Finding quantum consciousness


A commenter on The golden tree of bullshit said some things about Quantum Consciousness which I don’t understand.

All my life I’ve lived in both the physical and spiritual world leaving me a bit spacey. I’ve always known I was part of something bigger than my own self but had to call the feeling God or Goddess even though the names didn’t fit. After much research I found Quantum Physics which calls what I feel the Quantum Consciousness. At last a scientific explanation for what I do and who I am.

I don’t understand any of that, to tell the truth. As I said in reply, I too know I’m part of something bigger than my own self, in fact many things –

The human species, the animal kingdom, the layer of life on this planet, the galaxy, the cosmos…History; the loose community of people who like to read and think and talk about stuff; nature…and more.

But I certainly don’t have to call the feeling (and it’s not just a feeling, it’s an obvious fact) god, nor does it leave me a bit spacey. (Other things do that.) I can’t begin to understand what that or what Connie mentions has to do with quantum physics, or why quantum physics would call what Connie feels quantum consciousness. I’m lost in a maze here.

So of course I turned to my friend, Google, which offered me Deepak Chopra (just as I expected), and Stuart Hameroff and Roger Penrose. I have no idea whether the latter item makes any kind of sense or not. Google also offered me Victor Stenger, with whom I once shared the weird Hyatt view-of-the-air-terminal elevator in Orlando last month, and who gave me the fish eye both times I spoke to him. Stenger says it’s bullshit, which is what I thought.

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 .

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.

…alas, quantum consciousness has about as much substance as the aether from which it is composed. Early in this century, quantum mechanics and Einstein’s relativity destroyed the notion of a holistic universe that had seemed within the realm of possibility in the century just past. First, Einstein did away with the aether, shattering the doctrine that we all move about inside a universal, cosmic fluid whose excitations connect us simultaneously to one another and to the rest of the universe. Second, Einstein and other physicists proved that matter and light were composed of particles, wiping away the notion of universal continuity. Atomic theory and quantum mechanics demonstrated that everything, even space and time, exists in discrete bits – quanta. To turn this around and say that twentieth century physics initiated some new holistic view of the universe is a complete misrepresentation of what actually took place.

The final sentence of the piece:

The myth of quantum consciousness should take its place along with gods, unicorns, and dragons as yet another product of the fantasies of people unwilling to accept what science, reason, and their own eyes tell them about the world.

Aww.

Well I’ll just go on realizing I’m a part (a very damn small one) of a lot of other bigger things, and let it go at that.

 

 

Comments

  1. says

    A commenter on The golden tree of bullshit said some things about Quantum Consciousness which I don’t understand.

    Sorry to correct you. But your comment said some things that your comment does not understand. You clearly understand it quite well, given the title of that post.

  2. says

    Which one?! :- )

    I was talking about the comment that you partly quoted, the one about quantum consciousness.

    Firstly, quantum consciousness is at best, a very tentative hypothesis with few proponents. And, secondly, the quantum consciousness hypothesis doesn’t really explain what your commenter thinks it explains.

  3. says

    Quantum electrodynamics is really difficult to understand and has concepts that are *weird*, which is why it’s difficult to understand, I think.

    So it’s a good place to slip in a little woo. Particles come and go, shit is rather unpredictable…thus dog.

    Stenger is the resource on this mind-bending subject. I’m reading Stenger’s latest now. I recommend it.

  4. Chris says

    This brings back memories.

    In the early 90’s (20 years ago!) several members of my family got into this sort of New Age crap. Ironically I was at uni studying quantum mechanics at the time. I would come home to have my sister tell me all about how quantum mechanics says that thoughts create reality, that matter is just vibrational frequencies, that nothing exists without consciousness etc etc.

    I would try to explain to her that it doesn’t say these things and she would just smile and say “Well, that’s just your paradigm.” Urgh. to claim I would then try to argue that if you are going that science supports your beliefs, you have to use the scientific paradigm. To which she would assert that science does support it.

    My family (who fortunately recovered a few years later) came to all this nonsense through &*%$#@^ Amway, via self-help books, and liked the idea that you can control reality and make everything turn out just how you want. (If this worked for me, kiwi fruit would be in season all year and Time Team would be on the tele every single day.)

    This is a really popular idea, to the extent that people will happily believe that they are responsible for their own illnesses and misfortune, rather than accept that sometime bad things happen and there is little you can do about it. I think this is a really important aspect of these beliefs. They are, in a way, the flip side of belief in witchcraft. People want to believe everything has a cause. Someone (can’t remember who) once said we’d rather accept culpability than chaos.

    Some of my greenie friends also liked the idea that life is central to the universe (possibly not realising quite how big the universe is) and that we are connected to everything in some sort of spiritual way. But they were hippies.

  5. Chris says

    Also, a common misunderstanding of quantum (based on some of the popularised versions) is that the uncertainty principle says that matter doesn’t assume a fixed state until it interacts with consciousness. From there, it is an easy step to a lot of twaddle. This idea, of course, assumes consciousness is some sort of special thing outside of material existence, then goes on to ‘prove’ what it has just assumed, in a classic example of circular reasoning.

    Finally, this idea that quantum undermines reductionism only works if you assume reductionism means anything you don’t like. Quantum no more invalidates classical physics that relativity. Relativity reduces to Newtonian mechanics at low speeds, just as quantum reduces to classical physics at a macroscopic level. In fact, to assume that you can use the properties of the most basic particle to predict the behaviour of matter at a macroscopic level is classic reductionism.

  6. Jim Lloyd says

    I agree that most discussions of quantum consciousness can be dismissed as pure woo. But I highly recommend Neal Stephenson’s book Anathem, which employs quantum consciousness in a delightful way.

  7. NateHevens says

    I need to seriously start reading Victor Stenger. I got into it with a Pseudoquantum Woomeister at FAU recently, and he actually tried to say that Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking agreed with him. I managed to call his bluff on that one, in front of a few people, in fact (seeing him suddenly become so very aware that we had an audience, specifically because they started laughing when I called his bluff, made it nearly impossible for me not to pat myself on the back right then and there… :D), but it would have been nice to have Victor Stenger at the ready, as well.

    I hate these people with such an unwavering passion it’s not even funny. They make me almost as angry as Creationists do.

    What part of “coincidences happen. Get over it” do they not understand?

    Also, why the feck are they so damn arrogant as to think that this giant frickin’ universe, with it’s uncountable number of galaxies, stars, and planets, somehow exists specifically for a little tiny portion of a little tiny amount of life on a little tiny speck of dust of a planet in a wholly average, uninteresting galaxy in a wholly average, uninteresting galactic neighborhood?

    Can we say anthropocentric?

  8. Robert B. says

    Chris: Sadly, that’s not “some of the popularized versions,” that’s the Copenhagen interpretation, and for some reason lots of very intelligent experts believe in it. (Many Copenhagenists prefer to claim that they privilege “measurement,” not “consciousness,” but first of all that’s not much better and second of all they’re not looking at all the data – there are experiments that reduce our options to Many Worlds or flat-out dualism.) The Copenhagen interpretation is probably the biggest failure of philosophy of the 20th century – certainly the biggest failure of philosophy of science.

    Anyway, to be more OT, I think the original motivation for invoking quantum physics in this context is that it overturns strict determinism, and determinism is considered a challenge to free will. But not everything that contradicts determinism is a theory of soul such as wooish people want. Quantum phenomena are just random. Does anyone really think that acting randomly is more like “free will” than acting predictably?

  9. Robert B. says

    Er, and technically, Chris, the uncertainty principle is something else. But that’s not really important to your point or mine.

  10. Andrew G. says

    second of all they’re not looking at all the data – there are experiments that reduce our options to Many Worlds or flat-out dualism.

    Which experiments are you thinking of?

  11. Dave says

    I think the important point is, no matter how incomprehensible the universe is to our feeble meatsack brains, that doesn’t give us a licence to invent blibbly explanations of why it all feels so strange. It feels strange because our consciousness is a haphazardly evolved product of hominid evolution on a small planet in a tiny corner of the vast, inhospitable emptiness of space. We are wired to be good at a range of tasks from identifying ripe fruit to figuring out what the guys in the next cave are thinking; everything else is just busking it.

  12. Robert B. says

    How embarassing… I was thinking of this, but I seem to have misrepresented it. Either the article I read for Quantum class back in college was wrong, or I read it wrongly – I was thinking the “erasure” was a computer deleting data before a human saw it. Instead, it refers to a setup where the actual photons are shuffled together to make it impossible to know certain things about them. That information has been “erased” in that it’s been made impossible to observe and record, not that such a record has been deleted.

    If the deleted-computer-record experiment never happened, then the Copenhagen interpretation is not forced into dualism as I said. Rather, the choice seems to be between Many Worlds or causation backwards in time. (Except it would be quite a toothless form of “causation” – you could never send any actual information back in time. In fact, no one in the past could possibly know this “effect” had happened until they got to the future and saw the “cause.” How convenient!)

