Consciousness and the Collapse of the Wave

Consciousness and the
Collapse of the Wave Function
David Chalmers
[and Kelvin McQueen]
Two Questions
• What is the place of consciousness in
• What is the reality behind quantum
• If consciousness can’t be explained in
physical terms, then it is nonphysical and
• But if the physical domain is closed,
consciousness can’t play a causal role.
Quantum Mechanics
• Quantum mechanics postulates a wavelike
reality where things don’t have definite
properties, but we experience a world with
definite properties.
• How can this be explained?
The Wave Function
• In classical physics, systems are described
by definite values
• A particle’s position is specified by a
definite location.
• In quantum mechanics, systems are
described by wave functions.
• A particle’s position is specified by a wave
function, with different amplitudes for
different locations.
• Sometimes a wave function will specify a
definite position (all the amplitude at one
• But often it will specify multiple positions
(nonzero amplitude at many positions).
• Then the particle is in a superposition of
different positions.
The Schrödinger
• The wave function usually evolves
according to the Schrödinger equation
• Systems that start in definite states tend to
evolve into superpositions.
• When one measures a quantity (such as
position), one always observes a definite
• When a system is in a superposition of
values, the measurement might reveal any
of these values, probabilistically.
The Born Rule
• If one measures position, the probability of
finding that the particle is at that position is
given by the Born rule.
• The probability depends on the wave
function’s amplitude at that position.
• After measurement, the wave function
enters a new state corresponding to the
measurement result.
• Initially: a superposition of position.
• After: a definite position (an eigenstate). • This process is often called collapse.
Formalism and Reality
• Something like this story is standard
formalism for predicting measurement
results in quantum mechanics.
• But what is really going on in reality?
The Measurement
• The formalism says collapse takes place on
measurement; but measurement is an
imprecise notion.
• What is measurement?
• And how can it play a fundamental role in
physical dynamics?
Schrödinger’s Cat
• Hidden-variables (Bohm):
• Particles have definite positions all along
• Many worlds (Everett):
• Even macro systems are in superpositions
• Spontaneous collapse (GRW):
• Collapses happen randomly
• Collapses happen in reality, triggered by
measurement events.
• One needs to precisify the notion of
measurement and clarify the basic
Two Options
• Measurement = observation by
• Consciousness triggers collapse
• Measurement = a physical process
• A physical process triggers collapse
• Hypothesis: There are special properties, m-
properties (m-quantities or m-observables).
• Fundamental principles: m-properties can
never be superposed.
• A system’s wave function is always in an
eigenstate of the m-operator.
• Whenever an m-property enters a
superposition, it collapses to definiteness.
• Whenever it is about to enter a
superposition, it collapses to definiteness.
• Probabilities are given by Born rule for the
associated m-operator.
What are M-Properties
• One could in principle take any property to
be an m-property.
• Different choices of m-properties yield
different interpretations.
• Illustrative idea: m-properties = position of
special particles, m-particles.
• Fundamental or not (e.g. molecules)
• Law: M-particles always have definite
• Dynamics given by mathematics of
continuous strong measurement of mquantities.
• As if: someone external to the system was
constantly measuring m-quantities.
• Whenever a superposed property becomes
(potentially) entangled with an m-property,
that property collapses.
• E.g. a photon with superposed position
interacts with an m-particle
• The m-particle probabilistically collapses
to definite position, so does the photon.
• Initially: Photon is in superposition P1 + P2,
M-particle is in location M.
• Photon interacts with M-particle in a way
that would produce P1.M1 + P2.M2
• M-particle collapses onto M1 or M2
• Result: P1.M1 (or P2.M2). Photon collapses
M-Particles as
• The M-particle in effect acts as a measuring
• If an M-particle is in a slit of the double-slit
experiment, it collapses the position of a
superposed photon.
• M-particle = Medusa particle (everything it
looks at turns to stone).
Medium Rare
• M-Particles would need to be rare enough
• So that superpositions could persist,
yielding the interference effects we see
• But they can’t be too rare
• E.g. found in macro systems or brains, so
that measurements always yield results
Constraints on MProperties
• Same constraints on m-properties
• Rare enough that observed interference
effects don’t involve m-properties
• Rules out position, mass, buckyballs
• Common enough that measurements
always involve m-properties
• At least present in brains
Some Candidates
• Configurational properties of complex
systems (e.g. molecular shape)
• Molecular energy (above a threshold)
• Tononi’s phi (above a threshold)
• Mental properties (e.g. consciousness).
