Our mind is the ultimate source of our understanding of the physical world.
Without the thinking and analysis capabilities embedded in our brain, no measurement or experiment can be interpreted and lead to any meaningful result. The topic of the extent of the influence of human consciousness on natural processes is hardly a new one.
Before the advent of modern physics and, in particular, quantum mechanics, the issue has long been one of the main sources of the heated discussion by philosophers. Centuries of attention to metaphysics and efforts to regard affairs of the physical world with affairs of the human mind at the same level is a testimony of ancient conviction that the two issues are inseparably linked.
Within the modern physics with all of its revolutionary ideas like quantum mechanics, uncertainty principle, wave-particle duality of the matter in the universe, special and general relativity, etc., there are numerous indications that consciousness indeed has an active role in the establishment of physical reality. In this article, some empirical aspects of this hypothesis are discussed.
Background and Basic Theories
According to quantum mechanics, a quantum system can have two different forms. In the first interpretation, any system is described by a wave function that represents a superposition state; this interpretation leads to a continuous and deterministic view.
In the second interpretation, a system under measurement will suddenly collapse from a superposition state into a randomly chosen state leading to a discontinuous and stochastic interpretation.
In 1930s, John Von Neumann took a revolutionary step for the understanding of the role of the human mind in the perception of the universe.
Basing his idea on the quantum mechanical principle of interaction of any measuring device (D) with the subject under measurement (S) during the measurement process, he argued that due to effects of any measuring device on the subject, no single measurement could lead to a real measurement and for each measurement, a later measurement had to be carried out to refine the previous result, and this chain could be continued up to infinity.
To break this infinite chain and give the whole process a definite end, Von Neumann argued that something else out of this chain had to be involved. He suggested that this “thing” was as he put it “the subjective perception” of the observer.
This new role of human consciousness was best defined as brain’s “completely special character” which allowed someone to be aware of the status of their own awareness. Based on Neumann’s idea, the great physicist Eugene Wigner suggested that “it is the entering of an impression into our consciousness which alters the wave function”.
This issue has since been the target of attention and heated debate in the science community. The hypothesis that human mind and consciousness may play a role in quantum mechanics has not been yet proved; however, there have been some recent experiments that can lead to the final answer.
The double- slit experiment
The famous double-slit experiment allows a better understanding of the interaction of the human mind and the physical world. The experiment was primarily designed to allow one to assess independently the state of the wave-function of a light photon and state of conciseness of the observer.
The experiment was first proposed by Scully and Druhl, and they suggested that through a carefully designed double-slit experiment aimed at producing a pair of entangled photons from a single photon, it was possible to obtain “which-path” information of the photon.
The setup was arranged to eject one photon into a double slit screen where behind the screen there was a camera recording the location that each photon ended up on the screen. Through observation of its diffraction pattern, an observer tried to distinguish its path although not quite definite, to find the possible role of consciousness in the collapse of the quantum wave function.
To the surprise, the experiment showed that the patterns of ejected photons were significantly different when the observer focused their attention to finding the exact path proving a significant correlation between consciousness and predicted the path of the photon.
Later experiment confirmed the result. The same type of experiment was repeated using other particles including electrons and yet the result was the same. A conscious observer’s interaction with a system seemed to change the behavior of an electron.
The big question is whether the present experiments such as the quantum double-slit experiment really prove the existence of a definite relation between our consciousness and the quantum state of matter. If this is the case, then it means that we may well be involved in the creation of our own reality.
Some scientists extend results of this experiment claiming that without human consciousness, physical matter is non-existent. The founder of quantum theory, Max Planck even went further by stating that “I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness.”
To conclude, the present experiments are more supportive of the conscious-related interpretation of quantum mechanics. However, there is yet a long way before this is fully accepted by the science community, and there is the need for more research and experiment to confirm the idea and give it a final and definite answer.
- Druhl and M.O.Scully, Phys. Rev. A25, 2208-2213(1982)
- The myth of Quantum consciousness by Victor J stinger