Wigner's Friend, the existence of the immaterial soul and death of materialism

(Matthew Pevarnik) #41

If you were hoping for a better cartoon I think this classic does the trick:

I’ve got to stop right here- their paper does not say that the brain cannot be modeled by quantum mechanics.

They don’t ‘prove them wrong.’ This is a thought experiment. An interesting one but this is an important distinction:

This is not positive evidence for consciousness or the soul. Your entire example would tell us that QM cannot be applied to describe something like the soul or consciousness and that’s that. The soul/consciousness go beyond the QM realm, so QM cannot help us here! QM provides evidence neither for or against the soul/consciousness.

(Mitchell W McKain) #42

You know… with all your talk of reading more perhaps I should give you something more to read which might help our communication with each other like this list of reasons why I believe. And keep reading the linked thread for more explanations as well.

I have no interest in a God reformulated as something people can use because that is the first step towards remaking God and religion into tool for power and manipulation.

I also have no interest in pseudoscience which uses the methods of rhetoric (as does religion and politics) but slaps the label of science on it in order to pretend otherwise.

(Mitchell W McKain) #43

My problem with that analogy is how much it alters the meaning of consciousness. The brain has many many functions and equating them all to consciousness is a huge distortion which makes the analogy rather unhelpful.

Futhermore, equating consciousness to the functionality of the human nervous system sound a great deal like the way Dawkins equates life to the functionality of DNA/RNA. I think both DNA/RNA and the human nervous system are tools which living organisms use to store and transmit information, but obviously, since they are both examples of this, neither is the only means organisms have of doing so.


We disagree then. That is all I can say. It is a matter of logical deduction to me. If consciousness arises from a brain, which is subject as all agree, to the laws of quantum, then quantum ought to be able to model the process of consciousness. If it can’t model an agent using quantum (thinking about quantum), then we have a problem with quantum not being universal. Which raises a difference between minds and computers. Computers as Turing machines, can simulate a computer simulating a computer…

The paper’s title says it all: “Quantum theory cannot consistently describe the use of itself” Consciousness can use quantum mechanics because we physicists mentally think about quantum. Again, if our minds arise from the physical brain, then our thought processes arise from the brain. And we all agree that the brain as a physical object IS subject to quantum laws, the firing of neurons obey the laws of quantum, so why not the thought processes of consciousness. Those thought processes of consciousness, thinking about quantum, cannot be described by quantum.

I really can’t see what the problem understanding that is. I am going to prepare something interesting from Squires book on Consciousness, which you seemed to have claimed doesn’t make quantum be involved in consciousness. I will be offline for a while to accomplish this.

But F and R say that Quantum can’t be used to model the conscious mind.

(Mark D.) #45

But then the meaning of consciousness is far from settled. Organisms still need to extract nourishment and distinguish between opportunities to feed and ones which could result in being fed upon. Both digestion and consciousness are basic.


I actually gave you the courtesy of going to your list of reasons to believe, unlike your refusal to look at our paper. I did notice this:

“I feel there are profound pragmatic reasons to reject the idea that reality is exclusively objective because it immediately takes any conviction about reality to a conclusion that the people who disagree with you are detached from reality and delusional or in some other way defective,

I wanted to laugh because when someone suggests that nature isn’t exclusively objective, like I have here, I certainly have felt at times over the past few days that you and others here think I am “detached from reality and delusional or in some other way defective,” LOL. I say this with all good humor because there is a long line of folk who have said or though much worse than that about me. lol

I would like to know the profound reasons that you believe the world isn’t totally objective? OK, not offline for a while.

(Mitchell W McKain) #47

Ah yes indeed! Digestion being representative of the broader category of metabolism reminds me of both attempts to define life in such terms and metabolism first theories of abiogenesis. Your comment shows how very close our points of view actual are. Perhaps the only difference is that I think the process of life can be abstracted from the biological example of it – I don’t know if you actually disagree on this point or simply lack interest or background to consider the possibility.

(Mitchell W McKain) #48

Forum etiquette only obliges one to participate fully in the content of the forum not follow people’s links to other material. The latter tastes a little like using the forum to advertise.

And that kind of experience tends to put a chip on your shoulders.

I said “profound pragmatic reasons” and then proceeded to describe them right away. I consider the foundations of a free and tolerant society to be quite profound pragmatic reasons.

(Matthew Pevarnik) #49

From the abstract of your paper itself-what does their paper even establish:

Quantum theory cannot be extrapolated to complex systems, at least not in a straightforward manner

Key phrase: at least not in a straightforward manner.

But this also doesn’t give you the leap from ‘not describing the brain’ to ‘consciousness.’ Here is a newer paper that challenges even the results of this paper you have presented as a sort of trump card (i.e. its in nature communications and you haven’t published in nature now have you):
How Quantum Mechanics can consistently describe the use of itself


Pevaquark, that sentence is a quote from the F and R. abstract. It isn’t from my paper as you state. They do not present a method to extrapolate quantum to those systems. Basically they are just leaving the options open, but lacking a methodology, their view shows big problems applying quantum to human agents.

The paper you link to is the one I mentioned in my big post last night, so it isn’t a surprise to me. I already told you about it. It uses the very unpopular Bohmian mechanics which most people believe has been disproven. But even so, Bohm didn’t believe he had completely avoided consciousness. He discussed it in his book.

Edited to add: "The Bohm interpretation seems to conflict with special relativity, but we do not see this as an insurmountable problem. Bohm himself did not believe his innterpretation avoids physics’ encounter with consciousness. In their highly technical 1993 book on quantum theory, The Undivided Universe, whose title emphasizes the universal connectedness and the non separability of the microscopic from the macroscopic, Bohm and Basil Hiley write:

‘Throughout this book it has been our position that the quantum theory itself can be understood without bringing in consciousness and that as far as research in physics is concerned, at least in the present general period , this is probably the best approach. However, the intuition that consciousness and quantum theory are in some sense related seems to be a good one, and for this reason we feel it is appropriate to include in this book a discussion of what this relationship might be.’ (Emphasis added.)"
Bruce Rosenblum and Fred Kuttner, Quantum Enigma, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), p. 164-165

yep, another one of those pesky quotes. lol


Ok, going to get into math below but not tough math and it is necessary to show the paradox of having a human observer in quantum.

Let’s first, though, look at von Neumann’s seminal book on Quantum, in which he explicitly brings in the subjective observer into quantum.

" Let us now compare these circumstances with those which actually exist in nature, or in its observation. First, it is inherently correct that measurement or the related process of subjective perception is a new entity relative to the physical environment, and is not reducible to the latter. Indeed subjective perception leads us into the intellectual inner life of the individual, which is extra-observational by its very nature, since it must be taken for granted by any conceivable observation or experiment. (See the discussion above.) Nevertheless, it is a fundamental requirement of the scientific viewpoint–the so-called principle of psycho-physical parallelism–that it must be possible so to describe the extra-physical process of subjective perception as if it were in the reality of the physical world; i.e., to assign to its parts equivalent physical processes in the objective environment, in ordinary space. (Of course, in this correlating procedure there arises the frequent necessity of localizing some of these processes at points which lie within the portion of space occupied by our own bodies. But this does not alter the fact of their belonging to ‘the world about us,’ the objective environment referred to above.) In a simple example, these concepts might be applied as follows: We wish to measure the temperature. If we want, we can proceed numerically by looking to the mercury column in a thermometer, and then say: ‘This is the temperature as measured by the thermometer.’ But we can carry the process further, and from the properties of mercury (which can be explained in kinetic and molecular terms) we can calculate its heating, expansion, and the resultant length of the mercury column, and then say: ‘This length is seen by the observer.’ Going still further, and taking the light source into consideration, we could find out the reflection of the light quanta on the opaque mercury column and the path taken by the reflected light quanta into the eye of the observer, their refraction in the eye lens, and the formation of an image on the retina, and then we would say: ‘This image is registered by the retina of the observer.’ And were our physiological knowledge greater than it is today, we could go still further, tracing the chemical reactions which produce the impression of this image on the retina, and in the optic nerve and in the brain, and then in the end say; ‘These chemical changes of his brain cells are perceived by the observer.’ But in any case, no matter how far we proceed–from the thermometer scale, to the mercury, to the retina, or into the brain–at some point we must say: ‘And this is perceived by the observer.’ That is, we are obliged always to divide the world into two parts, the one being the observed system, the other the observer. In the former we can follow all physical processes (in principle at least) arbitrarily precisely. In the latter, this is meaningless. The boundary between the two is arbitrary to a very large extent. In particular, we saw in the four different possibilities considered in the preceding example that the ‘observer’–in this sense–need not be identified with the body of the actual observer: in one instance we included even the thermometer in it, while in another instance even the eyes and optic nerve were not included. That this boundary can be pushed arbitrarily far into the interior of the body of the actual observer is the content of the principle of psycho-physical parallelism. But this does not change the fact that in every account the boundary must be put somewhere if the principle is not to be rendered vacuous; i.e., if a comparison with experience is to be possible. Indeed, experience only makes statements of this type: ‘An observer has made a certain (subjective) observation,’ and never any like this: ‘A physical quantity has a certain value.’ " John Von Newumann, Mathematical Foundations of Quantum Mechanics: New Edition (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2018), p. 272-273

