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

(Mitchell W McKain) #81

They way they do these experiments now is much more complicated than a simple two slit experiment. Using wave dividers they can set it up with multiple remotely controlled detectors which can cause a collapse of different parts of the wave. Look up the so called delayed choice experiments. Though you have to understand when physicists talk about things being observed they just mean detectors not conscious observers.

In this article, the conclusion is that it is the type of scattering the particle has from the detector which determines whether there is an interference pattern.

(Gordon Simons) #82

I ask again: “wave collapse” of what?

(Mitchell W McKain) #83

A collapse of the superposition. What superposition depends on the experiment. It can be a superposition of cw and ccw circularly polarized photons, or a superposition of spin up and spin down electrons.


Ok, you and I have a totally different view of truth and therein lies many of our differences. I define truth as what is factually real and it has nothing to do with consensus or popularity. Claiming something is real because it is the consensus is, in graduate philosophy schools considered to be the logical fallacy of ad populum. “Everybody knows O. J. is a murderer.” That is no argument for whether or not O. J. is or isn’t a murderer. While we may never know the truth, the only thing that really matters to whether O. J. is a murderer is whether he wielded the knife.

The reason a consensus based truth system is so bad in science is that it substitutes popularity for reality. When one asks when something becomes true, the answer is when it becomes popular. And that leads to some really weird circumstances. Prior to popularity, it isn’t true, and after popularity it is. This would mean things like,

1 For the first few years after Higgs proposed his famous Higgs boson, it wasn’t true because his idea was very unpopular.

At first most physicists dismissed the idea. Higgs had reached his conclusions using quantum field theory, which others had written off as outdated. Several heavyweight groups insisted they could prove him wrong. “Most of my colleagues thought I was an idiot for sticking with quantum field theory, but I stuck with it because I didn’t believe it was as dead as they claimed,” he says. "It turned out to be the most important thing I’d done, perhaps the only important thing I’d done.” Ian Sample, “The Idea of a Lifetime,” New Scientist, Sept 13, 2008, p. 44

  1. Einstein’s cosmological constant was not true for over 70 years because no one believed it and then suddenly in 1998 or so, someone claimed to have measured it and suddenly it was metaphysically real because it gained popularity? It wasn’t true until people liked it? That is what I hear you saying when you use the word consensus.

3 The photon wasn’t a fact until after 1922, 17 years after Einstein proposed it because almost no one believed in it.

Millikan was not alone. The physics community received the photon postulate “with disbelief and skepticism bordering on derision.” Nevertheless, eight years after proposing the photon, Einstein had gained a considerable reputation as a theoretical physicist for many other achievements and was nominated for membership in the Prussian Academy of Science. Planck, in his letter supporting that nomination, felt he had to defend Einstein: "[T]hat he may sometimes have missed the target in his speculations, as, for example, in his hypothesis of light quanta, cannot really be held too much against him. … "
"Even when Einstein was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1922 for the photoelectric effect, the citation avoided explicit mention of the then seventeen-year-old, but still unaccepted, photon. An Einstein biographer writes: "From 1905 to 1923, [Einstein] was a man apart in being the only one, or almost the only one, to take the light-quantum seriously.” Bruce Rosenblum and Fred Kuttner, Quantum Enigma, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), p. 60

When you say this: “Frankly consciousness cannot be included in quantum mechanics formulations for multiple reasons: 1) we do not understand consciousness well enough to do so in a meaningful way, and 2) It has already been demonstrated that it plays no functional role in the result of any quantum process.”

