Quantum Physics and Consciousness: metaphorically similar? Physically consistent?

Quantum Physics is so hard to understand because it doesn’t deal with “particles.” Instead, the stuff of Reality is made up of “probability fields” which collapse from “all possibilities” to “this specific manifestation” when an Observer interacts with them. So there are a set of Fields that “become” specific when observed, but exist as all possibilities (“superpositions”) until then.

Consciousness remains not understood. My limited understanding of some models of Consciousness suggest that we have different “contributors to Self” that can each have influence on our thoughts and actions. Our Reptilian Brain, our Cerebral Cortex with higher reasoning, our Subconscious which seems to process inputs from Nature and Nurture, etc. So there are “Potential Conscious and Unconscious responses” that collapse into specific thoughts, decisions and actions based on “my” reaction to those inputs, and my unconscious + self-aware reactions taken together and prioritized. Our Consciousness is both the Actor that collapses the wave function, and the Internal Narrator who processes everything into a story narrative that keeps Me as the Hero of my own story.

??? Doing okay?

So, both QPhysics and Consciousness have this basic “lots of possibilities which collapse to one specific reality based on a relative observer” model, yes? That feels like a BIG deal - ??? Both forms of Reality - our Material World and our Conscious World - appear to only exist when “in motion,” when “becoming.” Neither exists until they Become*.

With that observation to noodle, there are schools of thought that jump straight to the “Quantum Physics is the Source of Consciousness” types of models. See this Wiki page:

HOWEVER, before I decide if I even want to assess those different approaches to a “Quantum Mind” model, first I want to ponder how *related QP and Consciousness really are.

  • could they really have little to inform each other and folks are barking up a stupid tree?

  • could they be metaphorically similar, but that’s about it? We Humans have not been good at comprehending things that are defined by the collapse from Potential to Specific reality. Could it just be that these are two examples so we lump them together for no other good reason?

  • or are they manifestations of the same “becoming” phenomena? Defining them together is part of the next stage of Physics: capturing the model for how potential becomes specific is part of the Grand Unified Theory?

Or is this Wannabe Ponderer simply in over his head? It has potential; hmm, perhaps I should be left in a field. :wink:

Anybody ponder this stuff?

*I hate this phrasing because it reminds me of the serial killer in Red Dragon, who felt he was “becoming” this manifestation of Wm Blake’s lucifer or something. I, on the other hand, am trying to describe phenomena that only exist as the Become the collapse from potential to specific.

I think, if anything, they are very tenuously metaphorically related. Quantum physics deals with actual physical phenomena, with wave forms collapsing when observed, etc. Your description of a consciousness becoming is, no offense, just philosophical hand waving and doesn’t describe consciousness in any way that I would agree with. And, it doesn’t seem to be backed up by any experimental evidence that I’m aware of.

Quantum consciousness, at least of the Penrose variety, is pretty much BS as far as I can tell. I think his claim is that, since neurons rely on quantum physics for their functioning, intelligence can never be replicated by a computer. This is different than your consciousness description, right? Also, chips also rely on quantum physics. Also also, it’s not like our conscious selves have any control over the quantum level interactions. I read his book and was really disappointed.

The model of consciousness that appeals to me more is the model where there are all kinds of things happening at the subconscious level and the conscious level is basically just justifying decisions that were already made subconsciously. It’s tacked on to make coherent sense out of all kinds of chaos happening underneath. I think some of this has be sort-of verified experimentally, and I’m probably not doing it justice.

My brain hurts.

First, likening the interactions of a set of rudimentary particles to the workings of a highly intricate and complex construct like the human brain is like comparing apples to galaxies.

Second, I don’t buy the utter repudiation of free will that the theory inevitably devolves to. It’s more metaphysics than physics.

Yeah, I ponder Free Will vs Determinism, too: http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=813828


I am trying to include that model which includes “Just So” retconning by our Consciousness. That’s part of my point: our reptilian brains may have launched into action, but our Consciousness doesn’t “exist” until it “becomes” by integrating that reptilian action along with any other elements of Me that factor into my full Awareness of that particular event.

An interesting new approach to QM and consciousness is Quantum Bayesianism (QBism).

A good article in Quanta Magazine:

Yeah, the only essentially things that quantum mechanics and consciousness have in common is that they are both phenomena that are very difficult to measure and even more difficult to conceptualize in terms we can relate to from everyday experience. There is no evidence of any inherent quantum mechanical effects in cognition above and beyond the underlying principles that control all chemistry and electrodynamics.

Even if we assume a strictly deterministic mechanics of the universe at the fundamental level, there is a point at which that is sufficiently abstract that what we experience is no longer predictable from observation. In other words, any sufficiently complex desicion-making system is essentially indistinguishable from free will. In any case, the reality of quantum mechanics is probably actually far stranger and more incomprehensible to us than any of the interpretations advanced to date. The Schrödinger’s Cat gedankenexperiment just illustrates how applying macroscopic concepts to the fundamental level of quantum interactions produces nonsensical results.


Sounds like you are commenting on two topics: your second paragraph comments on Free Will and its roots in the inherent strangeness of QM which we have barely scratched the surface on. Cool.

