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Under the theories of physics developed by Isaac Newton that dominated Western thought about the physical world from the late seventeenth to very early twentieth century, the physical world was seen as a great impersonal clockwork mechanism. Under this classical, Newtonian view, the physical world was deterministic in the sense that, given the present state of the world, including the position and velocity of every single particle of physical matter, the future states of the universe were completely determined by the laws of physics. Thus, given the (completely described) state of the universe on July 15, 2012, the events of, say, November 23, 2013, are completely determined. As the mathematician and cosmologist Pierre Simon Laplace put it, a Divine Calculator who knew the position and velocity of every material and particle in the universe could deduce the entire history and future of the universe down to the smallest detail.
Obviously in such a clockwork universe, there is no room for intervention by a nonphysical mind. The soul, or atman, had no place in the theory of physics developed by Newton, despite the fact that Newton himself was a devout believer in the Christian God (unless of course the soul were conceived to be a material particle under some type of double-aspect theory).
All this changed with the development of quantum mechanics around the beginning of the twentieth century. Under the quantum mechanical view, the world is no longer completely deterministic, even (especially) at the subatomic level. Given the present state of the universe, under the laws of quantum mechanics, many different futures are possible. This view of reality opens a crack in the cosmic egg (to borrow a phrase from Joseph Chilton Pearce, 1973) for the influence of a nonmaterial mind or soul to creep into the picture.
Also, the classical determinism of Newtonian physics saw the world as composed of whirling buzz of mindless submicroscopic particles, careening blindly about in space, sometimes joining and sometime repelling each other, their behavior governed by the impersonal laws of physics. In this universe there seems only room for the parts and little room for the whole as exemplified in conscious minds that are somehow aware of activity of vast (on the elementary particle scale of things) regions of the brain. In the classical view of the universe, each particle of matter responds only to its local surroundings. It does not respond to its compatriot particles until it quite literally “bumps into them.” This notion that the behavior of physical particles is governed completely by events in their local spacetime regions is called “local realism.” Despite the deluge of popular books that have been written about quantum mechanics in the second half of the twentieth century (not to mention those published in the infancy of the new millennium), “local realism” is still the view that undergirds our intuitive understanding of the universe, both laymen and scientists alike (although perhaps both groups should know better by now).
As noted above, under the theory of quantum mechanics, indeterminism reigns. Given the present state of the universe, many different futures are possible. Take, for instance, the case of Schrodinger’s hapless cat, imprisoned in a box together with a radioactive source that will kill it (through some sort of Rube Goldberg device) if a Geiger counter detects a radioactive decay. After a fixed period of time there is a 50-50 chance that when we open the box we will find a cat that has been sent to that Great Alley in the sky. According to the standard interpretation of quantum mechanics, the variables that determine the instant of the first decay, if indeed there are any, are “hidden” to us. The best we can do is compute the probability that the cat is still alive. If there are “hidden variables” that determine the cat’s fate, we cannot know them.
The most startling and remarkable thing about such hidden variables is that, if they exist, they must be nonlocal in nature. To understand what “nonlocality” means in this context, consider the case of two protons that are initially united in a state of zero spin (what physicists call the “singlet state”). Suppose that the protons have become separated from one another and are moving in opposite directions through space. If the spin of one of these protons is measured along a spatial axis and the proton is found to be spinning “upward” along that axis, the other proton must be spinning “downward” along that axis (as their total spin along any axis must sum to zero). Thus, it seems that when you measure the spin of one proton and find it to be “up”, the second proton is somehow instantly informed that it should adopt the “down” state on that axis.
It might be assumed that the Newtonian framework in which the protons are viewed as separate, isolated particles could accommodate this phenomenon through postulating that, when the protons separated, one of them possessed some property that made it spin “down” on the axis and the other one possessed some property that made it spin “up.” In other words, there is no need to assume any mysterious interconnection between the protons. This is view under the doctrine known as “local realism.”
