Consciousness and Quantum Tunneling

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Main Question or Discussion Point

Taken from an entirely empirical standpoint, the true nature of Consciousness should be the Chinese room argument, that it is nothing but an illusion created by the interactions of billions of neurons, electrical and chemical signals. Supposedly this would disprove "The Human Soul" and Consciousness.

However, I have a question...

In the Twin-Slit experiment, the presence of the Wave interference pattern, if the photon travels through both or one slit, and it's particle or wave properties all depend on an observer.

So does the Schrödinger's Cat thought experiment, dependent on an observer to make the particle decide it's state so as to make the Cat either dead or alive.

And finally, Quantum tunneling, which more or less proves that the exact location of a particle is entirely dependent on observation.

Now all three of these things are cases where the real, empirical world, is directly modified by the existence of an observer.

So, what IS an observer? If the case is that reality really is dependent on observers, then what property defines what an "observer" is? Is this really empirical evidence of something beyond the sum of the parts in terms of human Consciousness?

I don't mean to overhype things, at the very least I'll learn something new...
But given what I know, there's empirical evidence of the Human Soul. So my first guess is I'm missing something.

Alright, I've just read the observer doesn't have to be a sentient being, but if there's observation of any kind (by any material) then it collapses the quantum state. However, Quantum tunneling disagrees. Quantum tunneling is information that comes to the real world (the XYZ coordinates of the particle) because a particle's location didn't collapse into an exact value.

Any argument that inanimate objects can collapse quantum half-states can be countered with the fact that or some point or other somebody had to measure that inanimate object to get results from the test. So, from this argument, it's not the inanimate object that collapses the quantum half-state but the human observation of the inanimate object.

But Quantum tunneling more or less shows that inanimate objects don't collapse quantum half-states, otherwise it could not occur.
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
nomadreid
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This post probably belongs in the philosophy section rather than the quantum physics one.
First, let us use "decoherence" in a neutral sense, which does not imply that one is either accepting or rejecting a many-worlds interpretation.

An observer is another way for saying the environment with which a particle may interact in decoherence. Sentient beings are simply part of the environment which can interact with some particles, but current theories of physics do not require that sentient beings be part of an interacting environment.

Indeed, much of physics consists of extrapolations from observations of sentient beings to parts of spacetime which are not observed by sentient beings, and probably never will be.

Anyway, more to the point is that any such interaction is probabilistic, and that the environment changes the distribution of probabilities; this is the content of Schrödinger's equation. Quantum tunneling merely is a use of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle to effect a distribution of probabilities so that the probability is high that the particle will be measurable at the beginning and the end points but not in-between. Since these probabilities as well as the decoherence depend partly on the interacting environment, aka the observer, one can say that the tunneling depends on the observer, albeit not, as you state, solely on the observer. (If it did, we would have a deterministic theory on our hands.)

From this, one sees that there is no argument that tells us anything about consciousness. In fact, most neurological theories which speculate about consciousness posit mchanisms which would work in a Newtonian universe (assuming that there were Newtonian mechanisms for chemical reactions and all that).

I am not sure what you mean by that ambiguous word "soul". If you mean something metaphysical, then of course physics, by definition, has nothing to say about such an entity, by the definition of metaphysics. Perhaps you mean something else, in which case it would be best to avoid the connotation-laden word "soul."

By the way, the original Chinese Room argument (by Professor Jophn Searle) was an attempt (in my opinion, highly flawed) to show that consciousness is not a mixture of such reductionist reactions as you cite. In other words, you have that argument backwards.

I am relieved that you have not tried to use the Penrose-Lucas fallacy in your argument. It is, alas, the most commonly (mis-)used argument for the "soul in the machine."
 
  • #3
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Hi,I'm new to the forum and this is going to be my first reply.

I agree with nomadreid that this is more of a philosophical or neuropsychological question.You see consciousness is what you'd call an ''illusion'',but not exactly.Like a particle it exists somewhere in the brain,but you can never be sure where,unless you start disecting the cortex,and it exist only for a millionth of a second and I will explain why:

