Thursday, December 02, 2010

Russell on QM and the Brain

Since I’m quoting Bertrand Russell these days: check out the following passage from late in The Analysis of Matter. It’s hard to believe he wrote this in 1927.

Russell is discussing how physics seems to imply a universal, causally closed determinism which encompasses the mental. But then he says this:

This, however, is perhaps not quite the last word on the subject. We have seen that, on the basis of physics itself, there may be limits to physical determinism. We know of no laws as to when a quantum transaction will take place or a radio-active atom will break down. We know fairly well what will happen if anything happens, and we know statistical averages, which suffice to determine macroscopic phenomena. But if mind and brain are causally interconnected, very small cerebral differences must be correlated with noticeable mental differences. Thus we are perhaps forced to descend into the region of quantum transactions, and to desert the macroscopic level where statistical averages obtain. Perhaps the electron jumps when it likes; perhaps the minute phenomena in the brain which make all the difference to mental phenomena belong to the region where physical laws no longer determine definitely what must happen. This, of course, is merely a speculative possibility; but it interposes a veto upon materialistic dogmatism. It may be that the progress of physics will decide the matter one way or another; for the present, as in so many other matters, the philosopher must be content to await the progress of science. (p.393)
It has been a long wait, but quantum biology is finally emerging as a research field, and I predict it will have implications for mind (even if less dramatic than the new age crowd would picture).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Breaking Symmetry
-- James Ph. Kotsybar

Our universe has things in it because
chance quantum fluctuations enable.
Nothing is what violates Nature’s laws --
something is apparently more stable.
Super-symmetry was asking for it.
It was just too perfect to be withstood,
and once it took the predictable hit
it lit up the entire neighborhood,
and in that Big Bang, the forces all split.
Gravity, of course, was most serious
and left, having little to do with it,
and, to this day, remains mysterious.
Though we still work to unify them all,
Entropy says it’s too late for that call.