Monday, November 7, 2011

Metaphysics Part VI - Materialism or Idealism?

Dream and Reality

To understand the concept of creating reality by observation, it is helpful to compare it with the process of dreaming. The physical world has more in common with our dreams than with the materialist concept of objective physical reality. In our dreams we create the world of the dream. We are not aware of it and believe this world to be real. We think we are subjected to it and mostly helpless victims of whatever happens to us in the dream. Only when we wake up, we suddenly become aware that we created the world of our dream ourselves subconsciously. Nothing in our dream was real, when we didn’t observe it. All the things and persons that we saw, all the events that occurred were only real as our observation. Our observation intentionally and subconsciously created them. In fact we controlled the dream without knowing it. 
The physical world is surprisingly similar to this situation. The difference is that the world of our dreams is created completely subjective, while the physical world is inter-subjective. In our dreams we are actually the only observer, while there are many observers in the physical world. Whatever we observe in the physical world, it must not contradict with the perception of other observers. Therefore there are certain rules to obey in the physical world. These rules are the probabilities of Schrödinger´s wave function. Furthermore we cannot change the state of an object after the wave function has already collapsed by the observation of another observer. The observers limit each other in their control over the physical world. We can intentionally create the outcome of an event in the physical world within the limits of the wave function, but we cannot control the outcome of an event that has already been observed either by us or by another observer. Within these limitations we control the physical world that surrounds us, like we control our dreams.

Consciousness and Body

The dualism of our self as mind and body was realized by all human civilizations from the earliest days of human history on and even before. It has been a main problem of philosophy. Are we essentially mind or body or both?
The belief that we are essentially a body and that the mind can be explained as a body function, is called materialism. The belief that we are essentially mind and that the body is an illusion or an idea of the mind, is called idealism. And the concept that body and mind are from distinct worlds, the physical world and the spiritual world, and have somehow been united to form living beings is called dualism. However it has been unclear how body and mind relate to each other (body-mind-problem) and which of them controls the other one. Is there such a thing as a free will? Or are all our actions subject of our biological needs?
From what we have learned now, we can try to answer these questions.
Apparently the materialist worldview has been proven wrong by quantum mechanics. The state of a particle depends on the observer. When there is no observer, particles have no particular state and remain as a wave function of probabilities with all possible states in superposition to each other. Therefore matter does not exist by its own virtue and only has a distinct state by observation. And since matter itself is not real, the fundament of the materialist concept has crumbled.
However the physical world is not totally an illusion. The mind does not arbitrarily create the physical world as a hallucination. The observer only controls the state of the particles of matter within the limitations of their wave function. This finally gives us an idea how body and mind interact and how our mind exercises control over our body.
As far as the extremities of our body are concerned, biology and medicine have discovered how electrical impulses in our nervous system make muscles contract and cause the movement of our extremities. In the same way sensations like pain are conducted by the nervous system from our extremities to the brain. So we have obviously only indirect control over the extremities of our body using biophysical mechanisms. Our control can easily be neutralized by external physical means like physical restrictions of our movement or severing nerve fibers so that we lose control of parts of our body.
Therefore we can conclude that the interaction between our mind and our body does not take place in the extremities of our body. They are simply part of the physical environment and not actually part of our self.
When we examine the structure of our nervous system, we find out that all electrical impulses that it conducts are centralized in our brain. Therefore somewhere within the brain there must be the place, where the interaction between mind and physical world takes place. It is inside the brain, where the measurements of our perceptive organs take place. It is the place in the physical world, where observation occurs. In some way our mind is able to observe the electrical impulses from our nervous system. And by observing them, we control them. If we look at the biochemical processes that take place at the synapses, where the nerves touch each other and where information is transmitted, we get indeed into a range where quantum mechanics becomes relevant. What exactly occurs within the molecules of the biochemical transmitters that travel between the microscopic gaps of the synapses of our nerve cells does not follow the macroscopic determinism. Its outcome is non-deterministic and only limited by the wave function of atomic and sub-atomic particles. If we assume that the observer intentionally determines the state of these particles by his observation, we have found the mechanism how our mind controls our body. Controlling the quantum mechanical processes in the synapses of our brain means controlling our body. And while our control of our physical environment is limited by other observers who already caused the collapse of the wave functions of almost all particles in the world around us, we are the only observer in the small area of the synapses in our brain. Only we control the collapse of the wave function there by our observation, because we are the only observer. This is why we have control over our body, but we don’t have in the same way full control over our environment. Only in or brain we are the only observers. Outside our brain, even in our own body, there are other observers. There are blood cells, body cells, and microorganisms. We don’t know what they observe. We don’t know what all the billions of macrophages in our blood vessels observe, what they feel, what they perceive. This is why we are limited there. We have only limited control there by the nerve impulses that work deterministically on a macroscopic scale. 
Macroscopic processes are not that easily controlled by observation, because they have many observers. The state of their particles is to a large extent already determined; their wave function has already collapsed into distinct states. This is why most macroscopic processes seem to be deterministic to us. We are not the first to observe them. They have already been observed, either earlier by us or by others. Their particles have already distinct states. There is not much space for randomness.


We have seen that the nature of the universe is not objective; it is subjective, or inter-subjective, if we assume that there are more than one observer. This is a very important fact. Actually it is quite obvious, because the way the universe is perceived is subjective. If the universe would be completely objective, then no point of view would stand out. The universe would be perceived from a third person view. But in reality we perceive the universe in a first person view. This means we don’t know how others perceive the world. We can only see it from our point of view. The concept of "qualia" is a subjective concept. It is limited to our own personal perception. 
What are qualia?
Qualia are all kind of perceptions, pain, lust, colors etc. We cannot describe them to others. This means we can give names to them, but we can’t know that others perceive them in the same way as we do.
Let’s take the color "red" for example. We can tell somebody that cherries are red, and the other will agree with us, but we can not be sure, if the other one has the same impression of red as we have. Maybe he has the impression that we call "blue". But since he calls his impression of blue "red", he will also say that a cherry is red, even if the impression that he has equals our impression of "blue". This is why colors for example are considered to be qualia. In fact we know for certain that not all human beings perceive colors the same way. There are people who are red-green colorblind. And only some sophisticated tests can reveal this abnormal perception. The person is not aware that he perceives red differently than other people. He still calls the color in which cherries appear to him "red". Nevertheless, it is not the same perception that others have.
This is the nature of qualia. It is a subjective perception. It cannot be described objectively.
This is just one example for the fact that the world is not objective. Quantum mechanics has taught us that the world is in an undefined state of probabilities, when no observer is present. The Schrödinger equation has no single solution. Only an observer can cause the Schrödinger wave function to collapse and an event to become "real". As long as the event is not observed, it is nothing but a possibility. 
And the Theory of Relativity has also shown us that the laws of classical physics only apply to the world as it is seen from the point of view of one observer. There is a huge difference in how two observers perceive the world if they are moving with relativistic speed in relation to each other. The world and the experience of time and space of one observer contradicts the world of the other observer, and there is no absolute and objective scale or coordinate system, which would allow us to make absolute and objective measurements. Every observer takes his own coordinate system of time and space with him. 
So if we take some space where only two observers are present, and they stand back to back to each other with focus of their attention directed into opposite directions, then this means that the space between them is actually in an undefined, unreal state. Their two subjective realities are separated by an area, which is not real. We can say that they live in two separate and independent realities (left picture).

This is why one observer cannot know, what the other observer perceives. This is the reason why our perception of the universe is from a first person point of view, not from a neutral and objective third person point of view. There is no objective point of view because there is no "reality" in the space between the two observers. Only when the observers turn their attention to each other, their perception overlaps and their realities become linked to each other.
So we see that the assumptions of one common reality is an illusion. There are only separate subjective realities, which sometimes may overlap (right picture).
This has far-reaching consequences. It means that the premises of all pantheistic religions are false. There is no such thing as "Oneness". We are not parts of one single Self, as many Eastern philosophies like Hinduism, Buddhism or Jainism assume. There is no such thing as the one common reality, the common self, which is the origin of all of us. In fact we are completely separate. We don’t share the same reality. Every individual supposed there are more than one, lives in its own separate reality. Separateness and subjectivity are the ultimate truth. Objectivity is an illusion. It is an illusion to please our fear of ultimate loneliness.
So any ideology or religion based on collectivism is based on an illusion. We are not part of something higher, a community or an all-compassing unity of the universe. We are individual observers. Sometimes our field of observation can be temporarily linked to the observation of other observers, but we will always be separate. Observers cannot merge with each other. They are always separate centers of observation, separate by their very nature.


  1. I had to come back and post this here because... Well, lets just say this is very interesting. This lecture shows a blurring of lines between Quantum Mechanics and Information Theory, and what happens when you apply some information based math to problems in quantum mechanics. I make no judgements as to the overall validity of his claims... I probably won't ever do that as no one has ever proposed a complete system to me that makes sense on all fronts.

    What made me come here is I remember your thoughts on "inter-subjective reality." He proposes the idea that entanglement IS measurement. And, though he doesn't say this specifically: that entanglement experiments are creating a kind of arbitrary observation without realizing that. He goes a bit further to explain that the whole process of observation is entanglement on a larger scale.

    What he appears to be proposing is: the process of entanglement is particles effectively sharing information to produce a common observation between, or picture of reality, between the involved systems. The camera, sensor, even the receptor in our eyes become entangled and thus all observe a common state of information about a particular picture of reality. He backs all this up with math and shows how even billions of particles can experience entanglement, and how the probability of the involved parties having the same information moves from 0 to 1. i.e. They share a common OBSERVATION.

    Anyway, this seems to support your thoughts on inter-subjectivity, at least in part, and I thought I'd share.

