Chapter 4. Quantum Theory and Consciousness
The connection between quantum theory and consciousness has several threads. The measurement theory of von Neumann and the quantum brain models of Hameroﬀ and Penrose have been of historical interest, while the quantum vacuum theory of mind is of special relevance to this book. In this chapter we survey these threads.
4.1. Measurement Theory
Measurement theory has several stages of evolution: von Neumann (1932), Eugene Wigner (1961, 1963, 1976), Henry P. Stapp (1993, 2007). and ongoing.
4.1.1 John von Neumann (1903-1957)
In 1932, John von Neumann put quantum mechanics on a ﬁrm mathematical basis in his book, Mathematische Grundlagen der Quantenmechanik, published in English in 1955. This contained not only the mathematical formalism of unitary operators on Hilbert spaces, in Chapter II, but also a theory of measurement, in Chapters V and VI. Here he created an interpretation of quantum physics (called the orthodox interpretation) in which the conscious will or free choices of the experimentalist played a crucial role. He introduced the dual nature of quantum mechanics in two processes, called Process 1 and Process 2:
Another type of intervention in material systems, in contrast to the discontinuous, non-causal and instantaneously acting experiments or measurements, is given by the time dependent Schrodinger diﬀerential equation. This describes how the system changes continuously and causally in the course of time, if its total energy is known.45
This text is written for mathematical physicists, and we are indebted to a few critical readers for commentaries. For example, from Henry P. Stapp,
In John von Neumann’s rigorous mathematical formulation of quantum mechanics the eﬀects of these free choices upon the physically described world are speciﬁcally called ‘interventions’ (von Neumann 1955, pp. 358, 418). These choices are ’‘free’ in the sense that they are not coerced, ﬁxed, or determined by the physically described aspects of the theory. Yet these choices ...have potent eﬀects ...46 45von Neumann, 1955; p. 347. 46Stapp, 2007; p. 10.
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And according to Menas Kafatos and Robert Nadeau,
In 1932, John von Neumann developed another version of quantum measurement theory. In this version, the assumption is that both the quantum system and the measurement devices are describable in terms of what Bohr viewed as only one complementary aspect of the total reality – the wave function. In the absence of a mechanistic description of when and how the collapse of the wave function occurs, von Neumann concluded that it must occur in the consciousness of human beings.47
In other words, the continuous aspect of a quantum system is supported by a rigorous mathematical theory, the measurements are not.48
4.1.2 Eugene Wigner (1902-1995)
In 1961, Eugene P. Wigner (Nobel Prize in Physics, 1963) published the ﬁrst of three commentaries on the von Neumann interpretation. Here he asked the question: If consciousness plays a role in quantum theory, whose consciousness is it?49 Then in 1963, he studied the weaknesses of the orthodox interpretation, and concluded,
The principal conceptual weakness of the orthodox view is, in my opinion, that it merely abstractly postulates interactions ...For some observables, in fact the majority of them (such as xypz), nobody seriously believes that a measuring apparatus exists.50
Finally, in 1976, Wigner analyzes further problems of the orthodox interpretation.51
4.1.3 Henry P. Stapp
In The Mindful Universe of 2007, Henry Stapp presents a deeply insightful review of the orthodox interpretation of Von Neumann, informed by a detailed understanding of the mathematics involved. This continues for some 84 pages, until Chapter 13, which presents his own interpretation. This signiﬁcantly extends the work of von Neumann and Wigner, and connects them with the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead. His interpretation connects
47(Kafatos, 2000; p. 38) 48For additional commentary, see (Redei, 2001) and (Stapp, 2007; App. B). 49See (Stapp, 2007; App. C). 50(Wheeler, 1983; p. 338) 51(Wheeler, 1983; p. 297), (Wolf, 1981; Ch. 13)
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signiﬁcantly with our model of consciousness as well. In summarizing Whitehead’s process ontology, Stapp says,
The central idea in Whitehead’s philosophy is his notion of process ...Thus in Whiteheadian process the world of ﬁxed and settled facts grows via a sequence of actual occasions. The past actualities generate potentialities for the next actual occasion, which speciﬁes a new spacetime standpoint (region) from which the potentialities created by the past actualities will be prehended (grasped) by the current occasion. This basic autogenetic process creates the new actual entity, which, upon its creation, contributes to the potentialities for the succeeding actual occasions. Nature’s process assigns a separate spacetime region to each actual entity, and this process ﬁlls up, step-by-step, the spacetime region lying in the past of the advancing sequence of spacelike surfaces ‘now’, as indicated in Fig. 13.1. [Our Fig. 4.1.] The bottom curvy line represents the (spacelike) three-dimensional surface ‘now’ that separates at some stage of the process of creation the spacetime region corresponding to the ﬁxed and settled past from the region corresponding to the potential future.52
Following this summary, Stapp steps forward from non-relativistic quantum theory (NRQT) to the relativistic quantum ﬁeld theory (RQFT) of Tomonaga and Schwinger.
