Deconstruction of Henry Stapp's *Revised* Paris Talk
Abstract: Henry Stapp has rewritten his Paris Talk, for the sake of clarification. By bringing in the notion of dialogue with Nature, as implemented within the von Neumann/Wigner formalism for quantum mechanics, he suggests a connection of his empirical theory to the explicate order of external reality. That promise is evaluated and found to be wanting, simply because the theory of von Neumann is physicalist and does not integrate the metaphysical concepts he raises but only treats in a reductive superficial way.
Henry Stapp's Revised Paris Talk, June 7, 2001, in its entirety is at: http://www-physics.lbl.gov/~stapp/stappfiles.html
This description of quantum dynamics focuses attention on a peculiar but essential aspect of quantum dynamics: the necessity of a sequence of Yes-No questions. Without these questions nothing actually happens: the universe, and every subsystem of the universe, just keeps evolving into an ever-expanding clouds of possibilities.
But where do these "questions" come from?
Copenhagen quantum theory was formulated like a game of twenty question in which human participant/observers, who stand outside the system described by the quantum mathematics, put questions to nature.
In Henry Stapp's original Paris Talk, he outlined an approach that did not seem to involve the notion of any relationship, much less dialogue, between the Observer and the noumenon in nature. I agree that if one can establish the existence of a genuine dialogue with "Nature", mandated by the quantum formalism, then that would be a step in the direction of coordinating in a dynamic way our inner experiences of perception or action with external reality, which seemed to be the lack in the previous presentation. Before going into the question of whether Henry's presented "von Neumann/Wigner" approach does that, I would just like to point out that Henry continues to speak contrarily on this very point. At the end of the Revised Paris Talk, he says:
MIND: Mind plays a basic role in orthodox (Bohr/von Neumann) QT! The theory is about the mathematical structure of connections between human actions and experiences.
So, which is it? Is a relationship to the noumenon in nature involved or is it all about the internal connections between human experiences of perception and action, all occurring within the Mind, in the sense of the quantum implicate order, and not implying any relationship to an external noumenon?
I would like to further point out that these ambiguous issues are deeply metaphysical, and the reason they remain so ambiguous is that Henry mistakenly believes he is operating without metaphysical assumptions. This is the typical positivist attitude, which the founders of quantum theory considered to be not only false, but absurd. Henry says, also at the end of the Revised Paris Talk:
I have adhered, so far, to the restricted program of just following through on von Neumann's approach without adding any speculative ideas. The question of what determines which questions are posed by the participant/observers is not answered within that program, which does, however, provide a rationally coherent conception of the evolving universe that accounts for all the validated predictions of classical and quantum physics, as well as the effects upon brain activities of effortfully focused attention . The fact that all this can be achieved without specifying whether our minds lie inside or outside the physical universe it means that science, rationally pursued, is still mute on some very basic questions about the nature of man. Humility, not arrogance, on the part of scientists is therefore certainly called for.
It is impossible, I believe, either for Henry to conceive of his ideas or for the reader to conceive of them apart from a metaphysical background filled with all kinds of highly metaphysical assumptions. In Henry's case, he is just trying to pass off his own highly metaphysical assumptions and conclusions without any scrutiny on the part of the reader, or on his own part, for that matter. This I think stems from sheer laziness in that he doesn't want to lay the proper foundation for his at present discombobulated and disconnected metaphysical assumptions. He is passing off his *unexamined* views as somehow more virtuous than the *examined* views of the authentic philosopher. Moreover, what he is ultimately doing is ignoring the real essence of the metaphysical terms he employs in favor of a physicalist reduction of those terms to trivial irrelevance.
If science is about displaying the logical and mathematical structure of our experience, then Henry's refusal to discuss the metaphysical background of his thinking can only stem from an empiricism that is less than the *radical empiricism* of William James, which includes the second order experience of our whole logical Ansatz.
They do this by setting up experiments that will PROBE the system in specific ways. Nature returns an answer, Yes or No, to each inquiry by resetting the cloud to a new form that incorporates the information specified by the answer.
This introduction of a personified "Nature" which makes choices, i.e. gives intelligent answers, is a huge metaphysical assumption, which must be examined. The standard way of thinking is that the Observer establishes a State Vector of Substance by setting up the measuring device in relation to the quantum object under observation. The object is not limited to this description, since it is a real *potentia* that is capable of becoming a Potential for an Actual Event. This is the back-action of the quantum object in nature upon the measuring device. The action and back-action constitute the interaction of the measuring device with the quantum object. This interaction finds its expression in the PSI PSI* form of the Probability Function, where PSI is the State Vector Substance and PSI* is the Potential Actual Event. This answers, BTW, Ulrich Mohrhoff's complaint that the idea of *potentia* finds no expression in the mathematics of the theory - it does, on the most fundamental level of the Born Probability Rule.
