Mind Under Matter (Part One): Introduction and Quantum Mechanics

Abstract

How does the mind relate to the body, and how did the divine Logos become incarnate as the man, Jesus of Nazareth? The aim of this paper is to illustrate how quantum mechanics implies what has been called objective idealism and so provides insight into the philosophical mind-body problem and the theological Christology debate. Quantum mechanics implies that the physical universe is not self-existent; it is emergent from an underlying, immaterial reality. As such, I argue that the body is not an independent entity but rather is emergent from the mind, and, similarly, the human nature of Christ is emergent from his divine nature.

Introduction

The aim of this paper is to illustrate how an emergent account of objective idealism can offer a parallel for understanding the mind’s relationship to the body and how the divine Logos became incarnate as the man Jesus of Nazareth. Postulating similarities between the mind’s relationship to the body and how the Logos became incarnate is not a novel concept. Cyril of Alexandria believed that the soul’s union to the body offered a plausible way to conceptualize the Incarnation although the Incarnation was distinct and ultimately mysterious. (1) Similarly, my goal is to unpack the implications of quantum mechanics (QM) to provide support for idealism in order to postulate a plausible model for how the mind relates to the body and how God became man. (2) While a number of differences exist between traditional proponents of idealism, they share basic assumptions. As James Snowden describes it, “Philosophical idealism is the view of the world that holds that there is only one kind of ultimate reality, spirit or mind, and that matter is a mode of activity or manifestation of mind. It does not deny the existence of matter, but discovers and shows its true nature as a mode of divine activity.” (3) As such, this view maintains that what persons perceive as matter is emergent from mind and so is not self-existent. While this definition does not accommodate for other manifestations of idealism which exist today (i.e. non-theistic idealism), it is useful for defining what is referred to as objective idealism where ultimately reality is dependent upon God’s mind (often referred to as cosmic idealism by philosophers like David Chalmers). (4)

Further, I contend that an emergent account is the most plausible way to convey the relationship between the physical world and an immaterial reality on idealism as it does not necessarily conflate the two unlike a more reductive account. To offer a reductive account is to ultimately deny that either one of the two actually exists. In other words, everything is ultimately reduced to either the functioning of the physical or the mental, not both. An emergent account recognizes the distinction between the two types of substances while offering an explanation for their interaction. As Thomas Nagel observes:

An emergent account…will explain the mental character of complex organisms by principles specifically linking mental states and processes to the complex physical functioning of those organisms… The difference from a reductive account is that, while the principles do not reduce the mental to the physical, the connections they specify between the mental and the physical are all higher-order. (5)

In other words, an emergent account of reality (particularly in regards to how it relates to the mind-body problem) links mental states to their physical manifestation, and one does not have to deny that the physical world exists, only that it is not self-existent. On this understanding, the physical is real yet dependent on a substratum. The question then becomes how do these mental states relate to the physical world. While differences emerge between proponents of idealism, objective idealism’s advocates maintain three principles.

1) Matter (and space-time writ large) does not exist as an independent substance.

2) Matter does not originate from the self.

3) Matter is emergent from an immaterial reality.

These qualifications distinguish idealism from both materialism (or realism) which upholds that matter is a distinct substance and exists independently of observation and solipsism which maintains that matter originates from the self who perceives and so it is only the self who really exists. In other words, matter is not a fundamental construct of reality nor does it exist of its own accord; rather, it is at all times derivative from an immaterial reality. Justification for idealism broadly has traditionally come from philosophical arguments such as the properties of a thing only existing insofar as they are perceived by a mind (such as those presented by George Berkeley and Imannuel Kant); however, there is a growing base of scientific literature in QM which bolsters this notion that reality is dependent upon mind.

Quantum Mechanics

The famed double-slit experiment has become the cornerstone upon which all of QM has been built. The experiment was first published by Thomas Young in 1807 concerning the nature of light and its wave-like behavior. In 1924, Louis de Broglie hypothesized that matter can also have properties like a wave, and this was confirmed in 1927 by Clinton Davisson and Lester Germer who examined electron diffraction off of a crystal, nickel surface. Their experiment demonstrated the dual properties of both light and electrons which could either behave as a wave or as a particle. (6) QM is largely concerned with this duality, and the double-slit experiment in particular has been the standard experiment referenced for introducing the quantum weirdness it produces. First, it is essential to define what a wavefunction is. As Bruce Rosenblum and Fred Kuttner (RK) define it, a wavefunction is the mathematical representation of the wave itself, so, “In some sense, the wavefunction of an object is the object itself.” (7)