The ''illusion'' is that ''you'' feel like that,because of the brain centers that simulate the awareness of realisation(it's hard to comprehend it),but in truth ''you'' are just one of quadrillions of instances of ''you'',because with each second the billions of ions that circulate trough the axons are replaced(first of all as they move they undergo inevitable changes due to quantum fluctuations that happen always,+the ions are stopped at synapses and interpreded trough the release of neuromediators which are then interpreted by other ions on the other end of the synapse),so basicly your mind is not as continuous and individual as it seems.And actually the so called consciousness is only a small part of the mind.Thousands of more actions are made in the subconscious part.Consciousness is just a defence mechanism we evolved to survive,just like skin and nails.Now my point from the ions example is that you are constantly replaced by new instances and you feel ''yourself'',because you have the memories of the previous instance as well as all of the built in feelings(feelings of awareness,realisation,personalisation).Now here is an example that ''reality'' and ''self'' aren't really needed in physics:

Some people with personality disorders develop depersonalisation and/or derealisation.Not that they're insane,but they lose a part of the mechanism that makes ''you'' feel ''yourself''.I quote a statement from another site from a man with Schizoid Personality Disorder:

''How to pull myself back into existence?

existential angst is crawling into the convolutions of all my thoughts and threatening to devolve all understanding to a state of incomprehensible babbling that questions everything.

everything is now a construct of my mind and beyond all physical realms. every mental construct a doubtful theory and in effect no proof or arguments exist in favor of anything.

[one moment there was a multiverse in existence apart from my being. but now all has deteriorated into the abstract of my mind.]

how do i pull myself out of this place?''

I have left his name anonymous,since it would be unpolite to quote him on a different forum.My point is - even without the feeling you ''exist'',your can still posess intelligence and you can still study quantum physics,and progress in science.I personally think that such a depersonalised,derealised point of view suits this field of science very well,because it can give a totally different impression of the things the person is seeing and we have no ultimate proof that our perception is ''right'' and theirs is ''wrong'' as for both of us the circle is a circle and 2+2=4 and the only reason it's thought of as a disorder is,because more people are ''normal'' than not.

I realise i kinda went too far from the topic,but I really wanted to clear up the concept of consciousness.I hope you found it interesting.
 
  • #4
Vanadium 50
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I'm afraid consciousness has nothing to do with QM, despite what one might ready in Newagy books.
 
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  • #5
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I was just interested by the fact that quantum physics, at least from an extremely basic understanding, puts forth a universe that truly is created by perception; i.e. something doesn't exist when you don't look - > particles having collapsable states and quantum tunneling. Though I guess that understanding isn't entirely accurate.

Haha, I think I may have inadvertantly been using some Journalism to use the word "Soul". Using such a contriversal word draws a lot of attention.

By the way Hivoyer, I did find that very interesting. Sometimes I wonder if there's a difference in-between "insane" and "genius" at all, except that insane people haven't learned to communicate in a way that normal people can understand. Since, after all, both come from having a large number of connections, and being able to see similarities in different things. Also, insane people don't exactly practice a lot of scrutiny with their ideas...

Ugh, I get a feeling that if I read too much philosophy I'll be sitting in a chair singing "They've Come to Take Me Away" eventually.

There certainly is some metaphysical sense to the OP, in that it was talking about identity, really I was interested to see how it's connected to the Hard science of QM, so I posted in the QM section.
 
  • #6
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I was just interested by the fact that quantum physics, at least from an extremely basic understanding, puts forth a universe that truly is created by perception;
That is not a fact. It's not true.
 
  • #7
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*Ahem*
MattRob said:
Though I guess that understanding isn't entirely accurate.
(understatement)

and

MattRob said:
...at least from an extremely basic understanding...
Meaning an incorrect understanding. And with quantum positioning it is true to some extent.

I am relieved that you have not tried to use the Penrose-Lucas fallacy in your argument. It is, alas, the most commonly (mis-)used argument for the "soul in the machine."
Hah. I love the subtlety and fair judgement of pros and cons. (Uhm, didn't you literally just call it names?)

I've never even heard of it, I'm reading it now... Not everyone in the PF knows a lot about this stuff, I have a good understanding of the basics, but that's about it...

If you were to collapse the position of every particle at every moment (using some hypothetical super sensor), then could quantum tunneling occur?
 
  • #8
ZapperZ
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I don't quite get your obsession with "quantum tunneling" and this "collapse" thing. Where in the physics of quantum tunneling is there any resemblance to what you are saying? In fact, I don't think you even understand what "quantum tunneling" is.

Quantum tunneling is simply the ability of a quantum entity to go through a potential barrier. It has nothing to do with "collapsing" of any kind. I used to perform quantum tunneling spectroscopy in a superconducting-insulator-normal metal junction. It has zero resemblance to what you've associated this phenomenon with so far.

BTW, the quickest way to get a thread/topic locked or deleted is to associate a well-known physics idea with some mumbo-jumbo pseudoscience.