    This is still bad for Copenhagen, but it’s also quite off-topic – there’s nothing to do with consciousness here at all. If I’d researched before opening my mouth rather than afterward, I wouldn’t have brought it up.

  13. says

    Penrose is a troubling example of a brilliant person who occasionally just makes stuff up and then writes vast books to defend what turn out to be pretty spurious arguments. His work on consciousness has always struck me as manic wishful thinking. He seems to have a vaguely pantheistic outlook, which might be what fuels this: he’s on record as saying that the universe must have some sort of purpose and didn’t get here by chance. Troubling since I admire him in many other ways, but can’t go along with much of his nonsense.

  14. Andrew G. says

    Penrose’s nonsense on consciousness is probably just another case of “Nobel disease”, as it’s known in some circles.

    Part of the problem I suspect is that dualism dies hard – people insist on treating consciousness as being somehow “magic”.

  15. GM says

    Sorry for being a bit off topic, but I just finished reading “Mother of God” by Luna Tarlo, who is the mother of Andrew Cohen, founder of Enlightnnext (Snafu linked an article above from Enlightennext.org). Andrew and his followers basically believes he is God or The Enlightened One on earth. He convinced his mother to become one of his disciples, and in the book she recounts the abuse and humiliation Andrew inflicts on his devotees on a regular basis.

    And yet he still has mainstream support, even from some buddhist atheists. His cohort Ken Wilbur, who fully supports Andrew’s methods of ‘teaching’, has several books recommended on Sam Harris’ website.

    (When I saw Wilbur’s books there I recommended Luna’s book, and also American Guru: A Story of Love, Betrayal and Healing by William Yenner, which they did at to the list.)

    If you follow Snafu’s link to the “Scientific Proof of the Existence of God” article, click on About in the upper right and you can get a glimpse of God himself.

  16. says

    Penrose’s nonsense on consciousness is probably just another case of “Nobel disease”, as it’s known in some circles.

    Part of the problem I suspect is that dualism dies hard – people insist on treating consciousness as being somehow “magic”.

    I suspect you’re right on both counts.

  17. Shatterface says

    After much research I found Quantum Physics which calls what I feel the Quantum Consciousness. At last a scientific explanation for what I do and who I am.

    That’s not a scientific explanation, its just a pseudoscientific name for something she already believed in.

    Its like saying ‘I used to believe in magic but now I’ve discovered that it’s actually something scientific called ‘telekinesis’.

  18. Snoof says

    But I highly recommend Neal Stephenson’s book Anathem, which employs quantum consciousness in a delightful way.

    To be fair, Anathem doesn’t privilege consciousness as in some way special. Quantum weirdness (in the book) happens whether or not there’s a conscious observer involved or not. It’s more that conscious brains exploit quantum weirdness, kind of similar to how photosynthesis exploits quantum tunnelling in order.

    At least, that’s what I took out of it.

    It also helps that Anathem doesn’t pretend to be anything other than fiction.

  19. Snoof says

    Aaaugh. Teach me to click submit early. That should be “kind of similar to how photosynthesis exploits quantum tunnelling in order to improve efficiency”.

  20. h. hanson says

    My mother goes in for this quantum nonsense and when I try to explain that it does not apply to the macro world she gets upset and says she believes because she has an open mind. Apparently anyone who asks for evidence for her wacky beliefs is small minded.
    She also thinks that that human consciousness could not have evolved without the help of spacemen. I asked how a spaceman got consciousness and I just get a dirty look.
    I am disgusted by her refusal to be rational.

  21. says

    You know, I have to wonder if “Connie” is actually someone who works for Prometheus Books.

    Just kidding, but really, it’s so convenient. See that big ad at the top of the page?

    It just so happens that Victor Stenger addresses everything Connie said in the first few pages of his 2009 book Quantum Gods. I’ll be quoting from it and talking about it, as well as doing the same to his new book (cf ad at top of page).

    It’s soooo convenient.

    :- D

  22. says

    Here in Canada we have a quantum quack who

    “… claims not only that people can heal themselves merely by their intentions, but that anyone can heal anyone else simply by focusing their intentions, even at great distances between the ‘sender’ and ‘receiver’ of those intentions. Furthermore, he claims that the focused intentions of many people can even effect the environment, such as by reducing the size of tsunami waves. I’m not joking, I’m talking about a young Canadian who calls himself DreamHealer.

