More On Quantum Consciousness

Human brains are built from ideas. Any change in such ideas is lots of work, thus pain, and is always resisted. Often viciously. The greater the change, the more vicious the backlash.

A contributor, “Disagreeable Me” (who had published an extensive essay on consciousness, Sept 1, 2014) rose strident objections to my thesis (found in preceding comments; such stridency is not new: I am used to violent critiques against Quantum Consciousness, in the last few decades that I have dragged this pet around). Here is some of the dialogue, raw (co-sent to Scientia Salon):


Disagreeable Me: “Most people seem to assume that their consciousness is in some way located in their brains. Personally, I agree with you that it is not a localized thing, but this is because I think consciousness is a property of a mind, and that a mind is an abstract object. 

That’s quite different meaning of the word, however. In quantum mechanics, non-locality means that effects seem to work instantaneously at a distance. I don’t see any reason for believing that consciousness has these attributes unless you want to bring up woo such as remote viewing or clairvoyance or mind-reading.”

Patrice: One could argue that all “objects” are “abstract” (or at least abstractions, in the mathematical sense Alonso Church gave that in the 1930s; Church was Turing’s thesis adviser). Abstraction is characterized by the stripping of secondary, inessential characteristics. So one may, indeed, loose localization. That’s vague (joke intended: vague = wave -> delocalized).

However, my point about localization is different. And precise. Brain delocalization is biologically grounded. The brain is, physiologically, a delocalized object.

The brain is made of many neighborhoods, and subsystems. Is the brain the temporal lobe? The cerebellum? The right brain? The frontal cortex? Clearly much of the brain is working all over, much of the time. Some parts get active, others go to sleep, other parts never stop (say those watching over basic functions such as breathing or neurohormonal cycles).

So, when we consider the brain, we consider something spatially spread out. Yet, the conscious feeling that emanates from it, what we call consciousness, somehow, is centralized. Consciousness is one, not multiple, not spread out, at any instant of time.

How to make one, out of many? This is a question that arises naturally when considering both brain, and consciousness.

One could object that the same can be said about a bridge. A bridge is an abstraction of many characteristics. Yet, what makes the perception of a bridge one? Consciousness.

If one focuses on one’s breathing and heart rate, as conscience can do, and commands them, the mind is then just about that. Conscience focuses on a (few) characteristic(s). One could say that conscience collapses on particular points.

Now think about the way a Quantum process enfolds: it’s about something wavy spread about that is processed, to become, in the end, just one.

This sole sentence abstracts the basic set-up of Quantum physics: “something wavy”: the wavefunction, the “spread about” is a Hilbert space; “processed” is about time as an evolution parameter; “in the end” is about collapse/decoherence; “the one” is the so called “particle state” that results.

The analogy with the contrast of the delocalized brain in an union with a focused, localized consciousness, free to localize inside the brain wherever it wills, jumps at me.


DM: …”the following sentence makes your meaning clearer. “If consciousness were not Quantum, it would have to be “classical”, that is, not fundamental.” So, you’re argument is that everything that is fundamental is quantum, and it is completely stupid to imagine that consciousness is not fundamental. 

This is largely meaningless to me. I don’t know what you mean by fundamental, and it is not obvious to me that everything that is fundamental is quantum. I might, for instance, claim that logic (i.e. the law of non-contradiction) is fundamental, but it would seem to be very strange to claim that logic is Quantum, whatever that would mean.”

Patrice: That’s indeed my argument. Although it’s not yet clear how exactly, all of Classical Mechanics, Relativity, and Thermodynamics have to emerge from Quantum Physics, I believe. I would call that Ultimate Unification (UU). (GUT, Grand Unified Theories, are less ambitious: they unify only at high energies; UU is a conjecture, right, but so is Langlands program in mathematics; nobody sneers at that.)

Right now, experimental research is exploring the transition from QM to CM, and has been honored with the 2012 Nobel Prize. (Haroche in Paris, for counting photons without disturbing them, and his colleague Wineland in Boulder, for doing quantum computing with ions, among other things.) We are very far from a full picture on how to implement UU (the Nobel committee recognized Haroche and Wineland’s works as first timid steps to the Quantum computer).

Logic is a vast subject. In 1936, two of the most advanced mathematicians (Birkhoff and Von Neumann) invented something they called Quantum Logic, doing away with the distributive law. I do not doubt, though, that logic is a form of empiricism (whether the one gets from reality, or… the imagination).

It’s curious that you mention the law of non-contradiction as fundamental (as Aristotle held, in contradiction with Heraclitus). Quantum Physics is well known to enjoy things that are alive and dead simultaneously. It seems rather contradictory to me that some don’t appreciate the contradiction.


DM: “What you call freedom I call randomness. Randomness is not freedom, but if nature is indeterministic then all objects are random anyway. Chaos theory suggests that small perturbations in complex systems such as brains can lead to radically different outcomes. “

Patrice: Agreed. Except that I do not confuse freedom and randomness. Randomness can help freedom, and vice versa, but they are not the same. Schopenhauer famously claimed he could not will what he willed. I beg to disagree: the wise will will what she wills, such is her definition. Higher reflectivity, and detachment from contingency, is what intelligence is all about.

I thank Disagreeable Me for giving me the occasion to become more conscious in the matter of consciousness (and offering me the occasion to make a quantum jump of understanding, etc.)