Your first paragraph speaks more to the OP. So it’s not even “metaphorically similar” – about the most that can be said is that they are “similarly tough to describe”?

I want to ponder that. Both Reality at the Quantum level and Consciousness emerge. Why? Why are the foundational aspects of the two dimensions of Reality that Humans perceive emergent? (dammit! ;))

What does the emergent nature of both say about objective reality?

Okay, I’ll stop now.

Never been a big fan of that one either. My take on it is, regardless of who is observing (or if no one is), or whether the box is open or closed, in actuality the cat is either alive or dead, not both at once. It’s just a highly contrived application of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle.

ETA: That must be the poorest, most-abused feline in the history of the universe.

There aren’t any satisfactory explanations for consciousness, even if they’re true. There’s no reason to suspect a lump of folded meat should have experiences. The only reason we’re searching for an explanation is because we have first hand experience, which sounds like religious witnessing. Does collapsing waveforms explain to your satisfaction why you’re having the experience of reading this sentence or why being pricked with a pin hurts so vividly instead of being an internal flag in an unconscious meat robot?

As for emergence, there’s always panpsychism. If consciousness is a fundamental aspect the universe then there’s no moment where it pops into existence, rather it’s all gradations. That would negate the old quote that says “nothing is what rocks dream about.”

The main thing that the two models have in common, is that they ARE MODELS.

Quantum mechanics and it’s concepts were devised both to allow us to make progress in certain scientific fields, in a practical way, and to “make the math come out right.” The two are sort of quantum linked, amusingly enough.

Conceptualizations of how consciousness works have the same reasons behind them, in a slightly different way. They allow us to apply what we do and don’t know in as practical a manner as we can manage, to make human behavior a little more predictable, and they allow us to side step questions of deities and their possible Earth representatives.

In both cases, the people who are REALLY in the know about them, appear to be aware of the fact that quantum fields don’t ACTUALLY “collapse” because we observe them, and that Schrodinger cat really ISN’T simultaneously alive and dead.

You seemed to have missed the point of the “thought experiment”. (No need to be embarassed; most people only casually exposed to the concept without the context don’t get it, either.). Erwin Schrödinger’s entire point was that the abstract concept of an uncollapsed waveform with two possibilities in superposition was an absurdity not seen in the macroscopic world, and Eugene Wigner upped the ante by adding yet another layer of abstraction (a second observer standing outside the room for whom the resolution remained unknown despite having been resolved by the observer in the room). Of course, the entire system–the cat, the box, the observer, and the room–are all enormously complex quantum systems, as is everything else in the universe, and there is no such thing as a “classical observer”, period. The notion that events are predicated on some kind of collapse of a probability waveform is physically unjustified, and as far as anyone can tell, it serves only as a convention place to start a calculation rather than any actual event, and certainly not involved in any kind of subjective experience or conscious conjugation. Pilot wave, Bohmian mechanics, and relative state formulation are all deterministic interpretations that dispense with the notion of waveform collapse or a privileged observer of any kind through mechanisms that violate conventional causality as we understand it but are both internally and observationally consistent. However, there is no way at present to distinguish the ‘correctness’ of any observationally valid interpretation over another, and it is likely that the reality is even weirder than anything imagined by Louis DeBroglie, David Bohm, or Hugh Everett.


I’m sure things have changed quite a bit since I took quantum physics, too. (More years than I care to recount.) :slight_smile:

The thing that seemed apparent to me (at least, at the time) was that the uncertainty introduced at the quantum level is due to the speed of light, assuming that special relativity’s equations are correct.

As for causality, there’s only one example I can recall that agrees with that model, where observation doesn’t agree with it, which was the (air quotes) ‘teleportation’ experiment where data carried by a laser beam was theoretically simultaneously in two different places. Of course, that’s the diametric opposite of superposition…

The cat idea always seemed to me to push in the direction of the “engineering interpretation.” Yeah, if you could build a box that was entirely causally isolated from the outside world, then, within it, the cat might exist in a superposition of states. But such a box is not possible.

(Look how quickly entangled particles disentangle.)

In the abstract, sure, why not? The cat could be “undecided” just the way the electron is. It just can’t ever happen in “real life.” The idea isn’t absurd, just the practice.

Thanks Stranger - the cat points out the complex, absurd-to-us-humans emergence of specifics from probabilities at the Quantum level.

Igor, your post makes sense, thanks. My question: why do they both need models based on emergence?

I get that our mental models are attempts at best, and limited to what Humans can handle. But is there something inherent in QM and Consciousness that leads to similar models?

So far, posts seem to point towards yeah, no way. If it’s just similar models, I need to think about that.

By the way, I dig all this. I experience, therefore I wonder why.

There is zero observational evidence for panpsychism or any other kind of universal consciousness or a philosophy of mind that is divorced from the neurological system, whereas we can connect aspects of cognition to specific structures in the human brain including behavioral and perceptual changes due to damage or disease.


It says that emergence is all around us, and that we live in a universe consisting of complex systems within complex systems within complex systems. It’s complexity and emergence, all the way down.

Emergent Turtles - Band name!!

There’s no observational evidence for qualia, either.