    “Dreamhealer, for those who have not yet heard of this new-age ‘healer’, is the pseudonym of Adam McLeod, a young man from the Vancouver area in British Columbia. Adam’s claim to fame is that he can supposedly heal people by manipulating their energy or aura. He purports to be a trance healer and distance healer. He claims not only that he can heal others great distances away, but that he can also facilitate the healing of everyone in a large group by merging all of their energy or auras together. Perhaps his most famous claim, at least here in Canada, and one that he has been milking for years, is that he healed the musician, Ronnie Hawkins, of pancreatic cancer even though they were thousands of miles apart when the healing sessions took place. Skeptics, however, point out several other possible explanations for Hawkins’ apparent cancer remission and even dispute whether Hawkins ever had cancer in the first place.”

    http://chainthedogma.blogspot.ca/2010/10/quakes-quacks-and-kidnappers-baptists.html

  23. Jim Lloyd says

    To be fair, Anathem doesn’t privilege consciousness as in some way special. Quantum weirdness (in the book) happens whether or not there’s a conscious observer involved or not.

    Anathem’s assumed model of the ‘polycosm’ is sophisticated. It assumes that that an infinite number of classical universes (‘narratives’ or ‘world tracks’) exist and that ones that are very similar have quantum crosstalk. I believe this is consistent with the Many-Worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics.

    The book employs the notion of ‘Hemn’ space, which I believe is closely related to Hilbert space. For theoretical discussions, we assume that the complete state of the entire (classical) universe at a given moment in time can be encoded as a single point in the Hemn space.

    If you are with me so far, then this quote from the book does a great job of distilling what quantum consciousness is:

    If Hemn space is the landscape, and one cosmos is a single geometric point in it, then a given consciousness is a spot of light moving, like a searchlight beam, over that landscape–brightly illuminating a set of points–of cosmi–that are close together, with a penumbra that rapidly feathers away to darkness at the edges. In the bright center of the beam, crosstalk occurs among many variants of the brain. Fewer contributions come in from the half-lit periphery, and none from the shadows beyond.

    This theory is used to explain, among other things, the common experience of suddenly achieving clarity over a previously difficult to understand concept. I don’t give any serious credence to this, but I will admit that it appeals to me and has just enough plausibility to make me want to believe it is true. But before anyone dismisses Anathem as promoting woo, note that the book also does an excellent job of explaining the principle of “Diax’s Rake”: Never believe a thing simply because you want it to be true.

  24. says

    Isn’t there already an explanation for the common experience of suddenly achieving clarity over a previously difficult to understand concept? Unconscious processing?

  25. Evan Bettencourt says

    I remember reading somewhere that those “aha!” moments are believed to be the result of a specific protein gate in the neuronal wall that only serves to link two incoming signals whenever they arrive “simultaneously”, i.e., within a few milliseconds.

    Not finding anything about it on my cursory Google search, but then again I’m already late for work so I’ll admit I’m not really looking that hard.

  26. Lyanna says

    “Quantum consciousness” is a good example of people trying to sound profound without really knowing what they’re talking about.

    Victor Stenger, though, seems to be indulging in spin a bit at the end of his answer, in his endeavor to squash “holistic” theories he sees as woolly:

    Second, Einstein and other physicists proved that matter and light were composed of particles, wiping away the notion of universal continuity.

    Isn’t that rather misleading? I’m no physicist, but it seems that most physicists view matter and light as displaying wave-particle duality and that it’s essential to be able to view electrons and photons as both or either, depending on the circumstances. This means energy can be viewed as discrete (particles), but also that matter can be viewed as continuous (waves). And indeed there are some physicists who argue that a wave-only model is better.

  27. Jim Lloyd says

    Isn’t there already an explanation for the common experience of suddenly achieving clarity over a previously difficult to understand concept? Unconscious processing?

    Sure. I really liked the explanation that Jeff Hawkins described in On Intelligence, which while still somewhat speculative, is serious nonfiction. I read the book five or six years ago, and later spent a little time studying Bayesian Networks (for which Judea Pearl won the most recent Turing Award), so the explanation that follows is just my own rehashing of the idea I initially read in On Intelligence.

    The neocortex is composed of many copies of clusters of neurons that receive both sensory input (evidence) from below, and expectations from above, and output a form of decision as to the best explanation given evidence and expectations. All three of these should be considered probability vectors. In Bayesian terminology, the expectation is a priori probabilities and the output explanation is a posteriori probabilities. A given cluster might be biased by incorrect expectations and therefore draw the wrong conclusion. These clusters are interconnected with other clusters. The output/conclusion of one cluster can be either the sensory input of a cluster at a higher layer, or it might be an expectation input of a cluster at a lower layer. Thus, a few clusters that are generating the wrong outputs given real world evidence can propagate a distorted understanding over many interrelated clusters. But the right sensory input might cause a cluster to change its output to better reflect reality, and this can result in a cascading realignment.

