The Possible Quantal Interface and the Hybrid Nature of Reality. Part I
"It is difficult for the matter-of-fact physicist to accept the view that the substratum of everything is of mental character." Sir Arthur Eddington
Perhaps many good scientists, sworn to uphold the tenets and defend the rigor of scientific methodology, do not realize that quantum mechanic / field theory -far from being the direct, exclusive result of an experimental scientific enquiry- is the most fundamental theory of matter that is currently available where metaphysical logic and mathematics played a decisive role in its coming into being. Consequently it may be worthwhile to briefly scrutinize its structure and determine whether quantum theory can help us to understand the complexities of life and consciousness. The perfectly deterministic world of a Newtonian / relativistic cosmos has been now complemented by the fresh notions of a ‘quantum randomness’ thereby reopening the possibility that conscious free decisions or ‘free will’ becomes again the centerpiece of intellectual scrutiny and bring man back to his deserved central position in the cosmos, a “new Copernican revolution”.
We will try to make a distinction between ‘quantum randomness’ and other types of blind, purposeless motions so problematic for the exercise of a free, conscious volition. Practicing scientists seldom have the time or inclination to ponder on the hybrid nature of reality, one half of which is sense-phenomenal in its origin and the other half containing the corresponding valid logical inferences about its meaning within the context of a biopsychosocial (BPS) survival economy. The latter represents that other self-evident reality moiety escaping our sense or brain-computational detection or resolution because of its supercomplexity in structure and function. In this brief overview we will be trying to smooth out an understanding of how the transition from the ontological sense-phenomenal to the epistemological metaphysical effort (to make an existential sense of it) are inseparable and constitute a hybrid unit. By describing, correlating or explaining how that Kantian chaotic world of sensations out there -in the existential empirical world- gets transduced and transformed into meaningful adaptive human efforts, we will unavoidably enter into a discussion of how our freedom (free will) may influence this complex transition, i.e., how empirical contingencies generate single or multiple possible solutions from which to freely choose.
Since quantum events occur in the brain as elsewhere in the material world we will start from the premise that their presence is relevant for those aspects of brain activity that are correlated with mental activity, leaving aside the present controversy on whether these events are in any measurable way causally efficient. We wish to concentrate more on how quantum theory may adequately interface the deterministic physical world of sensations with the indeterministic world of possible theoretical, logically inferred solutions to contingencies threatening human biopsychosocial equilibrium. This may be the equivalent of joining the temporal scale of human survival with the historical time frame beyond it or joining the actual instant with the possible future, perhaps joining the world of sensations with the world of ideas. But all such possibilities are premised upon the existence of human free will; can quantum theory help identifying such sine qua non? It is fairly plausible that conscious free decisions will no longer constitute a philosophical problem in a perfectly deterministic world thanks to a better understanding of two aspects of quantum ‘randomness’, those we already see in stochastic / chaotic systems. In our opinion, quantum theory may turn out to be that successful ontological / epistemological interface joining both sides of the same coin of operational reality.
First let us agree on the rules of the communication game. We start with the premise that our human operational reality has two inseparable components, the sense-phenomenal matter of the empirical domain and the metaphysical mind that makes its meaning intelligible for human adaptive purposes. How do we relate one to the other? When we co-relate matter and mind we can do it two ways: we can describe an invariant observable transition in the empirical domain (object/event) from states aàb. The description does not commit the proponent with a particular causal agent because causation is an explanation that, while depending on the sense-phenomenal observation, is to be understood as a linguistic term used to imply metaphysical abstractions attempting to make operational sense of the observed correlation. We should understand causation to be an irreversible sequence aàb to accommodate the possibility of a future identification of a common but unknown cause giving rise to both a and b.