To prove that it is widely believed that there are interpretations of quantum which incorporate consciousness, I would present how Zvi Schrieber’s veiw of von Neumann’s position. In his thesis, Schrieber entitles a chapter, Mind causes collapse and says

"It is therefore possible to assume that the unitary mechanics applies to the entire physical universe and that wave function collapse occurs at the last possible moment, in the mind itself. This, of course, assumes a non-physical mind.

“This interpretation was hinted at by Von Neumann [Neu55,§VI.1] and later advocated in [LB39, §11], [Wig67]. It was at one time known as the standard interpretation” Zvi Schreiber, The Nine Lives of Schrodinger’s Cat, master’s Thesis, University of London, Oct 1994 p. 46, https://arxiv.org/pdf/quant-ph/9501014.pdf

The rules of quantum mechanics are correct but there is only one system which may be treated with quantum mechanics, namely the entire material world. There exist external observers which cannot be treated within quantum mechanics, namely human (and perhaps animal) minds, which perform measurements on the brain causing wave function collapse." Zvi Schrieber, "The Nine Lives of Schrodinger’s Cat, University of London: MS Thesis, Oct 1994, p. 46 https://arxiv.org/pdf/quant-ph/9501014v5.pdf

It is interesting that Schrieber understands that there are formulations of quantum involving the immaterial soul, namely the late great John von Neumann’s who was a better mathematician/physicist than anyone on this list. Mind and consciousness are synonyms for the same thing.

Ok, let’s get mathematical Sorry everyone else, I think this is necessary but I will try to go slow and explain things. This is taken from Squires’ book Conscious Mind in the Physical Universe pages 184-191. It is simplified a bit to the relevant parts of the equations so that it is easier to follow by those with no experience with this notation.

Lets consider the spin of an electron. It is measured in a Stern-Gerlach device and one spin will be deflected upward, and the other spin deflected downward. We will call the upward spin + and the downward spin -. Since I can’t use greek letters here or don’t know how to, I will use English letters. Wavefunctions are described by | …> and attributes are put inside where the … is. A particle with an upward spin would be | + > and a particle with a negative spin would be | - >

Before we observe the spin the electron is in the state:

|Psi>=a| + > +b | - >

In words, Psi is the wave function and is it is a mixture of + and - states. a and b are coefficients that for our purposes we don’t need to worry about.

One must understand that in quantum, whenever something that is subject to the laws of quantum interacts with an object, it goes into superposition with that object. So, when we add a pointer to the apparatus, which would point up or down in the direction the electron went , prior to observation of the apparatus, the quantum state of the electron AND the pointer would be:

|Psi>=a| +, up > +b | -,down >

The added up and down refer to the direction of the pointer. Before observation, the pointer and the electron are both in mixed states of superposition. In other words, it is in both states at once. This is why one hears that in quantum all possible answers exist at the same time in the wavefunction.