Patrice Ayme’

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16 Responses to “More On Quantum Consciousness”

  1. Ian Miller Says:

    Just because a lot of neurons are involved in a thought does not mean the thought is non-local, in the quantum mechanical sense. Similarly, just because it is asserted that a cat can be in some sort of superposition of “live/dead” does not mean it can be. That proposition was originally put forward to show that the state vector formalism, if carried to extremes, led to ridiculous outcomes. In the end, physicists seem happy with the ridiculous outcomes, but it hardly matters because by definition you cannot prove that state exists because it collapses with observation. This raises an even more ridiculous proposition: the quantum state collapsing depends on WHO is observing. After all, the can, while alive, can observe itself.

    To say that the brain functions are delocalised is certainly correct, provided we stick to the classical description of delocalisation. But you cannot say that consciousness is centralised, in the quantum sense. Consciousness may be one, but so what? The electron is one. The photon is one. The sphinx is one. Just because something is wavy, does not mean it is restricted to the quantum domain, as can be seen at the beach quite often.


    • gmax Says:

      As Patrice said, “wavy” is intrinsically delocalized. OK, lemme hit the beach


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      “Just because a lot of neurons are involved in a thought does not mean the thought is non-local, in the quantum mechanical sense.”
      Agreed. I believe actually that “thoughts” are geometrical objects made of brain stuff (for want of a better word).
      The sensation of feeling conscious is something else.

      “just because it is asserted that a cat can be in some sort of superposition of “live/dead” does not mean it can be. That proposition was originally put forward to show that the state vector formalism, if carried to extremes, led to ridiculous outcomes.”

      I know all of this. I just was pointing out it’s imprudent to claim that the law of contradiction is obvious. As it is, the Quantum formalism says that the law of non-contradiction is contradicted. OK, rather counter-intuitive. Bell Inequality.

      the quantum state collapsing depends on WHO is observing. After all, the cat, while alive, can observe itself.”
      Yes, this is known as Wigner Friend’ paradox, a very slight variation on the cat, himself a slight variation of Einstein’s gun powder proposition…

      I am not saying that consciousness is localized in a Quantum sense (what’s that, anyway? Quantum says nothing is localized, but for “states”). I am saying, or rather, observing, that consciousness is localized in a sentiment, sensation, or mental sense (except for the occasional sky high pothead).

      The electron, the photon are NOT localized. An electron in an orbital is not localized, as the orbital itself is a piece of space (around, or through the nucleus). Photons don’t stop for interviews either (except as conducted by potheads on the beach).

      Delocalization of electrons is central to conductivity, and, in particular superconductivity (BCS theory).


    • gmax Says:

      What Patrice seems to be saying is that conciousness is completely different and here is a completely different type of interaction, quantum entanglement aka nonlocality. Then they’ve all these general apps in common…


  2. gmax Says:

    That “Disagreeable Me” guy was in incredibly nasty to you on Scientia Salon. He apparently posted the thing you had kindly commented upon. The site moderator scolded him for his insults. Funny how angry people get: he was all proud to “disparage” you


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Yes, it was astounding. Some would expect that from Putin’s internet goons, or wired jihadists… Not self described scientists-philosophers… But that would be to know poorly human character…


  3. Paul Handover Says:

    Didn’t understand it the first time around; still don’t!


  4. Disagreeable Me (Mark O'Brien) Says:

    Patrice Ayme:

    Again, sorry for calling your views “woo”, but they still seem to me to be rather weakly motivated.

    The fact that the brain has many parts is not particularly illuminating. I could say the same about a computer. Is a computer the RAM? The CPU? The hard disk? Etc.

    The fact that consciousness feels centralised is not particularly compelling either. How else could it feel? And why do you think feelings tell us something profound about what is going on at a physical level? There are all kinds of proven discrepencies between reality and how we perceive it.

    All this provides fodder for a very loose analogy with how quantum mechanics works. I don’t think such analogies are a basis for believing anything.


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Thanks, DM! And thanks for the great opportunity to think deeper about these issues.

      That philosophical views are weak is not surprising. When a view is real strong, that’s called science.

      A difference between a computer and a brain is that only the CPU computes in a computer, whereas a brain is full of more or less continuously defined CPUs all over, and much more, as long distance axons integrate them all.

      Cut a brain in two, and you have got two brains, one on the left, one on the right. With apparently two consciousnesses, trying their best to integrate. Cutting a CPU in half does not work. A CPU is basically a bunch of canals and gates, like any irrigation system. Brains may all have something more, however dim, the consciousness which graces us.

      Quantum Entanglement (aka “non-locality”) represents a completely new “spooky interaction at a distance” (Albert Einstein dixit), and thus an imaginable possibility to support consciousness (as I can’t imagine how conventional electro-magnetism could do it). (The range of QE has been proven to be in excess of 100 kilometers… in the air: Zellinger and Al., Canary islands.)

      This is not about “believing anything”. It’s about trying to guess something in a humble spirit. That’s what the philosophical method does, guessing ahead, and why it is necessary to suggest possible avenues of scientific exploration.


  5. Hi Iqit Says:

    I found this somewhat different definition of consciousness – interesting…


  6. Patrice Ayme Says:

    [Comment on EugenRLowy]

    Not bad the time-energy-space are one from ultrabasic principles. Until one introduces Quantum entanglement.
    Entropy goes from order to disorder.


  7. Patrice Ayme Says:

    The research budget ought to be 20% instead of 2%: everybody remotely capable of contributing to research ought to be financed.


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