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Descartes and Copenhagen

Letter #1

Dear Henry Stapp,

I will attach a brief discussion of your work with Schwartz and Beauregard by Deepak Chopra in his new bestseller, called "Life After Death," which is especially interesting to me at the moment. It just so happens that Chopra's first job in this country was at the hospital where I and my younger sister were born and where my father died.

His notion that thoughts are brought into actuality by an act of mind, even as electrons are brought into actuality by their observation, seems to approach the Cartesian duality that you discussed recently with Wolfram Hinzin.

I found that discussion with Hinzin interesting. I think Cartesian philosophy is really large enough to encompass all the views, from the mechanical to the Newtonian to the quantal. The important thing to realize is that the attributes of extension and thought are separable from the substances of thinking things and extended things. Now, if you hold the substances tightly to the attributes, then you get the mechanical philosophy. If you relinquish the attributes to the substances, atomistically conceived, then you get Newtonian physics, but if you recognize the separation of the two realms, that of the observer and that of the observed, then you get the framework of complementarity, wherein the attributes are observables that inhere in the observer.

The "classical" realm of the observer is of course the realm of cognizable attributes and lab scale objects, so it seems to be much closer to the mechanical philosophy than to Newtonian physics, per se. The only connection is that the substance centered view is supposedly the underlying atomic description of the attribute centered view. Quantum theory severs substance from attribute and recognizes the "ganzer langer Weg" of Einstein from the observed thing in nature to the meta-physical observer.

Yours Truly,

Peter J. Mutnick

Attachment to Letter #1

"Life After Death," Deepak Chopra, Harmony Books, New York, 2006, pp. 222-223:

Memory seems to be a field effect. For you to think the word "rhinoceros" and see a mental image of that animal, millions of brain cells have to act simultaneously. (We will leave aside the more difficult question of why you picked "rhinoceros" out of all the words you could have chosen, since any word choice can be based on reason, emotion, nonsense, br private associations in memory. A computer can be taught to select any given word, but it has no special reason to do so you do.) The neurons involved in choosing the word "rhinoceros" don't run through the alphabet until they get to "R"; they don't sound out one syllable at a time, nor do they leaf through a zoological photo archive to match the right word to the right image. Instead, the correct brain activity arises simultaneously. The brain is acting like a field, coordinating different events at the same time, except that we know the brain isn't literally a field. It's an object made of seemingly lifeless chemicals.

A compass needle moves because it's responding to the Earth's magnetic field. What if the same thing is true for brain activity? What if the mind field is sending signals, and billions of brain cells arrange patterns in response to what the field is saying? A team of innovative scientists has proposed exactly that. Henry Stapp, a theoretical physicist from Berkeley; Jeffrey Schwartz, a neuropsychiatrist at UCLA; and Mario Beauregard, a psychologist from the University of Montreal, have crossed disciplines to formulate a workable theory of "quantum mind" that may revolutionize how mind and brain relate to each other. Central to their theory is "neuroplasticity," the notion that brain cells are open to change, flexibly responding to will and intention.

They acknowledge, to begin with, the usual scientific explanation that "the mind is what the brain does," but there are many flaws in such an explanation, as we have seen. They propose, therefore, that exactly the opposite is true. Mind is the controller of the brain. In their view, the mind is like an electron cloud surrounding the nucleus of an atom. Until an observer appears, electrons have no physical identity in the world; there is only the amorphous cloud. In the same way, imagine that there is a cloud of possibilities open to the brain at every moment (consisting of words, memories, ideas, and images it could choose from). When the mind gives a signal, one of these possibilities coalesces from the cloud and becomes a thought in the brain, just as an energy wave collapses into an electron. Like the quantum field generating real particles from virtual ones, the mind generates real brain activity from virtual activity.

What makes this reversal important is that it fits the facts. Neurologists have verified that a mere intention or purposeful act of will alters the brain. Stroke victims, for example, can force themselves, with the aid of a therapist, to use only their right hand if paralysis has occurred on that side of the body. Willing themselves day after day to favor the affected part, they can gradually cause the damaged sites in the brain to heal. Similar results have been found with aging. Older people who have begun to show signs of senile dementia such as memory loss can slow down and even reverse their symptoms by exercising their brains (one software manufacturer has even brought out a "brain gym," a program that looks like a video game but in fact consists of exercises that strengthen specific areas of the brain). Children born with cerebral palsy have recently regained use of their paralyzed limbs through similar therapies in which the unaffected arm, for example, was kept in a sling, forcing the child to use the paralyzed arm; in time, the brain healed itself. It showed neuroplasticity.

Putting mind before brain may have many far-reaching consequences in medical therapies. For example, patients suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are routinely treated with psy- chotropic drugs like Prozac. Symptoms improve, and physical evidence for that can be found through brain scans; the parts of the brain that malfunction in OCD start to become more normal on the drug.

Letter #2


To pursue the program suggested in my previous letter, one would have to show that the Newtonian laws are at least an approximation to that which is invariant under the stated transformation (from attribute attached to substance to substance attached to attribute). To be philosophically correct, however, one should not assume additivity, which makes the problem mathematically trivial but philosophically imprecise. One will then find, I predict, that Newton's laws are not precisely the ones that apply to the classical observer or its atomistic foundation. Rather, we will get something like a new law relating the bits of experience neutral between content and consciousness, on the atomistic side, to the stream of consciousness, on the lab scale side.

Hence, the problem set by Bohr, of finding the next generation of quantum theory, may entail not so much changing quantum theory, but changing what we mean by its reference to "classical" theory.


Letter #3

Upon Further Reflection,

The way it seems to work is that the first of Newton's laws, Galileo's law of inertia, characterizes substance attached to attribute, while only the second and third laws require a knowledge of the actual force carrying particles and hence characterize attribute attached to substance. Now, by simply adding the quantum potential to the second law, which is a law of particles, we recover quantum mechanics, as Bohm has shown.

Therefore, Newton's laws are not fundamentally different than the mechanical philosophy, as Hinzin has claimed, but rather an unfolding of them, and the different phases of unfoldment are very tightly related. At least, that is how it seems to me.

What is interesting is that the so-called framework of complementarity was really there already with classical mechanics and classical mechanics, when considered in the light of Cartesian philosophy, DOES contain the key to the meaning of the quantum potential. It is simply the special potential that includes thought. The meaning of thought is contained right within the Bohm theory of 1952.


Peter Joseph Mutnick 1949 - 2000