The Hard Problem: A Quantum Approach

Henry Stapp

Theoretical Physics Group, Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, University of Caligornia

This article comprises Stapp’s response to Chalmers views on consciousness. Stapp’s view of consciousness is that while in the future neuroscientists may be able to identify particular correlates of consciousness, it will be impossible to deduce from the principles of classical mechanics that these correlates must be accompanied by the conscious experience of feeling, because such feeling is never mentioned in classical mechanics.

Reductionist neuroscience and articicial intelligence are both very fond of the idea that increasing complexity somehow leads to consciousness. This can take either the form that complexity leads to this extra state not mentioned in classical physics, or that certain complex calculational structures somehow simply are consciousness, although neither of these ideas were ever stated in classical physics.

The idea that certain logical structures as in computers amount to consciousness is known as functionalism. Stapp says that in functionalism two things, the operation of the brain and qualia such as pain are said to be the same thing. He says it is not helpful in discussing pain that we have known since childhood, to say that the feeling that we have does not exist, or to say that they do not exist as feelings, but are simply patterns in the brain.

Stapp then goes on to look at the situation in quantum mechanics. He adheres to the traditional Copenhagen interpretation of quantum theory or something close to it. This system brought the conscious experience of observers into physics. The Copenhagen Interpretation is not interested in the reality of the particles involved but in the observers experience of them. This orthodox interpretation sees that quantum waves as merely abstract systems for predicting what observers can expect to experience. Neils Bohr saw our experience as the final data, and science as being to do with the correlation of data. Experience is thus a primitive fact in ortodox quantum theory, which is absent in classical physics. Einstein opposed this view, wanting to grasp physical reality independent of any observer. Stapp sees the quantum collapse of the wave function state at a high level covering the whole of the impending action of an organism and this is suggested to correpond to an experiental effect. The brain is seen to proceed by periods of unconscious processing punctuated by conscious events. Each conscious event chooses from a range of possibilities allowed by the previous unconscious processing. The act of choosing seems to be equated to the actual conscious experience. A person or possibly self is seen as a serious of discrete experiences bound together by the physical body. He does not agree with the view that the self is an illusion, because he sees it bound together by the continuity of the body and the memory store. Stapp does not see the randomness of the quantum wave collapse as a problem, because he views what happens as a choice between plans of action drawn up by the organism as a unit.


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Stapp, H. (1995) Quantum coherence, resonance and mind Proceedings of Symposa in Applied Mathematics

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