Disclaimer: Some of the concepts I'm using here are considered by some to be pseudo-science. I do not intend to have a hocus-pocus discussion and fairies and wizards here, my intention is to have a rational scientific discussion. If anyone feels that I am invoking any nonsensical ideas please do point them out to me with clear reasoning.


There exists a theory supposed to resolve the measurement problem in quantum physics which goes by the name of the Von Neumann-Wigner interpetation and I think it has some stigma associated with it. Be that as it may, consider for a moment that by some as yet unknown mechanism, something - which I will refer to simply as the abstract, "consciousness" for the sake of convenience - is capable not only of initiating wave-function collapse, but furthermore, capable of having some influence on the outcome of the observation. This is a supposition, I have no strong proof of this.

Given that, I reason that one can explain at least the following 2 problems in our current understanding of the universe. Firstly, the so called, "Fine-tuning Problem" which asks why the universe seems to have such carefully chosen parameters. And secondly, the action of "free-will" and where it might have a place in our reality.

The Fine-tuning Problem

I will assume that everyone is aware of this and also aware that the Weak Antropic Principle is often postulated as an explanation to this problem by suggesting that given a large selection of possible universes, the one with the right conditions for sapient life is the one which will have people like us asking such philosophical questions as "why is the universe the way it is". However, this theory relies on invoking the notion of multiple universes in some form and often comes hand in hand with multiverse theory which seems like a stretch.

Now, here is my question. Is it not possible to validate the WAP using simple quantum physics provided that the above supposition is correct? An "un-observed" quantum system will evolve in a superposition of states until it is observed and collapsed. So then, we do not need multiverse theory to explain this problem. The universe can be said to have evolved in multiple possibilities as a quantum system for some period of time (effectively having many universes evolving simultaneously) before one of the many branches of possibility 'lucks out' (statistical inevitability) and ultimately gives rise to the first ever sapient life. In that "instant" (there is no real concept of time in this abstract possibility space?), the whole universal wave-function is collapsed due to the presence of an observer, and the history of that "branch" is retroactively "collapsed" into existence. Thereby explaining the Fine-tuning problem without the need to invoke multiverse theory.

Free Will

In ancient times, Descartes postulated that the universe was divided into two realms, the physical world, and the mental (or spirit) world (this theory is known as "Descartes Duality". As we all know, this theory falls apart because in order for the "spirit" world to have any influence on the physical world, there would need to be an exchange of energy between the two worlds and this would violate the principle of energy conservation.

However, is it not true than in the funky realm of quantum mechanics, a system - right before the moment of collapse - can have many possible outcomes (sometimes infinite). If my above supposition is correct, then this abstract "consciousness" (whatever that really is) may be able to subtly influence the outcome of quantum measurements and thus, influence the evolution of the physical world from the "outside" which in turn opens the door for the existence of free-will. In the aftermath of the Newtonian revolution, the concepts of materialism, determinism, and strong objectivity came about and declared the concept of "free-will" as unscientific. It would seem to me that since the advent of quantum physics in the early 20th century, the material paradigm should have loosened its grip! We now know that the physical reality we live in is - at best - the tip of a very abstract iceberg. We are now understanding the universe in terms of abstract, infinite-dimensional Hilbert spaces! We have such mad concepts as non-locality and the uncertainty principle and yet, it seems almost as if the mainstream scientific community is still stuck in the 17th century! Why is the concept of materialism still so prevalent in modern science?

Also, note: I am not suggesting that this "consciousness" has total control over the outcomes of quantum measurements, we know from experiment (and math) that the probability distributions for these measurements follow certain patterns and rules (the Born rule), but it is perfectly possible to influence the outcome of any specific measurement without affecting the overall probability distribution is it not?


I am not trying to prove anything here. I am merely exploring a theory and am curious as to why the scientific community does not seem to look into this? There must be something I'm missing? Is it simply because they feel that this makes too many assumptions without enough tangible evidence? Is it because they feel this is too "pure" and not practically relevant? It seems to me that we have two big problems in science which fit together like a plug in a socket. On the one hand, we have no working explanation for the nature of consciousness. On the other hand, we have the Measurement Problem of quantum physics... Surely I can't be the only one noticing the correspondence here?!

I welcome any and all comments. Please feel free to disagree with me ferociously, I am looking for greater understanding. If you feel that I am barking up the wrong tree please explain your reasoning as I am very much liable to change my mind. Thanks in advanced.

closed as off-topic by DilithiumMatrix, Jon Custer, user108787, Gert, user36790 Nov 29 '16 at 9:00

  • This question does not appear to be about physics within the scope defined in the help center.
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    "my intention is to have a rational scientific discussion" so where are your facts, your evidence, your predictions, your hypotheses? What are the ways to validate/invalidate? Those are necessary for a rational scientific discussion. – DilithiumMatrix Nov 28 '16 at 19:14
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    This is not the proper forum for a scientific discussion. It is a Q&A site. The Help Centre says If your motivation for asking the question is “I would like to participate in a discussion about ______”, then you should not be asking here. However, if your motivation is “I would like others to explain ______ to me”, then you are probably OK. (Discussions are of course welcome in our real time web chat.) – sammy gerbil Nov 28 '16 at 20:37
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it's searching for a philosophical discussion instead of scientific answers. – DilithiumMatrix Nov 29 '16 at 0:01
up vote 2 down vote accepted

I am not trying to prove anything here. I am merely exploring a theory and am curious as to why the scientific community does not seem to look into this? There must be something I'm missing?

Firstly, without meaning in the least to sound patronising, I think you have a very good question, but I will try to list the problems that I think physics has with your question.

To be blunt, you are not proving anything here. You don't have a theory, you have a hypothesis. This implies that no facts to support your argument are supplied, which would tip the balance towards a theory, as would any predictions made in your question.