The State Vector Reduction is again an action of the measuring device on the quantum object in nature, while the second Event might be construed as a further back-action with its ultimate origin in the "potentia" of Nature. As I have already explained in the "Deconstruction of Henry Stapp's Paris Talk", one can conceive of the second Event as the collapse of the Wave Function in the position representation. In this case one can conceive of the action and the back-action, as well as the second action and the second back-action as occurring all-at-once. In that case, one might call the second Event the choice by Nature that "resets the cloud to a new form that incorporates the information specified by the answer". This requires us to actually deny the causal agency of the second action, and to instead attribute causal agency to what is ostensibly the second back-action from Nature. This is peculiar to say the least. The more reasonable conclusion is that, since the actions and back-actions are happening all-at-once in this mode of presentational immediacy, limited to the position representation, the choice is being made conjointly by the intention of the Observer as manifested in the measuring device and by Nature.
I certainly have nothing against the idea of a dialogue with the noumenon in nature. I think that *is* the character of quantum measurement theory. But I don't get the sense that Henry's scenario is a genuine dialogue. Taking into account his writings elsewhere, the conclusion of Henry's analysis is that the Observer just becomes a yes-man, which either performs the measurement which Nature suggests that he perform or vetoes the choice by Nature to perform that measurement. Here I am referring not to what Henry has dubbed the Dirac choice by Nature of the response to the question posed to Nature, but what he has dubbed the Heisenberg choice by the Observer of which experiment to perform or question to ask, which in the end Henry attributes also to Nature, leaving to the Observer or the human being only the power of veto. This seems less than a truly liberating scenario, to say the least, but Henry believes it to be the only logical conclusion that can be drawn from his present metaphysical and physical assumptions. Hence, I think a deconstruction of his assumptions is imperative.
Von Neumann placed the entire physical universe, including the bodies and brains of these human observers, in the system described by the quantum mathematics.
The relevant quotes from von Neumann are the following (from "Mathematical Foundations of Quantum Mechanics", pp. 418-21):
"First, it is inherently entirely correct that the measurement or the related process of the related process of the subjective perception is a new entity relative to the physical environment and is not reducible to the latter. Indeed the subjective perception leads us into the intellectual inner life of the individual, which is extra-observational by its very nature (since it must be taken for granted by any conceivable observation or experiment). Nevertheless, it is a fundamental requirement of the scientific viewpoint -- the so-called principle of the psycho-physical parallelism -- that it must be possible so to describe the extra-physical process of the subjective perception as if it were in reality in the physical world -- i.e. to assign to its parts equivalent physical processes in the objective environment, in ordinary space."
"That this boundary can be pushed arbitrarily deeply into the interior of the body of the actual observer is the content of the principle of the psycho-physical parallelism -- but this does not change the fact that in each method of description the boundary must be placed somewhere, if the method is not to proceed vacuously, i.e., if a comparison with experiment is to be possible. Indeed experience only makes statements of the this type: an observer has made a certain subjective observation; and never any like this: a physical quantity has a certain value."
"To discuss this, let us divide the world into three parts: I, II, and III. Let I be the system actually observed, II is the measuring instrument, and III the actual observer. It is to be shown that the boundary can just as well be drawn between I and II + III as between I + II and III. (In our example above, in the comparison of the first and second cases, I was the system to be observed, II the thermometer, and III the light plus the observer; in the comparison of the second and third cases, I was the system to be observed plus the thermometer, II the light plus the eye of the observer, III the observer, from the retina on; in the comparison of the third and fourth cases, I was everything up to the retina of the observer, II his retina, nerve tracts and brain, III his abstract "ego".) That is, in one case 2. is to be applied to I, and 1. to the interaction between I and II + III; and in the other case, 2. to I + II, and 1. to the interaction between I + II and III. (In each case, III itself remains outside of the calculation.)"
What von Neumann is doing here is showing that I + II can be regarded as a quantum system and hence as a new I. The III of the previous system can then be divided into a new II and a new III. He is indeed dividing up the physical world into parts that obey the Schrodinger Equation and parts that do not. His "psycho-physical parallelism" just means that more and more of the upper end of the physical tower can be drawn down into the lower end, ultimately emptying the upper end of materiality, leaving only an "abstract 'ego'". This is a relatively trivial application of the metaphysical principles he has invoked. At best, it establishes the physical consistency of the Copenhagen Interpretation, but at worst it completely obscures the real meaning of the Copenhagen Interpretation, which is that our total reality is metaphysical and not just the superficial shadow of the metaphysical reality in the physical world. For those interested in pursuing the real meaning of human existence and conscious experience, von Neumann's approach is a giant step BACKWARDS!
