Quantum Mechanics and the Analysis of Behavior: Reflections and Speculations

By Green, Edward J. | The Psychological Record, Winter 2002 | Go to article overview

Quantum Mechanics and the Analysis of Behavior: Reflections and Speculations


Green, Edward J., The Psychological Record


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Awareness is seen as the interior perception of the wave form of the substance of which the body is composed. Traditional "reality" is limited to exterior perceptions. Mind/body dualism is analogous to what physicists once thought was a contradiction between the corpuscular and the wave nature of light. We are subject both to the laws of classical mechanics and to those that govern quantum events. Determinism is an incorrect assumption for the study of human behavior. A research program is proposed to evaluate the assumptions outlined herein, and the social implications for the scientific study of behavior are examined.

While I was an undergraduate at Indiana University, I attended a lecture by Parker Lichtenstein illustrating the absurd popularizations of scientific concepts exemplified by the book, "Newtonism for Young Ladies," which appeared soon after the publication of Sir Isaac Newton's mechanics. Although popular treatments of quantum theory are rife by the latter half of the 20th century (Hayward, 1997), no one has offered a treatise on that subject comparable to the book for young ladies. While I am intrigued with the possibilities that quantum mechanics may offer the analysis of behavior, I am mindful of the possibility that I might perpetrate an equally silly oversimplification of concepts in a field not my own. Although Einstein's popular treatments of his special and general theories of relativity are delights of clarity (Einstein, [1916], 1961), I found it necessary to repair old and learn new physical and mathematical concepts even to follow the technical arguments on which the present extension is based (Lore ntz, Einstein, Minkowski, & Weyl, 1952).

I am indebted to several authors for their unpretentious and lucid writings in the field of quantum theory (Bohm, 1997; Feynman, 1965; GellMann, 1994; Lederer, 1993). James Gleick offers a similarly lucid introduction to chaos theory, which I belatedly found to be relevant to behavioral research I once pursued (Gleick, 1988). Chaos theory has been variously defined, but perhaps one of its simpler statements is that it has to do with order without periodicity. Others have opened an awareness of the wondrous possibilities of quantum mechanics for the study of the origins and fate of the universe (Hawking, 1988; Tipler, 1994). Although I can not claim fluency in the languages of these various fields, I can follow simple directions on the cosmological map and know where my speculations fit in. Murray Gell-Mann, Carl Sagan, and perhaps Stephen Hawking would give short shrift to my hunches, but I have taken advantage of the complexities of the field to squeeze into a small, but possibly comfortable niche where I ca n explore the possible, and perhaps even intellectually respectable implications of modern physics for the study of behavior.

I am especially indebted to two of my teachers. Jacob R. Kantor's "interbehaviorism" first attracted me to the field of psychology. Kantor was better known and appreciated in Europe than he had been at home partly because his breadth of interests and general epistemological sophistication far outstripped most of his contemporaries. B. F. Skinner remains the psychologist most likely to be posthumously voted bete noire of the century for mentalistically inclined critics of behaviorism. Generally, these critics have confused rigor with rigidity. Skinner, of all the 20th century behaviorists, was the most open to new developments in the field. Although Fred Skinner wrote one of the most damning critiques of the Rhine ESP experiments, he would have been first to accept so-called paranormal phenomena had they been verified, for he had no theoretical objections that would stand in the way of accepting data. Skinner's general attitude is best revealed in his words, "The subject is always right."

The so-called mind/body problem was initially presented to me as the most vexing obstacle for either the development or acceptance of a complete behavioral theory. …

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