Yeah, I know, it's hard to swallow. I doubt I could (intellectually) surrender my 5 senses to ANY theory that denies them. Classical physics tells us there's an objective reality out there that can't be perceived with fidelity. Okay fine. I can accept that. But quantum physics tells us that the atoms of the moon are actually in a "superposition" of states (anywhere within a range of potential) until we observe it; at which time "wave function collapse" occurs in objective reality, allowing it to be rendered (in a simplified perceived form) by our brains. THAT is hard to swallow!
This is tough since the natural world is full of so many mind-bogglingly interesting things, but something that has only recently been sinking (I say sinking rather than sunk because I think there is too much there to sink) in to me and therefore occupies my recent thoughts the most is the reach of the theory of computation. In other words, the concept of universality in computer science goes far beyond being an interesting law in the respective discipline. Consider how the laws of physics are encodable by a universal computer that does some very basic logical operations. This has caused some people to posit that the world therefore might be a large simulator. Why else should the logic that governs the operations in our computers be able to simulate the laws of physics in virtual environments? This is a matrix-type scenario if you will, but not so grim and far more interesting than what the Wachowski brothers might ever be able to conceive.
Anyway, what interests me the most is not that the universe might be large simulator (which is undoubtedly very interesting, if true), but that the corollary of such thinking is that if our brains are anything like universal computers then they can in theory encode the laws of physics fairly well. Which means that when we say we comprehend physics, we do so not in some fuzzy subjective way, but we actually do comprehend physics (or biology, or chem or math or anything) for what it really is. This is very optimistic in my opinion because our brains don't need to evolve much more than their current state for us to be able to understand a lot more about the natural world than we already do. Of course our brains will evolve, and pretty soon we might control our own evolution using technology, and that will surely aid in our understanding even more. Yet, in the present state there is so much we CAN understand it seems, and not worry about being deluded. So even though our best scientific theories of the present may be proven wrong in the future, the theories that will replace them will nevertheless bring us closer to reality, for they will have all the merits of the old theories that they've replaced and more. And in this way we might approach reality asymptotically, or some other way.
Sorry for the long spiel. Now you see what I mean by certain thoughts floating around in my head lately :)
So there you have it! I am reminded of something someone once said (and I paraphrase) about computers being as much about the theory of computation as telescopes are about astrophysics.
I'm certainly no physicist but quantum theory, if I understand it well enough to hazard a comment about it, includes data as a property of (subatomic) matter and acknowledges a role for consciousness in physical reality. Combined, these 2 points seem curious to me. Why would physics have ANY role for data and consciousness unless there is (or was) an intelligence to make use of them?
I doubt human beings are the first intelligent lifeforms in the universe but even so it probably took at least 100 million years for the first stars to die and cough up the essential materials of life. The laws of physics/nature were long established by then. So how could there have been any intelligence around during the crucial early stages of the universe's existence?
Everything in nature seems to have a purpose. Cause and effect. What purpose could data and consciousness have in nature? As an atheist, this question bothers me because it seems to give traction to, at least, a pantheistic view of reality . . . and provides some coverage for deists and, even, theists.
Put down the deepak chopra and step away. There is nothing in my quantum book about consciousness. Quantum theory defines observation as an interaction on the macroscopic level that makes a measurement meaningful. That's what they mean by the observer and the observation being connected. For instance, until a particle interacts with the universe in a way that gives meaning to spin, its spin remains undefined, not just unknown, but truly undefined. No consciousness is necessary to observe it, just macroscopic interaction. The Universe observes (measures) it. There is a big difference between what Quantum Theory says and what pop authors say it says.
I don't like Chopra. I switch channels when I see his face. I skip his YouTube videos. I've never heard him pontificate on quantum theory OR consciousness . . . hearing him talk about religion was more than I'll ever need to hear from him.
You're not up-to-date on the topic, it seems. There's a lot of disagreement between physicists themselves on the matter. How you have resolved the matter when they haven't is a newsworthy accomplishment that should place you firmly in the pantheon of great thinkers.
There's several competing interpretations concerning the role of consciousness in physics. Despite your bravado, there's no clear answer.
However, I think you must agree that data is integral to the structure of quantum mechanics . . . since you failed to mention that half of my data/consciousness pairing. Like it or not, there are respected physicists, at every level, who see relevance here for consciousness. There are also those who don't. But if you'll reread what I actually wrote you'll see that all I said was quantum theory "acknowledges a role for consciousness in physical reality". I never mentioned any author, "pop" or otherwise. I never mentioned any observer/observation connection or particle spin.
If you must know, I was thinking about John Archibald Wheeler (heard of him?) and his "it from bit" -- the idea that information is the fundamental core of physics. Much of the recent interest in information (data) and consciousness stems from research into black holes. It appears that information could be more fundamental than matter and energy and that it plays a major role in both the physical and the phenomenal.
