Monday, August 11, 2014

The Observer in the Machine

To elaborate on the notion that consciousness is a quantum phenomenon, it would be necessary to suggest how the internal observer collapses the wave function presented by perception to produce mind and thought. Assuming that there is an internal observer – a ghost in the machine that operates within the context of the organic network of the brain (our wetware) – what is the quantum description of reality that might work?

One hallmark of human awareness and mind is our ability to anticipate the future as well as recall a past, an elaboration of a basic mammalian ability to track external dangers and opportunities. Our species evolved to dominate the earth as none other had ever done based on this ability to imagine what has not yet happened and ponder over it before deciding how to act to achieve a goal or avoid a problem. The basis for doing this successfully is an ability to call upon memories of our individual and collective past experiences which forms our available body of knowledge. We see patterns in the present, place them within a framework of patterns experienced in the past and project them into the future. We do this within the internal space of our mind.

But how do we know the next thing to think or say? We experience thought as a self-generating process. When we want to speak, it comes forth as a river emerging from a dark cave into the bright sunlight. Our thoughts stream in the same way. Obviously, something is going on behind the scenes of which we are generally unaware. Much of our mental processes remain unconscious. But how exactly does that work? What is going on in that cave, what are those unconscious processes?

The uncollapsed wave function of any quantum system exists without time or particularity. Particles are waves and remain entangled until measured, i.e., observed. Until they are, they exist in a probabilistic manner everywhere they might be. Recent experiments using weak measurement suggest that future observations – things that have not yet happened – can influence the present. Weak measurement somehow seems to tap into quantum reality without collapsing the wave function. It offers a way to get a sense of some values of the wave function without actually forcing the collapse. Making or not a subsequent measurement which does collapse the wave function shows up – statistically – in that previous measurement.

Our internal observer interacts with the quantum wave function continuously presented by the organic processes of our brain within the space of the unconscious mind. The mind apparently holds some 15-20 seconds of time within its active reach including a 2-3 second “moment” that is now. As long as the wave function of mind remains uncollapsed, the observer may weakly measure it, including what we have not yet experienced. Bringing together what has not yet occurred but may be anticipated, current information about internal and external states and information of the past, the observer collapses the wave function – from moment to moment – and that particular thought, expression, or action emerges into consciousness. Our consciousness doesn't actually lurk in the dark lining things up but exists within the collapsing wave function, like a flame above a quantum candle, as both observer and agent.

There may well be a locale within the brain where the link between the material basis of mind and the “ghost” is made. It would have to be a small area, or at least contain spaces tiny enough for quantum systems to exist uncollapsed. But the inputs must span the brain and the neural network itself may well work as a system – or system of systems – operating through a brain-wide quantum entanglement.

No comments: