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Consciousness causes collapse

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Consciousness causes collapse is the theory that observation by a conscious observer is responsible for the wavefunction collapse in quantum mechanics. It is an attempt to solve the Wigner's friend paradox by simply stating that collapse occurs at the first "conscious" observer. Supporters claim this is not a revival of substance dualism, since (in a ramification of this view) consciousness and objects are entangled and cannot be considered as separate. The consciousness causes collapse theory can be considered as a speculative appendage to almost any interpretation of quantum mechanics and many physicists reject it as unverifiable and introducing unnecessary elements into physics.

It has been claimed that the theory meshes well with ancient Eastern mysticism and philosophy, including that of Buddhism which includes a belief in the transitory, interconnected nature of all things and the illusion of separation of thought and existence. This is one of the major themes of the book The Dancing Wu Li Masters. It also meshes well with the views of the New Thought movement.

The view is also presented in the popular and controversial documentary What the Bleep Do We Know!?, alongside some unrelated biological discussions, and is a major plot point in Greg Egan's novel Quarantine, as well as playing a significant role in Charlie Stross's novel The Atrocity Archives.


"Esse est Percipi": The idea of consciousness somehow being related to the creation of reality was first proposed by Bishop Berkeley. With the publication of Die Mathematische Grundlagen der Quantenmechanik, it was Von Neumann however who became the first person to hint that Quantum theory may imply an active role for consciousness in the process of reality creation. His followers Fritz London, Edmond Bauer, and Eugene Wigner carried Von Neumann's argument to a claimed logical conclusion that consciousness-created reality is the inevitable outcome of Von Neumann's picture of quantum theory.

Among other names that have expressed the belief that a deep connection exists between mind and quantum matter are Henry Stapp, Freeman Dyson, and Roger Penrose. Among the more recent followers one can find physicists Evan Harris Walker, Fred Alan Wolf, and Amit Goswami. However, none of these recent supporters hold any current positions at a reputable academic institution.

Criteria for consciousness

The process of "measurement" in quantum mechanics is regarded to as consciousness itself. However, it is not explained by this theory which animals, living creatures, or objects have consciousness, that is, the power to collapse the wavefunction. It is also not clear whether measuring devices might also be considered conscious, though generally measuring devices are considered simply a "chain of observations" that only ends at a conscious entity. Some even suggest that some beings have a "higher consciousness" and therefore more capability to collapse the wavefunction, whereas others believe all conscious entities have an equal capability. Others believe that "higher consciousness" is inherent in all, but some have tapped into it more fully.

Quantum immortality

Assuming that collapse of the wavefunction requires conscious observation suggests a curious type of immortality. Just prior to dying, a person necessarily loses consciousness; and an unconscious person cannot observe his death. Therefore, by the consciousness-collapse hypothesis, he does not register it. Moreover, by the Copenhagan interpretation, without registration the event is not personally experienced. Thus, in the Schrodinger's cat experiment, although the outside observer may open the box to find a dead cat, the cat does not perceive himself as dead. Now lacking consciousness, presumably some subconscious aspect of his state lives on. Notice that this route to quantum immortality does not require the many-worlds interpretation. That is, it is immaterial 'where' the individual 'goes' after the event. The point is that in his frame of reference he remains alive, albeit in some presently unknown, subconscious state.

One can speculate a bit further. The conscious and the subconscious are two different levels of mental activity. Therefore, presumably the subconscious state of the 'dead' cat is incapable of communicating with the conscious states of other living organisms. Rather, if communication is possible at all it would seem more likely to be with their subconscious states.

See also

Further links and references

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