Sunday, March 19, 2017

Quantum mechanics and consciousness - Part 1/6 of thoughts on a causal correspondence theory

Which way does causation proceed? The pattern in the material world seems to be upward: particles to molecules to organisms to brains to mental processes. In contrast, the principles of quantum mechanics allow us to see a pattern of downward causation. These new ideas describe sets of multiple levels in which each level influences the levels below it through generation and selection. Top-down causation makes exciting sense of the world: we can find analogies in psychology, in the formation of our minds, in locating the source of consciousness, and even in the possible logic of belief in God.

1. A quantum viewpoint

Over the last 100 years the study of quantum phenomena has shown that there is more than the material world of matter, force and motion. The experts have often speculated about a role for observers, even for consciousness, in an understanding of quantum measurements [1] [2]. More recently many [3] have speculated that quantum physics itself reveals consciousness. There are now many cottage industries seeking to develop ideas of ‘quantum consciousness’, even of ‘quantum spirituality’. It has become popular to say that ‘quantum theory shows that consciousness creates physical reality’, and that this fits into an advaita non-dualist framework where only the Godhead is real while everything else is a generation of consciousness.

For many, however, such a monism where all beings are numerically identical does not seem to be the ultimate answer. People generally consider unselfish love to be superior to selfish love. If all persons were identical in being, then unselfish love between distinct persons would be impossible. The reality of unselfishness disposes many of us to dualist views in which people are ontologically distinct and in which God and worlds are distinct [4, p. 18]. It is important for theorists to explore theories in which minds and god are distinct. If mind and matter are distinct then many philosophical problems with materialism may be resolved.

I here present some ideas to help interpret quantum mechanics, mind and theism in a non-reductive approach. These ideas describe a set of multiple levels which all exist simultaneously in their own manner. Rather than everything being a system of objects at one fundamental level, we can develop a theory of multiple levels, each with different kinds of objects existing in their own kinds of spaces. The first challenge is to see how quantum substances exist on a single level. A second challenge is to show how objects interact between levels.

E. Wigner, "Remarks on the Mind-Body Question," in The Scientist Speculates, N.Y., Basic Books, 1962, pp. 284-302.
H. Stapp, Mindful Universe, N.Y.: Springer, 2011.
E. Lazslo, "Quantum and Consciousness: In search of new paradigm," Zygon, vol. 41, no. 3, pp. 533-541, 2006.
E. Swedenborg, DIvine Love and Wisdom (1763), West Chester, PA: Swedenborg Foundation, 2010.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Using Swedenborg to Understand the Quantum World III: Thoughts and Forms

In this series of posts, Swedenborg’s theory of correspondences has been shown to have interesting applications for helping us to better understand the quantum world.

In part I, we learned that our mental processes occur at variable finite intervals and that they consist of desire, or love, acting by means of thoughts and intentions to produce physical effects. We in turn came to see the correspondential relationship between these mental events and such physical events that occur on a quantum level: in both cases, there will be time gaps between the events leading up to the physical outcome. So since we find that physical events occur in finite steps rather than continuously, we are led to expect a quantum world rather than a world described by classical physics.
In part II, we saw that the main similarity between desire (mental) and energy (physical) is that they both persist between events, which means that they are substances and therefore have the capability, or disposition, for action or interaction within the time gaps between those events.

Now we come to the question of how it is that these substances persist during the intervals between events. The events are the actual selection of what happens, so after the causing event and before the resultant effect, what occurs is the exploring of “possibilities for what might happen.” With regard to our mental processes, this exploration of possibilities is what we recognize as thinking. Swedenborg explains in detail how this very process of thinking is the way love gets ready to do things (rather than love being a byproduct of the thinking process, as Descartes would require):
Everyone sees that discernment is the vessel of wisdom, but not many see that volition is the vessel of love. This is because our volition does nothing by itself, but acts through our discernment. It first branches off into a desire and vanishes in doing so, and a desire is noticeable only through a kind of unconscious pleasure in thinking, talking, and acting. We can still see that love is the source because we all intend what we love and do not intend what we do not love. (Divine Love and Wisdom §364)
When we realize we want something, the next step is to work out how to do it. We first think of the specific objective and then of all the intermediate steps to be taken in order to achieve it. We may also think about alternative steps and the pros and cons of following those different routes. In short, thinking is the exploration of “possibilities for action.” As all of this thinking speaks very clearly to the specific objective at hand, it can be seen as supporting our motivating love, which is one of the primary functions of thought. A focused thinking process such as this can be seen, simplified, in many kinds of animal activities.

With humans, however, thinking goes beyond that tight role of supporting love and develops a scope of its own. Not only do our thoughts explore possibilities for action, but they also explore the more abstract “possibilities for those possibilities.” Not only do we think about how to get a drink, but we also, for example, think about the size of the container, how much liquid it contains, and how far it is from where we are at that moment! When we get into such details as volume and distance, we discover that mathematics is the exploration of “possibilities of all kinds,” whether they are possibilities for action or not. So taken as a whole, thought is the exploration of all the many possibilities in the world, whether or not they are for action and even whether or not they are for actual things.