It can be shown that if protons really do posses such local properties, the numbers of proton pairs exhibiting various combinations of spins on certain predefined axes must satisfy a class of inequalities called Bell inequalities after the physicist John Bell, who derived them. The theory of quantum mechanics, on the other hand, predicts that Bell inequalities will be violated if certain combinations of spatial axes are chosen.
Against my better judgment, I am not going to force the reader to take my word for it this time, but I am going to walk those readers that able to recall their high school trigonometry through the actual mathematics used to establish that the “hidden variables” of quantum mechanics must be nonlocal in nature. (They say that each equation a book contains halves its sales. If so, here go 99.95% of my royalties.) The math phobic reader may however ignore the equations and inequalities that follow and quite literally “read between the lines” to follow the gist of my argument. However, for those readers who can follow the actual mathematics, the demonstration of quantum nonlocality is all the more compelling, startling and, to use a hackneyed phrase, awe-inspiring when you appreciate and understand the beauty and simplicity of the mathematics behind it. The mathematical exposition to follow is roughly along the lines set forth by Bernard d’Espagnat (1979) in his highly lucid explanation of quantum nonlocality.
We begin our story with two protons blissfully united in the “singlet” state, a state in which their collective spin is zero. (A proton’s spin may be oversimplistically imagined as the spin of a top; its units are expressed in term of angular momentum. Unlike a top, however, the proton is only able to manifest distinct units of spin, unlike a skater who can go smoothly from a slowly spinning state with her arms extended to a fast-spinning state with her arms pulled in or slowly turn a clockwise rotation into a counterclockwise rotation. In quantum mechanics, these states are discrete; there is no intermediate spin in which the spinner’s arms are half pulled in so that she is spilling at an intermediate rate. A proton goes directly from one spin state to another in what is often termed a quantum leap. The proton, like all free quantum spirits but unlike skaters, also may be found in a mixture of states in which it is spinning “clockwise” (also known as “downward”) with probability, say, 0.6 and spinning counterclockwise with a probability of 0.4.
Thus, in quantum theory, the properties of material particles are not specified deterministically, but only probabilistically. For instance, one may measure the spin of a proton along any spatial axis A of one’s choosing, and its spin will be found either to be in the upward direction with regard to that axis (A+) or in the downward direction along that axis (A-). The quantum mechanical description of the particle’s state does not determine the spin direction along any axis, but only gives the probabilities that the spin will be found to be either “up” or “down” with regard to the given axis.
If the quantum mechanical description is complete, then the proton does not have any definite, well-defined spin with regard to any axis until a measurement is made, after which the proton’s spin will either be up upward along the axis or downward along the axis. If the spin of a proton along any particular axis A has been measured, its spin along any other axis B is indeterminate according to quantum theory. The proton is said to be in a “superposition” of the “spinning upward on B” and “spinning downward on B” states. The proton is not definitely in one state or the other, and quantum theory can only yield the probability that it will be found to be spinning upward on B rather than being able to predict in advance which way the proton will be found to be spinning when measured along axis B.
At the point of measurement or observation, the proton acquires a definite spin on axis B, through a process known as “the collapse of the state vector.” The nature of this process is not adequately specified by quantum theory, and state vector collapse seems to be due to factors not adequately defined in present day quantum theory.
The lack of any provision for the state vector collapse in the formalism of quantum mechanics formed the inspiration for Hugh Everett’s Many-World, interpretation of quantum mechanics in which all possible outcomes of quantum mechanical processes are postulated to occur in some alternate future (Everett, 1957). Thus, there may alternate universes alongside of ours in which you are no longer a quadriplegic because President Al Gore’s Secretary of Transportation enacted policies leading to schedule changes in your local bus service so that the bus did not locate itself in the same spacetime region as your body when you stopped to tie your shoe on April 1, 2003. Under Everett’s Many World hypothesis, all events that are possible under the laws of quantum mechanics actually occur in some alternative future.
Many theorists (e.g., Wheeler, 1983; Walker, 2000) have proposed that observation by a conscious mind, an entity outside of physical science altogether (barring the truth of reductive physicalism), may be necessary to force state vector collapse and to ensure that only one of the many futures allowable under quantum mechanics actually occurs.
