Scientific Explanation of Quantum Enigmas

This is a review of a book by two physics professors titled “Quantum Enigma: Physics Encounters Consciousness.” I argue that to understand quantum mechanics you need to understand the difference between science, metaphysics and philosophy.

Human beings have the drive to know and understand everything, and there are two methods of inquiry that stand side by side as equals: metaphysics and science. Quantum conundrum: physics meets consciousness shows that the lack of understanding of metaphysics is an obstacle to understanding science. Metaphysical questions arise from our transcendence, that is, our ability to make ourselves subjects of our own knowledge: What is the conscious knowledge of humans compared to the sensitive knowledge of animals? What is a real being? What are mental beings (images, concepts, past, future, dreams)? What is the truth? What is causality? What is free will? What does it mean to understand something? Is the universe intelligible?

Basically, the answer to all of the above questions is that there is no answer. they are mysteries We can understand what a human being is because we know everything we do and everything that happens to us, but we cannot define or explain what a human being is. In other words, humans are embodied spirits. Using the categories of metaphysics, the human soul is spiritual. Assuming or hoping that the universe is intelligible leads to the existence of a transcendent reality that in Western religions is called God. God is not a free image, like Santa Claus, but a real being, like a beloved friend who gets on your nerves from time to time.

In science, there are no mysteries because science has a tremendous track record of success. There are only unanswered questions. It can be said of metaphysics that there is no record of success. An example of metaphysical wisdom is that knowledge is the opening of the self to the self-manifestation of the self. In metaphysics, whether or not the universe is intelligible is an open question. But in science, it is not. If Johannes Kepler thought for one minute that the universe was not intelligible, he would not have spent 10 years trying to understand why the planets move the way they do. What caused the Big Bang is not a mystery. What consciousness is is a mystery. Calling both questions mysteries indicates that you don’t understand the difference between metaphysics and science.

A quantum puzzle arises from the question of why the isotope cobalt-60 decays to nickel-60 with a half-life of 5.27 years. Using the probability waves of quantum mechanics, physicists can calculate the half-lives of isotopes. A particular atom of cobalt-60 can decay in 10 minutes or 10 years. There is a 50% chance that it will decline in 5.27 years. This begs the question: What causes a particular cobalt-60 atom to decay at the particular time that it does? With our current state of knowledge, there is no hope of answering this question. This is an enigma or puzzle because we understand a lot about isotopes from quantum mechanics, but this doesn’t.

The authors agree with the nonsense that there is a connection between human rationality (consciousness and free will) and quantum mechanics. I think this idea arises from a lack of understanding of the difference between science, metaphysics and philosophy. Philosophy is a research method that rises above another research method. How scientists should do science is a philosophical question. The scientific method is an answer to this question. The various interpretations of quantum mechanics are part of the philosophy of quantum mechanics because they are attempts to answer questions about quantum mechanics.

One way to gain knowledge and understanding is through analogies. If you prod a lion in a cage with a stick, it will roar and try to scratch you. We know by analogy that the lion is angry because that is how we would feel if he were passing us by. There is an analogy used in quantum mechanics to answer the question: What are quantum mechanical waves?

To answer this philosophical question, consider the decomposition of cobalt-60. If you look at a cobalt-60 atom for 5.27 years, it can either decay (D) or remain stable (S). Repeated observations will give you a series of S and D. You get, in other words, a set: (S,S,D,D,D,S,..). The fraction of times you get S or D approaches half the limit as the number of elements in the set increases. I’m using set theory because you need set theory to understand an observation analogous to the decay of cobalt-60: tossing a coin in the air with your thumb and index finger and getting heads (H) or tails (T). With coin tosses you get the same kind of set that you get from looking at cobalt-60 atoms. The probability of getting heads or tails is 1/2 because that’s the fraction you get from the set and all possible subsets. In the case of the coin, there are two events (tossing and landing heads or tails), the subtle condition that the calculation be done for all subsets to eliminate the possibility of a daemon or hidden variable affecting the result, and the fact that we understand why heads (or tails) come up half the time. In the case of cobalt-60, there is only one event: the decay of the atom. These are two different phenomena. Saying “1/2 is the probability that an atom of cobalt-60 will decay in 5.27 years” is an analogy or a philosophical comment. In my opinion, calling the waves of quantum mechanics waves of probability is an example of philosophizing.

The basis for thinking that there is a connection between consciousness and quantum mechanics is the double-slit experiment with particles (photons, electrons, or atoms). A version of this experiment is found on (“Double Slit Experiment: Water Wave Interference Pattern”). The double slit creates two water ripples and a highly visible interference pattern. The same interference pattern occurs with particles. Quantum mechanical probability waves explain this and it is another triumph of quantum mechanics.

The big difference between the two interference patterns is that you don’t need a screen to see the interference pattern of water. You don’t see any particle interference pattern if there is no screen. But, the screen is there because a human being put it there. Therefore, it is the action of humans that created the interference pattern. This is a puzzle or brain teaser because it begs the question: What happens to the particles after they hit the double slit if there is no screen? In any case, this is the reasoning, as far as I can understand, behind the idea that quantum mechanics involves human consciousness but classical physics does not.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *