Creating Reality – Can Quantum Physics Help?

Posted by: michael  :  Category: Uncategorized

Creating Reality: Evidence from the Principles of Quantum Physics

The view of the mind as an entity that can be entirely explained by being reduced to physical matter developed against the background of classic physics.  Although the principles of classic physics are used to describe the movement and “behaviour” of inanimate objects and large celestial bodies, the insight that they provided into our physical Universe was also applied to the living world. This application resulted in a somewhat dark view on the concept of the human mind that is being reconsidered today in light of what has been referred to as ‘the quantum revolution’.

I. Classic Physics and the Deterministic View of the Mind

The rules of classic physics are based on Newton’s laws of motion. These are a set of principles used to describe the relationship between an object and the forces that act upon it, as well as the movement of the object as a result of these forces. They describe the movement of many systems, including planetary systems and those comprised of macroscopic objects with great success. According to classic physics, the state of the world at one moment is completely dependent on (determined by) its state at a previous moment. This means that the universe and our world within it were set into motion many years ago. Consequently, our thoughts do not determine our future since the future is predetermined by a long gone past that we hold no control over.

When interpreted as laws of nature, Newton’s laws hold a wide range of implications for our lives. The world as causal, predictable, logical and governed by mathematical rules has room for only one ultimate reality, which can be viewed objectively by the scientist and cannot be distorted. Therefore, the concept of free will is rendered an illusion, as are all other psychological qualities, effectively reducing the person to a biological machine. More specifically, if all causality in the world comes from the interactions of its building blocks, the human brain and consciousness are nothing more than the product of neurons, molecules, atoms and their interactions.

This fatalistic view was widely regarded as correct (and still is by some) and the discipline of physics virtually complete, only to be inadvertently challenged when scientists discovered that Newton’s laws do not apply to the elusive domain of energy, light and subatomic particles.

II. The Quantum Revolution

Towards the end of the 19th century, while examining the relationship between electromagnetic radiation intensity, frequency and temperature, physicist Max Planck gathered a large amount of experimental data that could not be explained by any theory of classical physics. In order to make the numbers work, he created a formula where energy is radiated not as a continuous wave, but as a series of discrete portions (energy quanta). As the first working formulation in discordance with classic physics theory, this quantum hypothesis was later interpreted by Einstein and used to explain the photoelectric effect, and is considered the birth of quantum physics.

Technological advancements in the 20th century enabled scientists to examine subatomic particles more closely, and as they did, they found that the laws of classical physics consistently failed to explain their measurements. They could not explain why atoms are stable or why light can behave as both a particle and a wave. Quantum mechanics were able to explain these submicroscopic phenomena, and differed greatly from the classical laws of physics in that they were probabilistic rather than deterministic.  In other words, classical physics can tell us exactly where an object will be at a certain point in time, while quantum physics can only provide us with the probability that an object ought to appear in a few possible places when we observe it, without providing a definitive answer. Before we measure a quantum object it has superposition (it exists in every possible state), but by using the laws of quantum physics we can calculate the probabilities and possibilities linked to each individual possibility of where it will appear when observed (Goswami, 2001). Before we make a measurement, the quantum object exists in all possible states, but when we measure its position, it must “choose” one state. This discontinuation is a collapse of the electron’s superposition, and the act of our measurement or observation is what causes it.

III. Quantum Physics and the Subjective Nature of Reality

In quantum experiments, the observer demonstrates some level of ability to influence the particles that constitute reality, and the classical view of the person as a passive observer of an objective and predetermined reality suffers a blow. The notion of exclusive objectivity central to the scientific method evidently reaches a limit, even in the hard sciences. In an experiment known as the double slit experiment, electrons behave as particles when they are being observed and as waves when they are not being observed. Their motion is also characterized by demonstrable randomness. Any attempt by us to figure out exactly what is going on in experiments with subatomic particles causes random changes to the system via the uncertainty principle and even performing exactly the same quantum experiment more than once does not yield consistent results. This strongly suggests that the physical laws of the natural world appear intrinsically random at a fundamental level, limiting the power of scientific theory at this level to probabilistic estimation (Feynman, Leighton and Sands, 2011).

