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12.3 Mind-dependent Actualisation - some proposals

Now we come to the more controversial section, concerning whether minds (whether of humans or of others) have any direct role to play in the time development of the physical world. I will not be trying to decide one way or the other, but will be content with a critical examination of the consistency of and evidence for the proposals. Unfortunately, all the proposals in this section (with one or two possible exceptions) fall into the `partly baked' category of speculation well beyond the realms of experience.

The principle reason used in support of mind-dependent actualising is that Schrödinger's equation by itself does not give any selections or actualisations whatsoever. If we following through the quantum effects for animals and humans, we find that our states of     knowledge (in the case of `Wigner's Friend') and our states of life and death (in the case of `Schrödinger's cat') will also be in superpositions, or `unselected' combinations. We might allow that our macroscopic laboratory apparatus can be superpositions of different pointer positions, but we find it incredible that our looking at that pointer means that our seeing and our knowing are also in superpositions of mutually-exclusive outcomes.

                  As the result of this and similar arguments, many physicists have come to believe that mind or consciousness in some way is responsible for the process of selection. Von Neumann [1932], Schrödinger [1935], and Wigner [1962] are among the formulators of this belief. More recently it has been taken up by Walker [1970], Popper and Eccles [1977], Faber [1986], and Jahn & Dunne [1986]. Whiteman ([1967], [1969], [1977], and [1986]) has put foward ideas with similar implications. A variety of schemes have been considered. Sometimes it is proposed that minds have an `active role' in choosing or willing which possibility will be selected; others are content with mental acts (such as `perceptions') providing the occasion for some selection which could then be random.

  Stapp [1985] takes the line that there are objective actualisations occurring outside the brain, but that those which occur within the brain are to `be identified as both a psychical and physical act: the subjectively felt act of selecting a course of action may be represented in the physicist's construction of reality by the reduction of the wave packet that selects this course of action. Thus what is ``felt'' at the psychical level is identical to what ``happens'' at the physical level, namely the selection of a certain course of action'. `The reductions of those possibilities that are generated by quantum processes that occur outside the brain are, according to the present proposal, not as directly related with human consciousness'12.4. Thus it is certain kinds of `actions' (not merely `perceiving', as Wigner proposed) which are responsible for the actualising of propensities.

At this point we would like to go on and ask what further consequences these ideas have for physics, and what other phenomena could be grouped together and explained by these proposals.   However, as Wigner12.5 puts it, ``it seems that there is no solid guide to help in answering this question and one either has to admit to full ignorance or to engage in speculation.'' The proposals would certainly have dramatic consequences for science, philosophy and metaphysics in general, should they prove to be true, but in fact they are a long way from being experimentally supported in any solid sense. In the argument above for mind-dependent actualising, we said that ``we might allow that our macroscopic laboratory apparatus can be superpositions of different pointer positions''. We can attack the argument at this point with any of the `objective actualising' proposals of the previous section. Many of the `objective' proposals involve only minimal change to quantum mechanics, and hardly any changes at all to its experimental predictions. As Bell [1987] points out, it is surprising how small are the required changes to quantum theory to make nearly all its mysteries disappear. Because all three of the final `objective' proposals were equally satisfactory from the experimental point of view, we really cannot say that there is evidence from quantum physics for any mind-dependent actualising.

The only ways to support the idea of minds having a role in nature is to show that the `objective actualising' proposals are inadequate, or to show, by means of a general philosophical and/or scientific theory, that its a priori likelihood is quite significant.   Faber [1986] attempts the first kind of argument, and indeed the proposals he examines for `materialistic actualising' all prove defective. He failed, however, to look at the more detailed (and more plausible) quantitative proposals.   Whiteman ([1967], [1969], [1977] and [1986]) attempts the second kind of argument, trying to place mind-dependent actualising within a general cosmological theory of mind and nature and their relations. To my knowledge, he is the only one to have attempted this in any detail.   Jahn and Dunne [1986] attempt a similar kind of endeavour, but they explicitly keep to metaphorical analogies between minds and quantum physics, and refrain from attempting any literal or non-metaphorical explanations.

The point is that a general theory of mind-dependent actualising would necessary involve a general theory of minds. If we are not careful, this would involve explaining something about which we know little (i.e. actualising) in terms of something about which we know nothing at all (i.e. minds). Whiteman tries to avoid this pitfall by making his theory of mind central to his work, but I have to report, though having tried several times in several ways, that I find his theory of mind rather difficult to understand. In any case, because of the detail involved, it would better be a subject for later investigation.    

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Next: 12.4 Conclusions Up: 12. Measurements and Other Previous: 12.2 Objective Actualisation -
Prof Ian Thompson


Author: I.J. Thompson (except as stated)