Mental causes matter

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 that ‘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). 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, writes: ‘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. Schrödinger and Wheeler have a similar view. Morowitz rightly concludes that ‘such interpretations moved science towards the idealist as contrasted with the realist conception of philosophy' (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. Bohm for example devised a system that is compatible with experimental results and yet does not necessitate an observer to make matter real.
  • It is ridden 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 difference is what created the rift between him and the other originators of quantum physics.
  • Even if this position 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.


It can be concluded that although evidently there is a connection between matter and mind, it is not likely that the one is fully the result of the other. So ‘hard' dualism, as a possibility, needs to be considered, but there are various options there too.