If a proton’s spin is determined (through measurement) along one axis, its spin along any other axis is undetermined according to quantum theory and does not take on any definite value until an act of observation occurs. Einstein, Podolsky and Rosen (1935) argued that quantum theory is simply incomplete in this regard. For instance, it may be possible in some sense to measure the spin of a proton along two directions at once. If two protons are initially united in a state of zero spin (e.g., the “singlet” state) and then allowed to separate, their spins as subsequently measured on any chosen axis must have opposite values. Thus, if the spin of the first proton is measured to be upward along an axis A (A+) and its partner’s spin measured to be upward along a second axis B (B+), it can be argued that the first proton must have been an A+B− proton (i.e., having properties causing it to spin upward on the A axis and downward on the B axis) prior to the act of observation.
Thus, Einstein, Podolsky and Rosen argued, particles do have definite properties prior to any act of measurement and the probabilistic description provided by quantum theory is simply an incomplete description of reality.
John Bell (1964), on the other hand, was able to use a simple mathematical argument to show that the empirical predictions of quantum theory are in conflict with any theory assuming that the outcome of quantum measurements are determined by the local properties of particles and do not depend on what occurs in distant regions of space.
A simplified version of Bell’s argument is as follows. Assume that protons have localized properties that determine the outcomes of spin measurements (i.e., the proton has “really” been spinning upward on the A axis all along, although we didn’t know it until we observed it). An A+B− proton would then be a proton that has a property that ensures that it will be found to be spinning upward when measured along axis A and downward if measured along axis B. Such A+B− protons must come in two varieties: those that will be found to be spinning upward when measures along any third axis C (the A+B−C+ protons), and those that will be found to be spinning downward when measured along axis C (the A+B−C− protons). Thus, the probability p(A+B−) that a proton will have spins A+ and B− must therefore satisfy the following equation:
p(A+B−) = p(A+B−C+) + p(A+B−C−) (2.1)
By a similar reasoning process, we have:
p(A+C−) = p(A+B+C-) + p(A+B−C−) (2.2)
But as p(A+B−C−) is greater than or equal to 0, Equation (2.2) implies:
p(A+C−) ≥ p(A+B−C−) (2.3)
p(B−C+) ≥ p(A+B−C+) (2.4)
Adding inequalities (2.3) and (2.4), we obtain:
p(A+C−) + p(B−C+) ≥ p(A+B−C−) + p(A+B−C+) (2.5)
Substituting from equation (2.1), we have:
p(A+C−) + p(B−C+) ≥ p(A+B−) (2.6)
Inequality (2.6) is known as a Bell inequality, and it must be obeyed if the proton’s spins are determined by local properties of the protons themselves and do not depend on events happening in remote regions of space and time. Inequality (2.6) is, however, in conflict with the predictions of quantum theory. According to quantum theory, if the positive directions of two axes A and B are separated by an angle φAB, the probability that a proton will display opposite spin orientations on the two axes is given by sin2(φAB /2). As either the A+B− or the A−B+ orientations are equally likely given the singlet state, we have:
p(A+B−) = 1/2 . sin2(φAB /2) (2.7)
Suppose we orient detector A so that the positive pole points in the “north” direction (in a plane). Suppose also that we point detector B in the “southeast” direction and detector C in the “northeast” direction (in the same plane). Then we have φAB = 135o, φAC = 45o, φBC = 90o. (Now is the time to reach back into your memory for whatever tidbits of high school trigonometry may be remaining there or, better yet, to dust off that scientific calculator you have been keeping in the attic.)
Using the probabilistic laws of quantum mechanics as described above, we have:
p(A+C−) = 1/2 . sin2(45o /2) = 1/2 . sin2(22.5o) = .073 (2.8)
p(B−C+) = 1/2 . sin2(90o /2) = 1/2 . sin2(45o) = .250 (2.9)
p(A+B−) = 1/2 . sin2(135o /2) = 1/2 . sin2(67.5o) = .427 (2.10)
These probabilities are in violation of the Bell inequality (2.6), as can be seen by substituting the values given in equations (2.8) through (2.10) into inequality (2.6) to obtain:
.073 + .250 ≥ .427 (2.11)
Inequality (2.11) is obviously false, thus revealing that the laws of quantum mechanics are in conflict with the philosophy of “local realism” from which inequality (2.6) was derived (i.e., the view that the outcomes of quantum measurements are determined by properties of the particles and the local spacetime regions in which they reside).