In the physical domain the relevant causal relations (termed interactions) are either electromagnetic, weak, strong or gravitational, which are just metaphysical logic inferences to adequately explain or ‘make sense’ of the empirical correlations that are witnessed in the environment or the simulation laboratory. Those familiar with the relevant literature will have discovered that, unfortunately, the present knowledge about the interface bridging material and mental states are based exclusively on explanations describing observable empirical correlations shying away from any attempt to search for any causally conditioned sequence that would provide a needed theoretical understanding. The main reason is an ingrained scientific / intellectual bias about causality and exclusive closure in the ‘physical’ domain. Read observable, repeatable and falsifiable sense-phenomenal domain guided by a scientific methodology. For the physicalist persuasion, if outside the reach of scientific methodology, it doesn’t exist!! Enter quantum dynamics…, is it science? And if not….then what? If not, theoreticians become expendable and, like the busy clinicians, our neuroscientists become satisfied with, e.g., describing the observable empirical correlations between active brain tissue and their increased glucose consumption (Pet Scans) or its increased circulatory content of haemoglobin (fMRI). So much for our natural curiosity to learn about our origins and destiny; a subversion of our inherited nature?
How may a non-deterministic quantum dynamics interface bridge mind and matter into a hybrid whole? Can a metaphysical mind be causally efficient to interact with the physical matter of the brain? Or more appropriately, is the sub-Planck dimensional domain of quantum dynamics theory or fact? We know, e.g., that a measurable quantum phenomena such as radioactive decay, photon emission and absorption or wave interference, etc. -while random in nature- carry the potential of being framed into a probabilistic description. Does that qualify QM as having ‘scientific’ predictive value?. If I can’t predict –as it happens- when a chunk of radioactive material will emit a sub-atomic particle by decay or how many particles will be produced in the next hours, if any, does that disqualify QM as a reliable theory of causality because it can only provide statistical probabilities of a decay to happen? Is there a ‘hidden variable’ in the QM formulation that will make it more acceptable? We believe that the conceptual chasm between the classical deterministic Newtonian / relativistic and the non-deterministic Planck manifolds can be successfully bridged by a QM theory phrased in an universal syntax. Otherwise the sense-phenomenal empirical world will remain ‘a matter of fact’ and the sub-Planck manifold of QM will ultimately turn into one of many mysterious metaphors so well suited for spinning in the public media by special interest groups and the uneducated. If we harmonize the facts of scientific methodology and the relevant metaphysical circumstances in which they play themselves out we will have an operational model, a true Theory of Everything (TOE) highlighting the hybrid nature of reality. Just as for the informed literati and the objective, dispassionate mind-frame there should not be any incompatibility between the rationally-inspired Darwinism and the psychosocially-inspired theology; we also claim the same consideration for a hybrid conception of reality. We will give below examples of the special hybrid nature of QM itself, indeterminate at the macrophysical empirical level but genuinely deterministic at the inferential Planck dimensional level.
Paradoxically as it may seem, it is not far-fetched to claim that QM is today the best candidate for a genuinely deterministic theory as required in the domain of the physical environment. We can appreciate this and other relevant facts better if we remove all theological/philosophical concepts from admixing with experimental/mathematical logic facts, an intellectual challenge indeed.
