Is There a Place for Consciousness in Quantum Mechanics?
In this paper, I examine critically whether there is a role for consciousness in quantum theory. First, I consider von Neumann’s (Mathematical foundations of quantum mechanics (The English translation, by Robert T. Beyer, of the original German edition was first published in 1955). Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1932) alleged introduction of consciousness in the interpretation of (non-relativistic) quantum mechanics, and conclude that consciousness plays no role in it. I then examine Wigner’s (Symmetries and reflections: Scientific essays (Reprint from the 1967 edition published by Indiana University Press). Ox Bow Press, Woodbridge, 1979) views on the matter, identifying him, rather than von Neumann, as the leading proponent of the view that favors a prominent role for consciousness (see also Freire O, Jr: The quantum dissidents: Rebuilding the foundations of quantum mechanics (1950–1990). Springer, Dordrecht, 2015). I then question the aptness of such a role by advancing a minimalist interpretation of London and Bauer’s (The theory of observation in quantum mechanics. In: Wheeler JA, Zurek WH (eds) Quantum theory and measurement. Princeton University Press, Princeton, pp 217–259. (The original work was published in French in 1939), 1939/1983) theory of observation in quantum mechanics, which has been taken as a key source of arguments in support for consciousness (particularly in connection with phenomenology, see French S: Stud Hist Philos Mod Phys 33:467–491, 2002), and conclude with a dilemma against views that identify a place for consciousness in quantum theory.
My thanks go to Acacio de Barros, Carlos Montemayor, and especially Steven French for extremely helpful discussions and correspondence on the issues examined in this work. French also sent me insightful comments on an earlier version of this article, which led to significant improvements. My thanks are also due to the audience at the conference “Quanta and Consciousness” that was held in San Francisco in April 10-11, 2018. Their comments and suggestions were invaluable.
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