In the relativistic case the wavy line in Fig. 13.1 represents some initial surface σ, an initial NOW. In the dynamical evolution of the quantum state this surface pushes continuously forward ﬁrst through the spacetime region labeled 1. This unitary evolution, via the relativistic generalization of the Schroedinger equation, leaves undisturbed the aspects of the state Ψ(σ) associated with the rest of the initial surface σ. Then a new quantum ‘reduction’ event occurs. ...The evolutionary process then advances the surface NOW next through region 2, then through region 3, etc.53
Here we see the connection with Von Neumann’s process 1 and process 2. And the regions of the past/future interface comprise the quantum foam that is fundamental to process physics. More recently, Stapp has applied his interpretation of quantum mechanics to consciousness.55
52(Stapp, 2007; p. 91) 53(Stapp, 2007; p. 92) 55(Stapp, 2009; Chs. 13, 14)
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Figure 4.1. A representation of the spacetime aspects of the Whiteheadian process of creation.54
4.1.4 Recent works
In recent works on the foundations of quantum mechanics, measurement theory is also known as the measurement problem. The problem is, there is as yet no satisfactory theory of measurement!. In one of the most lucid texts on the subject, George Greenstein and Arthur Zajonc write,
In this chapter we encounter a new situation. Throughout this book, we have found quantum mechanics adequate to deal with the extraordinary nature of the quantum world as revealed by modern research. But in this chapter, we will describe a topic that quantum theory ﬁnds exceedingly diﬃcult to deal with. Indeed, many physicists believe that the theory cannot deal with it; and that its failure to do so points to a grave defect in the theory. The topic to which we refer is the act of making a measurement. Which measurement? Any measurement.56
A measurement is interpreted as a discontinuous change in the state of the system, as described by its wave function. Described conventionally as a collapse of the wave function, this is one of the mainstays of the orthodox interpretation of quantum mechanics, as described above. Continuing, Greenstein and Zajonc write,
We conclude that the collapse of the wave function occupies an anomalous position within quantum mechanics. It is required by the fact that observations
56(Greenstein, 2006; Ch. 8, p. 215)
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occur, but it is not predicted by quantum theory. It is an additional postulate, which must be made in order that quantum mechanics be consistent.57
Regarding this passage, science theorist Karen Barad comments,
This additional postulate is called the ”projection postulate,” and it is an ad hoc addendum to the theory introduced by the mathematician John von Neumann. ... In what sense, if any, does the projection postulate account for the ”collapse”? In essence, the projection postulate is nothing more than a mathematical restatement of the alleged collapse of the wave function; that is, it is a formal statement to the eﬀect that upon measurement we get a deﬁnite value for the property measured (that is, the measuring instrument’s ”pointer” points in the direction of one out of all possible eigenvalues). Many physicists and philosophers of physics endorse the projection postulate and take it to be a well-estabilshied feature of the so-called Copenhagen interpretation.58
We are going to return now to Wigner’s idea, that measurement involves the entanglement of the quantum system with consciousness. Note that this entanglement is an aspect of the mind/body problem, the resolution of which is one of the target goals for our model of consciousness presented in Part Two.
4.2. Consciousness and the Quantum Brain
In the ﬁeld of consciousness studies there is a long tradition of materialism, in which there is an identiﬁcation of mind (or individual consciousness) with the brain. The von Neumann/Wigner/Stapp interpretation of quantum mechanics is usually applied to consciousness in this materialist context, by calling upon quantum phenomena of the brain. The microscopic quantum neural network approach dates from Schroedinger (1949) and Ricciardi and Umezawa (1967).59
Connections between this interpretation of quantum mechanics and Eastern mysticism reached popular awareness in 1975 through the immensely popular and inﬂuential book, The Tao of Physics, by Fritjof Capra. A further step in this direction soon followed, in which the brain/mind is viewed as a macroscopic quantum system. This approach has been advocated by Stuart Hameroﬀ (1987) and by Roger Penrose (1989, 1994). A noteworthy hybrid view has been put forward by Amit Goswami in 1990.
57(Greenstein, 2006; p. 221) 58(Barad, 2007; pp. 285-286) 59See also (Wolf, 1981; Ch. 14).
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In the past few years it has become increasingly clear to me that the only view of the brain-mind that is complete and consistent in its explanatory power is this: The brain-mind is an interactive system with both classical and quantum components. These components interact within a basic idealist framework in which consciousness is primary.60
This is getting close to our own view, manifest in the dynamical cellular network model for consciousness described in Part Two of this book. However, the materialist view must assume that a mental state or thought is a physical state in the material brain. Only then may physical forces, macro or microscopic, be called upon to explain the mind/brain connection.
However, we postulate (on the global scale) a primary consciousness, the ´Siva tattva, which is quantum-like, and a classical part, the a¯k¯a´sa tattva, which embraces the universe of matter and energy. No physical force may mitigate between the immaterial mind and the material brain. Only mathematical connections will suﬃce.
4.3. Consciousness and the Quantum Vacuum
Our model is inspired by the quantum vacuum, so let us now review the precursor literature. The ﬁrst connection between consciousness and the quantum vacuum that we know was made by Ervin Laszlo. In l’Ipotesi del Campo Ψ of 1987, a continuous ﬁeld (as in Chapter 3 above) is posed as the carrier of extrasensory perception. But in The Creative Cosmos of 1993, Laszlo made the explicit identiﬁcation of this ﬁeld as the quantum vacuum.61 This idea is further evolved in eight sequel books to date,
• The Interconnected Universe, 1995, • The Whispering Pond, 1996, • The Connectivity Hypothesis, 2003, • Science and the Akashic Field, 2004, • Science and the Reenchantment of the Cosmos, 2006, • Quantum Shift in the Global Brain, 2008, • Cosmos: A Co-Creators Guide to the Whole World (with Jude Currivan), 2008, and • The Akashic Experience: Science and the Cosmic Memory Field, 2009.
The background of Laszlo’s innovation of 1993 is given in his Introduction to The Creative Cosmos,
60(Goswami, 1993; p. 164) 61See (Laszlo, 1993; p. 89).
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This study tackles what in my view is the fundamental question of scientiﬁc inquiry into the nature of reality. ...That question is how the things that are, have become what they are. ... As it happened, the insight on which this book is based came to me one quiet evening in the summer of 1986 as I was sitting in the company of a few close friends and colleagues under a sky of inﬁnite depth and clarity on the shores of the Mediterranean.62
Further, in 2004, he wrote in an autobiographical essay,
Notwithstanding these activities and commitments, I remained faithful to my basic quest. When in 1984 I left the UN for the Tuscan Hills, I took stock of how far I got. I found that I needed to go further. ...With this in mind I set about reviewing the latest ﬁndings in quantum physics, evolutionary biology, cosmology, and consciousness research. Before long, I became convinced that Whitehead’s concept of internal relations is entirely sound. The natural systems of this world are indeed strongly — internally, intrinsically and even nonlocally — connected and correlated with each other. Internal relations also apply to the human world. They apply even to our consciousness. This was brought home to me by a personal experience that I recounted in 1993 in the Preface to The Creative Cosmos and will not repeat here. Although a mystical experience does not provide proof of internal relations between one’s mind and the minds of others, it does provide an incentive to study the possibility that such relations exist. This consideration became part of my explorations in the years that followed. The books I produced in this Tuscan period include The Creative Cosmos (1993), The Interconnected Universe (1995), The Whispering Pond (1997-98), and The Connectivity Hypothesis (2003). In these books I marshal evidence that systems in the world are intrinsically interconnected, and suggest the reason for it. The ﬁeld theory I developed supplies that reason: it argues that the connections and correlations that come to light in the physical and the life sciences, the same as the transpersonal ties that emerge in experimental parapsychology and consciousness research, have one and the same root: the subtle but entirely fundamental information ﬁeld associated with the quantum vacuum, the deepest and most fundamental level of physical reality in the universe.63
The quantum vacuum is a seething froth sparkling with elementary particles emerging from nowhere in pairs, and after a very short time, vanishing again as they came. It is not really a continuous geometrical space, nor a ﬁeld like the four fundamental ﬁelds of mathematical physics. However, associated with this seething froth is a continuous ﬁeld of energy, called the zero-point energy (or ZPE) ﬁeld. It is this ﬁeld that Laszlo proposes as the physical
62(Laszlo, 1993; p. 15) 63(Laszlo, 2004b; p. 7)
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substrate of psi phenomena, the ‘entirely fundamental information ﬁeld associated with the quantum vacuum.’
However the entanglement of mind and body is achieved — by the mathematical ﬁction of a wave function, or that of the quantum vacuum or ZPE ﬁeld, that of a dynamical cellular network beyond space and time, or even by the intention of the ´Siva tattva — it must be counted a sort of psychokinesis, a paranormal phenomenon. So we turn now to a survey of so-called paranormal phenomena, to place the mind/body problem in its proper context.