Experimental evidence by Alain Aspect and his coworkers (e.g., Aspect, Dalibard, & Roger, 1982) has shown that in a test of quantum mechanics against local realism, the Bell inequalities are violated, and the evidence is strongly against the doctrine of local realism. It should be noted that Aspect’s experiments were conducted using photons rather than protons, and the mathematics underlying the Bell inequalities is somewhat different and a little more complex than that for protons. A very readable exposition of the mathematics underlying Bell inequalities for photons is given in McAdam (2003).
Aspect et. al’s results imply that two quantum particles such as protons may not be the isolated objects separated from each other in space that they appear to be. Instead, they may form one united system even though they may be separated by light years of space. The protons do not have defined spins on a spatial axis until a measurement of one of their spins along that axis is made, at which point the measured proton’s partner suddenly adopts the opposite spin. After the first proton “chooses” a spin (up or down) along the measured axis, the second proton is somehow mysteriously informed that it should adopt the opposite spin if measured along that same axis. It cannot be the case that the first proton manages to send a message to the second proton telling it which spin to adopt, as the protons may be sufficiently far apart that no such signal could be sent between them unless it exceeded the speed of light, which is regarded as impossible in standard theories of physics. Thus, the protons, two seemingly separated and isolated little billiard balls, turn out not to be separated from one another after all.
Even single physical particles are not the localized, isolated entities that they appear to be. Consider the case of the classic “double-slit” experiment, in which electrons must pass though one of two slits in order to reach a detecting mechanism. Electrons are always detected as point-like entities; thus, it is reasonable to assume that the distribution of the locations of electrons detected when both slits are open will simply be the sum of the distributions obtained when the slits are opened one at a time. However, as streams of electrons possess wavelike properties, an interference pattern (bands of darkness and light) will be manifested at the detecting device when both slits are open, and this interference pattern will differ markedly from the distribution expected by summing the distributions obtained when the slits are opened one at a time. The most amazing thing is that the interference effect manifests itself even under conditions in which only one electron can pass through the diffraction grating at a time. Thus, it appears that a single electron somehow manages to go through both slits at once! Any attempt to determine which slit is actually traversed by the electron reveals, on the other hand, that the electron passes through only one slit. Furthermore, this determination destroys the interference pattern and results in a distribution equal to the sum of the distributions from each slit.
Thus, although an electron is always detected as a point-like entity, it appears to manifest itself as a nonlocalized wave function under circumstances in which we do not attempt to determine its location. The modern interpretation of this wave is that it is a “probability wave” existing in an abstract mathematical space called Hilbert space rather than in physical space. The electron, an apparently solid point-like entity when we observe it, is apparently a ghostly vibration in an abstract, almost mind-like, space when we are not looking!
Chris Clarke (2004) notes that the phenomenon of quantum nonlocality as demonstrated in Aspect’s experiments strikes the death knell for the philosophy of atomism (the notion that one must look to the scale of the universe’s smallest particles in order to find ultimate reality). He notes that atomistic and mechanistic metaphors lead to dualistic approaches to the “mind-body” problem such as those derivative from Descartes’ model, rather than to an approach that would truly integrate the mental and physical worlds. Clark concludes that contemporary physics cannot provide any sort of ultimate reality at all, although it points the way to a more complete understanding of reality.
Science has generally proceeded by the analysis and dissection of complex systems into their parts, the ultimate parts being of course elementary particles such as electrons and quarks. Higher order phenomena, such as the activities of the mind, are to be explained in terms of lower order entities such as molecules and electrons, at least according to the “orthodox” (that is, outmoded Newtonian) view of the world. This type of explanation is known as “upward causation.” The philosophy upon which it is based is called “reductionism,” as it assumes that the properties of complex systems, such as people, can be reduced to the properties of their components (such as atoms).
Indeed, as we have seen, even the behavior of our two entwined protons, seemingly the simplest of physical systems, is not governed by their local properties but rather by the more encompassing system that includes them both.
The physicist David Bohm (Bohm, 1980; Bohm & Peat, 1987) has referred to the universe as a “holomovement,” invoking an analogy to a hologram (a three dimensional photograph in which the entire picture may be reconstituted from each part). Bohm has termed the world of manifest phenomena or appearances the “explicate order” and the hidden (nonlocal) reality underlying it the “implicate order.” Bohm laments the tendency of modern science to fragment and dissect the universe and to focus on parts rather than wholes. He proposes a new mode of speaking in which “thing” expressions would be replaced by “event” expressions.
The philosopher Hoyt Edge (1980a, 1985) has called for the abandonment of the localized “entity” metaphysics and the adoption of an “activity meta-physics,” in which reality would not be seen as separated into physical or mental atoms and the dichotomy between the observer and what is observed would be abandoned.
K. Ramakrishna Rao (1978) has noted the similarity of both Bohm’s concept of an implicate order (in which all events are interconnected) underlying the manifest world as well as Karl Pribram’s view of the world as a hologram, in which the whole universe is seen as somehow contained in or related to each of its parts (Pribram, 1971, 1978), to the Vedantic doctrine of the identity between atman (or a person’s individual consciousness) and Brahman (the Supreme Self or World Mind). Transcendental and mystical states of consciousness may involve the direct experience of Brahman in Rao’s view.
Based in part on quantum mechanical considerations, astrophysicist David Darling (1995) proposes that our individual, encapsulated egos are illusions and that, when a person dies, this illusory self is dissolved and the person’s consciousness merges with the world consciousness (or Brahman, in Rao’s terminology).
Victor Mansfield (1995), echoing Rao, sees the concept of emptiness in Middle Way Buddhism as being akin to the concept of nonlocality in quantum mechanics. Mansfield notes that according to the doctrines of this school of Buddhism, objects do not exist independently of the mind.
Like Bohm, Herms Romijn (1997), a researcher at the Netherlands Institute for Brain Research in Amsterdam, proposes that there exists a submanifest deterministic order underlying all observed phenomena in the universe. He proposes a version of the “double-aspect theory” in which all matter in the universe is seen as being imbued with consciousness.
In a similar vein, the physicist Evan Harris Walker (2000) has proposed that all observers are in fact one and that this single observer is responsible for the collapse of all quantum mechanical state vectors. Walker, like Eccles, Stapp and many other mind-brain theorists, proposes that the mind acts on the body through determining the outcome of quantum processes in the brain.
Consciousness and Quantum Collapse.
There is no provision within the theory of quantum mechanics itself for the collapse of the quantum probability vector into a definite outcome. According to the theory of quantum mechanics, the quantum probability wave will be happy to go on deterministically evolving, never settling in to a definite outcome. But we do not experience the world as a fuzzy blob of half-dead / half-alive Schrödinger’s cats. When we open the box, we observe either a live cat or a dead cat.
Many observers ascribe the collapse of the state vector to the act of observation itself. To some, this means that it is observation by a conscious mind that forces the quantum vector to collapse and take on a definite outcome. In a “speciesist” version of this theory, the cat will be suspended in a mix of the alive and dead states until a human observer opens the box, at which point the quantum vector will collapse and the cat will assume either the alive state or the dead state and will remain in the state, to misquote Poe’s raven, “evermore” (so long as we either keep bringing food and water and providing it the most advanced feline geriatric care or, in the nonfavorable scenario, make no attempts at a Frankensteinesque revival). To a nonspeciesist observer, however, observation by the cat’s conscious mind would be sufficient to collapse the state vector. To exalt the human mind as the only conscious agent capable of collapsing state vectors in to commit the same act of hubris as our ancestors who place the earth at the center of the universe and proclaimed man to be the divine ruler over all beasts. Human beings, despite their industrious natures, cannot be all places at all times. In fact, we have only been around for a lousy few million years, which is but a blink of an eye in comparison to the 13.5 billion years our universe (or local portion of a much vaster “multiverse’) has been around. In that time, we have been confined to a nondescript (but thankfully wet) piece of rock in the boondocks of a galaxy that is not particularly distinguished from the myriad other galaxies that float through our cosmos.
