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Role of consciousness in QM

  1. Jan 13, 2015 #1
    There is soooo much misinformation out there that for the non-physicist, it is difficult to know whether to trust one source or not.

    So, one thing I do not understand is, based on what I've read, how QM does or does not require consciousness. It seems a debate that has been going on almost since the birth of QM. In any of the mainstream interpretations of QM I've read about, any attempt to exclude the conscious observer results in the appearance of other flaws that would be solved had the observer been allowed to stay in the equation.

    This is why I need a reliable source; self-research has brought me to way too many sources of misinformation.

    [Moderator's note - this post was lightly edited as part of splitting it out from another thread]
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 14, 2015
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  3. Jan 13, 2015 #2

    phinds

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    Interpretations all give the same results empirically and a conscious observer is NOT required to get the results of ANY actual experiment. This is a misconception. The moon IS there whether anyone is looking at it or not.
     
  4. Jan 13, 2015 #3
    But how do you know that? That's what I can't understand. All I am looking for is irrefutable experimental evidence that absolutely shows that consciousness is, or is not, necessary for the existence of the physical universe. It seems that many physicists believe that consciousness - despite everything we know being a quality within it - is irrelevant. I just want to understand why.

    EDIT: And I'm assuming, being scientists, that they have very good, empirical reasons to feel this way.
     
  5. Jan 13, 2015 #4

    phinds

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    You can't prove a negative, so NO amount of experimental evidence will ever show absolutely that consciousness is not required. That's not how physics works.
     
  6. Jan 13, 2015 #5
    Right right that makes complete sense, thank you. So then, thus far, despite a lot of claims, it is not that physics has shown that consciousness is not required, due to the fact that it's a negative. What it has shown, however, is that everything, including quantum mechanics, works without it?

    Which brings me back to what I was wondering before: How does QM work without it? If you don't feel like explaining (because I have a feeling that to adequately answer this question would require pages and pages of writing) then could you point me to a source that accurately represents how QM works?
     
  7. Jan 13, 2015 #6

    phinds

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    exactly. (well, everything we know of so far)

    You are asking for the explanation of a negative. That isn't going to happen. Why SHOULD it be required? The only reason you think so is that SOME mainstream physicists thought so early in the history of QM and despite the fact that the concept went away quickly, it has persisted in popular literature, especially of the sort promoted by sleaze bags like Deepak Chopra.
    I'll have to leave that to more knowledgeable members, but I would suggest that you look for any experiment that anyone SAYS requires consciousness and if you have a specific question about that, start a new thread.
     
  8. Jan 13, 2015 #7
    Okay thank you. I wasn't aware that the concept was abandoned early in the history of QM, I suppose popular literature truly HAS screwed me over.

    So if you could just supply a quick answer to this question, and that will cease my asking until I do more research: What is the name of the interpretation that is logically sound that explains QM without any mention of, or necessity for, an observer?
     
  9. Jan 13, 2015 #8

    Bystander

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    That would be the so called "Shut up and calculate school of quantum mechanics."
     
  10. Jan 13, 2015 #9

    phinds

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    Bystander has nailed it. "The Shut Up and Calculate" school of thought says that it REALLY doesn't matter what interpretation you want to philosophize about because, as I said earlier, they all lead to the exact same results and thus they ALL explain QM without any consciousness. Be careful though, between the concept of "CONSCISOUS observer" and the concept of "observation". The double-slit experiment demonstrates that observation has an effect but it does not require consciousness, just any "observation" which can also be interpreted as "interaction" to get away from the tendency to associate "conscious" with "observation".
     
  11. Jan 14, 2015 #10
    Alrighty, thanks for the replies.

    It confuses me how introducing an object that is made, fundamentally, of the same "stuff" as particles would somehow count as an observation simply because it is large.

    It seems that this "interaction" would just become part of the system. It's not like nature knows when we are measuring, so I would think a measuring device, even if it is a large object, would just become part of that "fuzzy" system until an observer was introduced.

    The "Shut Up and Calculate" sounds a lot like "Don't Worry About What Can't Be Used by Engineers" but, scientists have been the source of our philosophies and beliefs ever since they had destroyed a large pat of society's complete faith in religion. I'm surprised that philosophy has been so separated from physics; wouldn't one WANT to know what their discoveries mean?
     
  12. Jan 14, 2015 #11

    phinds

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    I think you are confusing "observation" with "interaction". I told you to watch out for that.

    well of course it is part of the system, it's just that the introduction of other elements (that is to say, an interaction) changes the characteristics of the system. Why do you find that surprising?
    What discoveries mean is the realm of philosophy, not physics. Physics is only concerned with how the discovery changes our understanding of other things. Physics doesn't answer "why" questions, it answers "how" questions. "Why" questions always lead to turtles all the way down.
     