This addition to the chain of objects in superposition can go on forever. Kuttner and Rosenblum describe this von Neumann chain as it is known, because John von Neumann was the first to describe it.

" In his rigourous 1932 treatment, The Mathematical Foundations of Quantum Mechannics, John von Neumann showed that quantum theory makes physics’ encounter with consciousness inevitable. He considered a measuring apparatus, a Geiger counter, for example. It is isolated from the rest of the world but makes contact with a quantum system, say, an atom simultaneously in two boxes. This Geiger counter is set to fire if the atom is in the top box and to remain unfired if the atom is in the bottom box. Von Neumann showed that if the Geiger counter is a physical system governed by quantum mechanics, it would enter a superposition state with the atom and be, simultaneously, in a fired and an un fired state. (We saw this situation in the case of Schrodinger’s cat.)"

"Should a second isolated measuring apparatus come into contact with the Geiger counter-for example, an electronic device recording whether the Geiger counter has fired-it joins the superposition state and records both situations existing simultaneously. This so-called "von Neumann chain" can continue indefinitely. Von Neumann showed that no physical system obeying the laws of physics (i.e., quantum theory) could collapse a superposition state wavefunction to yield a particular result."

"However, when we look at the Geiger counter, we will always see a particular result, not a superposition. Von Neumann concluded that only a conscious observer doing something that is not presently encompassed by physics can collapse a wavefunction. Though for all practical purposes one can consider the wavefunction collapsed at any macroscopic stage of the von Neumann chain, von Neumann concluded that only a conscious observer can actually make an observation." Bruce Rosenblum and Fred Kuttner, Quantum Enigma, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), p. 184

It is also interesting that Rosenblum and Kuttner interpret von Neumann the same as Schrieber does and apparently differently than does Mitch.

The von Neumann chain is due to the fact that anything subject to the laws of quantum goes into superposition with what it interacts with. This is a problem. Bryce S. Dewitt talked about quantum putting the apparatus into a schizophrenic state in which it has two different answers at the same time. He says:

How can they prod the apparatus into making up its mind? "

"The usual suggestion is to introduce a second apparatus to get at the facts simply by looking at the first apparatus to see what it has recorded. But an analysis carried out along the above lines quickly shows that the second apparatus performs no better than the first. It too goes into a state of schizophrenia. The same thing happens with a third apparatus, and a fourth, and so on. This chain, known as “von Neumann’s catastrophe of infinite regression,” only makes the crisis worse . Bryce Dewitt,Quantum Mechanics and Reality, PHYSICS TODAY /SEPTEMBER 1970, p. 30- 31

This von Neumann chain can continue indefinitely by adding commas and attributes to the chain in between the | and the >. But we won’t go there. We will add a conscious observer in at this point and show why he can’t be subject to quantum laws.

Back to the math, Let’s add me as an observer to the apparatus with the pointer. IF my mind is subject to quantum laws, then I too, must go into superposition with the system. This is just like the pointer in our example or the counter and Geiger counter of Rosenblum and Kuttner’s example. In that case, the wave function would be:

|Psi>=a| +, up, Me+ > + b | -,down, Me- >

Where Me+ is the me who sees a positive spin and the Me- is the one who sees a negative spin.

Squires says:

" At this stage and only at this stage the wavefunction is apparently unacceptable, because it fails to describe my experience of one result ." Euan Squires, Consciousness Mind in the Physical World, (Adam Hilger, New York, 1990, p. 191

Quantum mechanics does not correctly predict my subjective mental state, which is that I am experiencing only one of the two possible realities.