Try though we might, human beings (and animals for that matter) cannot be everywhere at all times. A quantum-collapsing consciousness’s work is never done. This is why some theorists, such as Walker (2000), have postulated that the universe comes complete with “proto-consciousnesses” that collapse quantum vectors in regions of space and time that are remote from human presence. (And, if such conscious observers are out there in the “void,” they are likely to be here among us as well.) These are the considerations that led Hill (2005) to propose that, from the looks of things, the universe is devised for creatures or consciousnesses that inhabit the vast, inhabitable regions of outer space. Could Hill’s beings and Walker’s proto-consciousnesses be one and the same?
The view that quantum collapse is brought about through observation by consciousness has led Henry Stapp (2005a) to proclaim that quantum mechanics replaces the material world with a world of experience. Indeed, if conscious minds are what force quantum processes to assume a definite outcome, it may be that mind plays a fundamental role in the process of “becoming,” the process whereby an undetermined future becomes the experienced present and then the determined past. Perhaps consciousness is responsible for the flow of time, the process by which the future becomes the “now” and then recedes ever more distantly into the past. Theories of physics are at a loss to explain the phenomenon of the “moving present” that treks its way into the future at a paradoxical speed of “one second per second.” Physicists dismiss the concept (and experience) of “time flow” as subjective, and hence (perhaps like consciousness itself) not worthy of serious consideration. And yet still, Time’s finger, having writ, moves on. If conscious minds are the major players in generating the flow of time and determining the location of the “present” (a concept denied in relativistic physics) along the axis of time, then role of consciousness in the cosmos may be truly fundamental.
While the view that acts of observation by conscious observers are what cause quantum probability vectors to collapse to a definite outcome is a common one, not all quantum physicists subscribe to that view. Some scientists assert that a recording of the outcome on a macroscopic recording device (e.g., computer printout) is sufficient to cause collapse. However, technically speaking, the deterministically evolving quantum probability function applies to such macroscopic systems and there is no provision for collapse within quantum theory itself. Such macroscopic recording devices could exist in a state of undecided superposition until Hell freezes over (i.e., about 10100 years from now, but not to worry) as far as the laws of quantum mechanics are concerned.
Other quantum theorists assert that at reasonably warm temperatures (say, -200 Co), the quantum waves of macroscopic outcomes (such as the breaking or non-breaking of the glass vial of cyanide and the last few pages of the autobiography of Schrödinger’s unfortunate cat) cannot remain in a state of superposition due to interactions with external systems. Penrose (1994), for instance, hypothesizes that when a physical system reaches a certain mass, it can no longer remain in a state of quantum indecision (superposition), as the effects of gravity come into play.
Other physicists (e.g., Hugh Everett, 1957) take the “easy” way out and deny that quantum collapse occurs. Under Everett’s “many worlds” interpretation of quantum mechanics, all possible outcomes of a quantum process occur, which fractures the universe into multiple worlds at each moment of a quantum decision. If Lee Harvey Oswald had flipped a quantum mechanical coin to decide whether to enter the Marines to receive rifle training or become a scuba diver instead, there might now be a parallel universe existing alongside of ours (in an abstract mathematical space called Hilbert space) in which Oswald receives his demise, not at the hands of a crazed Jack Ruby seeking to avenge the death of President Kennedy, but rather in the mouth of famished great white shark. Of course there are countless quantum decisions taking place at each instant of time, so every second the universe we reside in splits into a (literally and mathematically) uncountable infinity of universes existing alongside each other in Hilbert space. Unfortunately, however, there is no way for us (at least at present) to leave our mundane universe and travel through Hilbert space to catch up with the fascinating adventures of our other selves in these parallel worlds. Most physicists think that the countless multiplying of universes in Everett’s “many worlds” interpretation of quantum mechanics is simply too uneconomical (in terms of the number of unobservable universes that must exist) and too fantastic to be taken seriously. However, Everett’s model does have the beauty of not having to account for what causes the collapse of quantum mechanical state vectors. They simply don’t collapse.