There's lots of serious scientific interest in this subject, which I've been exploring. It's really interesting stuff and related threads can keep you busy for a very long time. You should check it out.
I'm finding soooo much legitimate science, on Google, postulating roles (large and small) for consciousness in phyisics! How about these tidbits . . .
. . . In 1964 John Bell published his now famous inequality showing that a reformulation of the EPR experiment could be experimentally tested. In 1982 Alain Aspect carried out the Bell experiment and found that quantum physics was correct and Einstein wrong. Quantum properties are not real and hidden, but instead are created in the act of measurement.
In 2003, Nobel Laureate Anthony Leggett published a more rigorous version of the Bell experiment. A Leggett inequality experiment was carried out recently in the Institute for Quantum Optics and Quantum Information at the University of Vienna and published in Nature in April 2007. Reporting on this New Scientist said:
Their results, published in 2007, suggest "…that there is nothing inherently real about the properties of an object that we measure. In other words, measuring those properties is what brings them into existence." (New Scientist, 23 June 2007) Or as quantum researcher Vlatko Vedral of the University of Leeds puts it: "Rather than passively observing it, we in fact create reality."
Quantum mechanics is now telling us unambiguously that consciousness creates reality. And since quantum physics is at the root of everything, this has profound consequences for the interpretation of our own nature, the universe, and, yes, even why it may make more sense to trace everything back to a conscious intelligence rather than inanimate fields and forces.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bernard Haisch, Ph.D., Calphysics Institute, is an astrophysicist and author of over 130 scientific publications. He served as a scientific editor of the Astrophysical Journal for ten years, and was Principal Investigator on several NASA research projects. After earning his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Haisch did postdoctoral research at the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics, University of Colorado at Boulder and the University of Utrecht, the Netherlands. His professional positions include Staff Scientist at the Lockheed Martin Solar and Astrophysics Laboratory; Deputy Director of the Center for Extreme Ultraviolet Astrophysics at the University of California, Berkeley; and Visiting Scientist at the Max-Planck-Institut fuer Extraterrestrische Physik in Garching, Germany. He was also Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Scientific Exploration.
. . . or . . .
. . . any discussion regarding consciousness and intentionality would be incomplete without including these known facts regarding the information structure of our universe. The resulting energy/information duality is mandated in physics, and it sheds considerable light on the consciousness debate. The evidence for a quantum related theory of consciousness is mounting daily and should be expected for the following reason. If an informational basis of quantum theory can account for matter, energy, conservation laws, and even empty spacetime, perhaps a theory of everything and everywhere can naturally include consciousness.
It would appear your physics text is way out of date and failed to mention that it takes consciousness to observe and to measure.
These quotes are from the website for the book, "Quantum Enigma".
"When the province of physical theory was extended to encompass microscopic phenomena through the creation of quantum mechanics, the concept of consciousness came to the fore again. It was not possible to formulate the laws of quantum mechanics in a fully consistent way without reference to the consciousness." ~Eugene Wigner
"Observations not only disturb what is to be measured, they produce it." ~Pascual Jordan
"The doctrine that the world is made up of objects whose existence is independent of human consciousness turns out to be in conflict with quantum mechanics and with facts established by experiment." ~Bernard d'Espagnat
"In the beginning there were only probabilities. The universe could only come into existence if someone observed it. It does not matter that the observers turned up several billion years later. The universe exists because we are aware of it." ~Martin Rees
Please don't get me wrong, I didn't mean to be flippant. And I'm for sure not trying to discredit your point about consciousness, I actually find it relevant and fascinating. I'm just saying that I am a physicist and throughout my quantum courses program and in all my quantum textbooks, the chapter on consciousness simply isn't there. It's an interesting and important investigation yes, but it is more philosophy than quantum.
Quantum Theory itself is a series of equations developed to model the results of certain benchmark experiments. There are some amazing philosophical implications arising from those equations that were addressed (in our program) in a "philosophy of physics" course that was required. One of the most important discussions that arose from quantum relates to an evolution in how physicists define "observation." One doesn't get through a physics program without finding and appreciating lots of "strange loops" like the big one, the one where the universe observes itself, in the form of humanity, and thus causes itself to exist. But the idea that humans create the universe is ludicrous and it is not what is lurking behind your collection of quotes. It's not that the quotes are blatantly wrong, but strung together they produce a gross oversimplification of a complex issue. When a dog howls at the moon, is it not observing it? Do intelligent space fairing alien species on other planets not exist until we discover them? Or do we not exist until they discover us? A lot more depth is needed to the issue in order to connect something as holistic as the human experience to subatomic wave functions, which is what this string of quotes appears to attempt.
