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Can physics explain consciousness and does it create reality?

We are finally testing the ideas that quantum collapse in the brain gives rise to consciousness and that consciousness creates the reality we see from the quantum world.



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7 July 2021

If physical processes in a brain create consciousness, what are they?

Victor de Schwanberg/Science Photo Library

If physics explains all the phenomena in the universe, and if consciousness is part of the universe, then is seems that physics can explain consciousness.

Of course, this assumes that consciousness isn’t separate from the material reality that physics explains – which runs counter to René Descartes’s dualist view of mind and matter. Some have no problem with that. They include Daniel Dennett at Tufts University in Massachusetts and Michael Graziano at Princeton University, who argue that our intuitive sense that consciousness needs an explanation that goes beyond objective descriptions of the physical world is misplaced. Consciousness is a mirage produced by sophisticated neural mechanisms in the brain, they contend, so we need no new physics to explain it. Rather, we need a better understanding of how the brain creates models: of the world, of a self in the world and of a self subjectively experiencing the world.

Other non-dualists don’t outright deny that consciousness may have unusual properties that need explaining. If they are correct, then quantum mechanics may offer an explanation.

Quantum systems can exist in a superposition of all possible states simultaneously, and classical reality emerges when this superposition collapses into a single state. One idea is that this happens when the mass of a quantum system …

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