In Walter Bradley Center Director Robert J. Marks’ second podcast with philosopher Angus Menuge, the big topic is the perennial “difficult problem of consciousness and various proposed solutions.” One of the questions often raised is quantum consciousness. Previously, they had discussed Integrated Information Theory (IIT) and panpsychism. But now, what about the approach of recent Nobelist Roger Penrose: quantum consciousness?
This game starts at 6:22 p.m. A partial transcript, exhibition notes, and additional resources follow.
Robert J. Marks (photo): Okay. Another pattern of consciousness that I’m aware of is the so-called quantum consciousness. This really interests me because reading Roger Penrose’s work he argues that humans can do non-algorithmic things. And he looked at the whole universe and he said, where in our universe are things that are not algorithmic?
And his conclusion was, only in quantum mechanics, when you have a collapse of a wave function at a specified result, do we have something that is not algorithmic… What happens in quantum consciousness ?
Angus Menuge: The idea of quantum consciousness is that quantum phenomena do not seem to develop in the same deterministic or algorithmic way as things in classical physics. And that this could explain human creativity and free will and other powers of the mind which seem incompatible with classical deterministic physics.
So from a point of view in this area, Penrose’s work is rather speculative because he is interested in quantum gravity. These ideas haven’t really been sorted out and resolved at this point.
To note: Quantum gravity is the gravity that governs the smallest particles in the universe. “‘Quantum gravity’ does not refer to any existing theory: the field of quantum gravity is in fact a ‘work in progress’. As you will see in this chapter, there are several lines of attack each with the same main objective: to find a theory that unifies, in some sense, general relativity (Einstein’s classical field theory of gravity) and quantum field theory (the theoretical framework through which we understand the behavior of particles in non-gravitational fields). “- Dean Rickles, Quantum gravity: an introduction for philosophers
But Henry Stapp, following a particular interpretation of quantum mechanics, considers that what may be happening is that the brain is a quantum system at the level of ionic activity. And what that means is that there can be a superposition of possible states of the brain. Each of them, for example, could represent a model for a different action.
To note: Mathematical physicist Henry Stapp “believes that classical physics cannot describe the brain, and believes that a quantum framework is necessary for a full explanation. He is sympathetic to the ideas of the pre-quantum age of William James, who suggested that consciousness was a “selection agent” present when choices need to be made. – “Henry Stapp”, Quantum mind
Angus Menuge: So you decide, say, which of the five movies to watch or watch at home. And there they all, these templates exist in superposition. They all have some probability of being selected, but none of them have been selected. What explains why in the end you watch a movie rather than the others? Well back to [John] von Neumann, Von Neumann had the idea that what is remarkable about quantum physics is that it seems that the observer makes a difference in the evolution of the system. So you can have this system where you have all these possible states and you have this wave function. What causes the wave function to collapse? Why does one of these states really become real? Well, Von Neumann suggested that maybe it was the act of measuring.
Note: John von Neumann (1903–1957, photo) “Important work in set theory launched a career that touched almost every major branch of mathematics. Von Neumann’s gift for applied mathematics led his work in directions that influenced quantum theory, automata theory, economics, and defense planning. Von Neumann was the pioneer of game theory and, along with Alan Turing and Claude Shannon, was one of the conceptual inventors of the stored program digital computer. – William Poundstone, “John vn Neumann”, Britannica. He seems to have been a pragmatic computer genius. For example, he said, “All stable processes, we’re going to predict them. We will control all unstable processes. Also “There is probably a God. Many things are easier to explain if there is than if there is not. “-” 38 Great Quotes From John von Neumann That Will Ignite Your Interest in Mathematics ” Famous people
Angus Menuge (photo): Now he himself didn’t distinguish between a mental act of measurement or a machine performing the measurement, but Stapp does. Stapp speculates that perhaps the brain is a quantum system and that consciousness adds selective attention.
So when you think of five things you can do, the one you focus on and select is outdated. And then it ends up being the one that gets realized and that you end up doing. So maybe, so to speak, your mind is measuring your brain, and your consciousness is causing this wave function to collapse. And it goes on to explain the particular action you are doing. And that would be compatible with a very strong view of free will called libertarian free will because no physical state of your brain determined what you were going to do next. It was just your conscious attention that really decided, in the end, which of these possible actions you took – that you weren’t just being forced to do by states in your brain.
To note: John von Neumann’s image is courtesy of Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Following: Is the quantum conception of consciousness rooted in materialism?
Here are previous threads from this podcast:
Part 1: Angus Menuge explains why “red” is such a problem in philosophy. “Red” is an example of qualia, concepts we can experience that otherwise have no physical existence. Materialism would be easy if it weren’t for concepts like “red” which are very real but abstract from physical reality.
Part 2: Panpsychism is, according to Angus Menuge, a desperate gesture. But he thinks it’s worth keeping an eye out for as an understandable reaction to materialism. Menuge argues that one of the problems with panpsychism is that consciousness is unitary; it doesn’t seem to be made up of countless tiny proto-conscious elements.
- 00:26 | Presentation of Dr Angus Menuge
- 01:01 | Phenomenal consciousness and qualia
- 07:25 | Living vision and color
- 10:35 | Panpsychism problems
- 12:48 | Integrated information theory
- 18:22 | Quantum consciousness
- 25:33 | Testing consciousness in artificial intelligence
- Dr Angus Menuge at Concordia University
- Inherence of human dignity, flight. 1: Foundations of human dignity edited by Dr Angus Menuge
- Inherence of human dignity, flight. 2: Law and religious freedom, edited by Dr Angus Menuge
- Ned Block, professor of philosophy and psychology at New York University
- Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, German philosopher
- Lynne Rudder Baker, professor of philosophy at the University of Massachusetts
- Frank Jackson’s Knowledge Argument
- Gregory Chaitin, Argentine-American mathematician and computer scientist
- Christof Koch, German-American neuroscientist
- Paul Churchland, Canadian philosopher
- Roger Penrose, British mathematician and Nobel Prize winner
- John von Neumann, Hungarian-American mathematician, physicist and polymath
- Henry Stapp, American mathematical physicist
- Stephen Hawking, English theoretical physicist and cosmologist
- Thomas Nagel, professor of philosophy and law at New York University
Download the podcast transcript