The evolution of a quantum mechanical (QM) wavefunction describing the complete story of a physical system under the Schrödinger equation is undoubtedly deterministic in nature. It should be remembered that the uncertainty occasionally experienced, especially when an observation was made or a quantum measurement was performed, was explained by invoking some elusive process of “collapse of the wavefunction” The collapse process itself is usually postulated to proceed in an indeterministic fashion, BUT with probabilities assigned for various possible future outcomes, via Born’s rule, calculable on the basis of the system’s wavefunction, means that, notwithstanding the unavoidable fact that the collapsed quantum event introduced an element of randomness at the ontological and epistemological level. This way a special type of non-random determinism is born (see Stapp) as will be examined below. Is there room here for the possibility that a willed conscious mental act can collapse the wave function and thus influence the course of any such seemingly random / chaotic event as we see e.g., in brain EEG tracings? Or is coherence and entanglement a previously required antecedent before collapse? One effortless way to avoid a commitment to a QM free will possibility is to throw the towel and claim that conscious acts are open-ended fractal dynamic processes that cannot be computed. (See Penrose). A mental state collapse usually implies a metaphysical reduction of an entangled, coherent quantal configuration of infinite possibilities awaiting for a (willed?) choice initiative. But, in a more global context, we would be in the long run more interested in incorporating our tentative model of a hybrid reality into the entanglement-induced non-local correlations of quantum physics because a mind-brain entanglement opens the door for a more comprehensive characterization of a mind-matter hybrid correlation phrased in an universal syntax without the need of an epiphenomenal duality concept. But whatever attempts to associate these QM processes with either neuronal synaptic events (Eccles) or microtubules (Penrose) may be premature until at least a ‘one electron at a time rectification’ process that can operate at body temperature is solidly established and put to empirical test.
Yet, perhaps the most promising approach should be one focusing on a lower level of organization like neuronal networks which today represent the only credible candidates to embed mental representations. This approach, quantum field theory, has the advantage of a possible cooperation with highly developed areas of investigation like tensor network theory (Llinas), neuropsychiatry (Jung) and Bohmian mechanics.
Finally one often wonders whether ‘chaotic’ behavior constitutes yet another aspect of reality governed by quantum field theory as well, as Bohmian mechanics suggest? Our sense-phenomenal world seems governed by strictly deterministic natural laws but, at the Planck dimensional level a special chaotic ‘indeterminism’ reigns?
A chaotic system can be deterministic in yet another way reminiscent of quantal systems: two systems with identical initial states will have radically divergent future developments, but only within a finite, short timespan because if either system evolves over a longer period of time it becomes randomly indeterministic and lacking in predictability or computability! In private communications the undersigned has had with Dr. Chris King, a research mathematics professor from Australia, he claims, if I understood correctly, that such fractal dynamic systems evolving over long periods of time represent a relevant universe of possible solutions in the future that become available for the human to choose from by exercising conscious free will. I personally would like to amend this attractive speculation by suggesting the intervening participation of the fast amygdaloidal and slower hippocampus neuronal network systems to assure that the choice harmonizes with a biopsychosocial survival imperative; if it does the final filter before the conscious choice becomes the pleasure/pain system involving the hypothalamus and cyngular gyrus. This amendment will bring Dr. King’s brilliant insight agreeably in line with the rest of our own BPS model of consciousness. If this informed speculation turns out to be true Chaos Theory will pre-empt quantum approaches in the neurosciences. We suspect they are intimately related in many significant aspects beyond the scope of the present overview. One interesting feature of this approach is that chaotic behavior comes in all hues, types, dimensions and structural organization, i.e., from Minkowsky to Hilbert space, quantal discrete or continuous, in wave or particle form and even fluid kinematic flow, all of which are features of human life manifestations. However diverse, they all share the common requirement that their behavior is strictly predicated, for their mathematical characterization, upon their initial conditions.
But don’t hold your breath waiting for some magic solution to harness the theoretical potential of either the deterministic or indeterministic aspect anytime soon because there exist processes which can equally well be fitted either inside the deterministic model of classical mechanics or the indeterministic semi-Markov model, regardless of the number of observations made.
We discussed above how the disengagement of the concepts of causality from determinism was deemed appropriate. As we have seen, the notion of cause / effect was not so easily disengaged from much of what is relevant to a concept of a hybrid reality. The events in the physical domain are deemed determined if given specified initial conditions. Their forward sequential evolution are described by natural laws. In a deterministic world everything can be explained under the aegis of closure in the physical domain and the Leibnizian “Principle of Sufficient Reason”; any metaphysical / mathematical unfalsifiable explanations are deemed just metaphors or sophisticated poetry. More recently, a mathematical analysis of the probability of Darwinian evolution -a metaphysical construct in itself- to explain specified complexity, i.e., Intelligent Design (ID) was similarly labeled by un-informed nihilists. Determinism is not always related to causality, predictability or a theological destiny, as I have explained.