I think you have conceded my point that consciousness isn’t subject to the laws of quantum mechanics. And you violate your consensus based measure of truth because the consensus is that consciousness has to be subject to the laws of quantum mechanics. But you are absolutely WRONG that the quantum formalism I used can’t be used to place the observer’s mind into superposition. It is done all the time and is the very basis of Wigner’s friend paradox as the basis of Frauchiger and Renner’s analysis.

and when you say this

"Frankly, I feel like I have been in dialogue with someone behaving more like a religious convert than a scientist – someone with their own special language and dogmas. "

This is the logical fallacy of argumentum ad hominem. Not the popular definition of that term which is name calling but what is taught as a logical fallacy in logic classes. Basically the assumption is that no religious converts can’t be scientists, which of course is ridiculous on its face. From what I know of your story, you too are a religious convert and maybe we shouldn’t listen to you either. lol Maybe you should ponder this from my graduate logic book:

“The other interpretation of the fallacy of argumentum ad hominem, the ‘circumstantial’ variety, pertains to the relationship between a person’s beliefs and his circumstances. Where two men are disputing, one may ignore the question of whether his own contention is true or false and seek instead to prove that his opponent ought to accept it because of his opponent’s special circumstances. Thus if one’s adversary is a clergyman, one may argue that a certain contention must be accepted because its denial is incompatible with the Scriptures.” Irving M. Copi, Introduction to Logic, (New York: MacMillan Co, 1972), p. 75

This is also argumentum ad hominem of the circumstantial variety if you say:

Thus if one’s adversary is a clergyman, one may argue that a certain contention must be rejected because its acceptance is compatible with the Scriptures.

Knowledge of formal logic is very important my friend. It keeps us from saying illogical things like reality is determined by popularity/consensus.

Sadly, now that I know your standard of truth, I don’t really think your objections are anything more than you screaming that my view is not popular–to which I would reply. so what? Thus, your objections aren’t worth me paying much attention to. I agree that these views I am presenting are not popular and maybe not the consensus, although most polls of physicists Copenhagenists are always in the 40% range in plurality. Copenhagen interpretation is the one that most clearly displays the observer as something apart from matter. But popularity of a view is not a question that should engage a scientist; the important question is: IS THE VIEW TRUE?

(Matthew Pevarnik) #85

Something becomes scientific when it wins over the community of other scientists. But there are reasons ideas become ‘popular’- they have more explanatory power or make predictions that come true, etc. Effectively what you are doing is going around with your own interpretation of QM grabbing quotes from various people that you think support your position. An appeal to ‘the consensus has been wrong before’ doesn’t mean that any position that anyone wants to be true is equally valid. And, of these non-–consensus positions, they must contend with what we have already found.

This is extremely important in your case… I.e. the effects of consciousness on quantum mechanical systems is so incredibly small that the soul would play no role in our every day existence beyond very simple experiments with a single electron or photon. In other words, as @mitchellmckain said:


Years ago a powerful comptroller of the company I worked for told me of a lesson he learned as a young accountant. His job at the time was looking over expense account. He had been trained to go through hotel receipts, airline tickets, meal receipts etc to be sure everything matched. It was kind of like an algorithm he had been trained to do. One day his boss called him in and asked him about a particular expense report, and again Dave went through all the things that needed checking and told the boss, “Nope I don’t see what the problem is”. To which the boss said, “This guy never travels for our company!”

I tell this to illustrate a point that was somewhat raised by Matthew Connolly when he made the comment about how does the human mind apprehend math since it is not material, can’t taste it, feel it, smell it etc. That is what got me thinking along the lines I am laying out here.

The story above illustrates that algorithms are rote, follow the paths the algorithm’s programmer put into the program and are not very creative. I think it is in creativity that humans show that their minds are not algorithmic, which must be the case if consciousness is an epiphenomenon of the brain’s computations. The consensus view is that the human mind is the result of computation–which of course requires algorithms, but there is much that indicates algorithms won’t capture what the human mind can do.

