, quantum mechanics tells us that all human minds are united in one mind and "the entities of the universe - electrons, photons, galaxies, and the like -- are floating in a field of mind that cannot be limited within a restricted space or period . . ."

Unlike traditional myths, which call on scripture or the utterances of charismatic leaders as their authorities, this latest version of ancient Hindu idealism is supposedly based on up-to-date scientific knowledge. The assertion is made that quantum mechanics has ruled invalid the materialistic, reductionist view of the universe, introduced by Newton in the seventeenth century, which formed the foundation of the scientific revolution. Now, materialism is replaced by a new spiritualism and reductionism is cast aside by a new holism.

The myth of quantum consciousness sits well with many whose egos have made it impossible for them to accept the insignificant place science perceives for humanity, as modern instruments probe the farthest reaches of space and time. It was bad enough when Copernicus said that we were not at the center of the universe. It was worse when Darwin announced that we were not angels. But it became intolerable when astronomers declared that the earth is but one of a hundred billion trillion other planets, and when geologists demonstrated that recorded history is but a blink of time -- a microsecond of the second of earth's existence.

In a land where self-gratification has reached heights never dreamed of in ancient Rome, where self-esteem is more important than being able to read, and where self-help requires no more effort than putting on a cassette, the myth of quantum consciousness is just what the shrink ordered.

...


Quantum mechanics is called on further to argue that the cosmic field, like Newton's aether, couples to the human mind itself. In Robert Lanza's view, that field is the universal mind of all humanity -- living, dead, and unborn. Ironically, this seemingly profound association between quantum and mind is an artifact, the consequence of unfortunate language used by Bohr, Heisenberg, and the others who originally formulated quantum mechanics. In describing the necessary interaction between the observer and what is being observed, and how the state of a system is determined by the act of its measurement, they inadvertently left the impression that human consciousness enters the picture to cause that state come into being. This led many who did not understand the physics, but liked the sound of the words used to describe it, to infer a fundamental human role in what was previously a universe that seemed to have need for neither gods nor humanity.

If Bohr and Heisenberg had spoken of measurements made by inanimate instruments rather than "observers," perhaps this strained relationship between quantum and mind would not have been drawn. For, nothing in quantum mechanics requires human involvement.

Quantum mechanics does not violate the Copernican principle that the
universe cares not a whit about the human race. Long after humanity has disappeared from the scene, matter will still undergo the transitions that we call quantum events. The atoms in stars will radiate photons, and these photons will be absorbed by materials that react to them. Perhaps, after we are gone, some of our machines will remain to analyze these photons. If so, they will do so under the same rules of quantum mechanics that operate today.

...
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qed

Senior Member
The great Oxford mathematician Roger Penrose is ultimately responsible for much of this nonsense.

In his pop-science book The Emperor's New Mind he argues (falsely in my opinion) that our minds are non-algorithmic (i.e., not a computer, i.e., not a Turing machine), and then hypothesizes that quantum processes must be at play (quantum computers can perform operations that a Turing machine cannot).

[... I see the above post goes the other way around, the mind has a special role in the quantum universe]
 

qed

Senior Member
The reason some make the mistake of thinking the mind plays a central role in QM stems from a misunderstanding (in my opinion) of the role of the observer. Certainly quantum systems behave differently when "observed". But this is because the act of "observing" messes up the system.

No pool player complains when lights and cameras are set up to film a game. Photons are too small to noticeably bump pool balls. But if the pool balls were very small (electrons say), the light we use to "observe" them with will bump them.

It is not that quantum systems change when we observe them. Rather they change when "observed".
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
The great Oxford mathematician Roger Penrose is ultimately responsible for much of this nonsense.

In his pop-science book The Emperor's New Mind he argues (falsely in my opinion) that our minds are non-algorithmic (i.e., not a computer, i.e., not a Turing machine), and then hypothesizes that quantum processes must be at play (quantum computers can perform operations that a Turing machine cannot).

[... I see the above post goes the other way around, the mind has a special role in the quantum universe]

That book made me angry when I read it (25 years ago). The root of his argument was that he could not imagine a computer doing math as well as he did.

