Thursday, October 30, 2014

Quantum theory and consciousness

     Quantum theory and  consciousness

     Efstratios Manousakis is member of the Department of Physics, Florida State University, in Tallahassee. He has written a paper, Founding quantum theory on the basis of consciousness [1], which purports to show that a Global Stream of Consciousness guarantees our observations of quantum events.
     In his introduction he writes,
     Von Neumann[2], using projection operators and density matrices as tools to describe the apparent statistical character of measurement, was able to show that the assumed boundary separating the observing instrument and the so-called observed object can be arbitrarily shifted and, therefore, ultimately the observer becomes the “abstract ego” (in Von Neumann’s terms) of the observer.
     He goes on to write,
     In this paper quantum theory (more generally, the description of nature) is founded on the framework of the operation and on the primary ontological character of consciousness, rather than founding consciousness on the laws of physics. It is discussed that quantum theory follows naturally by starting from how consciousness operates upon a state of potential consciousness and more generally how it relates to the emergence or manifestation and our experience of matter. In addition, it is argued that the problem of measurement and the paradoxes of quantum theory arise due to our poor understanding of the nature and the operation of consciousness.
     It seems to me that Von Neumann’s theorem and Schrödinger’s Cat together imply that the observer has no special status. The wave function collapses when a quantum event occurs. That quantum event results in a chain of events, the last of which is the observation. I see no reason to infer that the observer has an ontological status different from the instrument. That is, the instrument would record the event whether or not an observer was present.
     An instrument is an entity whose state changes whenever it interacts with its environment. Every such interaction requires some exchange of energy. Quantum events are changes in local energy, one quantum at a time. This implies that any entity is an instrument. Hence von Neumann’s theorem. What we think of as an instrument is an assemblage of such entities constructed to magnify the energy changes until they affect our senses.
     As von Neumann shows, we, the observers, are the last in a chain of energy exchanges. We need not be. We could be entirely absent. But the changes would still occur, and the instrument would still change state. For that matter, the instrument need not be present. The quantum events would still occur. That quantum events are in principle unpredictable is irrelevant. What matters is that they happen.
     What’s more, we believe firmly that those events do in fact occur. Otherwise we wouldn’t trouble to invent ways of detecting them.
     Manousakis introduces a number of concepts, such as “potential consciousness”, “stream of consciousness”, etc. These amount to a claim of special ontological status for the conscious observer. He constructs an argument to imply a Global Consciousness which binds all our individual streams of consciousness together. This amounts to a variation of Berkeley’s argument for the existence of God. The use of quantum theory doesn’t make the argument any more valid than Berkeley’s version.

2. Efstratios Manousakis, Founding quantum theory on the basis of consciousness, (Found. Phys. 36 (6)). Also published on line: DOI: 10.1007/s10701-006-9049-9 http://dx/

1. J. Von Neumann, Mathematical Foundations of Quantum Mechanics, Chap. VI, pg. 417 (Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1955).

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