Different Predictions
• Different hypotheses yield different
empirical predictions
• Interferometer: try to prepare a system
in a superposition of m-properties, see if
interference effects result.
• Very hard to test! (So far: buckyballs?)
• But in principle makes all this testable.
• Is energy conserved?
• Is this compatible with relativity?
• Are there infinite long tails?
• What about the quantum Zeno effect?
• Are m-properties fundamental?
Consciousness and
• Consciousness collapses the wave function?
• von Neumann (1932), London and Bauer
(1939), Wigner (1961), Stapp (1993)
• Never made rigorous.
Consciousness as an
• Hypothesis: consciousness is an m-property
• I.e. consciousness can never be superposed
• Whenever consciousness is about to enter
a superposition, the wave function collapses
Entanglement with
• Take a superposed electron: S1 + S2
• We consciously perceive it, potentially
yielding S1.C(S1) + S2.C(S2)
• Consciousness collapses probabilistically to
C(S1) [say], electron collapses to S1
• Result: definite state S1.C(S1).
Virtues of Consciousness
as M-Property
• Conceptual: clarifies measurement
• Epistemological: saves observation data
• Explanatory: explains nonsuperposability
• Metaphysical: fundamental property in law
• Causal: physical role for consciousness
Physicalism and
• This is consistent with physicalism
• Consciousness is complex/physical
• Also consistent with dualism
• Consciousness is fundamental/nonphysical
• Not consistent with panpsychism!
Causal Closure
• Philosophers often reject dualism because
physics is causally closed, leaving no role for
• In fact, physics leaves a giant causal opening
in the collapse process.
• Perfectly suited for consciousness to fill!
Physics and Philosophy
• Physicists often reject consciousnesscollapse because of dualism
• Philosophers often reject dualism because
of incompatibility with physics
• Independent reasons for rejection needed!
Property Dualism
• Consciousness is a fundamental property,
involved in fundamental psychophysical laws
• Epiphenomenalism: unidirectional laws,
physics to consciousness
• Interactionism: bidirectional laws
Bidirectional Laws
• Physics-to-consciousness law:
• Physical quantity P (e.g. Tononi: high-phi)
yields consciousness
• Consciousness-to-physics law
• Consciousness is never superposed
• C-collapse yields P-collapse
Worry: Macro
• Worry: Unobserved macroscopic systems
will be in superpositions
• Response: This depends on the complexity
of property P; but if so, so be it.
• C-Collapse is empirically equivalent to P-
collapse: P (e.g. high-phi) is an M-property
• Quantum zombie worlds?
• Response: C-collapse has extra explanatory,
metaphysical, and causal virtues.
Test for Consciousness
• An empirical criterion for consciousness?
• Say we find empirically that property P is
associated with collapse
• This will give us (perhaps nonconclusive)
reason to accept that P is the physical
correlate of consciousness
• Especially if P is independently plausible
as a correlate, e.g. high-phi.
Worry: Causal Role in
• What about a causal role in action?
• Consciousness collapses brain states that
lead to action (.red causes ‘I’m seeing red’)
• Collapses of agentive experience yield an
especially direct role
Worry: Dice-Rolling
• Consciousness is just rolling quantum dice
• Yielding probabilistic outcomes the same
as in quantum zombies
• Doesn’t make us more likely to behave
intelligently or say ‘I’m conscious’
• But: at least it’s playing/explaining the role
Worry: Quantum Zeno
• Quantum Zeno Effect: Frequent quantum
measurement makes it hard for measured
quantities to change
• Worry: continuous collapse of
consciousness will make it hard (probability
zero) for consciousness to evolve
Quantum Zeno Effect
• How to handle Quantum Zeno Effect?
• Intra-consciousness dynamics?
• Intermittent collapse?
• Realist representationalism: collapse
represented properties.
• C-collapse interpretations promise
• an attractive, empirically testable
interpretation of QM
• an attractive approach to the mind-body
• A place for the mind in nature?