The entire thing was an argument from personal incredulity.
 

Chew

Senior Member.
It is not that quantum systems change when we observe them. Rather they change when "observed".

That always drives me batty. If a person staring at the double slit experiment caused the pattern to change then we would never know there was a different pattern beforehand in the first place.
 

Mark Barrington

Active Member
I've noticed that for some people that follow this theory, the quantum consciousness serves as a proxy for the soul. It's something that they feel is distinct from the body that gives humans some sort of connection to an existence distinct from the physical universe. In this analogy, the brain is simply an antenna for receiving the waves of pure consciousness from the beyond. Obviously, if you accept this theory, an afterlife is still something that might be possible. If your consciousness lives only in the brain, it dies when the brain dies. Which is one reason why this theory is so attractive to humans. They also believe that humans are completely different from machines because machines cannot have that consciousness, which they define as the ability to observe yourself. Here's an example of that kind of thinking, it's an interview with Stuart Hameroff, who is a follower of Penrose. He also wrote a paper called 'The Quantum Soul' with Deepak Chopra.

This line of reasoning is going to become a whole lot fuzzier when machines start to have enough processing power and ability to use heuristics learn in real time and to start to emulate human behavior better. Part of a decent AI program would include the ability of self assessment and observation, so I'm not sure what's so magical about the 'observer'. It's not a physically separate and transcendent entity, it's just another software module whose purpose is to manage and coordinate some of the other modules. A machine that can pass a Turing Test will be a human being for those that interact with it. It's not something that's going to happen real soon, but probably within 50-100 years if we don't have a total technological collapse. But then, computers that powerful will probably make use of quantum mechanics in order to perform the necessary calculations, so maybe the quantum consciousness followers will bestow upon them a soul.

No real debunking here, just that I've thought about this a lot, and I'm interested in artificial intelligence and what it means to be human. I'm thinking about writing some science fiction stories where these themes figure in. Unfortunately, I'm apparently behind the curve, since there's already a hit movie out there exploring those themes. I haven't seen it yet.

P.S. I've taken classes in General Relativity and I've also been through the proof of the Godel theorem. Penrose is brilliant as a physicist, but his writings on consciousness are just goofy.
 

Pete Tar

Senior Member.
Part of a decent AI program would include the ability of self assessment and observation, so I'm not sure what's so magical about the 'observer'. It's not a physically separate and transcendent entity, it's just another software module whose purpose is to manage and coordinate some of the other modules.

We'll find a way to say that our self-observation has a special quality that nothing else does, the same way we've had to downplay animals experiencing emotions. We'll likely never be free of the urge to set ourselves apart in some way, though the places we can hide our specialness in continue to disappear.

Penrose is brilliant as a physicist, but his writings on consciousness are just goofy.
How so? Given that consciousness can be defined in so many ways because we still cannot agree what it is, there's no real empirical standard from which to judge that is there?
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
How so? Given that consciousness can be defined in so many ways because we still cannot agree what it is, there's no real empirical standard from which to judge that is there?

Well, by that definition then all writings on consciousness are just goofy.

Penrose though:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_mind

Penrose's controversial argument began from Gödel's incompleteness theorems. In his first book on consciousness, The Emperor's New Mind (1989), he argued that while a formal proof system cannot prove its own inconsistency, Gödel-unprovable results are provable by human mathematicians. He takes this disparity to mean that human mathematicians are not describable as formal proof systems, and are not therefore running a computable algorithm.

Penrose determined that wave function collapse was the only possible physical basis for a non-computable process. Dissatisfied with its randomness, Penrose proposed a new form of wave function collapse that occurred in isolation, called objective reduction. He suggested that each quantum superposition has its own piece of spacetime curvature, and when these become separated by more than one Planck length, they become unstable and collapse. Penrose suggested that objective reduction represented neither randomness nor algorithmic processing, but instead a non-computable influence in spacetime geometry from which mathematical understanding and, by later extension, consciousness derived.

