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‘Beyond quantum theory: a realist psycho-biological
interpretation of reality’ revisited
Brian D. Josephson
Cavendish Laboratory, Madingley Road, Cambridge CB3 0HE, UK
It is hypothesised, following Conrad et al. (1988) that quantum
physics is not the ultimate theory of nature, but
merely a theoretical account of the phenomena manifested in nature
under particular conditions. These
phenomena parallel cognitive phenomena in biosystems in a number of
ways and are assumed to arise from
related mechanisms. Quantum and biological accounts are complementary
in the sense of Bohr and quantum
accounts may be incomplete. In particular, following ideas of Stapp,
‘the observer’ is a system that, while
lying outside the descriptive capacities of quantum mechanics, creates
observable phenomena such as wave
function collapse through its probing activities. Better understanding
of such processes may pave the way to
new science.
Keywords: complementarity, subjective–objective parallelism, the
observer, state vector
collapse, epistemology
Michael Conrad was an unusually gifted scientist. My experience with
him was that if one
had a question about anything one could go and ask him about it and
get back a clear
explanation of the issue concerned, no matter what field it belonged
to. And if one was
working on an idea of one’s own and wanted some feedback, he would
always come back
with deep insights.
I will leave to others in this volume the task of explaining his many
innovative ideas, and
focus here on some specific ideas that we worked on together. One of
these was the idea
from Eastern Philosophy that in certain states of consciousness the
subjective states of the
mind, irrespective of learning, closely reflect objective reality, a
state of affairs contrary to
that of the usual assumption, whereby the contents of the mind reflect
objective reality
— page 1 —
purely as a consequence of what one has learnt about it. Such an idea
had been discussed by
Fritjof Capra in his book the Tao of Physics (Capra 1983), concerned
with the deep parallels
that appear to exist between patterns found in objective reality as
revealed by modern
science, and patterns found in deeper personal experiences as revealed
by meditation or
mystical experience and reported by the mystics. A related theoretical
idea, based on
Whitehead’s process philosophy, was developed by Stapp (1982, 1985).
This is the idea
that reality evolves by a mind-like process, decisions made by this
process being apparent in
the context of ordinary physics as the collapse of the wave function.
In our Urbino
conference paper (Conrad et al. 1988) we tried to take this idea
further (see Table 1),
proposing a number of logical correspondences between the two modes of
description (in the
original paper we called the right hand side biological, since we
regarded phenomena such as
signals, decisions and regulation as characteristically biological, a
theme developed in more
detail in Josephson and Conrad (1992)):
[table 1 about by here]
The details of quantum physics and biology are very different, but we
argued that they might
nevertheless be derivative of some common underlying subtler
background process, in the
same way that waves and particles emerge from a common subtler domain,
that of quantum
mechanics, and in some cases share certain features such as
propagation along a trajectory.
Quantum mechanics would then be the specific theory that emerges as a
good description in
some domain of nature, whilst more biological accounts would be
relevant in some other
phenomenal domain. We thus envisaged the possibility, highlighted in
some of the writings of
Bohr (1958), that biological and quantum accounts of nature might,
like the wave and particle
accounts, of certain phenomena, be complementary rather than, as with
the conventional
view, the first being entirely derivative of the latter.
We finished our paper with considerations of knowability (in which
discussion our coauthor,
Dipankar Home, played a major role), it being our view that the form
of a scientific domain is
— page 2 —
very much influenced by its paradigm. Biology concerns itself largely
with processes, while
quantum mechanics is concerned fundamentally with quantifiability. As
already noted, these
aspects may be complementary and also incompatible. Quantum mechanics
achieves its
quantitative aspects by an averaging process, but this may lead to
neglecting characteristics of
individual cases which may be relevant in the case of a biosystem,
provided we are prepared
to recognise the uniqueness of the individual case instead of treating
all cases of a class as if
they were the same. This may point to a fundamental inadequacy in the
quantum point of
view, as we illustrated by consideration of a classical gas where the
options exist for
statistical or deterministic accounts, there being an epistemology
acknowledging only
statistical properties or properties described in terms of macroscopic
fields, and also an
epistemology involving an entirely new area of knowledge relating to
individual particles.
One might then see the ruling role of quantum mechanics as an artefact
of our scientific culture
which, in the domain where quantum indeterminism is of importance, has
chosen to be blind
as regards individual cases, concern with understanding the many
possibilities having
distracted us from concern with what the one that actually corresponds
to reality for us.
Josephson and Pallikari-Viras (1991) suggested that this difference
may be important in
connection with the understanding of paranormal phenomena.