  2. I watched the video. Apparently Garret offers a modified version of the many-worlds interpretation (He calls it the zero-world interpretation.) and strongly opposes the Copenhagen interpretation.
    As evidence he offers some mathematical proof (necessary reversibility, which is implied in the equation), which is not a valid argument. Our equations can't claim to be a complete description of the world. But he also mentions the "quantum eraser" as experimental proof against the Copenhagen interpretation. This was new to me and I think I have to read more about it.
    In all I have written in this blog I tried to remain within the Copenhagen interpretation, which I thought is most widely accepted among physicists.
    But if Garret is right with his "zero-world" interpretation of quantum mechanics, then even inter-subjectivity would ultimately not exist and we would be left with a kind of solipsism. We would create our own reality by observation in an unreal quantum world of infinite possibilities. And the consistency of our experience of the world would only be based on entanglement.
    I will have a look at the current status of the Copenhagen interpretation, if there is already an experimental disproof.

  3. I downloaded Ron Garret’s original paper from his website and went through the details. Thereby I noticed that his experimental proof (the quantum eraser experiment) against the Copenhagen interpretation is essentially flawed.
    He claims that the interference disappears because the path of the light particle is “in principle” known by placing two different polarization filters in front of the two slits. And he calls this a “proto-measurement”. However there is no such thing as a proto-measurement. Something is either measured or it is not. Period. The interference does not disappear because the path of the photon is “in principle” knowable, but because equal polarization is a requirement for interference. It is a simple classical optical effect. The light behaves simply like a wave and has not collapsed into a particle. There is no quantum effect at all.
    In his thought experiment he assumes a FTL communication between the left and the right side of the experiment by instantly causing the interference on one side to disappear or reappear, when he inserts a 45° polarization filter (“quantum eraser”) in the other side of the experiment. But since it is only a classical optical effect that the interference disappears, he will not see any entanglement effect on the other side. If there is interference or not, only depends on the presence or absence of the 45° polarization filter on each side. And what happens on the right side is independent from the left. It is classical optics and there is no entanglement in classical optics. The path of the photon is not known by using polarization filters. There is no collapse of the wave function, so the light behaves like a wave, not like a particle with entangled properties.
    Therefore this experiment is no proof against the Copenhagen interpretation.

    In the second part of his paper he uses mathematical tricks (introducing complex numbers) in order to back up his zero-world interpretation of quantum mechanics. It remains unclear what negative values for entropy are supposed to mean in the physical world, but his math works.
    However this doesn’t contradict the Copenhagen interpretation. It is just another way to look at it. Yes, he can claim that measurement is no collapse of the wave function but simply entanglement, but it is only an interpretation, not an ontological statement. It doesn’t lead to any different predictions. And there remains the question why a particular state is initially singled out, to which all the rest is entangled with in a big network of entanglement that creates our impression of consistent reality according to his interpretation. He also needs some kind of collapse of the wave function in his zero-world interpretation. Just like in the many-world interpretation he has to explain why it is this particular world or “web of entanglements” that we see. So his interpretation is in no way better than the other common interpretations of quantum mechanics.

  4. No, I don't imagine that his explanations are better or worse than that of any other in a study that is so theoretical. But, he is not alone in his thinking and this ideology appears to have been dubbed Relational Quantum Mechanics. What does make sense to me is the idea further explained as this bit from the Wikipedia article:

    Because "state" is expressed in RQM as the correlation between two systems, there can be no meaning to "self-measurement". If observer O measures system S, S's "state" is represented as a correlation between O and S. O itself cannot say anything with respect to its own "state", because its own "state" is defined only relative to another observer~

    Which appears to anecdotally correlate with your postulate of Inter-subjective Reality, at least in part. I've seen this seen this sort of explanation of reality as a kind of mutual experience in many places. And though it is proposed in many different ways, the underlying theme, that "reality-as-or-is-relational" is a commonality among them. That I find interesting because it makes me wonder if there is something to it, even if we are far from nailing down exactly how it works.

    I personally don't have enough information to make a concrete judgement about the nature of existence, but I am glad that other people consider these things to and that there are those who are willing to put forth something beyond the popular theories. Because, at the end of the day, humanity isn't likely to advance until all corners of possibility are thoroughly considered.

    I think of it this way... There is a predominant view in Computer Science at the moment that a fully functional "Micro-kernel", as is classically defined by CS is not possible without significant performance loss when compared to Monolithic Kernels, which are in wide-spread use. And, while the design of micro-kernels theoretically offers great benefits to operating system design, the research being conducted on them is little more than an afterthought.

    That is a real shame... Because popular theory dismisses their functional existence as a "pipe-dream," and not much R&D is being carried out in that area when it could fix a lot of problems in Computer Science. To this point:

    Number of Linux (Monolithic) Kernel Developers: 1,316
    Number of L4 (Micro) Developers: 8
    Number of GNU Hurd (Micro) Developers: A Handful

    Yes, those numbers vary but I'm using it loosely to point out the issue of popularity in research. If we abandon every difficult idea that presents itself in any science, we're only going to slow progress.