For physical things (material objects), this exploration of possibilities is spreading over the possible places and times for interactions or selections. Here, quantum physics has done a whole lot of work already. Physicists have discovered that the possibilities for physical interactions are best described by the wave function of quantum mechanics. The wave function describes all the events that are possible, as well as all the propensities and probabilities for those events to happen. According to German physicist Max Born, the probability of an event in a particular region can be determined by an integral property of the wave function over that region. Energy is the substance that persists between physical events, and all physical processes are driven by energy. In quantum mechanics, this energy is what is responsible for making the wave function change through time, as formulated by the Schrödinger equation, which is the fundamental equation of quantum physics.[1]

Returning now to Swedenborg’s theory of correspondences, we recognize that the something physical like thoughts in the mind are the shapes of wave functions in quantum physics. In Swedenborg’s own words:
When I have been thinking, the material ideas in my thought have presented themselves so to speak in the middle of a wave-like motion. I have noticed that the wave was made up of nothing other than such ideas as had become attached to the particular matter in my memory that I was thinking about, and that a person’s entire thought is seen by spirits in this way. But nothing else enters that person’s awareness then apart from what is in the middle which has presented itself as a material idea. I have likened that wave round about to spiritual wings which serve to raise the particular matter the person is thinking about up out of his memory. And in this way the person becomes aware of that matter. The surrounding material in which the wave-like motion takes place contained countless things that harmonized with the matter I was thinking about. (Arcana Coelestia §6200)[2]
Many people who have tried to understand the significance of quantum physics have noted that the wave function could be described as behaving like a non-spatial realm of consciousness. Some of these people have even wanted to say that the quantum wave function is a realm of consciousness, that physics has revealed the role of consciousness in the world, or that physics has discovered quantum consciousness.[3] 

However, using Swedenborg’s ideas to guide us, we can see that the wave function in physics corresponds to the thoughts in our consciousness. They have similar roles in the making of events: both thoughts and wave functions explore the “possibilities, propensities, and probabilities for action.” They are not the same, but they instead follow similar patterns and have similar functions within their respective realms. Thoughts are the way that desire explores the possibilities for the making of intentions and their related physical outcomes, and wave functions are the way that energy explores the possibilities for the making of physical events on a quantum level.

The philosophers of physics have been puzzled for a long time about the substance of physical things,[4] especially that of things in the quantum realm. From our discussion here, we see that energy (or propensity) is also the substance of physical things in the quantum realm and that the wave function, then, is the form that such a quantum substance takes. The wave function describes the shape of energy (or propensity) in space and time. We can recognize, as Aristotle first did, that a substantial change has occurred when a substance comes into existence by virtue of the matter of that substance acquiring some form.[5] That still applies to quantum mechanics, we now find, even though many philosophers have been desperately constructing more extreme ideas to try to understand quantum objects, such as relationalism[6] or the many-worlds interpretation.[7]

So what, then, is this matter of energy (desire, or love)? Is it from the Divine? Swedenborg would say as much:
It is because the very essence of the Divine is love and wisdom that we have two abilities of life. From the one we get our discernment, and from the other volition. Our discernment is supplied entirely by an inflow of wisdom from God, while our volition is supplied entirely by an inflow of love from God. Our failures to be appropriately wise and appropriately loving do not take these abilities away from us. They only close them off; and as long as they do, while we may call our discernment “discernment” and our volition “volition,” essentially they are not. So if these abilities really were taken away from us, everything human about us would be destroyed—our thinking and the speech that results from thought, and our purposing and the actions that result from purpose. We can see from this that the divine nature within us dwells in these two abilities, in our ability to be wise and our ability to love. (Divine Love and Wisdom §30)
When seeing things as made from substance—from the energy (or desire) that endures between events and thereby creates further events—we note that people will tend to speculate about “pure love” or “pure energy”: a love or energy without form that has no particular objective but can be used for anything. But this cannot be. In physics, there never exists any such pure energy but only energy in specific forms, such as the quantum particles described by a wave function. Any existing physical energy must be the propensity for specific kinds of interactions, since it must exist in some form. Similarly, there never exists a thing called “pure love.” The expression “pure love” makes sense only with respect to the idea of innocent, or undefiled, love, not to love without an object. Remember that “our volition [which is the vessel of love] does nothing by itself, but acts through our discernment.”

[1] Wikipedia,ödinger_equation.
[2] Secrets of Heaven is the New Century Edition translation of Swedenborg’s Arcana Coelestia.
[3] See, for example,
[4] Howard Robinson, “Substance,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,
[5] Thomas Ainsworth, “Form vs. Matter,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,
[6] Michael Epperson, “Quantum Mechanics and Relational Realism: Logical Causality and Wave Function Collapse,” Process Studies 38.2 (2009): 339–366.
[7] J. A. Barrett, “Quantum Worlds,” Principia 20.1 (2016): 45–60.

