Thursday, December 30, 2010

Stuart Kauffman Blog Series

Stuart Kauffman has been writing some interesting posts at NPR's 13.7 Cosmos and Culture blog.  Kauffman is a biologist, author and "big thinker", and his latest thoughts are about the possible role of quantum mechanical processes in life and mind. He also has some philosophical speculations related to these ideas.

The latest series of posts takes as a launching point recent theoretical and experimental results which show that it is possible for an open quantum system which has decohered into a classical system (for-all-practical-purposes or FAPP) to re-cohere.  Also there are preliminary indications that such behaviour may occur in a biological context (see recent photosynthesis research):  therefore this is new science which might have applications to understanding mind. The philosophical side to this is that he interprets QM to show that there is an ontological status to possibilia or potentialities in addition to concrete actualities; furthermore the border between these two realms might be where the interesting action takes place (the 'Poised Realm'). He speculates that the ability of systems to repeatedly move between quantum and FAPP classical status might lead to "non-algorithmic" processes. If the human brain utilizes these, it might then constitute a "trans-turing system".

Now all this is alot to digest, and the fearless speculation coupled with invented jargon can be off-putting at first. But I like his ideas and I would recommend readers take a look.  Here are the links (Kauffman also interacts quite a bit with commentors, which is nice).

Part One: Beyond Einstein and Schrodinger?
Part Two: The Quantum Mechanics of Closed Quantum Systems
Part Three: The Quantum Mechanics of Open Quantum Systems
Part Four: The 'Poised Realm' is Real
Part Five: The Non-Algorithmic Trans-Turing System
Part Six: We Seem to be Zombies
Part Seven: How Mind can Act Acausally on Brain?

Update [5 January 2011]:   I'll add new links as they come.  In the latest post, Kauffman discusses the interpretation of QM.  He says that after 85 years, we need to bite the bullet on a less economical ontology.  We need to recognize that there are real possibilities as well as real actuals and the quantum measurement event is the actualization process which bridges these two realms.
Part Eight:  A Hypothesis: Res Potentia and Res Extensa Linked By Measurement

Update [29 January 2011]: Why consciousness might be associated with quantum measurement events.
Part Nine: What is Consciousness? A Hypothesis

Update [30 January 2011]: Looking for the neural correlates of consciousness in measurement events at (entangled) synapses.
Part Ten: Standing the Brain on its Head

Update [31 January 2011]: Last in the series for now:
Part Eleven: Can We Have a Responsible Free Will?

Friday, December 17, 2010

Experience and Causation

I’m re-reading sections of Gregg Rosenberg’s A Place for Consciousness: Probing the Deep Structure of the Natural World. What’s brilliant about the work is that it starts with the Russellian insight about the mind-body dilemma (discussed here) and then “ups the ante” by linking consciousness to other metaphysical puzzles – including those of those of causation and the composition of objects.

Here’s a rough table listing a general feature of the world and the aspect of consciousness it matches up with.

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).