It is of interest to take these concepts further by bringing in
Stapp’s more recent ideas (Stapp
2001), which involve explicitly the role of the observer. In this
formulation, based on the von
Neumann interpretation of quantum mechanics, the observer poses
questions of nature, which
in the process of answering them becomes better defined. In Stapp’s
words, a “mental
event” occurs that “grasps a whole unit of structural information, and
injects it into the
quantum state of the universe”. Quantum mechanics does not itself
indicate what questions
are asked.
A way of interpreting this situation, consistent with the view taken
by Michael Conrad,
Dipankar Home and myself, is that the entity that poses the questions
simply falls outside
the scope of the quantum paradigm in the way that atoms and molecules
fall outside the
— page 3 —
scope of a macroscopic account of a gas. The atoms and molecules do
however show their
presence in phenomena such as fluctuations even when they cannot be
detected directly. In
the same way, the observer who asks questions of nature and creates an
reduction’ (Hameroff and Penrose 1996) as a result may be something
that lies outside the
scope of descriptions of the paradigm. But as far as the observer
himself, who may be asking
a question (or wanting to know something) is concerned, it is not a
convenient fiction but
These issues may be addressable in terms of our “beyond quantum
theory” ideas, if we
identify observers with something of the nature of an organism or
cooperating group. As
Rosen (1991, 1999) has noted, in the biological realm we may have to
think in terms of
causes and effects rather than states and their dynamics. Stapp’s
ideas fit well into such a
picture, the observer, who is outside quantum mechanics, being one of
the causes of effects
within this descriptive domain. The conclusion then is that Stapp’s
observers fall outside the
ability of quantum mechanics to characterise, but not in any way
essentially beyond our
ability to understand them and describe them in alternative ways.
Science needs to try to
understand the observer, and to respond vigorously to “the challenge
of consciousness
research” (Josephson and Rubik 1992). Physics, in advocating quantum
mechanics as a basis
for a “theory of everything”, may have moved too fast towards a too
tempting conclusion,
and thrown out the crucial and subtle intelligence of the observer as
a part of this process.
— page 4 —
Bohr, N., 1958 Light and life. In: Atomic Physics and Human Knowledge,
Wiley, New York,
pp. 3-12.
Capra, F., 1983. The Tao of physics: an exploration of the parallels
between modern physics
and Eastern mysticism, Flamingo, London.
Conrad, M, Home, D. and Josephson, B. 1988. Beyond Quantum Theory: A
realist psychobiological
interpretation of physical reality. In: Microphysical Reality and
Formalism, Vol. I, G. Tarozzi, A. van der Merwe and F. Selleri, (Eds.)
pp 285–293, Kluwer
Academic, Dordrecht.
Hameroff, S.R. and Penrose, R., 1996, Orchestrated Reduction of
Quantum Coherence in
Brain Microtubules: A Model for Consciousness. In: ‘Toward a Science
of Consciousness’,
ed. S.R. Hameroff, A.W. Kaszniak and A.C. Scott, 691–4, MIT Press,
Cambridge ,Mass., pp.
Josephson, B. and Conrad, M. 1992, Uniting Eastern Philosophy and
Modern Science,
Gujarat Vidyapith, Ahmedabad, India.
Josephson, B. and Pallikari-Viras, F., Biological Utilisation of
Quantum Nonlocality, Found.
Phys. 21, 197-207, 1991.
Josephson, B.D. and Rubik, B.A., The Challenge of Consciousness
Research, Frontier
Perspectives 3(1), 15-19, 1992.
Rosen, R. 1991. Life Itself: A Comprehensive Inquiry into the Nature,
Origin, and Fabrication
of Life, Columbia, New York.
Rosen, R. 1999. Essays on Life Itself, Columbia, New York.
Stapp, H. P., 1982. Mind, Matter and Quantum Mechanics, Found. Phys.
12, 363–399.
Stapp, H. P., 1985. Consciousness and values in the quantum universe,
Found. Phys.15, 35-
Stapp, H. P., 2001. Science, Values, and the Nature of the Human
Person, http://wwwphysics.
— page 5 —
Language of quantum physics <=> Language of information processing
quantum subsystem, describable by a state
<=> signal or form
particle type <=> type of signal or form
state vector representing a specific
<=> signal representing a specific possibility
collapse of state vector <=> decision process
measuring instrument determining state of
<=> structures which determine and regulate
signals or forms
Table 1. Proposed identification of entities described in terms of the
respective frames of reference
of the quantum physicist and the biologist. return to text
— page 6 —

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