Consider what Denning says:

"Today a different interpretation of thinking is challenging the old idea. Many of us believe that thinking is not logical deduction, but the creation of new ideas. Logical deduction seems too mechanical. When we recall our moments of insight, we often say that our emotional state affected us and that we had a bodily sense of our creation before we could put it into words. We regard thinking as a phenomenon that occurs before articulation in language, and it seems that machines, which are programmed inside language, cannot generate actions outside language." Peter J Denning, "Is thinking computable?" American Scientist March April 1990, p. 3

This limitation of the language used to program the algorithm is what makes it hard for computers to do creative thinking. Computers would, like my accountant friend, be unable to see outside of the algorithm, to create an entirely new line of thinking. Like maybe a new interpretation of an old phenomenon. Denning then says:

"Like a system of logic, an interpretation cannot include all phenomena. Our powers of conscious observation give us a capacity to step outside a particular interpretation and devise extensions or alternatives. Thus consciousness itself cannot be captured by any fixed description or interpretation . How then can consciousness be captured by an algorithm, which is, by its very nature, a fixed interpretation? This question applies also to algorithms that are apparently designed to shift their interpretations, because, the rules for shifting constitute an interpretation themselves ." Peter J Denning, "Is thinking computable?" American Scientist March April 1990, p4

Im going to illustrate what Denning is saying about interpretations above. Consider programming a computer to decide the truth or falsehood of various statements. and it runs into the sentence

The present king of France is bald (a sentence first used afaik, by Bertrand Russell)

Interpreting this sentence as a statement about a non-existent king, we know immediately that the sentence is false. We don’t know it because the present king of France has hair, we know it because there is no present king of France and anything said about him is irrelevant. Note I didn’t say meaningless, we all perfectly understand the assertion that the poor king has no hair.

So, if we program the computer to recognize that this is true and the computer uses normal rules of logic and negation (the negative of a false statement is true), then we find the computer proclaiming that the sentence

The present king of France is not bald

as true! Of course this is false as well because there is no present king of France.

So we go back to the drawing board and reprogram the computer to drop the rule of the excluded middle for this specific paradoxical sentence alone (leaving the excluded middle alive for other sentences to which it applies. The excluded middle says

"for every signifcant sentence, either it or its negation must be true

So now we can program the computer with this exception to that rule. And we are happy. Except for…

What if we interpret this last sentence, the present king of France is not bald as meaning "Since there is no present king of France he certainly isn’t bald? In that case the last sentence is true, and our computer algorithm with the excluded middle exception is now wrong.

But wait, there is more. Go back to the Present King of France is bald ? We agreed that it is false, UNLESS, we interpret it as meaning, the nearest relative of the last king of France is a shoemaker living in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and he has the right to the throne by descent, and he is bald! Under that interpretation, the original statement would be true.

I would contend that no algorithm could encapsulate all these options because they are limited to its programming and must follow it robotically. A dog tied to a street sign, who walks around it over and over eventually having the leash wrapped so many times around the pole and the dogs neck is at the pole, it never crosses the dogs mind to reverse course. It is beyond his ability to solve that problem. Similarly algorithms, no matter how good are not good at thinking out of the limitations of the software. Humans seem remarkably capable of thinking new thoughts. To me this is just another indication that the human mind is something other than an epiphenomenon.

Note: Russell thinking of this sentence in light of the excluded middle was an act of creation unlikely to be created by an algorithm of his brain, and I added a few creative interpretations to the analysis which I have never read in any philosophy books. That too was a creative act,small as it was.

(GJDS) #87

The ideas you mentioned as unpopular were accepted after it was demonstrated experimentally - thus we may say the same of your position. While I believe human agency and intellect are unique, it remains to be shown that human consciousness is an integral (or can be demonstrated to be) part of the wave equation or QM in general.


Again, we have an entirely different view of truth. I can assure you telling me that I or my ideas are unpopular doesn’t phase me a bit, infact I find your definition of truth to be so incredibly odd.

Let’s say a man’s wife cheats on him. He has caught her in the act. At least for a while, that fact is a scientific fact (forensic evidence exists for a while, even if it isn’t collected). None of their friends believe she would do such a thing. Therefore, you would say, it isn’t a scientific fact and she didn’t cheat on him. I find this view ridiculous.


“The ideas you mentioned as unpopular were accepted after it was demonstrated experimentally”

Not quite true GJDS. The photoelectric effect was experimentally discovered in 1839 by Becquerel, explained in 1905 by Einstein, which was ignored for years and slowly accepted post 1920.

