Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Quantum physics, consciousness, and just plain weirdness

In an article titled "Why Quantum Mechanics Is Not So Weird after All", Paul Quincey struggles to convince us of his title's argument, but then admits:
... quantum physics is not weird and incomprehensible because it describes something completely different from everyday reality. It is weird and incomprehensible precisely because it describes the world we see around us-past, present, and future.

Physicist friends note that some popular sources do OD on all the weirdness down there at the subatomic level, ignoring any continuity with classical physics.

That said, the lack of causal mechanisms, the ability of particles to be in more than one place at a time, and the fact that the observer is part of the system mean that, yeah, it's weird down there. Also, it is difficult to find language to describe what is really happening.

A friend writes to say that Eugene Wigner, Nobel Laureate in Physics who laid the foundation for the theory of symmetries in quantum mechanics, commented, "It was not possible to formulate the laws (of quantum theory) in a fully consistent way without reference to consciousness." If he's right, the connection between consciousness - an immaterial entity - and physical nature may only be understood through quantum principles.

Another friend, a computer scientist, thinks of it like this:
String theory predicts that there are 11 dimensions, four of which "uncurled" at the origin of the physical universe. The other seven dimensions remain curled in the Planck length (10^-33 centimeters) which is a quantum, the smallest unit, of space-time. If this is correct it means we are surrounded by another, invisible realm that can only be detected indirectly. The stories told by people who experience NDEs are consistent with more dimensions of space-time. For example, they talk about time and space being compressed, expanded or malleable. These experiences suggest to me that consciousness is not a physical phenomenon and that it transcends our physical existence.

Personally, I suspect we are on the cusp of great, non-materialist, discoveries, but I wouldn't give five cents for the future of materialism, no matter how many boffo intellectuals endorse it..
My other blog is the Post-Darwinist, detailing events of interest in the intelligent design controversy.

Toronto-based Canadian journalist Denyse O'Leary ( is the author of the multiple award-winning By Design or by Chance? (Augsburg Fortress 2004), anoverview of the intelligent design controversy, and of Faith@Science. She was named CBA Canada's Recommended Author of the Year in 2005 and is co-author, with Montreal neuroscientist Mario Beauregard, of the forthcoming The Spiritual Brain: A neuroscientist's case for the existence of the soul (Harper 2007).

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