Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Quantum Ontology and Whitehead

The current Journal of Consciousness Studies included an interview of Henry Stapp by Harald Atmanspacher (here’s my most recent post about Stapp; Atmanspacher is also a physicist interested in consciousness). I’ve been a bit skeptical in the past regarding Stapp’s specific proposals for how quantum effects are implemented in the human brain, but I mostly agree with his metaphysical views, including the connections he draws between the ontology of quantum mechanics and that of Whitehead. Below is one paragraph from the interview which I thought captured this well.

The natural ontology for quantum theory, and most particularly for relativistic quantum field theory, has close similarities to key aspects of Whitehead's process ontology. Both are built around psycho-physical events and objective tendencies (Aristotelian ``potentia'', according to Heisenberg) for these events to occur. On Whitehead's view, as expressed in his Process and Reality (Whitehead 1978), reality is constituted of ``actual occasions'' or ``actual entities'', each one of which is associated with a unique extended region in space-time, distinct from and non-overlapping with all others. Actual occasions actualize what was antecedently merely potential, but both the potential and the actual are real in an ontological sense. A key feature of actual occasions is that they are conceived as ``becomings'' rather than ``beings'' -- they are not substances such as Descartes' res extensa and res cogitans, or material and mental states: they are processes.

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