The Mind and the Quantum: Complementary Perspectives

by Jochen Szangolies

Figure 1: Result of asking the NightCafe-AI to draw ‘quantum consciousness’: all of the bits and pieces seem evocative and intriguing, but fail to assemble into a coherent whole. A taste of things to come?

Reading the words ‘mind’ and ‘quantum’ in close proximity on the internet rarely inspires great confidence. Indeed, all too often, all this indicates is that you’re about a click away from learning about life-changing techniques of ‘Quantum Jumping’ to a parallel reality where all your wishes come true, using ‘Quantum Healing’ to ‘holistically’ heal the ‘bodymind’, and other What the Bleep Do We Know!?-esque nonsense. Therefore, in writing about the fraught intersection of quantum mechanics and the study of consciousness, one is faced first with the challenge of convincing the reader that there is actually something of value to be gained from investing their attentional resources. So let me first consider arguments against the relevance of quantum mechanics for consciousness.

First, of course, mere woo-by-association does not make a good argument. That people have misused the buzzwords of ‘quantum’, ‘mind’, ‘consciousness’ and the like to promote shoddy self-help strategies does not entail that they can’t be combined in a sensible, and ideally even illuminating, way. But there are commonly-cited objections that deserve serious consideration.

The most common is the ‘large, warm, and wet’-argument. Quantum mechanics is often (if somewhat misleadingly) considered to be the ‘science of the small’, whose effects are typically observed at length scales far removed from everyday sizes, and thus, from brains. Furthermore, quantum effects typically requires systems to be well-isolated from the environment, to not fall prey to decoherence effects. But brains aren’t generally thus isolated—indeed, in a sense, it’s the very point of a brain to interact with the environment. Finally, quantum systems, to limit interaction, often have to be cooled down to a few degrees above absolute zero, something that again isn’t conducive to the proper functioning of a brain. Read more »

Translating Descartes

by Leanne Ogasawara

1. The philosopher and the translator

It was probably the most interesting translation job I ever had. Hired directly by the philosopher himself, my task was to translate into English a series of talks and papers he would be delivering in the US and Europe in the coming year. Philosophy being what I studied as an undergraduate, I had high hopes for the job. But my Japanese philosopher quickly became frustrated with me.

Leanne-san, is it possible for you to forget Descartes while you translate my papers? He wrote superciliously in a style of Japanese designed to be condescending beyond belief.

Well, this took me by surprise! Was it possible that I was guilty of an unconscious Cartesianism? Surely, he must be joking; for had I not studied at the feet of the great Heidegger scholar, Hubert Dreyfus, who had made it his mission to demolish Descartes in front of our very eyes –before turning to Heidegger? In all my philosophy classes, in fact, Descartes (always referred to as “the father of modern philosophy”) came up again and again–mainly in the form of other philosophers’ reactions to some aspect of his work.

So much so, that sometimes I think my understanding of Descartes is itself a rejection of Descartes.

And so, I informed my philosopher that not only had I forgotten Descartes long ago, but that I had no plans to ever remember him again.

He was not convinced and pressed his point. Read more »