Originally, Penrose lacked a detailed proposal for how quantum processing could be implemented in the brain. However, Hameroff read Penrose's work, and suggested that microtubules would be suitable candidates.
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Which all just comes from his personal incredulity that a computer could do math. But the idea that "Gödel-unprovable results are provable by human mathematicians" (and not computers) is nonsense. He just did not understand computers in any modern sense.
 

qed

Senior Member
That always drives me batty. If a person staring at the double slit experiment caused the pattern to change then we would never know there was a different pattern beforehand in the first place.
It is essential to realize that staring at the double slit experiment will not cause the pattern to change.

Set up the experiment with two slits and electrons being fired. The pattern will be wave-like (i.e. interference).

Stare at it all you like, the pattern will not change (and you will not see the electrons).

On the other hand, if you fire photons at the passing electrons, the photons and electrons interact, and you will "see" which hole the electron passed through. However, now the pattern will change. Instead of a wave pattern, it will look the same as the pattern obtained if you shot bullets.
 
How is consciousness in the brain created ?
The myth of newtonian consciousness is more of a valid topic.
One important thing however is that without 'mind' an atom doesn't exist, you need an observer to detect the atom without an observer there is no atom. Nuerons are made of atoms which are made of quantum fluctuations therefore everything is quantum , wouldn't consciousness be too? Or is everything consciousness and the quantum level doesn't exist without it.

“It is remarkable that mind enters into our awareness of nature on two separate levels. At the highest level, the level of human consciousness, our minds are somehow directly aware of the complicated flow of electrical and chemical patterns in our brains. At the lowest level, the level of single atoms and electrons, the mind of an observer is again involved in the description of events. Between lies the level of molecular biology, where mechanical models are adequate and mind appears to be irrelevant. But I, as a physicist, cannot help suspecting that there is a logical connection between the two ways in which mind appears in my universe. I cannot help thinking that our awareness of our own brains has something to do with the process which we call "observation" in atomic physics. That is to say, I think our consciousness is not just a passive epiphenomenon carried along by the chemical events in our brains, but is an active agent forcing the molecular complexes to make choices between one quantum state and another. In other words, mind is already inherent in every electron, and the processes of human consciousness differ only in degree but not in kind from the processes of choice between quantum states which we call "chance" when they are made by electrons.”
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Richard Dyson

Max Planck"...I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness."
The Observer, London, January 25, 1931
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Erwin Schroedinger"Subject and object are only one. The barrier between them cannot be said to have broken down as a result of recent experiments in the physical sciences, for this barrier does not exist".
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qed

Senior Member
One important thing however is that without 'mind' an atom doesn't exist, you need an observer to detect the atom without an observer there is no atom.
Nonsense.

The universe existed for a long time before it evolved to the state that minds could exist.
 

Pete Tar

Senior Member.
One important thing however is that without 'mind' an atom doesn't exist, you need an observer to detect the atom without an observer there is no atom.

No, you need a machine to observe an atom. That machine can observe atoms when the mind that created it is dead, and the atoms still exist.
Is the machine now the 'mind' that calls it into existence by observing?
Really it's just a looped semantic puzzle, I don't think it's a description of reality.
And yes as qed says, atoms had to exist for the mind (or machine) to evolve in the first place.

It is remarkable that mind enters into our awareness of nature on two separate levels. At the highest level, the level of human consciousness, our minds are somehow directly aware of the complicated flow of electrical and chemical patterns in our brains. At the lowest level, the level of single atoms and electrons, the mind of an observer is again involved in the description of events
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This is not how I would describe my experience of consciousness, I'm definitely not aware on the level of single atoms and electrons.

I don't know if the other quotes can said to be meaningful in any way other than as platitudes.

I kind of agree with the last one, that subject and object are ultimately one, but that doesn't destroy materialism for me.
 

deirdre

Senior Member.
At the highest level, the level of human consciousness, our minds are somehow directly aware of the complicated flow of electrical and chemical patterns in our brains
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and even this part, we're not 'somehow' or 'directly' aware. we're only aware if that data has been inputted. the human mind is exactly the same as AI.
 
