The Mental Causes Matter

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Written by Dr. Nash Popovic

Although this position may seem counterintuitive, the support for it may be found in some interpretations of a particular strand of modern science – quantum physics.

Home and Robinson comment:

Bohr’s quasi-positivistic, essentially subjective view of nature… taken to its logical extreme, denies the existence of the physical world – or at least its dynamical properties – until they are measured. (1995, p.175)

And Bohr is not alone in taking this view. For example, Hameroff, who believes that the solution to the mind-body problem lies in quantum physics, states: ‘When unobserved, an atom or sub-atomic particle behaves as a ‘wave of possibilities’; observation in effect ‘collapses the wave function’ and a particle appears’ (1994, p.100). One of the founders of quantum physics, Heisenberg, stressed that physicists no longer deal with elementary particles, but with our knowledge of these particles – that is, with the contents of our mind. Other eminent quantum physicists, such as Schrödinger and Wheeler, have a similar view. It is hard to avoid a conclusion that ‘such interpretations moved science towards the idealist as contrasted with the realist conception of philosophy’ (Morowitz, 1981, p.38-39). This perspective may be attractive as an antidote to the prevailing materialism in scientific circles, but it too faces a few uncomfortable issues.

  • First of all, this particular interpretation of quantum physics is not the only possible interpretation. For example, theoretical physicist, David Bohm, who departed from the mainstream interpretation of quantum phenomena, devised a system that is compatible with experimental results and yet does not necessitate an observer to make matter real.
  • It is riddled with paradoxes. Einstein, who was one of the founders of quantum physics but firmly held the realist view, designed mind experiments, trying to show the apparent absurdity of such a position. For example, he asked, would a mouse that accidentally observes an experiment change the outcome? This is what created the rift between him and the other originators of quantum physics.
  • Even if the standard interpretation of quantum mechanics is correct, it does not seem to be very helpful with regard to the mind-body problem. A notorious issue in quantum physics is an inability to ‘translate’ or make a bridge between the micro level (the realm of subatomic particles) and the macro-level (the realm of everyday reality). In other words, although the theory may work on the micro level, different rules of the game operate on the macro level – and many issues concerning the mind-body problem relate to that level of organisation.

The above does not mean that quantum physics cannot contribute to a better understanding of the relationship between the brain and the mind, only that it is unlikely to provide the solution on its own.

We can conclude that although the brain and the mind heavily influence each other, it is unlikely that one is fully the result of the other. So another possibility, dualism, needs to be considered too.