Quantum theory and Consciousness

Quantum theory and
This is an interactive discussion.
Please feel free to interrupt at any
time with your questions and
Why are we dissatisfied?
• We feel separate from our thoughts,
feelings, and body sensations.
• We think they should not be the way
they are…
• …so we try to control them.
• The more we try to control them, the
more separate from them we feel.
We feel separate from the world…
• We think it should not be the way it
• …so we try to control it.
• The more we try to control it, the
more separate from it we feel.
What does physics say about
• Until the late 1800s, it was thought that all
matter could be described by classical
physics, which was a theory of separate,
independent, observable objects.
• The theory was thought to describe objects
as they were, so…
• …no interpretation of the theory was needed.
• Western culture is a culture of separation, as
was the culture of classical physics!
• Classical physics could not explain
certain experiments.
• It turned out that something was
wrong with the basic assumption
that matter consists of separate,
independent, observable objects.
After 3 decades of trying to make
classical theory work, in the 1920s
physicists replaced it with quantum
• However, quantum theory turned out
to be purely mathematical…
• …and it was not immediately obvious
how to relate the mathematics to our
• An interpretation was needed for this.
There are several interpretations
used in quantum theory
• Physicists use different interpretations
for different purposes.
• But in none of them is separation
• …so, if we feel separate, we still live
in a pre-quantum world!
The most widely used
interpretation: the Copenhagen
• In this interpretation, the only thing that is
assumed to exist prior to an observation
is a mathematical wavefunction that
exists over all space.
• It represents the probability that a specific
event will be observed by the observer using
a specific type of apparatus (e.g., an electron
detector, or the visual sense).
• It describes all of the possible events that
could be observed, but cannot predict
which event will actually be observed.
Wavefunction collapse
• At the moment of observation, the
wavefunction changes irreversibly
from a description of all of the
possibilities that could be observed to
a description of only the event that is
• This is called wavefunction collapse.
The next observation
• After an observation and wavefunction
collapse, a new wavefunction emerges.
• It represents all of the possibilities that are
allowed by the previous observation.
• Another observation results in another
wavefunction collapse, etc.
• In this theory, there are no objects. There
is nothing but a stream of observations,
represented by a sequence of
wavefunction collapses.
The mind
• “Your” mind consists of one stream of
• “My” mind consists of another stream of
• When our observations are simultaneous,
they result from the same sequence of
wavefunction collapses.
• However, the wavefunction represents all
possibilities and therefore predicts only the
probability, not the certainty, that “you” will
observe something. Similarly for “me”.
• It does not guarantee that what “you”
see is the same thing that “I” see.
For example…
• …suppose “you” and “I” set up an apparatus
to drop no more than one B-B onto a table
top (all described by the wavefunction), but
we don’t know in advance where it settles on
the table top.
• Now, suppose “you” and “I” simultaneously
observe the table top.
• What prevents “you” from seeing a B-B at
one place on the table while “I” see it in a
different place?
Consistency requires that collapse
be nonlocal
• The Copenhagen interpretation requires that
wavefunction collapse happens over all space
simultaneously so that “your” observations are
consistent with “my” observations, no matter how far
apart “we” are. This is called nonlocal collapse.
• But, Einstein’s special theory of relativity says that
no physical effect can travel with a velocity greater
than the velocity of light.
• Thus, there is no physical explanation for anything
that happens over all space simultaneously, so there
is no physical mechanism for nonlocal collapse.
• Therefore, nonlocal collapse can only result from a
nonphysical mechanism.
What is it that…
• …is nonphysical and can cause
collapse to occur over all space
• …can ensure that what “you” observe
is consistent with what “I” observe no
matter how far apart we are?
A possibility that physicists do not
like to consider
• It might be Awareness that causes wavefunction
• Awareness is not an object. It is what is aware of
• Since It is not an object, It cannot be observed.
• Because It is not an object, It cannot be
localized in space and time. Therefore, It is
• Because It is nonlocal, It could collapse the
wavefunction so that what “you” observe is
consistent with what “I” observe.
The subjective interpretation: An
alternative interpretation of
quantum theory
• In this interpretation, there is no objective
reality, no objective wavefunction, no
wavefunction collapse, and no problem of
• There is only subjective experience.
• The wavefunction is merely a tool for
calculating the probability that something
will be observed (experienced).
However, in either interpretation…
• Each mind appears to be separate from
every other mind.
• But, if “your” mind is really separate from
“my” mind, what allows “your” mind to
communicate with “my” mind? Why isn’t
separation absolute?
• Answer: “We” can communicate with each
other because “we” only appear to be
• The Awareness that is aware of “your”
mind is the same Awareness that is aware
of “my” mind.
“The Awareness that I am
is the Awareness that You
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