Of the cosmological constant, you are correct, but of the Higgs boson, it was accepted as being as real as dark matter is considered real, PRIOR to the experimental discovery of the Higgs particle. So things are not all neat and tidy with regards to acceptance of natural facts and theories that go with them.

Edited to add, conscioiusness has never been described by the Schrodinger equation—but then neither has wavefunction collapse been described by the Schroedinger equation. The Schrodinger equation predicts nothing will collapse, yet obviously it does and the issue is what causes the collapse? And contra what is claimed by some here, many physicists have claimed that what collapses the wavefunction is consciousness.


It has been claimed that no interpretation of quantum incorporates consciousness, well now the goal posts have moved and it is that those views are unpopular therefore not scientific facts. For clarity, I found as clear a statement that such interpretations exist and are discussed in the literature as I am likely to find:

Penrose (1994) thinks that gravity collapses wave functions in living neural tissue. Von Neumann, Wigner, and Stapp think that consciousness is doing it, collapsing the wave function onto one or another eigenstate (Stapp 1993).” Gordon Globus and Elena Bezzubova, “Postmodern impllications of quantum brain dynamics” in Dimensions of Conscious Experience, Pylkannen and Vaden editors, 2001, p. 149_emphasized text_

One can say they are not popular but one can’t say they don’t exist, as was originally claimed.

(Matthew Pevarnik) #91

It’s just how science works.

I have no idea what your point is or how this is relevant to how science actually works other than you are trying to use this absurd analogy to demonstrate the superiority of your view of QM despite experimental evidence demonstrating it is false.

(GJDS) #92

I suppose my position is as an observer to this exchange, so I would ask, “Do you have a way of demonstrating your position so as to convince skeptical physicists that you encounter. Is you position based on what some physicists say as an interpretation of QM, or is there a next step to all of this?”

Btw to indicate my position, I subscribe to the Orthodox view of the uncreated energies of God as (in terms that may be relevant to this discussion) articulated by Palamas, to sustain the creation. So I am intrigued by the opinions from physicists on QM.


Pevaquark, it is the logical application of what you presented as the standard of scientific truth. I said right up front we have different views of truth. If it isn’t, then please apply your system of truth to that case and show me where I am wrong.

(Phil) #94

gbob, my understanding is “scientific truth” is a misnomer, in that science does not claim ultimate truth (scientism, perhaps) but rather looks for the best explanation to explain the data. Sometimes, new data leads to change in consensus as better explanations are found. And, as you noted, it sometimes leads to Nobel prizes.

(Matt Connally) #95

Yes, I think that’s an excellent argument. And I think if we cut to the chase: when we program computers to use algorithms, that is, in principle, no different from using an abacus to do arithmetic. The computer doesn’t know what numbers or algorithms or words are any more than an abacus knows what they are–any more than a camera or telescope can see, any more than a book can read, etc. Why? Because numbers and equations are immaterial phenomena.

The materialist generally has 3 options:

  1. Argue that mathematics (including the wave function!) is not objective–that scientists don’t discover mathematical equations and data but rather create it. Very few will even try to make this argument because it completely eviscerates all of science. For science rests on the notion that objective data is out in the universe, available to be discovered and translated into elegant (English) sentences like “Force equals mass times acceleration” and “Energy equals mass times the speed of light squared” and “carbon dioxide plus water plus sunlight yields glucose plus oxygen plus water”.
  2. Argue that mathematics is somehow a physical phenomenon. Occasionally you’ll hear materialists hinting at this or implying it, but never stating it outright.
  3. Use a bunch of philosophical rambling to say that we can just sort of take it all for granted as a mystery. (It is an astronomically profound and huge thing to take for granted!) This almost always involves various references to Platonism and often leads to saying that mathematics is a “human construct” (see option 1 above) and is in some vague way not “real”–at least not as “real” as the meaning of the abstract word real is real.

