Thursday, September 1, 2011

Quantum access

Continuing our IPS discussion on privileged access here are some excerpts:


This reference might also be relevant: First-Person Methodologies, particularly the first section, "Inside-Outside: The Misleading Divide."


I appreciate this paragraph from Varela and Shear:

"First, exploring first-person accounts is not the same as claiming that first-person accounts have some kind of privileged access to experience. No presumption of anything incorrigible, final, easy or apodictic about subjective phenomena needs to be made here, and to assume otherwise is to confuse the immediate character of the givenness of subjective phenomena with their mode of constitution and evaluation. Much wasted ink could have been saved by distinguishing the irreducibility of firstperson descriptions from their epistemic status."

Just a few more excerpts from Varela, touching on ground already covered here, but supportive anyway. And which still leaves for me the question of the leap from diving into the “subpersonal” to some degree and the connection with “the same unity” for every particular conscious awareness given the degree to which we cannot dive.

“The progress of cognitive science (as well as the development of psychoanalysis) has made familiar the idea that something might happen for a subject, and in that sense be subjective, but nevertheless not be accessible to this subject. We naturally describe such a case by saying that the subject is not conscious of the phenomenon in question. A distinction must therefore be introduced between conscious and non-conscious phenomena, or again between conscious and sub-personal subjectivity. The notion of consciousness itself is clearly meant primarily to designate the fact that the subject knows about, is informed about, or in other words is aware of, the phenomenon.

“It might be tempting to conflate the two concepts of phenomenal data and conscious subjectivity. But the notion of non-conscious or subpersonal phenomena argues against that move…[but] we need to put into question the assumption that the demarcation line between the strictly subpersonal and conscious are fixed and given once and forever. First-person methodologies include as a fundamental dimension the claim that this is a movable line, and much can be done with the intermediate zone” (3-4).


The comments by Varela in the last paragraph you quoted bear, I believe, on my own comments to kela regarding the 'trained attention' of (some) meditators: I also was suggesting that that 'line' between conscious and unconscious is moveable.

About the 'same unity' question:  this reminds me of some of the territory we've explored in a number of ways regarding Wilber's discussion of subsisting and existing phenomena in his appendix on postmetaphysics.  From this perspective, a person positing an 'underlying unity' might legitimately claim that such unity subsists in other (past, developmentally prior, or otherwise 'other') worldspaces, but not necessarily that it ex-ists (e.g., that 'the same unity' as the one you intend stands out for and is recognized by such individuals).  In positing such subsistence, if we regard that move as acceptable, I would suggest that this is still not a 'view from nowhere,' but a situated and enacted meta-view: the speaker's perspective or 'frame' is still implicit in this claim.  "From where I stand, it is appropriate to posit this universally for all, regardless of whether it is recognized or not" (e.g., all cats have atoms and cells, even if atoms and cells do not stand out or ex-ist in cats' worldspaces; all sentient beings have sense-experience, even if the notion of 'sense-experience' does not ex-ist for them; all mammals experience affect, even if the notion of 'emotion' does not ex-ist for most of them; etc.)  But this is still "from where I stand" (enacting this meta-view).


The line is moveable but by how much? I'd suggest that compared with what remains inaccessible the movement is negligible. (I appreciate infimitas' post on access consciousness in the machine thread.) Accepting for the sake of argument the little bit of conscious awareness we do have increases so as to enact more comprehensive worldspaces, such that we may claim mammals have affects whether they recognize it or not. But a claim to a universal unityall that exists, subsists and ex-ists—based on a very small amount of conscious awareness seems unwarranted. The warrant seems to be that we all have full and direct access to the All in each and every moment of conscious awareness, despite the level of enacted worldspace, since the latter limitation is causal, classical, Newtonian. The All is acausal, as is our very awareness. The part is in the All and the All is in the part, to paraphrase the slogan for the Three Muscateers. It's not that different from similarly “enacted” metaphysical and traditional religious—or “spiritual” if you're slightly more aware—views. Or Wilber's metaphysical view that the Absolute does not have a view or kosmic address but rather is the emptiness that measures any relative kosmic address. And, full circle*, a version of privileged access.

