Academic journal article Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy

The Participating Mind in the Quantum Universe

Academic journal article Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy

The Participating Mind in the Quantum Universe

Article excerpt


Quantum mechanics (QM), and its modern evolution, quantum field theory (QFT), remain the most successful theories of matter and along with Einstein's general theory of relativity (GR) account for the microcosm and the macrocosm. Moreover, QM has many profound implications for the role of the mind in views of the universe and opens the door to the whole issue of the nature of consciousness. The nature of the mind, how it arises, whether consciousness exists beyond the mind and the physical brain, these questions continue to challenge all of science, including physics, brain science and biology. In addition, the vexing problem of subjective experience, is not accounted by current science and it may even be beyond physical processes. Even though QM is at the foundation of physics and biochemistry, many neuroscientists hold the view that the brain has nothing to do with quantum mechanics. Scientists in several polls when they are asked what are the top two most important and unsolved topics facing science, they respond, the nature of the universe, and the nature of conscious experience (Kafatos, 2015). There may be the case that these two profound issues could be closely related to each other.

QM opened the door to the view that the mind and observational choices play a fundamental role in the nature of reality. The quantum measurement problem remains a challenge for both theory and the interpretations of quantum experiments. In fact, as Kafatos (2015) pointed out:

   The problem of measurement in quantum mechanics and the role of the
   observer have been part of quantum theory from the very beginning
   of its founding but have still not been resolved and remains the
   central reason for having so many different interpretations of
   quantum theory, is how to take into account measurement and the
   so-called "collapse of the wave function". The standard von Neumann
   (1955) interpretation of orthodox quantum theory, is that the
   unitary time evolution of the quantum state is interrupted upon
   measurement and a particular value emerges, given by theoretical
   quantum probability. What specific value will emerge though,
   quantum theory cannot predict.

Observational choices in the laboratory are related to the context of what is to be observed, measured and concluded. As Richard Feynman, John A. Wheeler, Martin Rees and other physicists hold, without observation, quantum systems don't even have any properties. Wheeler (1981) stated, "no phenomenon is a phenomenon until it is an observed phenomenon", which forms the foundation of the participatory universe. On would conclude that the observer's choices play a fundamental role in the "external" reality that one observes and as such, theory cannot be divorced from observations: The observer is an integral part of the process of what is to be observed and understood. Quantum theory opened the door to consciousness but did not provide a solution (Kafatos and Nadeau, 2000; Kafatos, 2015).

As such, what used to be in the domain of philosophy and metaphysics (cf. Kant, 1996; Morgan, 2002) the origin of the mind and in more general terms examining the nature of consciousness and how consciousness arises, can now be approached by a discussion between science and philosophy.

For example, in Immanuel Kant's philosophy (cf. Kafatos, 2015) experience is seen as fundamental. One important consequence of Kant's views is that "one never has direct experience of things, the so-called noumenal world, and that what we do experience is the phenomenal world as conveyed by our senses." (Ref. Wikipedia). Kant's philosophy tied to experience, supports the idea that qualia, the attributes of experience, play a fundamental role in our views of reality. Idealism is also a central feature of the philosophy of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel cf. (Redding, 2014): "Hegel's principal achievement was his development of absolute idealism as a means to integrate the notions of mind, nature, subject, object, psychology, the state, history, art, religion and philosophy". …

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