The Science of Consciousness:

The Physics of Consciousness

The physics of consciousness

If I ever write a second edition I would consider adding a separate chapter on the physics of consciousness. I think the material on emergence, Karl Friston's work on free energy and consciousness, and quantum mechanics, sits uneasily with the rest of the chapter on cognition and consciousness, but it was difficult to know where else to put it. The problem with talking about the physics of consciousness is that it's difficult to explain and discuss. Much of it is mathematical and requires an understanding of physics, particularly quantum mechanics, that is beyond my level of competence, and also probably beyond the level of most psychology undergraduates. That difficulty makes it very difficult for me to evaluate the work. For now, I am trying to provide as many references as possible below.

Quantum mechanics

OK, cognition and quantum mechanics are hardly things that most people of as going together, but there are several accoiunts that relate consciousness to quantum mechanics. Is it simply a case of putting together two things most people don't understand very well (consciousness and quantum mechanics), and thinking they must therefore be related? Unfortunately these theories are often very technical and difficult for most people (including me), necessitating a high level of mathematical sophistication, to evaluate properly.

The quantum mind is a term to cover a group of theories based on quantum mechanics with the starting point that classical mechanics cannot explain consciousness, and phenomena such as entanglement, superposition, and the observer effect are involved.

In any future edition I would definitely expand this section. I would discuss more about the nature of observation, collpasing the wave function, Stapp's work on free will, the Von Neumann-Wigner interpretation of quantum mechanics, and Alexander Wendt's work on the quantum mind.


Emergence is another one of those topics about which I would write more - although I am not entirely sure what. A lot is written about consciousness being an "emergent phenomenon", but I am not really sure what that means.

An analogy I've seen several times is with water being wet, where "wetness" is an emergent physical property (e.g. in the Open University physics course). But it's not. Wetness isn't in the world - it's in our minds. What makes something feel "wet" isn't exactly clear (it seems to be a mixture of evaporation and lubrication and resistance to pressure), but it's a psychological phenomenon. It's not in the world outside.

For a video of a murmuration of starlings, and links to other similar videos, see this BBC news item link.

Further references on the physics of consciousness

Jones, M.W. (2013). Electromagnetic-Field Theories of Mind. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 20, 124–49.

Schwartz, Jeffrey M, Henry P Stapp, and Mario Beauregard. Quantum Physics in Neuroscience and Psychology: A Neurophysical Model of Mind–Brain Interaction’. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 360, no. 1458 (29 June 2005): 1309–27.

Bourget, David. ‘Quantum Leaps in Philosophy of Mind’: Journal of Consciousness Studies 11 (2004): 17–42.

Mascari, S. A. ‘THE QUALION HYPOTHESES: Some New Proposals on the Physical And’. Journal of Consciousness Exploration & Research 7, no. 10 (2016): 17. Also relevant to Chapter 17 on survival and Chapter 2 on alternatives to materialism.

Stapp, H. (2017). Quantum Theory and Free Will: How Mental Intentions Translate into Bodily Actions. Berlin: Springer. ISBN 978-3-319-58301-3

Bourget, D. (2004). Quantum Leaps in Philosophy of Mind: A Critique of Stapp's Theory. Journal of Consciousness Studies. 11, 17–42.

Georgiev, D. (2012). Mind efforts, quantum Zeno effect and environmental decoherence. NeuroQuantology. 10 (3): 374–388. doi:10.14704/nq.2012.10.3.552.

General resources on quantum mechanics and consciousness

Stanford Encyclopaedia entry.

See Stuart Hameroff's resource on quantum consciousness, specifically the Hameroff-Penrose Orch OR theory.

The Quantum Mind.

On Quantum Bayesianism, including QBism, see:

Wikipedia entry on Quantum Bayesianism

Further review questions

1. Why is quantum mechanics so appealing to consciousness researchers?

2. Write a recursive program in a language such as Python. There is plenty of help online.

3. Are quantum theories of consciousness anything more than adding two great mysteries together in a hope of a solution?