* A full circle being an ideal Platonic form that has no shape or boundary.


Your post above is premised on a notion that consciousness has a size: compared with what remains, the little bit of conscious awareness, the awareness we have increases, a very small amount of conscious awareness ...

Can you tell me what you mean by giving consciousness a "size"?  I see consciousness as inextended both spatially and temporally.  I don't know what could be meant by sizing consciousness.


Conscious awareness has a size in that it is comparably smaller in scope than the cognitive unconscious. And I'm not suggesting that the latter is infinite in scope either. So I'm not understanding how this itty bitty piece of conscious awareness is infinite in scope, which seems to be your claim? Unless I'm misunderstanding?

See this post on quantum consciousness, wherein the author distinguishes between an effective and a fundamental theory. The former, like we’ve pointed out in this tread, might not be “true” in any empirical sense yet be useful, like the example of beings on other planes of existence referenced earlier. Fundamental theories like quantum mechanics are experimentally valid and the trouble happens when the effectors start using QM to support their arguments. He cites as an example the debate with Harris and Chopra, discussed on the forum here. (This can also happen though when experts in one field, say QM, extend their findings into philosophical realms wherein they are far less adept, perhaps even with the likes of Bohr and his philosophical speculations.)

He points out that Chopra’s claim that QM physicists agree, for example, that “all things in the universe are interconnected and that a conscious observer is necessary” is spurious. While some obviously do many do not, and that:

“It is not the mainstream belief. Most physicists believe that these fundamental quantum mechanical concepts break down on their own above a certain point, which Chopra seems to be completely unaware of. (The majority consensus among physicists is a principle called decoherence, where the quantum behaviors collapse when a system reaches a certain level of complexity ... so quantum principles just don't apply to systems larger than an atom or so.)”

QM seems hardly applicable to the entire universe, consciousness and everything. He goes on:

“Quantum consciousness"…is the idea that the mental processes of consciousness cannot be explained by normal information processing science. Instead, consciousness may actually be the product of information processed by quantum information theory, and mimic the operation of quantum computers. Two intriguing discussions of this subject are being carried out across the blogosphere - one on the Huffington Post by information theorist Ervin Laszlo and the other on NPR's 13.7 by biologist Stuart Kauffman. These discussions are much more precise, without quite the level of ‘woo-woo’ that Deepak Chopra goes into…. Since quantum consciousness is still such an early subject, everyone who talks about the subject is stepping a bit outside of their areas of certainty ... so it, too, will likely remain quite muddled as well. As Sam Harris points out when Chopra brings up Roger Penrose (one of the originators of the idea of quantum consciousness), the idea has more detractors than could fill the hall they're speaking in.”

I guess all the detractors, even within QM, must be classical physicists in drag unbeknownst to themselves, as they are not consciously aware of their philosophical underpinnings?

Also see this forum thread.

Another sample is this from the SEP entry on consciousness, the section on quantum theories. For example, would this excerpt be an example of privileged access to the nature of reality?

“Others have taken quantum mechanics to indicate that consciousness is an absolutely fundamental property of physical reality, one that needs to be brought in at the very most basic level (Stapp 1993).”

This goes to Balder’s questions about what privileged access entails, just a claim to privilege of one’s own consciousness and/or whether this leads to claims that such also provides “evidence” for the nature of reality, since consciousness IS that reality and I have access to it, here and now.

I'll be interested to hear what Tom has to say about privileged access and quantum consciousness, then.  (I must say, though, that I don't think it's fair to equate what Tom has been saying with Chopra's much-less-thought-out or philosophically astute quantum mishmash, or to refer to "quantum consciousness" as if there were only one basic quantum-influenced theory of such, when in fact there are many, some flimsy and some more compelling.)

I recall reading an article several years ago, discussing an experiment by a European physicist interested in demonstrating conclusively that quantum principles do not apply beyond the micro level (therefore countering the challenge quantum theory supposedly poses to classical / realist models of the universe).  The scientist argued that, if his experiment failed, then he would be forced to take quantum implications seriously at the macro level as well.  The experiment did fail, and he remarked that his experimental efforts indeed were compelling him to accept a quantum view of the macro-world after all, but was nevertheless still reluctant to really digest that...  