There was a period during this debate of "At what stage does a 'measurement' take place?" (mid 20th century). Remember there was a lot of strong disagreement about quantum theory prior to the publishing of Bell's Inequality Theorem. Some of these men had some strange philosophical bents to go with their skills as physicists. The quantum edifice was built by people with a wide array of very devoted religious ideas, and other crap like white supremacy, political agendas, all sorts of weird shit that is not physics per se, but that affected their interpretation of the broader implications of the physics.
The philosophical upshot of the 20th century is that the human mind is a modeler, and we are stuck with that. There is always a separation between "thinking" and "reality" because we lack the capacity to think purely about reality. We seem to be utterly stuck thinking only about the models that we create in our minds. A model by definition tends to fall short of the thing it models in terms of completeness. This is probably what is at the root, for instance, of students understanding the wave-particle duality issue. Waves and particles are both models, they over-compartmentalize knowledge. Another avenue for investigating the limitation of human mental modeling is Gödel but that is I think a digression of our topic.
To sum up, the physics community is not monolithic but the overwhelming consensus is that observation, in terms of collapsing quantum probability wave functions, is best described as interactions that give a particular measurement model meaning. As Heisenberg said, it's not that we can no longer divide the particle, but we do come to a point where division has no meaning; e.g. There appears to be no macroscopic interaction with the universe that gives relevance to the model of "half of a quanta." That model is therefore meaningless.
As you can tell I'm sure, I have a pet peeve about asshats like Deepok using buzz words from physics to sell books about voodoo. Having now put my take on the physics out there, it's just not fair to say that I disagree entirely with the philosophical gist of your argument. I actually like where you are going. There IS something to it, I can't rationally just dismiss it. The Zuni Indians said "The creator, Awonawilona, thought himself into being." But in a way, don't we all? If all I have to work with is models that I create holistically by evolving some patterns of an energy-matter-spacetime interplay that I call a brain, itself a model, then I am a strange loop too, like Awonawilona. We are similar, the Universe and I, because we were never really separate things. We are both MY strange loop of mind-brain modeling. Awonawilona is also a really fun word to say.
I loved the Zuni Indian reference you had in your reply. Don't mind if I use that in my conversations with people :)
I really enjoyed the rest of your reply as well, not just because of the ideas therein contained, but also because you write with great clarity. Thanks!
I'll second Vincent's reply. :-)
In the last 2 days (before joining this conversation, I was reading about Conscious Realism, Donald D. Hoffman), I've read a LOT about consciousness and it's role in physics. The ideas seem alien, if not downright crazy. But they're a whole lot easier to swallow if you're a quantum physicist inured to the picture of the universe painted by quantum theory. I thought Hoffman's theory was hocus-pocus but after reading more about the topic, I found that his theory fits quantum mechanics and that his mathematical proof for spectrum inversion is scientifically rigorous. After finding so many physicists who claim that objective reality is truly quantum, one begins to wonder just how secure one's own grasp of reality is.
The point driven home is that what we see is not real. Seeing is no longer believing once you understand how the brain represents the world according to what we've evolved to process quickly.
But back to the original point. If causality is a law of nature and the conservation of energy is a law of physics, why the roles for information and consciousness in the universe unless there's an intelligence to make use of them? And if they're truly part of physical reality, doesn't that mean the "intelligence" must have preceded the Big Bang (because the laws of nature were fixed very shortly thereafter). And what's to separate that intelligence from a pantheistic God?
1. God is mostly hydrogen. 2. The dense primordial goo of the early Universe was impregnated with something dark and yeasty.
I always seem to go back to Guns, Germs, and Steel, the phenomenal Pulitzer Prize winning book by Jared Diamond that puts forth a convincing argument on how geography had such a powerful influence on the development of human culture and civilization over the past 10,000 years or so. From the description:
Until around 11,000 BC, all peoples were still Stone Age hunter/gatherers. At that point, a great divide occurred in the rates that human societies evolved. In Eurasia, parts of the Americas, and Africa, farming became the prevailing mode of existence when indigenous wild plants and animals were domesticated by prehistoric planters and herders. As Jared Diamond vividly reveals, the very people who gained a head start in producing food would collide with preliterate cultures, shaping the modern world through conquest, displacement, and genocide.The paths that lead from scattered centers of food to broad bands of settlement had a great deal to do with climate and geography. But how did differences in societies arise? Why weren't native Australians, Americans, or Africans the ones to colonize Europe? Diamond dismantles pernicious racial theories tracing societal differences to biological differences. He assembles convincing evidence linking germs to domestication of animals, germs that Eurasians then spread in epidemic proportions in their voyages of discovery. In its sweep, Guns, Germs and Steel encompasses the rise of agriculture, technology, writing, government, and religion, providing a unifying theory of human history as intriguing as the histories of dinosaurs and glaciers.