If I work hard, does my power of quantum mechanics cause me to manifest reality? No, but then why did any of the theory’s pioneers believe that consciousness and quantum mechanics were inextricably tied together?
Weirdness of Quantum world
The quantum world’s behavior is beyond weird, Objects being in multiple places at once, communicating faster than light, or simultaneously experiencing multiple entire timelines and suddenly Speak to each other. The laws governing the tiny quantum universe of atoms and photons appear alien to us. And yet we have a series of rules that give us unparalleled power to forecast the quantum system’s behavior: those laws encapsulated in the mathematics of quantum mechanics.
Given its remarkable popularity, we are now almost a century past the start of quantum mechanics. Physicists are also exploring how to view their calculations and the strangeness they represent. It is not shocking that the quantum universe’s inherent strangeness has spawned some extraordinary interpretations-or these theories have strayed into the realm of what we may call mysticism.
One especially prevalent notion is that consciousness can directly affect quantum structures and affect reality. Now we’re going to see where this notion came from and whether quantum theory accepts it.
First, we’re going to have to go back to one of the early explanations of quantum mechanics-the Copenhagen interpretation, frequently associated with Neils Bohr and Werner Heisenberg. It shows us that the mere act of measuring or observation leads the experiment to settle on a specific outcome. It makes no sense to argue about a well-defined empirical fact until the observation is made.
Let’s see where this kooky idea comes from, classic example is the double-slit experiment. It’s like this: a single electron is fired at a pair of slits. It passes through and is registered on the other side of the detector panel. As multiple electrons are shot one after the other, a number of bands are formed. This is the same pattern formed by a wave going through both slits, so-called interference patterns. But that’s odd since this pattern of interference appears to direct each electron’s direction independently of the others.
Every single electron must know the entire wave pattern. Which means it must, in some sense, travel through both slits. The Copenhagen interpretation explains this experiment’s result by saying that the electron does not travel as a particle or as a physical wave along with one of these paths. Instead, it moves like an abstract “probability wave”: something we call wave function. The probability wave determines the position of the electron at some point if you try to calculate it. The Copenhagen interpretation states that, before measurement, it’s meaningless to talk about a real, physical state for the electron. It exists only as of the possible outcome of a future measurement.
It’s the wave function before the calculation. Copenhagen informs us that when we make the calculation, the wave function “collapses”. It goes from a cloud of potential final destinations for the electron to a more or less definite location on the detector frame. Wavefunction collapse seems necessary because our big, classical universe is not made up of clouds of probability; it is made up of structures with precisely definable properties.
Quantum to classical transition
So when does the quantum transition to the classical happen? In the case of a double-slit experiment, let’s look at the mechanism. The electron wave function passes through both slits, enters the electronic detector, and evokes a second electron on the detector panel. The second electron starts a cascade – an electrical impulse that passes through circuits to be monitored by a device that changes a picture on a display screen to indicate where the electron is reaching. And the information passes by photons to light-sensitive molecules in our retinas, which transmit electrical signals to our visual cortex. Many electrical impulses in other brain areas result in a specific understanding of the initial electron’s desired location on the computer.
Von Neumann chain
We name the chain of knowledge between the detector and Our mind a von Neumann chain, after the great Hungarian-American physicist John von Neumann. He wrote that the collapse of the wave function would take place somewhere between the measuring instrument and the conscious perception of the measurement results.
But where exactly? It is certainly not as soon as our electron wave function hits the detector. The first electron to be excited in the sensor is indeed a quantum entity. This means that the moving electron’s wave function can only be combined with all the electron wave functions that it might potentially excite.
We should get what we call a superposition of states: a wave function in which an electron is simultaneously excited and not excited at any point on the detector frame. Perhaps the transition to wave function occurs either in the circuitry, on the monitor, or in the retina. Although all these phenomena are composed of atoms — the “von Neumann chain” from the detector to the mind is a sequence of quantum objects.
Without a strong boundary between the quantum and the classical, where does the wave function collapse? This open topic is called the Measurement Dilemma. John von Neumann assumed that the collapse of wave function had to occur at a time of conscious perception of the experiment results.
Von Neumann-Wigner interpretation
Another great of early quantum theory was in harmony with him. Eugene Wigner was a fellow Hungarian-American who went to school with von Neumann until they both ended up in Princeton. The theory that consciousness is collapsing the wave function is now called the von Neumann-Wigner interpretation, and it is a branch of the Copenhagen interpretation.
Wigner conceived a thought experiment in 1961 to argue for the existence of consciousness. A friend of Wigner’s hypothesis goes like this: imagine you don’t perform a double-slit experiment, your mate does.
You remember the experiment was done with a single photon touching the detector, and your friend is aware of the test, but you are not.
