The Nature of Consciousness

Piero Scaruffi

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

Quantum Idealism

Von Neumannís analysis of the collapse of the wave is also the basis for idealist theories that border on Eastern philosophy. For example, the Indian physicist Amit Goswamicriticizes materialism (the view that consciousness is a material phenomenon, and that matter is the only substance) and endorses idealism (the view that matter is a mental phenomenon, and consciousness is the only substance).

Goswami's idealism is based on a simple postulate: that consciousness collapses the quantum wave, as Von Neumannoriginally claimed. Goswami claims that this brand of idealism has no problem with some notorious quantum "paradoxes". Basically, the "oddities" of Quantum Mechanics are in our mind, not in the world. For example, Schroedinger's cat could not possibly be both alive and dead in the real world, but it can be in our minds.

Paul Wignerextended Von Neumann's meditation by asking: if a friend tells me what she observed, at which point did the wave collapse, when the friend carried out her observation or when I carried out the observation of my friend telling me the result of her observation? If one thinks that the friend collapsed the wave, then the problem is that two friends observing the same phenomenon would both collapse the wave, and possibly observe opposite outcomes. If one thinks that I collapse the wave when I listen to my friend, then my friend's knowledge depends on her talking to me.

Goswami explains Paul Wigner's dilemma by arguing that there is only one consciousness, only one subject, and not many individual, separate subjects. There is, ultimately, only one observer. He also cites the non-locality of Quantum Mechanics as evidence that there is only one consciousness in the universe. Goswami credits consciousness with a deliberate act of determining reality: consciousness "chooses" (not just picks up) the outcome of a measurement.

Goswami thinks that a mind is made of ideas or thoughts, and he envisions these mental objects as fully equivalent to the material objects (the particles) studied by Quantum Mechanics. Thus they must obey the same Physics, i.e. the same theories about uncertainty, measurement and non-locality. He views the brain as both a quantum system and a measuring apparatus. The possibilities of the quantum brain are unconscious processes, and the equivalent of the physical observation is the one unconscious process that becomes conscious. Consciousness "chooses" which unconscious process becomes conscious (just like it "chooses" the outcome of any other measurement). Consciousness "chooses" its own conscious experience.


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