Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Is it All In The Mind?

It is commonly believed that quantum physics tells that 'all is in the mind', that 'we create our own reality', or that 'that everything outside our consciousness exists yet has no reality except in what we are making of it'. A recent film 'What the Bleep Do We Know' popularises this view, but makes many mistakes.

Physics motives for saying this:
A big problem in physics is that the wave functions that are spread out have a shape which satisfies well-known equations, but it is still not clear, when and how physics gets just one actual outcome. The electron may have a wave function spread out over the whole room, for example, but if you have detectors in the room, only one of them, at random, will detect the electron. In quantum physics, we do not have a good reason why an electron can only be found in one detector and not somehow in all of them. So there has been a lot of discussion in the past 70 years of how in physics the standard theory with waves just leads to one outcome. This has given rise to very many alternative ideas:.

1. Only an appearance
2. Occurs to a good approximation
Decoherence theory,
3. Classical apparatus
N. Bohr,
4. Experimenter looks
W. Heisenberg,
5. Effect of consciousness
E. Wigner,
6. Consciousness creates an actual result
H. Stapp,
7. Consciousness produces nature
S. Malin,
8. Spirit produces nature
E. Swedenborg,
9. Nature is essentially spiritual
‘New Age’,
10. Nature and spirit are identical
C.J.S. Clarke,
11. Quantum physics shows us religious roots
E.H. Walker
Suggested means for getting one definite actuality

Those of you that have read some popular physics will recognize some of these alternatives, and they are all designed to answer the same measurement problem. The first suggestion is called Everett’s many-worlds interpretation, in which there is not any real selection, but all alternatives occur the same time, for example in some set of parallel universes. The second theory of ‘decoherence’ says that it really like that, but that it appears to a good approximation as if only one outcome occurs. Niels Bohr thought it was the fact that experimental apparatus was ‘classical’, with no wave behavior, that gives rise to a particular outcome. We now know that quantum physics applies to the experimental apparatus as well, so that does not really solve the problem. Werner Heisenberg, Eugene Wigner and Henry Stapp have in turn introduced the speculation that selection is something to do with consciousness or mind, and this has given rise to a whole stream of suggestions in which consciousness (or something) has become more and more involved in trying to solve the problem of quantum physics.

Wigner in a paper of 40 years ago suggested that it was the consciousness of the observing scientist, and this idea has been carried on by Stapp, who says that consciousness is actually involved in the brain. Stapp believes that since a quantum brain has many alternate things that can happen, consciousness selects one of these outcomes to produce a result. I have listed other alternatives here, which get progressively more ‘way out’. A few of these ideas we can imagine being true, for example that ‘spirit produces nature’, but some people have gone even further than that, and have said that nature is somehow essentially spiritual – that it is connected with, or equal to, the spiritual. Others have continued this theme to say that quantum physics is a way of learning about spirituality, a way to regain our spirituality. There is a great range of possible solutions here that try to solve the same problem: how something that is described by a wave can produce a definite outcome. The trouble starts from the fact that when physicists think about nature, they only have two ideas in mind: they can think of a wave or a particle. The difficulty is that the objects which quantum physics tells us are in nature are not just waves, and not just particles, so the challenge is to find a new understanding and a new picture.
In theistic science, we start by taking a realist view of the quantum world, as composed of dispositions or propensities in particular forms.

Philosophical motives for saying this:

As well as the more extreme ideas above, there are further ideas that have been proposed. James Jeans, the mathematical physicist, wrote about 60 years ago that “the wave function looks like not something solid and substantial, but looks more like an ‘idea’”. Some (e.g. Zohar) have taken this to mean that quantum physics tells us about ideas. Others, discussing the putative identity of spirit and nature, have tried to work out various ways for why they appear to be different. They have said that perhaps spirit and nature are different grades of energies, different frequencies, different dimensions, and/or different ‘fineness’ of material.
Theistic science will tell us that suggesting ‘different dimensions’ here is trying to use spatial analogies (thinking from ideas of space) to distinguish mind from nature. When people try to talk about ‘different frequencies’, they are using temporal analogies to think about this difference.

There is a strong impetus in much 'New Age' physics toward nondualism, in which our own consciousness is identified as 'essentially identical' to the Consciousness of the Source.

In the Spirituality Approach, I discuss whether nondualism can be true within Theism:
  1. How to distingush the Natural and Spiritual? here
  2. Is Nondualism the way to go beyond the physical? here
  3. How do we love others in a nondualism? here
  4. Is there esoteric knowledge about spirituality? here
  5. How can there be permanent spiritual growth? here
  6. What is Enlightenment without Paradox?
    Nondualism from a Theistic perspective, here.

In Theistic Science:

According to Theistic Science, the natural world is really and definitely produced by generative processes, of which spiritual and mental stages are intermediate parts. The natural world is not itself living or consciousness, but is produced in part by means of worlds and by people which are conscious.

Moreover, the physical world is not an arbitrary production, but is constrained at least by the past: by what already physically exists. We say that the natural world is the terminus and containant of spiritual processes, and is the base for the spiritual degrees as are the foundations for a house.

This has important philosophical, biological and theological consequences. It is most important as our actions in the physical world have the function of building up the permanence of our spiritual bodies, our souls.

There are important analogies between mental and physical processes, but these analogies do not indicate identity, as is often supposed, but arise from systematic correspondences of function.

To explain all these things within the context of science and theism, I have written my book Starting Science from God. The book website is 

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