The deterministic aspect of classical physics is inconsistent with quantum physics. According to the philosophy of determinism it is possible to determine the movement (speed/location) of every object using the laws of physics. This is not possible with submicroscopic particles.  Furthermore, the finding that an observer causes a collapse of an electron’s superposition, together with other findings in which different results are recorded based on whether or not they are being measured (e.g. the double slit experiment) are not consistent with the materialistic aspect of classical physics that is characterized by upward causation. By the rules of upward causation human behavior can only be influenced by the behavior of subatomic particles (because atoms make up molecules, molecules make up cells, cells make up the brain), and not vice versa. The downward causation apparent in quantum experiments demonstrates that our involvement in the subatomic world changes it’s properties, and indicates that we are directly able to influence the particles that compose matter.

Many researchers have recognized that there is greater similarity between the submicroscopic world and aspects of the brain, mind and consciousness than there is between mental processes and macroscopic objects that adhere to Newton’s laws. There has also been some acknowledgement of the subjective nature of physics implied by discoveries of the quantum realm. However, subjectivity is often considered a flaw of psychology, philosophy and other humanistic disciplines, while objectivity is considered a virtue of the hard sciences. Therefore, it is not surprising that there are interpretations of experimental quantum findings that avoid the acknowledgement of subjectivity. The mathematician Arthur M. Young argues that contemporary physics ignore the implications of quantum physics, such as the change of state that characterizes time (by treating it as symmetrical rather than asymmetrical). He also contends that the fact that no two individuals can ever view the same photon is proof of the non-objective nature of science, a point still ignored by physicists to preserve an exclusively objective view of the world. It is in part this subjective aspect of quantum reality that parallels the reality we experience through mental processes, as well as the failure of brain mechanics alone to account for all psychological processes that has lead many to apply the principles of quantum physics to psychology. Nevertheless, the application of quantum principles to the mind in a strictly scientific manner is challenging, partly because the relationship between brain mechanics and consciousness is still a mystery from a scientific point of view, just as the nature of consciousness itself is.

IV Quantum Physics in Neurobiology and Psychology

The downward causation demonstrated by experiments conducted in quantum physics supports the notion of free will to an extent, while the observer effect has blurred the lines between physical and psychological reality to an extent. However, simply transferring quantum law to psychological and neurobiological processes alone is not sufficient to explain human psychology. According to Barr (2003) the probabilistic nature of quantum events indicates that even if we have a complete set of information about the state of a physical system for time A., we cannot predict the behavior of the system at time B. This appears similar to the probabilistic nature of human behavior, suggesting that the absence of deterministic processes in the quantum could mean that human will is free. The problem with this reasoning is that it only implies that choice, as well as other psychological processes and their manifestation in behavior are random without offering further explanation. So it would seem that indeterminacy is necessary for free will to exist, but it is not entirely sufficient. This is why it is necessary to examine evidence from neurobiology and psychology to gain insight into the role that quantum physics has in the brain, and the effect of these processes on consciousness.

The finding that directed mental effort in the form of cognitive reattribution and attentional reconceptualization of conscious experience causes changes in brain activity is central to the argument that more than biological brain mechanisms (and classical physics principles) are required to explain thought processes and consciousness.  The term “self-directed neuroplasticity” is commonly used to describe the use of mental effort to alter brain function (Schwartz, Stapp and Beauregard, 2005). According to Schwartz and colleagues, contemporary physical theory allows for the findings in this field to be interpreted in a more logical and scientifically sound way than was possible with classical physical theory. They argue that it is absolutely necessary to apply the principles of quantum physics in order to examine the connection between the brain and conscious experience (particularly when a person is using mental effort), and that the residual materialistic bias from classical physics is still preventing the appropriate interpretation of contemporary neuroscientific findings.

There are a number of points outlined in their paper that support the application of quantum theory to psychological phenomena as well as the notion that individuals are capable of shaping their own reality:

1.1 The causal efficacy of conscious effort as a primary variable can be explained by quantum physics, and therefore conscious effort can be used as a primary variable even though its origins may not be traceable.

In above-mentioned 2005 journal article, the authors use the term ‘primary variable’ in the context of neuroscientific studies and the redirection of the brains resources towards the prefrontal cortex and away from the limbic area of the brain during self-directed neuroplastic development. However, if conscious effort as a primary variable is capable of causing changes in thought patterns and the activation of specific brain areas, the changes in behavior and ultimately reality that result from these changes are also attributable to it.

1. 2. Our willful choices represent fundamental causal elements.

Considering that we have evidence for the efficacy of self-directed psychological techniques and their effect on the brain, it quite safe to assume that we also have the free will required to apply them. Given this, free will and the consequent freedom to create one’s own reality can be justifiably regarded as a combination of the indeterminate nature of reality and conscious effort.

1. 3. The physical system does not determine choices and decisions made by    the observer during the selection between possible options – they ultimately depend on the observer’s stream of consciousness.

This is part of John Neumanns interpretation of quantum theory, one that grants primary causation to conscious free will.

1.4. Both human life and experimental science are based on corresponding realities that are built upon action and response systems.

This means that we draw conclusions by making conscious efforts in order to receive feedback in the same way in science as in everyday life. This feedback shapes our expectations, which in turn shape our beliefs.

1.5. In classical physics, the human was considered a passive observer of the laws of nature. In quantum physics, the observer directly influences the physical system in a way that is dependent on the conscious choices made by the observer.

This means that we cannot observe a system without altering it and that the state of a physical system is dependent on our choices (and free will), not the other way around.  One interpretation of this finding that is in line with the laws of contemporary physics is that we are free to create our own reality.

The definition of subjectivity is a “characteristic of or belonging to reality as perceived rather than as independent of mind”. If objectivity is no longer possible, even in the hard sciences, then subjectivity becomes an inherent property of reality (no reality is independent of mind), lending further support to the argument of reality as an individual construct. The ‘real world’ of an individual is made up of his or her current perception, understanding and beliefs. The differences between these experiences of existence are apparent between individuals, members of different cultures, followers of different religions, members of different age groups, fans of different sports and so on. There is a colossal amount of information available to us at every moment in our lives, and we select (inadvertently or advertently) what we pay attention to and how we interpret the information available to us. These processes are easily observable in individuals suffering from conditions such as anxiety disorder who perceive danger in a wide range of very different situations and form beliefs, behaviors and even physical symptoms based on their perception.

V. More on Self-Directed Neuroplasticity

There are many examples of willful mental activity by which immaterial mental activity becomes materialized. For example, scientific studies have shown that mental practice for playing musical instruments results in physical changes in the brain in almost the same way as physical practice does (Begley, 2007). In self-directed neuroplasticity, the critical aspect of this willful mental activity is what has become known as mindfulness.

Mindfulness is based on a concept used in Buddhist meditative techniques and is characterized by an enhanced awareness of one’s present. The nature of this awareness should be open, receptive and non-judgmental. The practice of mindfulness does not require any specific practice, but does require the conscious application of effort to sustain, particularly during very stressful events. There are psychological studies that demonstrate the effectiveness of mindfulness based stress reduction techniques both in the general population, as well as in clinical practice for anxiety, depression, addiction and eating disorders.

There are also studies that examine prayer as a method of self-directed mental action. A recent study found that participants maintained their improvement of anxiety and depression one year after partaking in a prayer intervention that involved prayer for stressful issues, childhood traumas and repentance (Boelens et. al., 2012).

Self-directed neuroplasticity appears to happen through contemplative practices that include (but are not limited to) techniques such as mindfulness training and prayer. Formal contemplative practices are found in almost all religions, but there are ways to practice contemplative activity outside the scope of religion. MRI scans of individuals who routinely meditate show that their pre-frontal cortex area is thicker compared to that of individuals who don’t meditate. This area is heavily involved in attention control. Many self-help books stress the importance of focusing your attention on what you are doing and what you hope to achieve in order to align your thoughts, feelings and behavior with your preferred outcome. This is usually achieved through the utilization of techniques such as meditation, contemplation, visualization, reflection, and/or prayer. Since all of these techniques are characterized by mindfulness, it is quite likely that they all have the same effect on the brain regardless of whether they are practiced independently using self-help literature as a guide or within the frame of religion, a psychological study or clinical treatment. As the prefrontal cortex is involved in the executive control of attentional processes, as well as in the modulation of planning and the selection of self-initiated responses, it signifies a likely path of action for the measurable success of contemplative techniques through both self-directed action and clinical practice. However, it is important to remember that belief in the efficacy of this technique is necessary in order to sustain practice of the technique, and in order for this practice to display results (Schwartz, Stapp and Beauregard, 2005).