    This seems to be a more likely explanation for suddenly achieving clarity and doesn’t need to posit any form of quantum consciousness. But Stephenson’s book is pure fiction and is very entertaining, while not deviating too far from plausibility.

  28. kev_s says

    The Feedback column in New Scientist frequently reports examples of what it terms ‘fruitloopery’. A common indicator of fruitloopery is when the word ‘quantum’ is used indiscriminately. Which leads to the specialized subject of “Quantum Fruitloopery” or QFL for short.
    (It sounds more scientific when it’s an acronym, doesn’t it?. :-) )
    http://quantumfruitloopery.com/

  29. says

    GM @ #19 said:

    “Sorry for being a bit off topic, but I just finished reading ‘Mother of God’ by Luna Tarlo, who is the mother of Andrew Cohen, founder of Enlightnnext (Snafu linked an article above from Enlightennext.org). Andrew and his followers basically believes he is God or The Enlightened One on earth. He convinced his mother to become one of his disciples, and in the book she recounts the abuse and humiliation Andrew inflicts on his devotees on a regular basis.”

    Sometime in that era of New Age consciousness known as the 1970s, I fell off my chair laughing when the TV newsreader announced, while somehow managing to keep a poker face, that the Guru Maharaj Ji had been sacked from his position as Lord of All the Universe. And who did the sacking? His mother.

    Apparently his youthful passion for fast cars and women was considered conduct unbecoming. Also, his Divine Light Mission was turning over millions per year, and the scandal and disillusionment threatened to unbecome that as well.

    No matter how high you rise in life, your mother is still above you. True at least for some.

    http://www.ex-premie.org/pages/hinduismtoday83.htm

  30. F says

    The Michelson–Morley experiment pretty much disproved the aether before Einstein (and they were looking to prove it existed). Space is the only aether.

  31. mnb0 says

    @31: This means energy can be viewed as discrete (particles), but also that matter can be viewed as continuous (waves).

    These waves are merely a probability distribution of place, basically telling us what the chance is where to find those particles. It depends on the mathematical function that describes that probability distribution if we should call matter/energy discrete or continuous.
    Of course it’s a bit more complicated than this (besides place there is velocity; see Heisenberg), but it should do for now.

  32. musubk says

    Lyanna #31:

    I’m no physicist, but it seems that most physicists view matter and light as displaying wave-particle duality

    Stenger, for one, thinks the concept of wave-particle duality is mistaken, at least in the way it’s received by non-quantum physicists. He has this to say in his bok The Comprehensible Cosmos, page 183:

    The common refrain that is heard in elementary discussions of quantum mechanics is that a physical object is in some sense both a wave and a particle…
    But this is, at beat, misleading and, at worst, wrong. Whenever you detect photons, electrons, or other elementary objects, you are detecting localizable phenomenon. … When you plot the statistical distribution of hits, you will see the familiar diffraction pattern indicative of waves. From measurements of this pattern, you can obtain an effective “wavelength.”
    …In other words, measuring the wavelength, a wave property, is equivalent to measuring the momentum, normally thought of as a particle property. Furthermore, wave effects are seen in the probability distribution of an ensemble of particles and not a single object, particle or wave.
    Indeed, the concept of waves need never be introduced in fundamental physics – a point that was made by both Dirac and Feynman. In Dirac’s classic The Principles of Quantum Mechanics, the term wave function is mentioned just once – in a dismissive footnote: “The reason for this name [wave function] is that in the early days of quantum mechanics all the examples of those functions were of the form of waves. The name is not a descriptive one from the point of view of the modern general theory.”
    Feynman was similarly dismissive of waves. In his series of lectures before high school students that was published in a small book called QED, he remarked: “I want to emphasize that light comes in this form – particles. It is very important to know that light behaves like particles, especially for those of you who have gone to school, where you were probably told something about light behaving like waves. I’m telling you the way it does behave – like particles.”
    Quantum mechanics, in its conventional application, treats the interference pattern as a probability distribution of an ensemble of particles, not as the predictive behavior of a single entity called a “wave.” No etheric medium is doing any waving. The wave function lives in a multidimentional abstract space, not familiar space-time.”

  33. Lyanna says

    Musubk@38: thanks for the excerpt. But isn’t that, at best, a contested (among physicists) assertion by Stenger?

    @37: thanks for the explanation.

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