Zz.
 
  • #9
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One difficulty with requiring sentient observers is that if we extrapolate the universe backwards over billions of years, it seems reasonable to conclude there was a time when quantum processes evolved and wave functions collapsed, when there no sentient observers around. One might argue that some super-being was always present observing the universe allowing wave functions to collapse, but the difficulty with this argument is that such an omnipotent super being would be observing all quantum process all the time, even now, so that there can never be such a thing as an unobserved process or an uncollapsed wave function. Alternatively, you could argue that there was no past or big bang and only "now" exists, but that is probably getting way too philosophical.
 
  • #10
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Taken from an entirely empirical standpoint, the true nature of Consciousness should be the Chinese room argument, that it is nothing but an illusion created by the interactions of billions of neurons, electrical and chemical signals. Supposedly this would disprove "The Human Soul" and Consciousness.

However, I have a question...

In the Twin-Slit experiment, the presence of the Wave interference pattern, if the photon travels through both or one slit, and it's particle or wave properties all depend on an observer.

So does the Schrödinger's Cat thought experiment, dependent on an observer to make the particle decide it's state so as to make the Cat either dead or alive.

And finally, Quantum tunneling, which more or less proves that the exact location of a particle is entirely dependent on observation.

Now all three of these things are cases where the real, empirical world, is directly modified by the existence of an observer.

So, what IS an observer? If the case is that reality really is dependent on observers, then what property defines what an "observer" is? Is this really empirical evidence of something beyond the sum of the parts in terms of human Consciousness?

I don't mean to overhype things, at the very least I'll learn something new...
But given what I know, there's empirical evidence of the Human Soul. So my first guess is I'm missing something.

Alright, I've just read the observer doesn't have to be a sentient being, but if there's observation of any kind (by any material) then it collapses the quantum state. However, Quantum tunneling disagrees. Quantum tunneling is information that comes to the real world (the XYZ coordinates of the particle) because a particle's location didn't collapse into an exact value.

Any argument that inanimate objects can collapse quantum half-states can be countered with the fact that or some point or other somebody had to measure that inanimate object to get results from the test. So, from this argument, it's not the inanimate object that collapses the quantum half-state but the human observation of the inanimate object.

But Quantum tunneling more or less shows that inanimate objects don't collapse quantum half-states, otherwise it could not occur.
I don't normally answer questions like this, but you are using nutty interpretations of consciousness to answer physical questions with, not using physical science to answer nutty interpretations!

First of all, consciousness is not required in the definition of whether a particle is a particle or a wave. Such collapses which occur upon the square of the wave function [tex]\bold{P}=\int |\psi|^2[/tex] invariably happen all the time without the aid of a human observer.

Human observers are not unique. Even though they have a special place in the Copenhagenistic interpretation, they are not unique in the sense that the quantum world depends upon them. The quantum world can quite readily collapse any time at any place through a process of decoherence.

Decoherence has been experimentally-varified, and is the natural effect of quantum collapsing systems. This means our intervention is not required to define the world in any sense on the level of the small. We may collapse the world, on our level however, what is there really collapse? Entire macroscopic bodies have the tangibility and size and condensed appearances simply because a large collection of particle have managed to collapse into a nice configuration. Particles become entangled and this is the reason schrodingers cat can never be alive and dead at the same time. It is either one or the other!
 
  • #11
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It's really starting to look like, as I suspected, I'm mis-informed.

I really look forward to actually learning QM and other branches of science in years to come... You'll have to excuse the fact I'm not a real physicist, and I'm certainly lacking insight in these areas, and thanks for the insights, they're very much appreciated.

Bear in mind that PF isn't just for people who already understand physics, and although statements like mine might be utter nonsense in the scientific community, they are exceptionally intelligent anywhere else in the world, and among the vast majority, if not all, of the people I see every day, just the word "quantum" will earn a blank look.

I don't know the more accurate term, but I'm using "collapse", to put it dumbly, as when the cat decides whether it's dead or not. Though I'm starting to see that "collapse" is associated with quantum entanglement, and not quantum tunneling or the fact that particles exist in an area of probability?

I'm under the impression that quantum tunneling occurs because particles don't exist in a precise location, but have an area of probability. When a physical barrier exists that the particle could not exist in, but is so thin that it is thinner than the radius of the area of probability, there is a probability the particle will exist on the other side of the barrier, and so some particles do end up on the other side of the barrier because the chance is there.

Is that understanding correct?
 

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