The Nature of Consciousness

Piero Scaruffi

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

Consciousness Creates Reality

If a wave collapses (i.e., a particle assumes well-defined attributes) only when observed by a conscious being, then Quantum Theory seems to specify a privileged role for the mind: the mind enters the world through the gap in Heisenberg's uncertainty principle.  Indeed, the mind "must" exist for the universe to exist, otherwise nobody would be there to observe it and therefore the world would only consist of possibilities that never turn into actualities. Reality is just the content of consciousness, as the Hungarian physicist Eugene Wigner pointed out (“The Problem of Measurement”, 1963).  Of course, mind must therefore be an entity that lies outside the realm of Quantum Theory and of Physics in general.  The mind must be something special that does not truly belong to "this" world.

Wigner pointed out that to every action there is a reaction: why shouldn’t there be a reaction to a conscious observation of a physical phenomenon? If a phenomenon exerts an influence on my consciousness when I observe it, then my consciousness must exert an influence on the phenomenon. Otherwise the fundamental tenet that to every action there is a reaction is no longer true.

Wigner observed that Schroedinger’s equation is linear, but would stop being linear if its object were the very consciousness that collapses the wave. Therefore, Schroedinger’s equation (which is linear) would result in a non-linear algorithm that may justify the mind’s privileged status.

If the collapse occurs only when observed by a conscious being, if the collapse occurs at the border between mind and matter, as Wigner believes, then the evolution of the universe changed after the appearance of human beings (there was no collapse anywhere before mind appeared).

 Undeterred by this objection, the US physicist John Wheeler believes that ours is a "participatory" universe, one in which consciousness participates in creating reality. The observer and the phenomenon are engaged in a creative act that yields reality. Consciousness does not create reality. Consciousness's role is extremely limited: it can't even choose which of the possibilities contained in the wave function will become reality. It can only "precipitate" reality out of many possibilities. Which possibility becomes reality is up to nature. Nonetheless, Wigner and Wheeler believe that consciousness is crucial to creating reality: as limited as its contribution is, without it there would be no reality, only possibilities. Wheeler even speculated that the rise of consciousness retroactively determined the history of the universe because it collapsed the mother of all waves that had never been collapsed before, thereby fixing every single event in the previous life of the universe.

Quantum theoretical effects could be considered negligible if they only affected particles. Unfortunately, Erwin Schroedinger, with his famous cat experiment, established that Heisenberg's uncertainty affects big objects too. Basically, Schroedinger devised a situation in which a quantum phenomenon causes the cat to die or stay alive. Since any quantum phenomenon is uncertain, the cat's life is also uncertain: until we look at the cat, the cat is neither alive nor dead, but simply a wave of possibilities itself. (A popular objection to Schroedinger’s argument is that the cat can never be in a superimposed state because every big object, by definition, is never isolated, it is always entangled with the rest of its surroundings, and therefore it is “collapsed” all the time).


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