In the un-relenting biological drive of the human species to understand his origins and destiny man has depended on recorded history to regard the present state of his ecosystem / universe as the invariant result / effect of its preceding state and as the causally efficient agent of the state that will immediately follow. But a more careful historical scrutiny has also witnessed conceptual ‘mutations’ usually ascribed to ‘advances in technological savoiz-faire’. During the vital life-span of the human species we witness changes in conceptual approaches to social contingencies but we always end up consolidating our support of the deterministic viewpoint when repeating the old adage “The more things change the more they stay the same.” The more evidence history accumulates the more facts add up to question the blind determinism of evolution as the exclusive explanation for the occurrence of events as evidenced by the conceptual revolutions attending, e.g., the transition from classical Newtonianà Einstenian relativistic à Maxwellian quantum theories. Were these evolutionary paths obvious to their proponents? In our humble opinion QM dynamics now opens a new possibility of explaining how past, present and future may be causally connected in a quasi-deterministic way where man retains the option to choose, individually or by a collective consensus from a range of possible options with probable outcome. Man may now be able to predict the probabilities of non-immediate future scenarios within a historical time frame if a set of invariant initial conditions can be provided. Considering the invariant fact of our present human limitations to ascertain absolute reality beyond the sensory and brain-computational capacity to resolve, we may have to be content with basing our predictions on recorded history and a Turing-styled recursive parsing among neuronal or silicon data bases, all of them accounting for known natural forces acting at given instances, or influencing the temporal positions and directions of cosmological, sub-Planck and observable objects / events. QM will expand the scope of K. Popper’s range of determinism potential in terms of a predictability based on their statistical probability of realization. This way we also mitigate our fears about our own status as free causal agents in our existential world. David Bohm amended the classical QM by formulating the equivalent of Einstein’s ‘hidden variable’ equation by claiming being able to determine, on the basis of the system’s wavefunction and particles’ initial positions and velocities, what their future positions and velocities should be. The un-articulated premise is that particulate matter has at all times a definite spatial position and direction profile. This development, if sustained, would bring stability and determinism to sub-Planck metaphysical reality.
We have argued for the idea that existential reality may seem like being constituted by reflex adaptive response acts triggered into action by environmental contingencies that consciously or not are perceived as threats to the biological, psychic and social integrity of the human species in his ecological niche. During his average lifespan of 76 years there seems to be a constancy in the physical environment and the natural laws that control its slow evolution during this short period. Our world seems at times fixed and determined by external natural forces beyond our control to change even though intuitively one feels at other times as if in control of destiny by the exercise of a free will to choose among alternatives available in an indeterminate assortment of viable options. How can we be both determined and undetermined at the same time? This paradox may be resolved if we conceive reality as a hybrid unit characterized by the exigent circumstances of human biological/reproductive survival as a species and the chronic species imperative of searching answers for the question of his origins and destiny impacting more on his psychic and social survival. We are dealing with two different time frames, lifetime and historic/geological. In so doing we need to reconcile the paradox of life time frame determinism with the indeterminism and uncertainties of the future beyond lifetime. We have developed arguments in this overview in defense of quantum and chaos dynamic theory as candidates for reconciliation providing that their mathematical analysis continues to yield alternatives compatible with the co-existence of determinism with human free agency.
Dr. Angell O. de la Sierra, Deltona Lakes, Florida. Winter 2005
Grush, R., and Churchland, P.S. (1995). Gaps in Penrose’s toilings. Journal of Consciousness Studies 2(1), 10-29. See also the response by Penrose, R., and Hameroff, S. (1995). Journal of Consciousness Studies 2(2), 98-111.