But if we let go of materialism–which, again, is 100% pure presupposition and entirely ideological–then we are free to see the facts: mathematical equations and algorithms are nonphysical phenomena. Information is immaterial. Perhaps the materialist can give you a dozen reasons why this should not be true–why information should not be an immaterial phenomenon–but they cannot give you a single reason that it is not true.



Yes, things change eventually with the data, but not always quickly. But one thing is certain, scientific truth is not determined by a popularity contest.

There are observational facts, things like, a falling object on earth in a vacuum falls at 9.8 m/s. or an electron has a negative charge of 1.602…x 10^-19 coulombs and a positron has a positive charge of that value.

But there are also theories, like gravitation and quantum and theories do not fall into scientific fact or truth. They are interpretations of the facts As I see it there is room for both types of objects and there is a gradation of the certainty of a given ‘scientific truth’ or certainty of the truth of a theory. Quantum has been verified quite thoroughly as has General Relativity. Are they true? as far as we can tell, except that one of them MUST be wrong if there is to be a theory of everything because gravity uses a dynamic space-time in a feedback loop with matter, and QM uses a non-dynamic space time and this puts the two theories at odds on a fundamental issue–what is space time.

The problem is that while quantum theory changed radically the assumptions about the relationship between the observer and the observed, it accepted without alteration Newton’s old answer to the question of what space and time are. Just the opposite happened with Einstein’s general relativity theory, in which the concept of space and time was radically changed, while Newton’s view of the relationship between observer and observed was retained.” Lee Smolin, Three Roads to Quantum Gravity, (New York: Basic Books, 2001), p. 4

The reason I believe strongly that soul has been observed in quantum is that all formulations lead to consciousness appearing somewhere as a problem or issue. So I do see that at least as a high probability ‘truth’.


I would make one correction here, classical physics rests on the notion that there is an objective world. One of the problems with quantum is, as Wigner said:

“Solipsism may be logically consistent with present quantum mechanics, monism in the sense of materialism is not. The case against solipsism was given at the end of the first section.” Eugene Wigner, Remarks on the mind body problem, p. 177

Make no mistake Wigner was against solipsism, but the fact that quantum observation involves what the subjective observer perceives makes him say that.

(Matt Connally) #98

Sure, that’s an insightful nuance. The subjectivity revealed by QM is something that we are acutely aware of and mystified by, but only in contrast with the broader context of the objective world. (You could even say that the subjectivity of it is an objective fact! But everyone is zealous to minimize that mystery, so we don’t need to go there again.) Although Einstein himself extended the implications of it by asking, “Is the moon there if I don’t look at it?”, he was simply struggling with the spectacular enigma of QM’s ifms–as opposed to isms. (If we measure it, then…) That’s what Philip Ball concluded with in Beyond Weird–which, BTW, is hands down the best book to date on quantum physics. Alas, Ball is a materialist. (They won’t let you in the door if you’re not.)

(Gordon Simons) #99

I recently bought a copy of this book by Philip Ball, and agree with your high praise. His comments on the many-worlds interpretation are especially good, and some of them can be found on the Internet.

I am curious how you came to the conclusion that Ball is a materialist, not that I disagree. Does he say this explicitly, or is this something you inferred?

Another excellent readable book is Euan Squires, The Mystery of the Quantum World, 2nd ed., (Bristol: Institute of Physics Publishing, 1994).
He comments in the preface of the book, “ In an endeavor to understand the quantum world, we are led beyond physics, certainly into philosophy and maybe even into cosmology, psychology and theology.

(Matt Connally) #100

Simons, I inferred it from when Ball is reviewing the various interpretations of QM. On p 218 he talks briefly about mind-induced collapse and rejects it for the very reason that it requires the mind to be “a non-physical entity that does not obey the Schrodinger equation.” He goes on to express incredulity at the implications. That’s not very scientific—to be swayed by incredulity. That’s where Henry Stapp comes in and says, “Recognize the facts!”
But Ball redeems himself in the end by saying we’re ultimately left with a bunch of glaring, weird “ifms”, as opposed to isms. Stapp says there’s nothing weird or spooky about the obvious conclusions of immaterialism.