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Law of the minimization of mystery

  1. Dec 17, 2014 #1
    Several theories try and explain consciousness from a quantum perspective. Most notoriously the Penrose-Hameroff Orch OR hypothesis comes to mind, but there are others by Henry Stapp, Giuseppi Vitiello, and Gustav Bernroider to name a few. The consciousness philosopher David Chalmers has stated that " The attractiveness of quantum theories of consciousness may stem from a Law of Minimization of Mystery: consciousness is mysterious and quantum mechanics is mysterious, so maybe the two mysteries have a common source." (http://www.imprint.co.uk/chalmers.html [Broken]). Interpretations of quantum mechanics are numerous (see http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2013/01/17/the-most-embarrassing-graph-in-modern-physics), with some linking observation with consciousness (von Neumann-Wigner for example) suggesting that Chalmer's statement is inaccurate due to his limited understanding of the interpretations of quantum mechanics. With all this in mind, I ask the following question:

    "Is the link between consciousness and quantum mechanics truly a Minimization of Mystery, or does Chalmer's statement stem from a limited understanding of quantum mechanics and its interpretations?"
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  3. Dec 17, 2014 #2


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    I'm not sure if I understand your question about Chalmers: Are you suggesting that if he understood quantum mechanics better, then he wouldn't consider it mysterious? Or are you suggesting that he is wrong to consider the two mysteries (quantum mechanics and consciousness) connected?

    If it's the first, I beg to differ. There are mysterious aspects of quantum mechanics that have not been resolved yet. We certainly understand it well enough to work with it, but there is a sense in which it is still mysterious, no matter what interpretation is used.

    If it's the latter, then you're blaming the wrong person. Chalmers isn't claiming that quantum mechanics and consciousness are connected, he's explaining why people find the idea that it is connected appealing. He is not making a claim one way or the other about whether there is such a connection.
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  4. Dec 17, 2014 #3
    Thanks for the reply. I'll try and clarify.

    My question is regarding the assertion that "consciousness is mysterious and quantum mechanics is mysterious, so maybe the two mysteries have a common source." From this statement it seems as if these two concepts (consciousness and QM) are two unrelated mysteries that are combined together to "minimize the mysteries".

    No. I'm suggesting that if he understood QM better he wouldn't see consciousness and QM as two wholly unrelated things. Yes they are both mysterious, but from my understanding of the interpretations of QM (which is limited, and why I'm posting to PF) it isn't as simple as this, as the nature of observation confronts consciousness directly.

    No I am not saying he is wrong. I am asking if the only relation between consciousness and QM is the fact that they are both mysterious, or if consciousness and QM are linked by some other common source. I recognize that Chalmers is not claiming they are/are not connected, but his statement is commonly used as an argument as to why the two are not connected.

    My apologies for my muddling, but does this clarify things?
  5. Dec 17, 2014 #4


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    Well, I would say that there is no firm reason to think they are connected. Once upon a time, people believed that "consciousness collapsed the wavefunction", but I don't think that there is any good reason to believe that, anymore. There is no evidence that a nonconscious measuring device is any different from a human brain, when it comes to collapsing the wave function (if either does).
  6. Dec 17, 2014 #5
    Is there any good reason to not believe that anymore?

    Have people looked at this?
  7. Dec 17, 2014 #6


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    Indeed there is. It originally arose due to the so called Von-Neumann regress. Since the classical quantum cut could be placed just about anywhere and no place was any better or worse than any other Von-Neumann decided to place it at the only place that was different, human conciousness, despite the formidable difficulties such a position entailed, which is particularly apparent in the computer age eg we could record the outcome of a double slit experiment in computer memory and copy it many times. The first person to read the memory would then collapse the wave-function and all the other copies. You start to promulgate the view computer memory is in some kind of superposition until any is read by a concious observer then collapses them all, in a computer science class and they will roll on the floor laughing - it really is a silly view.

    But beyond that with the better understanding of decoherence there is a place that's different - just after decoherence that breaks the Von-Neumann regress and these days its very backwater because the reason for it non longer applied.

    Yes they have - decoherence applies equally to both.

  8. Dec 17, 2014 #7
    Thanks bhobba!

    Is that to say then, that while the system remains coherent it is in a quantum state (ie. superpostion, entangled etc.), and that once it decoheres it becomes classical?

    Do you have any citations for this that I can read up on?
  9. Dec 17, 2014 #8


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    The subjective nature of the classical-quantum divide is called the measurement problem. At present, there is no proposal that solves the measurement problem that works in detail for all known physics, but there are several proposals that work for non-relativistic quantum mechanics, and much of relativistic quantum mechanics. Diosi-Penrose reduction is one proposed solution of the measurement problem that makes collapse objective. It is important to note that there are other solutions to the measurement problem, such as Bohmian Mechanics, that do not have objective collapse. Orch-OR does not explain consciousness, but postulates that it is objectively unexplainable, and is a form of pan-psychism that happens to choose a relatively well-defined piece of conjectured new physics as an "atom of consciousness". At present, only the hard problem of consciousness is fundamentally mysterious in that there is not even agreement as to how the question can be scientifically addressed. As far as I can tell, Orch-OR does not address the hard problem any more than postulating that oxygen is the fundamental "atom of consciousness", and that certain patterns of oxygen dynamics, such as that specifically found in blood capillaries is responsible for higher levels of consciousness.
  10. Dec 17, 2014 #9
    I don't quite get why people think QM explains consciousness any better than Newtonian mechanics. Quantum mechanics isn't any stronger than Newton's. In fact, it is weaker! You can do more in pure classical mechanics than in quantum mechanics.