So we have an extra phase in our von Neumann chain before the knowledge about this quantum experiment enters your consciousness, it has to move through your friend’s conscious mind.
So we’ve had this strange moment-somewhere between the electron falling on the frame and your buddy telling you the answer. Your buddy’s whole-brain resides in a quantum superposition of all the experiment’s potential outcomes from your viewpoint. And when your friend tells you the result of the experiment, would their brain-wave mechanism converge into a single experimental outcome.
So you’re telling your friend what was it like for your entire brain to be in a superposition of states? They think you’re crazy-they tell you that the wave function collapsed as soon as the physical experiment was over. But from your viewpoint, there was no way to make the failure happen, no details had reached you.
Question related to wave funtion collapsing
So there’s a question, various researchers say the wave function is collapsing at different moments. Eugene Wigner thought that this conflict meant that it was difficult for the whole brain or more specifically, the mental perception produced by such brains to be in a state overlay or superposition.
Therefore, he concluded that the conscious experience itself must play a role in the generation of wave function collapse. Wigner and von Neumann were not the only ones to question the relationship between the mind and the problem of measurement. Wolfgang Pauli may have been the first to suggest the connexion, and his influence may have begun to establish the understanding of Copenhagen-later primarily credited to Bohr and Heisenberg. Bohr himself was cautious about asserting some overt function of the conscious mind-and strongly defended himself after Einstein accused him of bringing mysticism into physics.
Yet Heisenberg was early on more accessible to mystical theories and the overt influence of consciousness. In his 1958 lectures on Mind and Matter, even Erwin Schrodinger notes that consciousness is required to make physical reality meaningful.
With the greats of quantum mechanics inclined to talk in magical terms, it is not shocking that the theory has been sticking around. In the 1970s, books such as The Tao of Physics and The Dancing Wu Li Masters drew comparisons between Eastern philosophical practices and Quantum Physics-which on the surface sounds like a fantastic idea-poetic account of the complexities of Physics with philosophic muses. But the floodgates opened these works.
Self-help books and films have proliferated, with all manner of claims-like that you can manipulate fact through acts of will-the wave function falls in your favor to compel the position of a spot on a screen, or to control the shapes of snowflakes, or to get a promotion. And there’s the notion that the reality doesn’t have an empirical existence-our mind are inventing the world.
But as Richard Feynman said, “You don’t understand quantum mechanics if you believe you understand quantum mechanics.” The more you read of this principle, the less likely you are to say that you truly understand its most important ramifications. Even the most positive statements concerning quantum mechanics tend to be enigmatic ones.
They seem to be made by people who have never researched the theory thoroughly but are very capable of cherry-picking and misinterpreting some of their authors’ early speculations.
The founders challenged the position of consciousness and the relation between subjective and objective reality, and they were right to do so.
The quantum universe’s peculiar actions called for the bold and open-minded exploration that characterizes a great scientist. But the other characteristic of a great scientist is the flexibility to change your mind. And most of them did shift their minds-away from the notion of a clear, causal function in consciousness. In Heisenberg’s later literature, he notes that the wave function’s breakdown must be a constant phase between the measuring system and the conscious mind, not a sudden occurrence triggered by the latter.
Wigner, too-he switched sides and spoke out against the notion of the primary role of consciousness. He rejected what he termed the solipsistic view: that the mind is first and foremost, that the consciousness creates the world. We should use Wigner’s friend to lay the worst misinterpretation of the Copenhagen interpretation to rest.
Another double slit experiment
You’re standing next to your mate this time, and you’re doing a double-slit experiment together. A single electron will enter the detector pad, and each of you will discover its position simultaneously. You speak to each other and accept the same result-the wave function collapses in the same manner for all of you. So what is it?
Perhaps one of you is causing their favorite wave feature to crash on anyone else? Or you may be the only observer, and you imagine your friend and, well, the rest of reality. There are no other observers in the world to provide contradictory findings. No, the only possible reason for the continuity of the experimental findings between the various observers appears to be that the outcome of the experiment-and the reality-is independent of the individual observers.
Sure, you might dream about a world consciousness crashing with a universal wave function, but that’s not going to give you the quantum force you want.
Although the Measurement Problem has not been resolved-at least not with full consensus, modern quantum theory has come a long way since it was founded. There are some exact explanations for why the wavefunction appears to collapse. And conscious observation may play a role- but not in the way you might think.
To explain why we need to understand what happens to these several alternative stories after the electron wave function hits the detector-and why these stories avoid interacting with each other. We need to read about quantum and quantum multiverse decoherence. For now, one thing I can say with confidence is that the future wave function involves a deeper dive into the quantum-classical divide in the forthcoming post on pre-processing.com.
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