|2011-03-09, by John Ringland|
Here I discuss some basic aspects of quantum mechanics that are
not often explained and are often at the heart of common
misconceptions about the role of consciousness in reality and the
type of reality that is implied by quantum mechanics.
Observables and Reality
Photons only have a location in response to an observation that
requires them to have a location. More generally, any system only has
an observable state in response to an observation that requires it to
have an observable state.
Prior to the observation it has no particular observable state;
but rather a quantum superposition of all possible observable states
(i.e. a wavefunction). A wavefunction is dynamic information which is
inherently imperceptible. It is a probability distribution within a
state space that encompasses all possible observable states (Hilbert
The observable forms via which we are used to thinking about
systems are just appearances that are constructed in the moment of
observation, i.e. they are the products of an observation event and
are not representative of any kind of objective reality.
In a very real sense things are not what they appear to be. Whilst
a photon only appears to be there when it is observed that is just an
appearance. In fact it exists whether or not it is observed, but its
mode of existence is as an imperceptible information process that is
not defined by concepts such as space, time, frequency, but rather by
concepts such as state space, probability and wavefunction.
state space spans all possible locations, times, frequencies, etc,
but the system itself is more accurately described as a wavefunction
within a Hilbert space.
Thinking about quantum systems in terms of observable forms in
space and time is trying to squeeze them into a naïve realist /
empiricist / materialist framework but this cannot be done without
getting bogged down in paradox.
Quantum mechanics is not an empirical science - it is a
rationalist science. Hence it is a real mind-bender because it goes
way deeper than space or time or any other observables. These are all
just appearances that only arise in response to observations. They
are not what is actually there. What is actually there is a
Virtual Reality Analogy
To explain how this could be the case, consider the situation of a
virtual being in a simulated reality. They are habituated to thinking
about reality in terms of how it appears to them - i.e. as objects in
space and time, with observable properties. They are not at all used
to thinking about the computational level of their situation such as
data structures (wavefunctions), state spaces (Hilbert spaces),
program functions (e.g. unitary evolution or decoherence), etc.
Whilst empirical science deals with the familiar level of virtual
appearances, quantum mechanics deals with the seemingly abstract
computational level. Note, the virtual systems have a perspective
embedded within the simulation, so the abstract virtual forms seem
concrete whilst the concrete simulator seems abstract.
At the computational level systems are pure information that have
no location within the virtual space-time and have no virtual form.
They are just information flowing in a non-spatial, non-temporal,
non-observable, non-virtual manner through the computational
processes (simulator) which animate the virtual universe.
These information structures and processes are the real /
objective nature of all virtual systems. The familiar empirical forms
are just the appearance of the systems from a perspective embedded
within the virtual universe.
The simulator uses an efficient algorithm in the sense that it
only produces a virtual appearance for a system when another system
observes it and thereby requires a form to be generated. Only then
does the quantum superposition over all possible states collapse into
a single state (decoherence). If there is no observation then no
virtual form is required and the system stays as a quantum
Hence all systems are abstract information processes that only
have a virtual appearance when they are observed by another virtual
system. Any virtual system can cause decoherence and the generation
of a virtual appearance, it doesn't have to be a virtual human.
Propagation of Decoherence
There is a subtle detail about the nature of quantum collapse that
is often overlooked, thereby causing people to think that humans have
a special role. A wavefunction collapse is not like a bridge collapse
where it collapses for all observers.
Consider some binary systems A, B, C, D,
etc. Let A be in a superposition of states A[0,1]. When
B observes A the wavefunction of A collapses
into a particular state A(0) OR A(1) in order to give B
an observable form by which to experience A.
However the combined system BA (i.e. B observing A)
is still in a superposition of states BA[00, 01, 10, 11]
(where 00 means B was in state 0 and observed A
to be in state 0, similarly for the other pairs of states).
When C observes BA the wavefunction collapses into a
particular state BA(00) OR BA(01) OR BA(10) OR
BA(11) to give C an observable form to experience.
However the combined system CBA is still in a superposition
that will collapse when D observes it. And so on... Thus the
wavefunction collapse propagates through successive observation
Note, this description was of a linear chain in order to keep the
explanation simple and not obscure the main point that was being made.
However the real situation is that of a complex tangle of networks
within networks where myriads of systems are observing each other.
This includes complex multi-level feedback loops. However if you
arbitrarily pick a starting point and follow a linear sequence of
observations within this seething mass then you can isolate out a
simple chain of observations.
Now let system H be a human being with a naïve realist /
empiricist / materialist paradigm. When they experience the
wavefunction collapse of the system GFEDCBA they assume that
none of the other systems elicited a collapse and that it was only
they the human who elicited a collapse. This is due to them
overlooking the nature of wavefunction collapse combined with an
anthropocentric, naïve realist and non-panpsychic paradigm.
This leads them to claim that only humans collapse wavefunctions
when in fact every system along the chain of observation collapsed
the preceding wavefunction.
Furthermore the system HGFEDCBA is itself in a
superposition of the human being in different states and observing
different appearances of GFEDCBA. However the human doesn't
realise this and assumes that their experiences and their world is
totally classical and non-quantum because that is how it seems to
This confusion arises because they depend upon their
perceptions and their conceptual frameworks derived from their
perceptions in order to try to comprehend reality, hence due to this
empiricism they are beguiled by the virtual appearances and find it
difficult to comprehend the quantum information processes.
Humans such as H generally assume that their perspective is
"THE perspective" and that no other systems have a
perspective (i.e. all other systems are assumed to be inanimate and
somehow governed by laws although it is never explained how laws can
govern inanimate systems). Hence they assume that human experience is
the measure by which reality is to be defined (this is an empiricist
prejudice that causes great confusion about quantum reality).
To overcome this confusion they need to undergo a radical paradigm
shift and recognise that:
appearances are just virtual appearances and do not represent
anything objective. Seeing is NOT believing.
the underlying reality is imperceptible, non-material,
computational, proto-conscious, processual.
reality doesn't consist of physical objects, these are just
objects of perception that have been misunderstood due to naïve
realism. Reality consists of information processes.
every system is animate, in fact they are animated into
virtual manifestation by the quantum computational processes.
every system has a perspective from which it experiences its
world according to its abilities.
Simple systems have simple
experiences, whilst complex systems such as ourselves have complex
what we call 'physical' is actually 'virtual' and what we
call 'spiritual' is actually 'computational' or 'proto-conscious'.
we are virtual beings emergent within a virtual universe that
is animated by an imperceptible, omnipotent, omnipresent, universal,
timeless, proto-consciousness, quantum computational process.
the inner most awareness within every virtual system is the
universal proto-conscious animating process.
all virtual systems are the computational process experienced
from a virtual perspective.
I.e. the virtual and computational
contexts are not separate, they are just different ways of
apprehending the same thing.
every virtual system is composed of myriads of sub-systems
and participates in the emergence of myriads of super-systems. All
except for atomic (i.e. indivisible) systems that have no
sub-systems and the whole universe which has no super-systems.
humans are systems just like all other systems - there is
nothing intrinsically different of privileged about our perspective.
Although it is quite rare and special because we are extremely
complex and highly evolved virtual systems with a subtle and deep
capacity to experience, understand, enquire and know ourselves and
Thanks to David Russell for inspiring this comment.
Also related: Decoherence
and the Quantum Sentience Paradox