It is important to distinguish between what the results of experiments conducted in quantum physics reveal about the nature of the universe and the application of the principles of quantum physics directly to the processes of consciousness. Conscious cognition is a very specific brain phenomenon for which even modern neuroscience lacks a solid theory (Baars and Edelman, 2012). Even current quantum theories of consciousness do not fully explain the empirical features of consciousness, although scientists active in the field acknowledge the possibility of discovering a theory that does so in the future. However, the insight we have gained from experimental quantum physics taken together with the demonstrable results of self-directed neuroplasticity lend support to the inherently subjective nature of reality, as well as individual free will and responsibility in creating reality.

VI. Conclusions

The premise that individuals create their own reality has gone from seemingly absurd in the context of classical physics to virtually inescapable with the discovery of the quantum realm. The psychophysical structure of reality as a world of possibility, together with the demonstrable power of intentional effort and conscious choice make conscious thought a primary variable in the order of human experience. Thus, based on the evidence reviewed in this paper, it is our thoughts that influence our behaviour, which influences our social experience and ultimately our entire physical reality, which is then sustained by our thoughts In other words, the reality of every individual is inherently subjective and shaped by their thoughts.

It may seem that a person can be influenced by other factors such as their social or family pressures, but their conformity to these pressures can be considered a free choice, because it can be reversed at any time – something that many people have successfully accomplished. Psychological studies have shown that in order to make a large change in an individuals thought patterns (and subsequent behavior and reality), the individual must believe in the efficacy of the method used and put conscious effort into it’s application. They must also be mindful and open to their current situation in order to perceive it with calmness and clarity rather than with judgment and negative emotion. We can therefore conclude that the perceived reality of an individual cannot be a mirror of an objective reality independent of them, but is defined and shaped by the individual in ways that the individual is free to alter.  If an individual is free to alter reality, it is difficult to argue that he or she is limited by anything other than the decision not to – a free choice in itself.

The nature of the quantum is intrinsically and fundamentally random and open to possibility. Because the human mind bears a greater resemblance to the quantum than it does to the terrestrial and celestial objects that adhere to the laws of classical physics, it is probable that consciousness is more related to the quantum realm than to the physical. It has also become clear that the psyche is somehow involved in the determination of the visible properties of matter, which is how it entered the domain of scientific enquiry. Although the exact nature of observation in quantum theory is still not known, psychological research supports the premise that consciousness and choice have a transcendental ability to not only influence the behaviour of quantum physical systems but also the structure of the brain – physical reality.

The notion that thoughts cause behaviour that then has a direct impact on physical reality is well established in psychology, and is used successfully in cognitive behavioral therapy to help individuals change certain aspects of their lives. It is also used in political, war, media and marketing strategies such as advertising, hoaxing, political campaigning, propagandizing and many more. Successful manipulation strategies that start with a thought can have devastating and enormous implications in the real world, and this is not a new discovery. The novel discovery is that one individual can influence his or her own thoughts, behaviour and reality with the same impact, and it is this discovery that lends support to the premise that Everything we are, will be and in fact have been is therefore self-created.

Aknowedgement
This paper is the result of collaboration between myself (Michael) and Kristina.  I put forward the ideas and the structure and after many discussions Kristina undertook the bulk of the research and wrote the final version of the paper. Without her deep understanding of the workings of the mind and her outstanding research ability the paper would be nothing more than thoughts floating around in my head.

References

Baars, B. J., & Edelman, D. E. (2012). Consciousness, biology and quantum hypotheses. Physics of Life Reviews.Barr, S. M. (2003). Retelling the Story of Science. First Things, 16-25.
Begley, S. (2007). The Brain: How The Brain Rewires Itself. Time Magazine.
Boelens, P. A., Reeves, R. R., Replogle, W. H., & Koenig, H. G. (2012). The effect of prayer on depression and anxiety: Maintenance of positive influence one year after prayer intervention. The International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine, 43(1), 85-98.
Feynman, R. P., Leighton, R. B., & Sands, M. L. (2011). The Feynman lectures on physics: Mainly mechanics, radiation, and heat (Vol. 1). Basic Books.
Goswami, A. (2001). The Gifts of Quantum Physics. In The Physicists’ View of Nature (pp. 197-206).
Springer US.Schwartz, J. M., Stapp, H. P., & Beauregard, M. (2005). Quantum physics in neuroscience and psychology: a neurophysical model of mind–brain interaction. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 360(1458), 1309-1327.
Young, A.M. (1996) Has There Ever Been a Paradigm Shift? Online essay:http://www.arthuryoung.com/paradigm.html

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