What would you say, Ed, about such things as matter and energy?  Are we justified in calling them fundamental properties of reality, or should we just avoid such language altogether?


I don't consider them philosophical speculations, Ed, nor did Bohr.  They are, rather, necessary implications drawn from the single fundamental observation that energy is quantized.  Those implications *are* the theory of QM.... Sorry, it just happens to be true....It necessarily is.  Tell me where a form of action in the universe does not occur in a quantum manner.  If you can identify such place, you've demonstrated your point.

It seems to me that nobody knows what energy is.  Before one can exclude that consciousness is fundamental (as energy is), don't you think we should get a grasp on what energy is?  Care to take a stab to tell me?  It's a complete mystery, so far as I can see, yet people use the word energy as if they have even a smidgen of an idea of what they mean.  The same holds, in my opinion, for that common word matter, which people tend for some reason mysterious to me to differentiate from consciousness.  What is matter?  Oh it's energy.  What is energy?  Oh, it's matter ...


Balder and Tom, thanks for playing along. I ask because I'm genuinely interested in the responses because I don't have answers, just questions. And doubts. I in no way meant to equate Tom's view with Chopra's, just providing the latter as one extreme of the quantum consciousness argument. But even the more nuanced and sophisticated arguments for it are not “fact” but purely speculative, because I agree with Tom that no one even knows what energy is. I don't know. But matter and energy are much more likely candidates for something “fundamental,” there is much more consensus with physicists about that than about consciousness as a candidate. Or equating the latter with said energy.

As to what form of action does not occur in a quantum manner, didn't I just quote someone who said the majority of physicists agree that the quantum does not manifest about the level of the atom? Again, because the majority say so doesn't make it necessarily true. Perhaps Bohr was ahead of the curve. Genius usually is. Still, it would appear it is not an established fact that the quantum is active in the macro world, and the argument that “it just happens to be true” is more evidence of a claim to privileged access.

And what we do know about conscious awareness, at least as far as measurable veracity, is that there is a huge difference between “insentient” matter and biological lifeforms. I know, how can conscious experience grow out of insentient matter? Just because I might know that either is no “reason” to jump to conclusions that consciousness must have been there in the first place. What I do know is the point I've been trying to make here: That to make such claims are versions of privileged access. Which is not to say that if we admit that our arguments are per se fallacious. Just that we are making metaphysical claims, and a major focus here is the postmetaphysical.
So again we come to interpretation. The wiki on interpretations of quantum mechanics offers some alternatives to Tom's “just the way it is.” For example the many worlds view:

“There is no (indeterministic and irreversible) wavefunction collapse associated with measurement. The phenomena associated with measurement are claimed to be explained by decoherence, which occurs when states interact with the environment producing entanglement, repeatedly splitting the universe into mutually unobservable alternate histories—distinct universes within a greater multiverse.”

Another version of the above is the many minds theory:

“The many-minds interpretation of quantum mechanics extends the many-worlds interpretation by proposing that the distinction between worlds should be made at the level of the mind of an individual observer.”

Both of which seem pertinent to the relational view, one that seems more akin to an enacted worldspace of progressively more comprehensive interpretations:

“The essential idea behind relational quantum mechanics, following the precedent of special relativity, is that different observers may give different accounts of the same series of events.... Consequently, if quantum mechanics is to be a complete theory, relational quantum mechanics argues that the notion of 'state' * describes not the observed system itself, but the relationship, or correlation, between the system and its observer(s).”

* Kennilingual stage?

And to refresh some of kela's initial comments on p. 1 of this thread, to see if I'm keeping on track:

“1. People are not necessarily experts on their own experience, and often times the mind plays tricks on us; being fallible humans, we are subject to self-deception. And 2. while there is no reason to doubt that you may have had some experience or other, I see no reason to make the ontological claim that X (God, or Krishna, or what have you) exists simply because you have had some "experience" or other. To claim so is to interpret the experience and to draw an inference from that experience that is not necessarily justifiable.

“Another thing I have an 'issue' with, which is related to the above but not necesssarily the same, is the supposition that meditation allows us access to the 'inner workings' of the mind, and of its 'inner structure.'"

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