  13. Jan 14, 2015 #12
    I suppose that is common sense in any REGULAR system, I just thought that if one were to introduce something new to a quantum system, that the "fuzziness" (for lack of a more academic term) would then be transferred to the new elements as well, thereby creating a bigger system of the same nature. I don't understand how introducing new elements somehow changes the QM weirdness. It eventually reaches an observer - inevitably - so how has it been shown to work without one? I am not asking for proof of a negative, but simply an approach that has successfully omitted the observer and also successfully interprets QM. This is not to say I am looking for an equation, but an interpretation - a theory - that flawlessly explains experimental results, and does so without any mention of an observer.

    If simply introducing a group of large particles (macro-object) somehow changes the system, what exactly changes? Are we still talking about the collapse of the "wave function" going into one state, or has this also been abandoned by mainstream science? (Obviously the equation is still used, but is
     
  14. Jan 14, 2015 #13

    phinds

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    I still think you are conflating "observer" with "consciousness". Just DROP the whole concept of observer and think only of "interaction".

    Also, "bigger system of the same nature" doesn't follow. Quantum objects behave with a probability distribution. When you put forty seven scadzillion of them together, the probabilities even out. You and I, for example, are made up of quantum objects but we don't ACT like quantum objects. Theoretically, of course, we DO act like quantum objects and in theory, if you wait for some large amount of time. (think 10^x years where x has 100 zeros in it) something weird will likely happen.

    Quantum behavior has been seen in very small objects that are still large enough to be considered macro objects, so the line between quantum and macro is fuzzy and a subject of great interest to physicists.
     
  15. Jan 14, 2015 #14
    I am not conflating observer with consciousness. It is my understanding that you are saying a measurement device acts as an "observer" as well. My confusion originated from the fact that this object, I would think, would become suspended in superposition AS WELL until it was observed BY consciousness because that was my understanding of how the wave function collapsed, which is the interpretation that seems to make most sense.

    So why does an object, whose probabilities have leveled out due to such a large amount of particles, collapse the wave-function of a particle's position? Or, since this is physics and not philosophy, how does this larger system have that sort of effect?
     
  16. Jan 14, 2015 #15

    Nugatory

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    Or "Minimal statistical interpretation" :)
     
  17. Jan 14, 2015 #16

    Nugatory

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    Google for "Quantum decoherence" (math somewhat daunting, unfortunately) and try one of the relatively few good layman-focused books on the subject: https://www.amazon.com/Where-Does-The-Weirdness-Mechanics/dp/0465067867. The basic idea is that a large system will display classical common-sense behavior even though it is made up of an enormous number of quantum particles that do not; an analogy would be the way that gases obey Boyle's law even though they are made up of individual molecules that act more like tiny solid particles.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 7, 2017
  18. Jan 14, 2015 #17

    phinds

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    Thanks for helping straighten out this thread and the closed one, Nugagory. I was getting in over my head :smile:
     
  19. Jan 14, 2015 #18
    Okay thanks nugatory :D Can't wait to read about it
     
  20. Jan 14, 2015 #19

    atyy

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    In the standard formulation of quantum mechanics, there is the need for an "observer" or a "classical measurement apparatus" or a "classical world". Looking for a theory or interpretation of quantum mechanics which removes the need for an observer is called the "measurement problem". A superb discussion of the measurement problem is found in http://www.tau.ac.il/~quantum/Vaidman/IQM/BellAM.pdf.

    Two approaches that attempt to solve the measurement problem are Bohmian Mechanics and the Many-Worlds Interpretation.

    At present, open questions in Bohmian Mechanics are whether it can describe relativistic quantum mechanics, specifically the interaction of chiral fermions and non-abelian gauge fields (there are proposals, but these are still at the forefront of research).
    http://arxiv.org/abs/quant-ph/0611032

    A major open question in the Many-Worlds Interpretation is how probability enters a theory which is deterministic.
    http://www.preposterousuniverse.com...ion-of-quantum-mechanics-is-probably-correct/
     
  21. Jan 14, 2015 #20
    Thank you for the reply, atyy.

    One problem I have heard about with MWI is the fact that due to the incredible amount of quantum events occurring every second, the universe would be infinitely splitting up in order to actualize every possibility. Were this the case of what is happening, the probability that our universe is the one that contains consistent experimental outcomes the way it does, is so extremely close to zero that it's not really a plausible interpretation.

    But what do I know, I'm just a lay person whose major is wellness and alternative medicine LOL

    Anyway, thanks for the resources, look forward to checking them out
     
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