Squires presented this argument in a paper "Quantum Theory and the Relation between Conscious Mind and the Physical World," Synthese, Vol. 97, No. 1 (Oct., 1993), pp. 109-123. His conclusion there is a bit more interesting:

" It is quite clear that we have made no progress. Indeed the problem might be considered to be even more acute: my brain is in a confused state containing some combination of both answers; I am, nevertheless, apparently convinced that I know one answer. " Euan Squires, "Quantum Theory and the Relation between Conscious Mind and the Physical World," Synthese, Vol. 97, No. 1 (Oct., 1993), p.111-112

If you assume that consciousness mind or soul is subject to the laws of quantum, quantum WILL describe any observer in a confused state seeing both possible outcomes. This is the fundamental problem of consciousness in quantum. I only see unmixed states, like:

|Psi>= | +, up, Me+ >

or |Psi>= b | -,down,Me- >

The thing I don’t see is the mixed state

|Psi>=a| +, up, Me+ > + b | -,down,Me- >

Now, Everett proposed the many worlds interpretation in 1957 and he would say that I have split into two different Me’s one seeing the up branch and one seeing the down branch. Such a situation is the draw of the many worlds view. But, unread by Mitch in our article are other reasons for rejecting the many worlds view.

Point is, this is the problem with consciousness in quantum. If my mind/consciousness/soul is subject to the laws of quantum, it creates a situation where reality (me seeing only one reality) is said to be false by the application of quantum rules.

Again, I affirm that many physicists have discussed the role of consciousness in quantum and the belief that observers external to the physical world is NOT a looney bin idea, but a great problem in the logical structure of quantum. Again, (one of those quotes Pevaquark but a repeat, lol)

"A careful analysis of the logical structure of quantum theory suggests that for quantum theory to make sense it has to posit the existence of observers who lie, at least in part, outside of the description provided by physics." Stephen M. Barr, Modern Physics and Ancient Faith, (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2003), p. 27-28


ok, tolerance. thanks. I got it. God bless you Mitch.


I will be gone the next 2 days getting immunotherapy (which is fancy schmancy chemo) at MD Anderson. Im in the guinea pig stage of life, going from medical trial to medical trial, which is really quite an interesting time of life. I won’t be posting from there as I won’t have my files with me. So don’t take my absence as a sign I have given up. I won’t even be reading this thread or I will be too tempted to reply.

Edited to add: I don’t want anyone feeling sorry for me, I have lived a life very few get to live, having lived on 3 continents, been in 34 countries, been to Antarctica and Tibet, found a billion bbl of oil for my clients, started 4 businesses, 3 successful ones, published on a lot of topics and eaten my way through the zoological dictionary in various places around the world, and I speak Mandarin and my greatest achievement in life is that my 3 sons like me.

(Dominik Kowalski) #54

This was a weird thread.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #55

Well, we’ll go light on the sympathy then. Sounds like a blessed life indeed.

Still, we hope and pray that yet more blessings are in store for you yet.



Thanks Merv,

(Randy) #57

Best wishes. God bless.

(Mitchell W McKain) #58

3 sons is another thing we have in common. Japanese (my wife) and Korean got more of my interest than Chinese along with Russian and German… though fluency in other languages was never one of my talents. Visited less countries than you have lived in. And my life experience has been definitely of a considerably lower economic class.


Mitch wrote:
“3 sons is another thing we have in common. Japanese (my wife) and Korean got more of my interest than Chinese along with Russian and German… though fluency in other languages was never one of my talents. Visited less countries than you have lived in. And my life experience has been definitely of a considerably lower economic class.”

lol, three sons is a handful when they turn teens and I almost lost one when he was 16-bad decisions, but he is ok now. I will make clear that I didn’t finance all those trips. I couldn’t have afforded that. My company sent me there. In fact the only one I financed was to Antarctica, I took my oldest son with me. I didn’t start my companies until I was in my late 50s. It is never too late and it padded retirement. lol, I have though, had the pleasure of working in a branch of physics for 45 years or so and that was a blessing.

My daughter in law is Singaporean Chinese/Malay, and speaks Mandarin which she is teaching my grand-daughter. They and I converse in mandarin sometimes.

(Matthew Pevarnik) #60

Because actual experiments show nothing about the soul or consciousness. It’s only in thought experiments and the interpretation of QM that any of this appears. Also your position is if I understand it correctly-
QM demonstrates the reality of consciousness (through the ‘observer effect’) but QM cannot (easily) apply to complex systems like consciousness?