Relational and propositional quantum consciousness

Knowing, Doing and Being

Chris Clarke

Imprint Academic (2013)

Summary and review of this book

INTRODUCTION:  Clarke views decisions as arising from ‘a strand of feeling’, also called a relational system. The other kind of consciousness is suggested to be the  verbal or propositional system. Consciousness understands existence through the relational system; detailed structures are understood through the propositional. Clarke argues for a clear division between the classical and the quantum, with consciousness terminating a chain of quantum events.

Clarke sets out to explore the connections between quantum theory and consciousness. He points out that everything we know depends on consciousness. He emphasises that one strand of modern thinking on consciousness claims that the “what it is like” of consciousness cannot be explained in terms of our existing mechanistic knowledge of consciousness.

He is particularly interested in the work of two thinkers, Teasdale and Barnard (1993), who view the brain as constituting nine semi-autonomous subsystems, of which two are involved in consciousness. Clarke points out that a decision can often arise from what he calls a ‘strand of feeling’. Teasdale and Barnard refer to this so-called strand of feeling as an implicational or relational subsystem. The other kind of consciousness according to them is the dominant verbal subsystem referred to as the propositional. This propositional side is silenced in such states as meditation and presumably other altered states. These systems look rather like the emotional/evaluative and the reasoning systems that can be identified mainly in the frontal areas of the brain. Clarke also relates these separate systems to the idea of the compound ‘I’. He envisages a hierarchical structure building from a basic consciousness at the quantum level up to full personal awareness. My own feeling is that the evidence points in the opposite direction, with consciousness arising while the notion of self and personal awareness are merely fed into this neuronal processing.

Clarke goes on to discuss the problem of the ‘will’. This ‘will’ involves the process of deciding or choosing between a number of different possibilities and acting on that. On this basis, he thinks that our conscious processing can have causal effects in terms of  our actions and behaviour. With the acceptance of a causal will comes the associated concept of being responsible for one’s actions, a concept which is essentially lost in the modern consensus against freewill, despite various ‘get out of jail free’ attempts to try and preserve it within the modern consensus.

Clarke also discusses altered states such as meditation where consciousness is experienced as a ground state that at other times supports perception. Relational knowing is understood as sharing the being of someone/something else, while propositional is knowing about it rationally. But he thinks that both the relational and the propositional/rational sides are underpinned by consciousness.

In looking at quantum consciousness, Clarke, at least some of the time, is stuck with the traditional Copenhagen interpretation suggesting that human consciousness is needed to drive quantum processes. This was feasible when most thinking about quantum processes dealt with equipment in a laboratory, but harder to sustain where quantum processes take place in the depths of the uninhabited universe; Clarke, however, acknowledges that we cannot explain things just in terms of small laboratories.  

He stresses the basis of the propositional and relational systems in the mind. Consciousness is claimed to understand existence through the relational system while detailed structures are understood through the propositional side. Clarke introduces the notion of ‘assertion’ as an alternative to observation, which I take to mean that consciousness actively steers feeling or thought in particular directions in a way that goes beyond ordinary logic. Such ‘assertion’ is suggested to sometimes be a repeated observation aimed at getting a particular outcome.

Clarke argues for a clear division between the classical and the quantum, and for consciousness being involved with the quantum. Consciousness is seen as something which can terminate a chain of quantum events, selecting ‘my world’ out of a soup of quantum events. Consciousness is ‘a whole universe of being’ only accessible through the relational side of the mind.

A problem with Clarke is that like many thinkers, he still seems to have a default Cartesianism of seeing consciousness as something separate from the physical or quantum processes themselves. It is viewed as something out there beyond even the finest physical processes. But even unconventional thinkers cannot point us to a mechanism by which an abstract or even non-physical consciousness would interact with the physical. It may be necessary to see that some quantum process is consciousness. Another words the buck stops here. Some quantum brain process just is consciousness with no need to look for some further structure or correlate. Without this buck stops point, we are in danger of falling into an infinite regress. With Clarke however consciousness still seems to be seen as ‘effecting’ quantum mechanics rather than being part of it.

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