The Mind’s Influence on Quantum Outcomes
As well as causing the collapse of quantum mechanical state vectors, there is a smattering of evidence that the mind can influence the outcomes of such collapse. This evidence is controversial and has not as yet been accepted by the majority of the scientific community, but rather falls under the rubric of parapsychology.
A series of experiments directed at detecting the psychokinetic (“mind over matter”) influence of such quantum events as radioactive decay, begun by Helmut Schmidt in the 1960s and since continued by many other investigators, has been quite successful by parapsychological standards (e.g., Schmidt, 1970, 1976, 1981,1984 1985, 1986, 1993). In a typical such experiment, a subject might be given the task of increasing the number of radioactive decays in a sample of strontium-90 that occur during odd microseconds rather than even microseconds. Schmidt’s typical finding is that subjects are able to slightly to increase the number of events that are in line with their goal (e.g., decays detected during odd microseconds rather than even microseconds). The typical effect is a slight bias in the target direction (e.g., 50.3% of decays detected during an odd microsecond vs. the 50% that would be expected by chance according to the laws of quantum mechanics). However, owing to the large number of trials, the odds against even such a small deviation happening by chance are generally quite large (on the order of a million to one). This line of evidence directly suggests that the mind may indeed be the source of the some of the hidden variables that govern the outcomes of quantum processes. A more detailed discussion of the nature and strength of the experimental evidence for such parapsychological phenomena as psychokinesis, precognition and telepathy will be postponed until Chapter 4.
One of Schmidt’s more intriguing findings is his evidence for retroactive psychokinesis (e.g., Schmidt, 1976, 1981, 1985, 1993). In such an experiment, a series of quantum events is recorded in a computer’s memory bank, but not observed by anyone. At some time in the future, a human (or animal) subject is asked to influence these events, which would normally be regarded as falling into the fixed past. Schmidt and his coworkers have found such observers to be successful in their attempts to manipulate the past. Thus, if acts of conscious observation are indeed the cause of “time flow,” it seems that events of last week, already stored on a computer, may still be part of the “future” until they are consciously observed and the quantum mechanical state vector collapsed to a specific outcome. Incidentally, the same effect is obtained in more orthodox areas in physics. For instance, light emitted from a quasar billions of years ago may be “gravitationally lensed” by a galaxy sitting between the Earth and quasar, producing a double-image of the quasar. Much like the quantum mechanical “two slit” experiment with electrons described above, a decision to observe whether the light took the “left” or “right” path around the galaxy, will show no interference pattern, only the bimodal “two humped” distribution one would expect from photons following one path or another. A decision not to monitor the path, will result in the typical interference pattern suggesting that the photon (or its quantum state vector) somehow took both paths. Thus, a decision as to the type of measurement to be made in the present may seemingly influence events happening billions of years ago, suggesting that these events in the infancy of the universe may be part of the as yet to be determined “future” until they are observed by a conscious entity.
Quanta and the Mind
Many scientists have proposed that the mind acts on the brain through the influence of quantum processes. The views of Hameroff, Penrose, and Eccles have been discussed in the previous chapter. Another prominent theorist to propose such a view is the physicist Evan Harris Walker (Walker, 1975, 1984, 2000, 2003), who, like Schmidt, has also developed mathematical theories regarding psychokinetic effects on quantum processes.
