Information, quantum theory & the brain

Basil Hiley

Birkbeck College

In Globus, G., Pribram, H. & Vitiello, G. Eds. Brain and Being John Benjamins

Basil Hiley was the long-term associate of David Bohm, and is a continuing exponent of many of his ideas. In this paper, Hiley argues that the Bohmian notion of active information introduced in relation to quantum phenomena can also be applied to classical signalling. This is suggested to have relevance to concept of meaning as opposed to mere information. Hiley queries whether the word ‘information’ that is widely used in science including neuroscience always carries the same meaning. Bohm and Hiley were interested in so-called active information that drives physical processes and leaves no choice as to whether they are implemented or not. This is distinct from a mere list of data or instructions or a way of viewing entropy. Active information has been used in a number of papers relative to the mind/matter relationship (Hiley 1995a&b, 2001) (Hiley & Pylkkänen 1997, 2001)(1-5).

The colloquial understanding of information is that it is data from which meaning can be extracted by an intelligent entity. Hiley regards it as a fundamental question as to whether information has objective significance devoid of the subjective involvement. Verbal communication is seen as a particular problem, where meaning is translated into sound waves and then back into meaning. Hiley relates this meaning to the agency of the speaker and the agency of the listener. He relates this inseparable link to Bohr’s notion of the indivisibility of the quantum action, which cannot distinguish between the system under observation and the means of observation.

Bohm believed that a quantum potential could be extracted from Schrödinger’s equation and that this quantum potential could act as an information potential.

In transmitting a signal there is a trade off between the duration of the pulse and the frequency. There is an ambiguity in the signal that is similar to the uncertainty in quantum mechanics. The two concepts are said to employ different aspects of the same mathematical structure. Hiley refers to the two-slit experiment, where the potential is claimed to cover the whole experimental arrangement. The quantum information changes in relation to any change in the experimental arrangement, and this is related to information entering the brain and changing the arrangement of its parts.

Within the brain Bohm thought that meaning was in the process itself. Bohm proposed that there were two sides or two poles to the brain, the manifest and relatively stable material side and the subtle mind-like side. The manifest side is classical physics, while the subtle side is the quantum level that produces the classical level. Thus the mind cannot be separated from matter. The ambiguity or uncertainty of the quantum comes through in the ambiguity attached to meaning. The quantum is seen as a pool of information shared by entangled particles. When the potential or pool vanishes, the classical world emerges. Hiley also agrees that this system could operate in terms of quantum fields. The main weakness of this description seems to be the lack of detail as to how the quantum mechanism would operate in the brain, and the lack of distinction between information which does not by itself imply consciousness and consciousness itself. The emergence of meaning could be thought to imply consciousness but this important point is not at all developed.


(1) Hiley, B. (1995a) The Bohm Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics In Laurikainen, K. et al Foundation of Modern Physics, pp. 99-118 Editions Frontiers

(2) Hiley, B. (1995b) The Implicate Order and the relationship between mind and matter

(3) Hiley, B. (2001) The Bohm Inerpretation and the Mind Matter Relationship In Dubois, D. Ed. Computing Anticipatory Systems

(4) Hiley, B. & Pylkkänen, P. (1997) Active information and cognitive science in Pylkkänen, P. et al eds. Brain, mind and physics

(5) Hiley, B. & Pylkkänen, P. (2001) The Mind in a quantum framework In Pylkkänen, P. & Vaden eds. Dimensions of Conscious Experience John Benjamins

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Bohm, D., Hiley, B., Kaloyerou, P. (1987) An Ontological Basis for Quantum Theory: II Phys. Rep., 144, pp. 349-375

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Hiley, B. (2003) Phase space descriptions of quantum phenomena

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Vitiello, G. (2001) My Double Unveiled John Benjamins

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  1. This permites unification of Bohm’s and Pribram’s theories and the development of a holoinformational nonlocal quantum Holographic theory of consciousness

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