Beyond the mind-body stalemate: An interview with Stuart Kauffman
In: Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective
Summary and review of the above interview
In this interview with Ryan Cochrane, Kauffman outlines the mind-body problem in classical (i.e. non-quantum) physics. If the brain is a classical physical system, the current state of the brain, plus classically described inputs from the external environment, is entirely sufficient to causally determine the next state of the brain and the next state after that and so on.
But classical physics does not contain any mention of consciousness, so there is no reason for it to exist in the brain, and certainly it can have no function there in a classical system. In this way, the causal closure of classical physics creates the modern stalemate of the mind-body problem. From this starting point, Kauffman sees the acausality of quantum physics, by which the position of a particle is randomly chosen, as breaking free from the determinism of classical physics. Kauffman discusses decoherence. In the Schrodinger wave equation the phase or sine curve of the wave is known at each point in spacetime, but in interaction with the rest of the environment, this information can be lost to the rest of the universe, and this event is described as decoherence.
What is more scientifically novel is the idea that this decoherence of the quantum wave function can be followed by recoherence; the wave function which had been lost is recovered. We can have a system, which Kauffman refers to as the ‘poised realm’, where the system fluctuates between decoherence and recoherence, or in other words hovers reversibly between a classical and a quantum world. Recoherence as mentioned here has been observed experimentally.
Kauffman goes on to propose an experiment that could test for the possibility of quantum measurements taking place in organic matter. In experimentation with fruit flies, it would be possible to distinguish between population that required a normal dose of anaesthetic and a population bred to require very little. Gene sequencing could determine the mutated proteins in the altered population of fruit flies that required less anaesthetic. This distinction is suggested to allow a test as to whether the original unaltered proteins could perform a quantum measurement that the altered proteins could not. If this was the case, Kauffman says he can envisage quantum effects altering processing at the fine level in neurons.