Walker asserts that the quantum probability wave (i.e., state vector) constitutes a complete description of the physical system of the brain, but does not specify the outcomes of quantum processes. He asserts that the conscious mind, or “will” in Walker’s terminology, corresponds to the “hidden variables” that determine the outcomes of quantum events. As the will falls outside of the physical description of the brain, it is nonphysical in Walker’s view. He further asserts that the will is nonlocal and atemporal (not located at a particular instant of time). He hypothesizes that the will has a channel capacity (ability to influence events) of 6 . 104 bits per second. However, in Walker’s view, the will is far from being all-powerful as it is embedded in a physical system processing 5 . 107 bits per second.
Bierman and Walker (2003) report some empirical evidence in support of Walker’s theory. Specifically, they report a difference in brain waves between human subjects who were the first to observe a quantum event and those who observed outcomes of quantum mechanical events that had already been observed by another human observer. They note that their results go counter to an earlier finding by Hall, Kim, McElroy and Shimoni (1977) that subjects could not guess which quantum events had been observed previously. Bierman and Walker argue that the inter-observational interval was too short in Hall et. al.’s experiment for the first observer to consciously perceive the outcome, citing Libet’s finding that 300-500 milliseconds of brain activity is required before a stimulus is consciously perceived (Libet, 1991b). Bierman and Walker found a difference in brain waves between subjects who observed “new” and “preobserved” quantum outcomes in the first 100 milliseconds of brain activity, but no differences in the late brain potentials (after 1000 milliseconds). Bierman and Walker note that their failure to find an effect of preobservation in the late evoked brain potentials of their subjects is consistent with Hall et al.’s finding of no conscious differences in the perceptions of “new” and preobserved quantum processes.
A somewhat more passive view of the mind’s role in influencing the outcomes of quantum mechanical processes in the brain, at least in terms of its timing, is proposed by the theoretical physicist Henry Stapp (2004, 2005b). As discussed in the previous chapter, Stapp postulates that the conscious mind waits for the quantum probability wave to favor a desired outcome and then stabilizes it. This would involve an ability on the part of fields of consciousness to sense the mathematically abstract quantum wave function and then to stabilize that function through continued observation. This is a somewhat more esoteric level of influence than the more or less direct influence on the physical processes themselves proposed by Walker and others.
It should be noted that many of the theories and empirical findings regarding the mind’s influence on quantum mechanics discussed in the preceding passages fall outside of mainstream science. In particular, the findings of Schmidt and others that conscious minds may influence the outcomes of quantum processes occurring outside of the subject’s physical body are controversial, have not been universally (or easily) replicated, and have been relegated to the outcast field of parapsychology, a field whose status in regard to the mainstream scientific community is marginal at best. The mainstream scientific/philosophical community has been somewhat more receptive to notion that the conscious minds may influence quantum processes within the brains in which they are (however temporarily) imprisoned. Thus, despite Bell’s and Aspect’s demonstrations of quantum nonlocality, most scientists/philosophers operating at the fringes (but within the borders) of mainstream science are more comfortable with the idea that the mind’s action is confined to the physical brain than with the notion that its influence may extend beyond the borders of the physical body. Of course, those physicalists who are deeply embedded within the orthodox core of mainstream science would deny the mind any influence on quantum mechanical processes at all, even those within the physical brain it inhabits.
It should be noted that the hypotheses as to the nature and eventual fate of one’s essential self set forth in Chapter 0 are in no way dependent on the existence of the paranormal phenomena studied by parapsychologists. Neither are they dependent on the hypothesis that the conscious mind directly influences the outcomes of quantum processes in a way that would be incompatible with the laws of physical science. (There also may be physical or quasiphysical processes yet to be discovered that may have a considerable bearing on this debate. The vast majority of scientists and philosophers have, in all historical eras, basked in their supreme confidence that their knowledge of the world was essentially complete. It has never been so in the past, and there is no good reason to believe it is now.)
It is, however, to the study of alleged paranormal such as precognition and psychokinesis that we turn in the next two chapters, because of their importance in the contemporary debate of the nature of the mind and the self. In Chapter 5, we will consider the implications of psi phenomena, if they exist, for our understanding of the fundamental nature of reality. In Chapter 6, we will consider the evidence that, not just the self, but some aspects of the personality, survive the death of the physical brain.
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