Furthermore, von Neumann's approach only obscures all the genuine metaphysical questions that Henry started out talking about, which are the genuine elements of the Copenhagen Interpretation. So, nothing about the dialogue with Nature can even conceivably be established by following what von Neumann actually did in his book. Now if we want to deconstruct what he did and consider in the true spirit of Copenhagen the real metaphysical meaning of the terms he employs, then of course those real meanings would be relevant. The following is my attempt to do that.
In my imaginative extrapolation or deconstruction, von Neumann followed Copenhagen in insisting that quantum theory always requires a classical frame of reference. This I infer from the following quote: "Indeed experience only makes statements of the this type: an observer has made a certain subjective observation; and never any like this: a physical quantity has a certain value." The classical observer of last resort for von Neumann is the abstract "ego". The abstract "ego" exists in the classical or meta-physical world. And yet it is not some completely extra-cosmic and therefore unscientific entity, as Henry Stapp believes. Rather it is the region of the brain that must be described classically. One cannot push the cut any further into the brain. That is the way David Bohm understood the situation in his 1951 textbook, "Quantum Theory", where he speculated that one could go beyond this classical region of the brain into an even deeper quantum region that would open into the quantum *implicate* order.
Quantum theory has this remarkable dualism in it, called by Pauli "the separation of subject and object" and by Heisenberg "the overall connection". It retains the classical order as an essential part of the total metaphysical structure, but the classical order must be viewed as meta-physical in relation to the physical world governed by the unitary laws of quantum mechanics. Von Neumann, like all quantum physicists, had to work his description from both ends of the overall ontological structure of quantum measurement theory. When he moves the cut further and further in the direction of the Observer, into his very psychic apparatus, he is moving toward and into the meta-physical world. He ultimately brings the noumenal reality of the physical world all the way up into the fifth or phenomenal world, once he completes his regress. Hence von Neumann's regress may be called the *phenomenal reduction*. The abstract "ego" is then III, his psychic apparatus, conceived as ANIMA, SHADOW, AND PERSONA, is II, and the phenomenal object is I. III and II are in the seventh or meta-physical world and I is in the fifth or phenomenal world.
Von Neumann also suggests, as Henry Stapp correctly perceives, that one can regard the Observer as an embodied Observer, which will ultimately be a quantum sub-system of the total system. This is based on his principle of the psycho-physical parallelism, which is, however, in contradiction to his principle of relativity with respect to a classical Observer. As he defines the principle of the psycho-physical parallelism it means that for the purposes of science the "extra-physical" or meta-physical aspects of the observational process can be regarded as physical or embodied. Actually, as sub-systems of a total system, they are embodied in the second or emotional world, rather than in the first or physical world, but that is much closer to the physical world than is the seventh or meta-physical classical world. Von Neumann never resolves the contradiction between his two principles and he does not in fact talk about the embodied observer, for that reason. The embodied Observer would be O in relation to M and S, which he does define as the Measuring Apparatus and the System, respectively. O, M, and S would all be in I, aspects of the actually observed system or the total quantum system.
The quantum brain is in the third or mental world, its networks and neurons are in the second or emotional world, and its synaptic junctions are in the first or physical world. The "classical" region of the quantum brain, wherein is embodied the abstract "ego", is definitely on the level of the networks in the higher emotional world. As we go beyond that level, deeper into the brain, we indeed reach the regions wherein are embodied the absolute or pure consciousness of the quantum implicate order. It is for that reason and that reason only that we can discover the neural correlates of consciousness on the level of the neurons. The oroboric essence of the absolute or pure consciousness is on the level of the synaptic junctions. But this would be to project the phenomenological essence of Cosmic Consciousness onto the ontological Stream of Consciousness. This is called the overshadowing by the Christ. It is what enabled Jesus to do miracles.
This resolved the questions arising from the ad hoc separation of the physical universe into differently described parts, but it did not alter the essential feature that the known laws of physics did not fix the "questions posed by the participant/observers". Yet these questions remained essential components of the dynamics. Thus von Neumann's quantum dynamics, like its Copenhagen forebearer, still involves "freely chosen questions" that are not specified by any KNOWN laws of physics.
THIS IS A COMPLETE MISCONCEPTION, to think that Copenhagen ever divided the *physical* universe into "differently described parts". It is perhaps the cause of 70% of the so-called quantum muddle. Copenhagen says that quantum theory has superseded classical theory as a theory of the physical universe, but yet classical theory is retained as an essential part of the total *metaphysical* structure, which must then involve interpenetrating worlds beyond the physical. I call the classical world the seventh or meta-physical world, although the seventh world includes the Observer's Mind, which is the quantum implicate order. If this sounds outlandish to anyone raised on positivist and physicalist philosophy, bear in mind that Heisenberg was a confirmed Neoplatonist and the other founders, except perhaps Dirac who was a Marxist, were simpatico with him on this score. All Neoplatonists espouse some kind of system of hypostatic levels, with the material or physical world as the lowest level.
