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Is the quantum realm well-defined?

  1. Jul 17, 2011 #1
    Hi all,

    I've been reading a lot of atheist literature recently and most of those guys seem to share the worldview that logic, reason, and evidence is THE way to finding the truth about reality.

    Now, to my understanding, the relationship between these concepts become somewhat more complicated when you're looking at the quantum level. My question is if it's well-defined what this level is. I.e. at which levels of our phyical world that quantum effects take place.

    Are these atheist correct in claiming that quantum mechanics is not relevant for understanding the brain and consciousness? Or at least that there is no evidence to support a connection?

    Or is it conceivable that our current ideas about brain and mind are false because they rely on notions of causality and determinism that we might have misconstrued.

    One speculative idea could be that consciousness is a real physical part of your brain at the subatomic level. Could it be that one day we will be able to describe consciousness scientifically as a specific quantum state?

    From a disciplinary point of view, don't cognitive neuroscientists and quantum theorists have any overlap in their areas of research?

  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 17, 2011 #2


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    "Atheist literature"? What in world does quantum physics have to do with atheism or vice-versa?

    The answer to your question is that, at this time, we simply don't know enough about how the brain produces consciousness (if it does) to know whether quantum effects are important or not.
  4. Jul 17, 2011 #3


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    1st question: yes and no. The answer is that it is a big difficulty to imagine conscious structure ruled by pre-qm physics. Long dispute started by Descartes or even earlier... But QM introduces fundamental nondeterminism, which invalidates most of Descartes' paradoxes.

    elaborated answer to 1st question, and example answering 2nd one:

    Henry P. Stapp
    Why Classical Mechanics Cannot Naturally Accommodate Consciousness But Quantum Mechanics Can?

    and if you stay interested - follow some references, most of them are available free at arXiv.
    Last edited: Jul 17, 2011
  5. Jul 17, 2011 #4


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    Please try to limit using references that have been published in a peer-reviewed journal for this topic, especially on "controversial/research-front" issues such as this.

  6. Jul 17, 2011 #5


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    The quoted article got published at PSYCHE, 2(5), May 1995 - peer-reviewed journal on psychology, then cited in 50+ other articles (accordingly to google-scholar), Stapp has affiliation at Theoretical Physics Group, Lawrence Berkeley Lab. I just gave reference to free copy of the article forgetting to provide full bibliography info.

    Anyway, I agree you should move the thread to lounge->philosophy...
    Last edited: Jul 17, 2011
  7. Jul 17, 2011 #6
    I like Halls general reply (#2).

    good question.

    Depends in part what your definition of "well defined" is....

    Simple answer is: yes, The consensus of science is quantum phenomena IS well defined.

    But often, over time, the consensus has been proven wrong.

    Quantum activty is largely a statistical phenomena so it doesn't comport in general with everyday macroscope observations and classical theory....in which everyday things SEEM continuous, like time and distance. And you don't suddenly disappear from your living room and appear, say, in China....or Neptune. (That would be quantum tunneling.)

    Quantum activity involves the smallest of scales and discontinuous events, like energy exchange events for example, and it is not possible to predict the instant at which such a jump in energy will occur. An example is radioactive decay. Often, quantum theory approaches classical (macroscopic) theory asypmtotically for large numbers of events.

    Another way to think about quantum theory is that just as relativity becomes important when velocity is significant in comparison to c, the speed of light, quantum theory becomes necessary when Planck's constant (h) becomes significant. A complicating factor at small scales is that it becomes impossible to separate the object to be measured from the measuring instrument.

    I'd suggest a search here or elsewhere, if you are interested, in "reality"....it is NOT what you or every day 'athesists' think it is.

    If brain function is largely electrical and chemical activity as most believe, it MAY be accurate to claim there is little reason to look to quantum theory regarding brain function. But science is usually "surprised" by new discoveries...and one thing is sure....subatomic behavior (like electrons) sure IS quantum related.
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