Well I suggest you read this book
http://quantumenigma.com

"A remarkable and readable presentation…"

Charles Townes: Winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics

This book is unique. …clearest expositions I have ever seen.

George Greenstein: Professor of Astronomy, Amherst College,
Co-author of The Quantum Challenge: Modern Research on the Foundations of Quantum Mechanics​
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Which goes through the logic in a clear and readable manner to explain it to you instead of you trying to debunk some of the greatest minds in science in the history of the world :D
 

Pete Tar

Senior Member.
Quantum is just the new ether. Magic invoked to justify personal beliefs about things that cannot be confirmed.

And if this is the central claim of the book

Quantum mechanics reveals a mystery at the boundary of physics: that observation strangely influences what is observed. Quantum Enigma focuses on this increasingly discussed skeleton in physics’ closet, its encounter with consciousness.
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that is arguably a misplaced interpretation of the whole observer effect.

ie...
Ironically, this seemingly profound association between quantum and mind is an artifact, the consequence of unfortunate language used by Bohr, Heisenberg, and the others who originally formulated quantum mechanics. In describing the necessary interaction between the observer and what is being observed, and how the state of a system is determined by the act of its measurement, they inadvertently left the impression that human consciousness enters the picture to cause that state come into being. This led many who did not understand the physics, but liked the sound of the words used to describe it, to infer a fundamental human role in what was previously a universe that seemed to have need for neither gods nor humanity.
Content from External Source
 

Mark Barrington

Active Member
Well I suggest you read this book
http://quantumenigma.com

"A remarkable and readable presentation…"

Charles Townes: Winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics

This book is unique. …clearest expositions I have ever seen.

George Greenstein: Professor of Astronomy, Amherst College,
Co-author of The Quantum Challenge: Modern Research on the Foundations of Quantum Mechanics​
Content from External Source

Which goes through the logic in a clear and readable manner to explain it to you instead of you trying to debunk some of the greatest minds in science in the history of the world :D

There's quite a history of distinguished scientists espousing crank ideas when they venture outside areas where their expertise lies. You might want to look into it. In any case, it's just an appeal to authority.

I would no more trust a physicist's ideas on religion (which I consider quantum consciousness to be) than I would a pastor's opinion on general relativity.
 

Leifer

Senior Member.
I fill the voids of unknowing with what I know.....as do most people. And that's deeply personal and likely singular to each person. It takes a relaxed mind to poke at itself.
 
There's quite a history of distinguished scientists espousing crank ideas when they venture outside areas where their expertise lies. You might want to look into it. In any case, it's just an appeal to authority.

I would no more trust a physicist's ideas on religion (which I consider quantum consciousness to be) than I would a pastor's opinion on general relativity.
Nah its because I came to the same conclusion before i read the book and then latter found the book and was surprised that there were top scientist who agreed.
Debunking types don't seem to like change any new idea is very threatening to their world view that is why they aggressively defend it without examining a new idea with an open mind , that is why I suggest you read the book and maybe you will understand it. If you haven't been blown away by quantum mechanics you don't understand it.
 

Mark Barrington

Active Member
Nah its because I came to the same conclusion before i read the book and then latter found the book and was surprised that there were top scientist who agreed.
Debunking types don't seem to like change any new idea is very threatening to their world view that is why they aggressively defend it without examining a new idea with an open mind , that is why I suggest you read the book and maybe you will understand it. If you haven't been blown away by quantum mechanics you don't understand it.

I kind of do understand quantum mechanics. I studied it for four years in College, but I decided to pursue Mathematics in graduate school. Quantum consciousness isn't quantum mechanics. It's not even close.

Edit: I was a physics major, so quantum mechanics was one of the many subjects I studied. It's pretty much the foundation of modern physics, so you know quite a bit of it, even with a bachelor's degree.
 

deirdre

Senior Member.
Nah its because I came to the same conclusion before i read the book and then latter found the book and was surprised that there were top scientist who agreed.
Debunking types don't seem to like change any new idea is very threatening to their world view
This isn't a new idea though. its just different words. its fun though I admit, "Welcome to THE GRAVITON".
 