In conducting a double-slit experiment, one places a wall with two slits in between incoming electrons and a screen upon which the electrons land. The electrons are then recorded by a measuring device attached to the screen. When the electrons are fired through the slits towards the measuring device on the screen, they behave as a wave and the pattern they produce resembles a wave because the electron passes through the slits as a wave and so interferes with itself once it exits on the other side. This is known as an interference pattern, and it shows up on the screen as such. However, if one chose to do the experiment with only one slit open, each wave of the electron could then only come through one slit (which gets rid of the interference pattern), and since each electron came through a single narrow slit, it is established to be a compact particle, not a wave. Therefore, a person could choose to demonstrate, with both slits, that electrons are spread-out things, or that, with one slit, electrons are compact particles. This is what RK call the wave-particle paradox. (8)

RK present a thought experiment to explain what is occurring. (9) They imagine the wavefunction of an atom (as an atom would behave similarly to an electron here) being placed into two different boxes next to a detection screen. After placing the wavefunction in the boxes they imagine a slit being cut into one of the boxes and then later another one in the other box. Opening one box sometimes would show a whole atom coming out and landing on the screen and sometimes would show no atom. If there is no atom in the first box, then the atom would definitely appear on the screen upon opening the second box. If one sets up a multitude of these pairs of boxes and then repeatedly opens the boxes in this manner, the opener determines which box the whole atom was in. This experiment would show that each atom was concentrated in a single box of its pair, not that it was spread out over both boxes. However, even before the observer cut open the box, she could have performed an interference experiment showing that something of each atom had been in both boxes by opening them at the same time. Prior to the observation of the boxes’ contents, she could have performed this interference experiment establishing that something of the atom has been in both boxes. Therefore, depending on which experiment the observer chooses to perform, she could have proved whether the atom had been wholly in a single box or not. She could choose to prove either one of two contradictory things. (10) Referring to the original double-slit experiment, RK note:

Though an object’s waviness may be spread over a wide region, when one looks at a particular spot, one immediately finds either a whole object there, or no object in that spot… [C]onsider the waviness of a single electron headed to the scintillation screen in the interference experiment that confirmed de Broglie’s wave idea. Its waviness would be in several clumps, separated by inches. But an instant later a flash is seen at a single spot where the electron hits a screen. The whole electron could then be found there. The electron’s previously extended waviness is suddenly concentrated at that single spot. If the electron were detected while in transit to the screen, it would be found concentrated at some single spot in one of the several clumps of its waviness. If an actual physical object were smeared over the extent of its waviness, as Schrödinger initially thought, to fit the observed facts its remote parts would have to instantaneously coalesce to the place where the whole object was found. Physical matter would have to move at speeds greater than that of light. That’s impossible. (11)

If the electron fired through the slits is not physically smeared out over the extent of its waviness, then what is the electron’s status? The accepted interpretation of waviness has been understood in terms of the probability of the electron being found in a particular spot. This point is elaborated further by RK:

The accepted interpretation of waviness challenges any commonsense view of physical reality. It presents us with the quantum enigma. The waviness in a region is the probability of finding the object in a particular place. We must be careful: The waviness is not the probability of the object being in a particular place. There’s a crucial difference! The object was not there before you found it there. You could have chosen an interference experiment demonstrating it was spread out over a wide region. You know you could have done an interference experiment because that’s what you actually did with other objects prepared in exactly the same way. You could have made that choice in this case. Somehow, your looking caused it to be in a particular place. In our standard view of quantum mechanics, the Copenhagen interpretation… ‘observations’ not only disturb what is to be measured, observations actually produce the measured result. (12)

This observation to perform a measurement is known as the collapse of the wave function, and it results in the definite placement of the electron in a certain position. According to the standard Copenhagen interpretation, developed by Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg, observation determines where the particle is found. (13) As Heisenberg himself wrote, “The observation itself changes the probability function discontinuously; it selects of all possible events the actual one which has taken place. Since through the observation our knowledge of the system has changed discontinuously, its mathematical representation has also undergone the discontinuous change and we speak of a ‘quantum jump’.” (14) This quantum jump is the electron’s instantaneous movement from a state of waviness to a concrete particle upon observation.