The "ad hoc separation of the physical universe into differently described parts" was entirely von Neumann's innovation and contribution, for better or for ill.
What is a typical question?
In the context of a quantum treatment of a human person's mind-brain the question is always of the form:
Will the experience E associated with the neural correlate of consciousness N(E) appear now in that human person's stream of consciousness.
The Stream of Consciousness exists in von Neumann's III, although after the complete regress, it could indeed include the fully absorbed III, II, and I, as described earlier. To be more explicit, the Stream is in the seventh or meta-physical world of the classical Observer and the Consciousness is absorbed in the phenomenal object in the fifth or phenomenal world. There is indeed a phenomenal Experience, call it E_phenom. Now Henry wants to define a neural correlate to this Experience. To do that, we must relate it to the other type of Experience defined by William James, namely the quantum bits of Experience, neutral between Content and Consciousness. These quantum bits of Experience exist in the second or emotional world. The quantum brain exists in the third or mental world, its networks and neurons exist in the second or emotional world, and its synaptic junctions exist in the first or physical world.
So, Henry's second construction here, N(E), seems unfounded. Some work is required, IMHO, to show any connection between the phenomenal Experience and the Neural Correlates of Consciousness. The latter Consciousness is NOT the phenomenal Consciousness of the Stream of Consciousness. It is precisely the claim of William James' radical pluralism, however, that there are quantum bits of Experience, which are correlated to quantum elements within the neurons. James regarded the parts as more real than the wholes, the bits of Experience as more real than unified Experience within the Stream of Consciousness. Alfred North Whitehead was similarly an advocate of subjective atomism.
Here von Neumann, like contemporary neuroscience, and psycho-physics, acknowledges the fact that our scientific description of the mind-brain has two kinds of data that are described in different languages. One of these languages is the language of physics, which pertains to locations, shapes, and motions in space of entities regarded as built in some sense out of atomic particles and molecules, and the other is the language of psychology, which is used to describe the feelings and ideas of the participant/observer.
I think Niels Bohr and the other founders would reject this bifurcation. I think they would say that all of our experiences and experiments must be described in the same classical language. The question is whether that language can be sufficiently deepened to include the elements of biology and psychology and phenomenology. I believe I have such a revealed language, which is not unlike the symbolic language of Jung or the language of the implicate order of Bohm or the meta-language of Chomsky. This language must be inherently logical and mathematical in its symbolic structures. It must be the Arche and the Eidos and the Logos.
The aspects described in these two different ways are related by what called "the neural correlate N(E) of an experience E". This neural correlate is the set of activities in the physically described brain of a participant/observer that is assumed to be occurring in conjunction with his occurring experience E: N(E) is the brain counterpart of the experience E.
What must be unified here are not different languages, but different ontological realities. The error here, as I see it, is to assume that the E of N(E_q-bit) is the same as the E of E_phenom. Perhaps some work can be done to show the transformation from one to the other, but I am absolutely certain that they are not identical.
Two kinds of experience are particularly important. One is the experience of 'coming to know' something, such as the color, red or not red, of yonder traffic light, and the other is the 'feeling of effort' to attend to, and hold in place, some idea that would, without that effort, flit away. In the first example the question would be "Is the next experience in my stream of consciousness going to be seeing the red light, and experiencing it in the particular way W?" In the second example the question will be "Shall I continue to attend to action A?", where A might be thinking about some particular idea, or pursuing some particular course of physical activity.
The first question would be appropriately addressed in von Neumann's fully regressed system, already described. The second question seems furthermore to involve ESSE EST PERCIPI, where the continued perception holds the phenomenal object in place or sustains the very being of the phenomenal object. In the case of action, the presumption is that this is causally efficacious in affecting not only the phenomenon but the underlying physical noumenon. This is not at all obvious and must be established.
Each particular possible way of apprehending W, or course of action A, is presumably generated by brain activity. But, according to quantum theory, that does not make it determinate.
I believe this is fundamentally false. Consciousness is NOT generated by brain activity. CONSCIOUSNESS IS MODIFIED BY BRAIN ACTIVITY. It is much too great a task to assign to the meager elements of matter to generate so great a reality as consciousness itself, which is our true existence, apart from which we have no other. All the real experience of Humanity over millenniums supports the notion that consciousness came first as the ever-existing cosmic verity and created a world out of itself, replete with individuation and subsequent limitation of consciousness. Only most lately have we become so confused and ignorant as to suppose anything else. Husserl's phenomenology is based on the correct premise and alone holds the promise of a new science and a new understanding of human nature. The founders of quantum theory were somehow blessed with the intuitive understanding of phenomenology and they laid the foundations for the new science. The tragedy is that, due to the influence of the positivists and the physicalists, no one (but me) is building on the foundation the founders have laid.