Using Swedenborg to Understand the Quantum World II: Desire and Energy

In the previous post of this series, we saw how Swedenborg’s theory of correspondences could help us to better understand the physical world from a quantum perspective. If our mental processes consist of desire acting by means of thoughts and intentions to produce physical effects, then these physical actions should manifest themselves according to a corresponding pattern. More specifically, if the components of our mental processes occur at variable finite intervals, so too should the expected physical events.
According to many thinkers throughout history, mental and physical are not identical but instead are two different kinds of substances that relate with each other. Swedenborg describes the mental (spiritual) and physical (natural) as distinct but says that they interact by discrete degrees:
A knowledge of degrees is like a key to lay open the causes of things, and to give entrance into them. . . . For things exterior advance to things interior and through these to things inmost, by means of degrees; not by continuous degrees but by discrete degrees. “Continuous degrees” is a term applied to the gradual lessenings or decreasings from grosser to finer . . . or . . . to growths and increasings from finer to grosser . . . precisely like the gradations of light to shade, or of heat to cold. But discrete degrees are entirely different: they are like things prior, subsequent and final; or like end, cause, and effect. These degrees are called discrete, because the prior is by itself; the subsequent by itself; and the final by itself; and yet taken together they make one. (Divine Love and Wisdom §184)
The mental can never be continuously transformed into something physical, nor can the physical be continuously transformed into something mental. They are connected, however, by virtue of their causal relationship: all physical processes are produced, or generated, by something mental. As described in my previous post, this relationship is what gives rise to our correspondences in the first place.
Most of us can realize that the mental and the physical are distinct, even though this may be denied by materialists (for whom the mental is merely an emerging product of the physical) and also by monistic idealists (for whom the physical universe is merely a representation in the mind). The latter view is common in many New Age circles today, and it is even thought to be implied by quantum physics. In this series of posts, by contrast, I want to show how Swedenborg’s ideas give us a new understanding of how mental and physical things can both exist in fully-fledged ways and with serious connections between them that are not deflating or reductionist.
Mental and physical things can both be substances but, they have very different characteristics:
  • Mental things are conscious, whereas physical things are unconscious.
  • Mental beings can think and make deductions using reason, whereas physical beings can only make logical deductions if they are designed that way.
  • Mental beings can use symbols and language to refer to objects and ideas outside themselves, whereas physical beings have no intrinsic ability to refer to anything.
  • Mental processes are motivated by purposes and intentions, whereas physical processes are determined by physical causes that supposedly exclude purposes and intentions.
  • Mental processes tend to produce results according to some conception of what is good, whereas physical processes have no need for any such concept.
As already discussed in the previous post, desire is a component of all mental processes, and we recognize “something physical like desire” as energy or propensity. Swedenborg sees desire, or affection, as a specific kind of love:
That love and wisdom from the Lord is life can be seen also from this, that man grows torpid as love recedes from him, and stupid as wisdom recedes from him, and that were they to recede altogether he would become extinct. There are many things pertaining to love which have received other names because they are derivatives, such as affections, desires, appetites, and their pleasures and enjoyments. (Divine Love and Wisdom §363)
For desire and energy to correspond to each other in the sense that Swedenborg describes, the function of desire as a cause must be similar to the function of energy as a cause. That is, the way in which desire causes mental processes must be similar to the way in which energy causes physical processes. This is not to say that desire is the same as energy but only that desire’s pattern of operation is similar to that of energy. The common pattern is that desire (energy) persists between events, then explores multiple possibilities for those events by means of thoughts (fields of energy), and finally becomes manifest in the physical events produced.
Up until now, the idea of substance has been rather obscure in both physics and philosophy, and it has not been developed significantly. From an ontological perspective, substance is that which endures between events. It is what individuates and bears the intrinsic properties of those events. We are not necessarily talking about a substance that endures forever or about a substance that exists independently of everything else. Based on the common pattern described above, we can arrive at the idea of a created substance that persists, or endures, as a thing at least for some finite time between events. And such a substance would be the capability, or disposition, for action or interaction in that time interval.
This relates to the idea of “dispositional essentialism” that has been put forth by philosophers in recent years.[1] Dispositional essentialism is the notion that some kind of power or disposition (such as a cause or energy) must be an essential part of something. Some philosophers take this idea even further, saying that disposition must be the individual essence of something. In much the same way, I am saying that disposition is what constitutes the substance of something.[2] So if the main similarity between desire and energy is that they both persist between events, then both desire and energy are substances.
By using ideas from Swedenborg to understand the world, we have a new way of grasping the mental and physical and perhaps of understanding quantum physics. Either one of these results would be very useful; to have both is to be extremely fortunate.
In the next post of this series, I will discuss how and in what form both desire and energy persist between events.

[1] B. Ellis and C. Lierse, “Dispositional Essentialism,” Australasian Journal of Philosophy (72, 1994): 27–45.
[2] See Ian J. Thompson, “Power and Substance,”

First posted here.