The oddness of this interpretation disrupts the classical Newtonian picture of the world where it was commonly assumed that material things like electrons would behave simply like matter only on a quantum level. The result is that matter does not exist prior to measurement or observation by a conscious, human agent; it only exists as a state of potentialities which is not an actual material thing like matter is. RK emphasize that these results do not merely depend on quantum theory; rather, the quantum enigma arises directly from experimental observation. (15) Further, one cannot say that these results can be quarantined to the quantum level, as experiments like the double-slit experiment have been repeated with increasingly larger objects. (16)

Despite this evidence, is it fair to claim that physics has encountered consciousness, something which is notoriously difficult to define or empirically examine? Since physical variables have been demonstrated not to be at play in the quantum weirdness physicists experience, the only option left is a non-physical, or immaterial, variable (which uniquely belongs to observers) which affects the particles. According to Bernardo Kastrup:

If consciousness does not cause wave function collapse—or whatever passes for collapse—then it follows that an inanimate entity of some sort must be responsible for it. Yet, the claim that inanimate objects—such as electronic detectors—can perform quantum mechanical measurements is fundamentally problematic, because the partitioning of the world into discrete inanimate objects is merely nominal to begin with. Is a rock integral to the mountain it helps constitute? If so, does it become a separate object merely by virtue of its getting detached from the mountain? And if so, does it then perform a quantum measurement—that is, an observation that causes collapse of the wave function—each time it comes back in contact with the mountain as it bounces down the slope? Brief contemplation of these questions shows that the boundaries of a detector are arbitrary. (17)

Kastrup goes one to note that the physical world is a unitary, indivisible physical system governed by QM, so there are not detectors performing measurements and collapsing the wave function, only one inanimate world. (18) As a result, it is extremely unlikely that a physical variable is causing the wave function to collapse, and, following the Copenhagen interpretation, it is the conscious observer who causes this collapse. In this way, materialism has been undermined by physics. No physical variable has yet been discovered to explain this quantum phenomena and so that only leaves immaterial variables (i.e. consciousness). Postulating an immaterial aspect to observers is, of course, not a new concept, but this has historically been left to the realm of philosophy and theology, not physics. Whatever name one chooses to ascribe to this immaterial feature, it is evident that the standard Copenhagen interpretation suggests the physical world is affected by agents who choose to observe certain phenomena. Therefore, the term used hereon for this immaterial part of the observer will be mind as it presents a clearer relationship to the mind-body problem.


(1): Cyril of Alexandria, On the Unity of Christ, trans. John Anthony McGuckin (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1995), 78.

(2): Throughout this paper, I use the term “mind” in place of the term “soul” as both are traditionally viewed as immaterial in their essence.

(3): James H. Snowden, “Philosophical Idealism and Christian Theology,” The Biblical World 46, no. 3 (Sept. 1915): 152-158, accessed May 27, 2020, https://www.jstor.org/stable/3142477.

(4): David Chalmers, “Idealism and the Mind-Body Problem,” The Routledge Handbook of Panpsychism ed. William Seager (New York: Routledge, 2019) 353-373, accessed May 28, 2020, http://consc.net/papers/idealism.pdf.

(5): Thomas Nagel, Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012) 54-55.

(6): Masatsugu Suzuki and Itsuko Suzuki, “A Proper Understanding of the Davisson and Germer Experiment for Undergraduate Modern Physics Course,” ResearchGate, ResearchGate Gmbh, published April 2015, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/274959072_A_proper_understanding_of_the_Davisson_and_Germer_experiment_for_undergraduate_modern_physics_course or 10.13140/RG.2.1.1354.7043.

(7): Bruce Rosenblum and Fred Kuttner, The Quantum Enigma: Physics Encounters Consciousness, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 77.

(8): Ibid., 87-90.

(9): Ibid., 90-95.

(10): Ibid., 94.

(11): Ibid., 80-81. Emphasis theirs.

(12): Ibid., 81-82. Emphasis theirs.

(13): While other interpretations have been offered to explain the data in line with the classical picture of reality, the Copenhagen interpretation remains the orthodox interpretation and is most consistent with the continuing amount of data collected in QM although it is beyond the paper’s scope to defend this point further.

(14): Werner Heisenberg, Physics and Philosophy: The Revolutions in Modern Science (Northampton: John Dickens & Co Ltd, 1959), 54.

(15): Rosenblum and Kuttner, The Quantum Enigma, 92.

(16): See M. Arndt, O. Nairz, J. Vos-Andreae, et al “Wave–Particle Duality of C60 Molecules” Nature 401, (October 1999) 680-682, accessed 31 May 2020, https://doi.org/10.1038/44348 and S. Eibenberger, S. Gerlich, M. Arndt, et al “Matter-Wave Interference with Particles Selected from a Molecular Library with Masses Exceeding 10000 AMU” Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics 15, no. 35 (October 2013) 14696-14700, accessed 31 May 2020, https://arxiv.org/abs/1310.8343v1. 

(17): Bernardo Kastrup, “Reasonable Inferences From Quantum Mechanics: A Response to ‘Quantum Misuse in Psychic Literature’” Journal of Near-Death Studies 37, No. 3 (Fall 2019) 193, accessed May 27, 2020, https://philpapers.org/archive/KASRIF.pdf. Emphasis his.

(18): Ibid., 194.

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