A Review by Allan Combs and Jeffery Martin
Science and Consciousness Review,
June 24, 2007
Edited by Andy Ross
Mindful Universe: Quantum Mechanics and the Participating Observer
Henry P. Stapp
Springer, 198 pages
Henry Stapp is well known for his views 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.
to establish the case that a causal gap within quantum theory makes it an
open system into which free choice can enter. 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." Stapp draws on and
extends von Neumann's process 1 and 2 theories, adding a process 0 to
represent the process which determines the free choice on the part of the
"It is the absence from orthodox quantum theory
of any description on the workings of process zero that constitutes the
causal gap in contemporary orthodox physical theory. It is this 'latitude'
offered by the quantum formalism, in connection with the freedom of
experimentation, that blocks the causal closure of the physical."
Stapp also adds a process 3 to represent the process that selects the
probing action. Taken together, processes 0-3 represent the major components
of how Stapp views the practical, empirical ontology of quantum theory.
Stapp sees the brain as a quantum system at the lowest level of
physiological brain function. He says we need to see the brain's nerve
terminals and calcium ion channels as quantum in nature: because these
foundational components are best understood in quantum terms the brain
itself must be treated as a quantum system.
Stapp introduces his
action template theory involving microscopic brain states capable of
producing particular actions if held for a sufficient length of time. He
links such actions to von Neumann's process 1:
"Whether or not the
'Yes' component is actualized is determined by 'nature' on the basis of a
statistical law. So the effectiveness of the 'free choice' of this process 1
in achieving the desired end would generally be quite limited. The net
effect of this 'free choice' would tend to be nullified by the randomness in
nature's choice between 'Yes' and its negation 'No'."
His own theory
addresses this problem by drawing on the quantum Zeno effect. One feature of
the dynamical rules of quantum theory allows for a stabilization of sorts
regarding actions if a string of process 1 events can occur in rapid
succession. Essentially if the initial process 1 request is selected by the
outcome of the quantum event this action can be held in place by a rapid
number of additional similar requests. Stapp believes that this rapid series
of additional requests requires mental effort. Here he reaches back to find
a kindred spirit in William James.
Stapp reviews recent developments
in neuropsychology that support his view. For example, he notes that
empirical evidence seems to suggest that conscious effort is correlated with
brain activity. According to quantum mechanics, the microscopic
uncertainties must rationally be expected to produce macroscopic variations
that need to be cut back by quantum reductions.
Consistent with his
Jamesian view of cognition, Stapp argues for the quantum brain as a
"collection of classically conceived alternative possible states of the
brain" all existing as parallel parts of "a potentiality for future
additions to a stream of consciousness."
Overall, this book is a
rigorous and demanding reflection drawn from a lifetime of thought by one of
the leading theoretical physicists of our day.
A Quantum Look at How the Mind Works
By Lynn Yarris
The Berkeley Lab View, January 7, 2005
Edited by Andy Ross
A new model of the human mind and how it works "provides neuroscientists and
psychologists with an alternative conceptual framework for describing neural
processes that works better than behaviorist therapies based upon a robotic
conception of human beings," says Henry Stapp, a theoretical physicist at
"The time has come for science to confront the serious
implications of the fact that directed, willful mental activity can clearly
and systematically alter brain function; that the exertion of willful effort
generates a physical force that has the power to change how the brain works
and even its physical structure," says Stapp's collaborator Jeffrey
Stapp's investigations into the physics of consciousness
arose from his efforts as a theoretical physicist to understand the quantum
features of the physical world. "The most important innovation of quantum
theory is the fact that it is formulated in terms of an interaction between
the physically described world and conscious agents that are free to choose
which aspect of nature they will probe."
The physical activity inside
the brain depends heavily on chemical and ionic processes. For example, the
release of a neurotransmitter is controlled by the motions of calcium ions.
The activity of these ions is accurately modeled by quantum mechanics.
In Stapp's quantum model, the brain forms an expanding cloud-like
structure in a high-dimensional state space.
AR (2010) Stapp's views are
challenging but I like them. I think there's something there, even if it
takes us a century to work out the ideas in a practical form.