George B

Extinct but not forgotten Staff Member
Interesting discussion . . . seems the concept of consciousness apart from the body (mind and/or brain) is as old as written history and likely before . . . few abstract concepts are as ancient or persistent . . . it would be logical to suspect it predates science . . . this concept comes from some primeval need or product of logic or emotion when empirical evidence is not apparent . . . would a race of advanced robots develop the same concept . . . if they could develop emotions and self awareness, I suspect they could develop a concept of extra-corporal consciousness. . . .
Another question is where do morals and ethics come from . . .??? are they simply the produce of a need to avoid chaos and self-destruction . . . maybe this leads to the need for an ultimate authority to justify a code of behavior which then requires a religion, god, or consciousness to reinforce adherence to the behavior code . . .
 
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Pete Tar

Senior Member.
Another question is where do morals and ethics come from . . .???
Social consciousness, being aware of the fact that other's have a mind which perceives you, being aware of one's place in the social order, needing to cultivate and maintain one's social standing, basic empathy.
It seems a perfectly logical progression to develop a moral and ethical system when self-awareness as a social animal is present and nothing that mysterious. Perhaps it's only thought to be mysterious because the moral sense is supposed to have come from God.
 

deirdre

Senior Member.
I can't tell if we're still on topic. robots would certainly develop the same concept if the programming is as good as ours, which of course includes flight or fight response. 'consciousness' is just instinct on steroids, or intellectualized instinct if you will.
 
Could a quantum computer become conscious , probably . Yet if you connected all the computers in the world into a supercomputer using 1-0s its unlikely that it would become conscious. The idea is that the observer affect transcends the quantum level to the cells to the microtubles to the neurones to the human mind or animal . Observations within observations within observations. The mind is made of trillions of mini observations generating an overall affect of observation or consciousness . Or I could be totally wrong.
Heres a good video by Penrose.
 

Mark Barrington

Active Member


This is kind of my reaction to watching that video. It's kind of like, well we don't understand how the mind works, and we don't really understand quantum mechanics, so the two must be connected. It's a giant (il)logical leap to connect the two. There's no reason, beyond Penrose's somewhat faulty reasoning involving mathematical proofs*, to believe that the brain isn't a machine that can produce the subjective experience of consciousness. It's a highly unscientific speculative leap.

*The really interesting question raised by this is why are there provable theorems that are not computable? I'm pretty comfortable with incompleteness, and also unprovability, but there's a funny middle ground where a statement isn't computable but still has a known proof. I don't think there's a whole lot of mystery about how humans prove theorems. I've worked with mathematicians, and the process of proving a difficult theorem mostly involves the ability to see patterns and the fortitude to spend years chasing down wrong paths or partially wrong paths until you see a right one.
 
Everything at its basic level is connected to quantum mechanics , all matter at its basic level is made of quantum so therefore is it illogical to say the mind is too ?
 
If we don't understand quantum mechanics and we don't understand the mind its like saying we don't understand anything at all , Its progress in science at least.
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
Being connected to something does not necessarily mean anything more than that. It does not mean that connection is interesting, or useful.

Life is connected to water. This does not mean if you are nice to water it will be nice to you. One cannot make arbitrary anthropomorphisms just because there is a "connection".

An orange is "connected" to quantum mechanics. This means absolutely zero to the orange, or our experience of that orange.
 

deirdre

Senior Member.
Everything at its basic level is connected to quantum mechanics , all matter at its basic level is made of quantum so therefore is it illogical to say the mind is too ?
'mind' isn't matter. with a big stretch *maybe* we can refer to it as energy, but... the engine is energy (neurons) but not the thought. the thought is nothing, which I know ties into the void, but it doesn't really.
 

deirdre

Senior Member.
behind all matter is mind, everything is energy ,everything is consciousness?
well to me the idea of 'consciousness' is just a delusion. it doesn't exist. it is a construct of the program.

edit I might be using construct wrong, vocabulary isn't my strong suit
 
I don't think its possible with the human brain to understand . People have glimpses into true reality, I have had , but I lost it and now the memories are fading.
 
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