    Newtonian dynamics allows creating a rapidly accelerating computer that can effectively execute infinitely many elementary steps in finite time. Quantum mechanics sets a limitation over Newtonian dynamics, saying that you can only have finite information in finite volume and finite number of elementary computation steps in finite time.

    That means, if you can't do something in Newtonian dynamics, you can't do it in QM as well. Even worse, you have only finite resources in QM.

    QM doesn't explain anything regarding human cosciousness. It only makes things harder.
  11. Dec 17, 2014 #10


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    It is true that the subjective observer is needed to some extent in the standard Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics. However, the point of Diosi-Penrose collapse is to remove the link between quantum mechanics and the subjective observer. Again, I would like to stress that there are other proposals for removing the subjective observer from quantum mechanics. So if Diosi-Penrose collapse were the physically correct theory, it would mean that a subjective observer is not required to formulate quantum mechanics. While not falsifying Orch-OR, the correctness of Diosi-Penrose collapse would support the "minimization of mystery" criticism about the motivation for Orch-OR.

    As I said above, within Diosi-Penrose theory, collapse is just a particular physical "thing", and it is hard to see why one should give more credence to collapse than to oxygen as a fundamental embodiment of consciousness.
  12. Dec 17, 2014 #11
    I don't quite understand what you mean by this. Can you elaborate? How can anything really execute infinite steps in finite time?

    The reason for invoking QM has to do with the non-algorithmic nature of consciousness (ala Penrose's Goedel argument in The Emperor's New Mind).
  13. Dec 17, 2014 #12


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    It is in a quantum state at all times - there is really no quantum classical cut - the world is 100% quantum.

    What happens is decoherence transforms superposition's into improper mixed states which can be interpreted as apparent collapse has occurred. The modern view is simply to say actual collapse has then occurred meaning the improper state has become a proper one. This is the modern version of the so called measurement problem and is known as the problem of outcomes which, slightly loosely stated, is why do outcomes occur at all. Virtually all interpretations remain powerless to explain that - my personal interpretation called ignorance ensemble being no exception. In a few such as Bohmian Mechanics and Many Worlds its utterly trivial. And some like Consistent Histories finesse the issue by avoiding observations at all - but really if such actually resolves the issue is open to debate - personally I believe it simply sweeps it under the carpet - but the issue is subtle.

    The whole point though is the measurement problem has morphed so the reasons that lead Von-Neumann to introduce conciousness is no longer required - if it was to begin with - which is debateable.

    Sure - but unfortunately most are highly technical - but I do know one that isn't I will mention.

    THE book on the modern view of the measurement problem and how the classical world emerges is:

    A cut down version:

    At a non technical level:

    Another good source is Griifths book on Consistent Histories that he has been kind enough to make available free:

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  14. Dec 17, 2014 #13


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    That's not true.

    For example symmetry in QM implies the form of the Hamiltonian in Classical physics - see chapter 3 Ballentine. It is a much deeper and more powerful theory than Classical Physics - and in fact explains it. Classical Physics accepts the principle of least Action - QM explains it. Both fundamentally depend on symmetry - but QM explains much more.

    The reason Von-Neumann introduced conciousness is no longer required. Trouble is popularisations haven't caught up.

    That is wrong eg classical physics has acausual runaway solutions to some problems that QM avoids eg the Lorentz Dirac equation:

    It is not known at this stage if QM is required to explain the phenomena of conciousness or not. It may be an emergent phenomena or it may be like liquid helium whose strange behaviour depends crucially on QM.

    Last edited: Dec 17, 2014
  15. Dec 17, 2014 #14


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    It seems to me, that's an excellent description of how the brightest minds thought before the Age of Science.

    Sun gods riding their chariots across the skies, nature gods bringing thunder and lightning, Platonic solids accounting for the orbits of the planets.

    How many amateur science enthusiasts have come to PF trying to explain the motion of galaxies by the motion of water down a drain? Or electrons as planets around a tiny atomic solar system?

    Not the best examples, but the idea is, in ignorance, things are often naively organized by surface similarities. It isn't until we understood how these things work that the mysteries were shed.
    Last edited: Dec 17, 2014
  16. Dec 17, 2014 #15


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    Discussions of quantum consciousness that are not backed by peer-reviewed publications tend to get sterile fairly quickly. This thread has reached that point; although some sensible things have been said here, they're all things that have been said before in the many other threads on this topic.

    The thread is closed.
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