Thursday, June 28, 2007

Mindful Universe

Henry Stapp's work in this field is among the best and most advanced. I'm pleased to see that he has a new book out and that it's actually getting a thoughtful review -- along with the usual, predictable reactions from the uninformed.

Stapp writes very well and his views are grounded in a thorough understanding of both classical and quantum physics. Although I differ with him on a few basic points, his ideas regarding perceptual states and quantum states will, I firmly believe, prove to stand the test of time. Lockwood and I arrived at the same set of conclusions -- all of us independently of one another.

I am also quite intrigued by his ideas regarding the Quantum Zeno Effect (QZE) in relation to William James' thoughts on the selective role of attention.

Herewith an excerpt from the review:

Henry Stapp is well known for his complex theoretical discourses on the nature of the mind and brain. A distinguished quantum physicist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Stapp has been exploring these topics for over 50 years. The Mindful Universe represents the latest effort in his ongoing crusade to convince the cognitive and neurosciences that the transition away from classical physics and towards quantum theory is long overdue. Stapp’s core argument is that cognitive and brain scientists are stuck in a paradigm of classical physics which is outdated and inaccurate. The text is carefully crafted to make his point from several complimentary directions, as well as to briefly refute other contemporary theorists who advocate alternative positions. While Stapp considers this a book for the lay reader, it is definitely not mass market material. There are far fewer equations than in many of his other writings, but any serious reader will find a basic understanding of contemporary consciousness and quantum theory helpful before picking up this text. The book opens with chapters presenting the core tenets from the Copenhagen and von Neumann interpretations of quantum theory, often in the words of their founders along with commentary from Stapp. His wider view of quantum theory is summed up well by the following passage:

The original form of quantum theory is subjective, in the sense that it is forthrightly about relationships among conscious human experiences, and it expressly recommends to scientists that they resist the temptation to try to understand the reality responsible for the correlations between our experiences that the theory correctly describes. (p. 11)

In these opening chapters he diligently works to establish the case that most of these powerful thinkers strongly believed in a causal gap within quantum theory that makes it an open system into which free choice can enter. Citing the fact that “purposeful action by a human agent has two aspects” (p. 23) he draws heavily on theories involving “…the interplay between the psychologically and physically described components of mind-brain dynamics, as it is understood within the orthodox (von Neumann-Heisenberg) quantum framework” (p. 15).

From Science & Consciousness Review