Thursday, 19 March 2015

Quantum Physics is Sexy (in the Philosophy of Mind)

There are some people who drop the two words “quantum mechanics” into almost all intellectual conversations. Indeed the words “quantum dualism” also feature strongly with those who like vague analogies and who think in metaphors. (While not believing that they are actually thinking in analogies and metaphors.)

Quantum physics is sexy and exotic. It's also counter-intuitive and even “radical”. Hence the appeal.

This is certainly true when it comes to the study of the mind and consciousness.

Yet, despite all that, John Horgan (in his book The End of Science) has this to say on the matter:

There is one issue on which Crick, Edelman, and indeed almost all neuroscientists agree: the properties of the mind do not depend in any crucial way on quantum mechanics.”

Note here that it's neuroscientists who “agree” on this; not philosophers, psychologists and others. Yet it's neuroscientists who prod and probe into the the brain. So, at least on the surface, it would seem that it's they who should know what they're talking about. Sure, philosophical and conceptual issues will impinge on what they do; though surely they are the best people to ask when it come to the question:

Does the brain depend in any crucial way on quantum mechanics?

How could a philosopher or a psychologist answer that question?

Having said that, Horgan does tell us (later in his book) that Crick believes that “some neural equivalent of Heisenberg's uncertainty principle might restrict our ability to trace the brain's activity in minute detail” (183).

As for the appeal of quantum mechanics (like Kurt Gödel's theorems), Horgan writes:

Crick's partner Christof Koch summed up the quantum-consciousness thesis in a syllogism: Quantum mechanics is mysterious, and consciousness is mysterious. Q.E.D.: quantum mechanics and consciousness must be related.” (173)

However, here the obvious question is:

Why does - or would - non-deterministic, quasi-quantum computations give rise to consciousness?

Is it this argument again? -

i) Quantum indeterminacy is mysterious.

ii) Consciousness is mysterious.

iii) Therefore these things must be related.

Could it simply be that because there's no other answer at present that this must be answer? If that were the case, then other outrageous things may be the answer too. Why is this quantum stuff more feasible than ghost stuff or outright dualism?

Kurt Gödel's theorems are also applied to domains to which they shouldn't really be applied. That is, the reality of the theorems which were only about mathematical systems are now applied left, right and center.

Nonetheless, since physics depends so heavily on mathematics, perhaps there is something to what is said.

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