The Nature of Consciousness

Piero Scaruffi

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These are excerpts and elaborations from my book "The Nature of Consciousness"

The Brain as a Measurement Device

Quantum Theory is really about waves of possibilities.  A particle is described by a wave function as being in many possible places at the same time.  When the particle is observed, its wave function "collapses" with definite attributes, including the location it occupies, but such attributes cannot be foreseen until they actually collapse.  In other words, the observer can only observe a quantum system after having interfered with it.

Von Neumann highlighted an inconsistency in the standard interpretation of Quantum Theory: the objects to be observed are treated as quantum objects (or waves), while the objects that observe (the instruments) are classical objects, with a shape, a position and no wave.  The "measurer" is a natural object as much as the "measured", but we grant it immunity from Quantum Theory. Von Neumann objected to dividing the world into two parts that behaved differently. Quantum Theory unequivocally states that everything is a quantum system, no matter how small or big it is. On the other hand, if everything is a quantum system regulated by a wave of possibilities, what makes it collapse? Von Neumann was led again to postulate that something "different" from a quantum system has the power to cause such a collapse, and that something had to be human consciousness. Nothing in the world is real unless perceived by a mind, as the British philosopher Berkeley had argued centuries before Von Neumann.

What if we built an instrument which is smaller than the system to be observed? What would be a quantum system: the smaller or the bigger, the measurer or the measured?

The range of uncertainty of a particle is measured by Max Planck's constant. Because Planck's constant is so small, big objects have a well-defined position and shape and everything. The features of small objects such as particles are instead highly uncertain. Therefore, large objects are granted an immunity from quantum laws that is based only on their size.


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