Quantum Physics of Consciousness – Various Authors
Reviewed by Chris Allen
Criticism is said to be the currency of the world; that being so, it is not difficult to understand why there is such rich diversity of opinion in the 16 reviews—10 positive, 6 critical—to be found on Amazon.com of the paperback version of this collection of 21 peer-reviewed articles, originally published in the Journal of Cosmology. Make no mistake, this book is like Bovril; you either love it or hate it! And it’s hard work; you have to make the effort to gain at least a rudimentary understanding of Quantum Mechanics to get much benefit out of it. It’s also expensive in paperback form.
Nevertheless, having parted company with a fiver, I consider the e-book version to be the most interesting and—for the most part—best written piece of non-fiction I have ever downloaded. It is well illustrated with plenty of useful diagrams. There are also quite a few equations, but not a super abundance to put you off. Many of the contributors are leading researchers in the field and have diverse backgrounds: Computer Science, Philosophy, Theology as well as Physics. Some of the most difficult age old questions such as free will vs. determinism, the relationship between mind and brain, the true nature of reality and the possibility of a spiritual dimension to life are addressed in fresh and compelling ways from a quantum perspective.
Nevertheless, for the purposes of writing a balanced appraisal, I found it profitable to study what others have to say, particularly the detractors. And their main bone of contention seems to be one of establishing agreement on a fundamental definition of consciousness … Or rather the failure to do so because it’s a notoriously difficult thing to do. It’s like trying to define life. We recognize it easily enough but can’t say what it is. In humans it seems to manifest itself as an awareness of one’s surrounding and other people, as well as the ability to be able to pay attention in order to interact. Memory must come into it as far as personal identity is concerned also … intentionality … purposeful action … responsiveness to sensory input … reaction to painful stimulus and changes in environmental temperature. However, as one of the articles points out, there are at least 40 different viewpoints or definitions of consciousness currently being bandied about!
So if people can’t seem to come to a consensus as to what consciousness actually is … or so the argument goes … you can’t use one set of inadequately defined processes to explain away another set, in other words, the mysteries of Quantum Mechanics which are impossible to reconcile with terms of classical cause and effect. And therefore the critics argue you can’t hijack the new Physics to provide confirmation of extrasensory perception, paranormal phenomena or ancient Indian philosophies.
Maybe the doubters are right and, in fact, one of the contributors attempts a deconstruction of the topic by providing an explanation of Quantum Reality by leaving out considerations of consciousness all together. But this approach comes at a price. He ends up not only with an unsettling but also a counter intuitive conclusion as he freely admits himself.
My personal sympathies are with those who seem to think that it is worth making the effort to tighten up definitions—no matter how difficult—look at the evidence dispassionately and, if necessary, be prepared to go beyond the limitations of the existing scientific and medical world view. This, after all, is the mission statement of the SMN, is it not? And so, to that extent, I found the article of most interest to be that of Dr Edgar Mitchell (Apollo Astronaut—6th man to walk on the Moon) and Robert Staretz on The Quantum Hologram and the Nature of Consciousness.
The Quantum Hologram or QH for short is a comparatively new model of information processing in Nature. The authors believe that not only is it strongly supported by evidence but also that it provides a basis for understanding consciousness. They argue that it elevates the role of information to the same fundamental status as is currently enjoyed by matter and energy in the mainstream scientific world view. They further speculate that the QH is Nature’s infinitely vast information storage and retrieval system that’s been around since the beginning of time … I found this suggestion brought the Brahman or Absolute of Advaita Vedanta tradition of Indian Philosophy to mind.
The authors point out that consciousness and the relationship of mind to the brain have been regarded as hard questions which Western science has preferred to kick into the long grass and leave to philosophers and theologians … well … until quite recently. And much of the present research effort to find some answers to these most taxing questions rests on a questionable assumption, that of Epiphenomenalism … the notion that consciousness or mind if you will … is the by-product of and is entirely confined to processes within the brain. Nevertheless, the authors suggest that there is a considerable amount of accumulating experimental and anecdotal evidence to suggest otherwise.
At its most basic level, they argue that consciousness is associated with a sense of separation and awareness of the surrounding environment and that it’s fair to say that it is associated with the ability to process, to store and or act on information gathered from the outside world. From that point of view, they question whether consciousness is restricted to a functioning brain. Are, for instance, microscopic organisms such as viruses, amoebae and algae conscious in some primitive sense?
Clearly whilst not possessing brains, nervous systems or even neurons, somehow these simple entities do display rudimentary awareness, intentionality and the capacity to manipulate their environment. And furthermore, there is now strong evidence to suggest that even non-living particles at the molecular, atomic and subatomic levels also seem to be aware of their environment and to be able in a purposeful way to interact with it by means of the quantum phenomena of non-locality and entanglement.
So could it be, they ask, that the most basic level of consciousness originates with these ubiquitous quantum events throughout the world of organic and inorganic matter? If so, this suggests that, in essence, we live in a participatory universe; there is no such thing as pure objectivity or separation.
Or to put it more succinctly they offer a Sanskrit proverb from antiquity:
“God sleeps in the minerals, awakens in plants, walks in animals and thinks in man.”
Chris Allen is a retired Technical Author with a degree in Physics and many years of experience working as a contractor in such industries as Avionics, Defence and Transport. He is a crime writer specialising in unusual and well researched fiction. He is also a hypnotherapist and has a lifelong interest in military history, jurisprudence, criminology and Advaita Vedanta philosophy.
Web site: www.cach.co.uk