Any answer you get regarding the involvement of conciousness (however it is "created/generated", will involve a degree of personal opinion, in the same way as a question regarding "life" after death /ghosts, will, in my opinion, ( you see, here we go with the opinions:) also involve personal feelings, biases, prejudices etc, because in both situations we have no physics based definite theories that we can use to explore the subject further.

That's, again imo, why the science community, or at least the physics section of it, does not look into it, because there is nothing to definite to go on.

If you were, for example, to provide a theory with supporting evidence that ghosts existed, and that you could somehow summon them on command and others could replicate your findings, then of course physics would investigate, but we both know, so far anyway, that nobody can treat ghosts in the same way as we treat a scientific theory like General Relativity, that makes predictions (which we can and do test, daily), which explains physical phenomenona that earlier theories could not, such as the motion of Mercury.

Be that as it may, consider for a moment that by some as yet unknown mechanism, something - which I will refer to simply as the abstract, "consciousness" for the sake of convenience - is capable not only of initiating wave-function collapse, but furthermore, capable of having some influence on the outcome of the observation. This is a supposition, I have no strong proof of this.

Short answer, nobody else has proof either. I can give you 6 or 8 different causes for the nature of reality, (as could lots of people on this site) but I can't even start to prove a single one of them.

On the one hand, we have no working explanation for the nature of consciousness. On the other hand, we have the Measurement Problem of quantum physics... Surely I can't be the only one noticing the correspondence here

My "answer" to that is, we have two mysteries (which again is a personal opinion, look up decoherence, as some will say, there is no mystery to solve in the first place). But these issues, to stay on safer ground, may or may not be connected.

I think your question will be closed because, although everyone likes a mystery, not many people like paying to see unsolved movies, and that is the central point I am trying to make. It does not seem that the physics community can proceed along either of these issues with the paucity of evidence we presently unfortunately possess.

I'll be honest, I expected as much... The thing is I don't want to have some silly conversation with philosophers! I want hard physics from people who know what they're talking about. Instead, no progress is made because we refuse to look in new places... Physics should be trying to explain everything

I know you expected as much, :), and you know my answer is the only answer I can give you :), because you wanted an answer based on the physics method, which is experimental and math based, so I can only answer in those terms.

Every so often even a professional physicist or a mathematician (and I am not one of either) asks a similar question on this site....because people want to know, which we both know is what separates us from sheep, say. As I am sure you already know, Einstein and Bohr spent a good bit of their time on this, (as have you, I'm sure). It has not given us a definitive answer in over a century of debate.

It's as if the physics community has decided that physics ends at this arbitrary boundary and won't look into anything unless it's on the right side of that line.

Ok, I would like to keep the philosophy out of it as much as possible too. Take the conscious mind. Physics can tell you, to some degree, how we make and store memories, pretty much the way as primates do, but physics can't tell you how we humans are able to imagine how a house or bridge looks before it's built, but a non human animal, no matter how big it's brain, can't achieve that level of abstraction. Why not? In other words, we spend at least as much time in an abstract world as in the real world, and yet our genes are 94% ( or some figure like that) as close to certain primates. Why is that? I have no idea.

I would absolutely not agree that the physics community has drawn a line in the sand on these issues. Iconclasts exist in every field, and if any particular physicist thought his/ her time was best spent "solving" how we can think abstractly, and prove their theory to the same experimental standards as in other areas of physics, they would do it. Physicists, AFAIK, can often be as competitive, ego-driven, and posterity minded as people in any other field of human enterprise.

But they don't do it because, mainly I believe because there is no obvious open crack in these issues that can be expanded and exploited to make a math based theory that can be tested and makes predictions, that is to follow the physics principles that work for every other accepted theory.

Perhaps if theoretical physicists would spend some time thinking about these concepts they would come up with testable predictions

They do, they really do think about these concepts, the interpretation of quantum mechanics is still debated, it's just that no new insight has been expanded enough to convince enough people "to give it legs" and become more openly debated.

Physics should be trying to explain everything.

Of course it should, within the experimental framework of physics, which as I say above, finds it difficult to get a physical toehold on the topics you raise. We are thinking about how we think, that's pretty philosophically based, (unfortunately), at the moment.

I don't agree that my "hypothesis" makes no predictions. Consider this experiment. If consciousness is capable of influencing the outcome of particular observations, then have a person consciously trying to influence the outcome of a spin up/down measurement to go "up" at certain times and other times not to try at all and see if there is any slight skew in the distribution as a result of their conscious influence on the system. Repeat the whole process many times to eliminate statistical anomalies. When has anyone ever tried to consciously affect the result of a quantum measurement in a lab?

I don't know offhand, but I would be extremely surprised if this has not been tried lots and lots of times and I bet you a beer, the results are inconclusive and are completely random. I would doubt that Nature/ Reality/ God???, would make it that easy for us. It's something you could do yourself, and actually you do a version (the many worlds interpretation) of this experiment every time you try to predict the future. I invariably get the future wrong, and I would think you do too.

Also, I have looked into decoherence in the past and it was my understanding that it does not even try to resolve the measurement problem? Decoherence is a theory for the mechanism by which information is "lost" to the environment but it does not explain what causes collapse in the first place. Have I misunderstood?

Now I admit I am on iffy territory here. It was my assumption that decoherence is one of the reasons why for example, quantum computers are difficult to build, as outside influences affect results on a quantum scale without human conscious being involved directly, but obviously indirectly when we notice the machine has started to behave like a normal computer, rather than one that exploits a superposition of states.

You could ask a question here on this site, and / or read up on this topic easily enough on the Web. It is my understanding that some physicists believe decoherence extends further into the quantum world that others. I do apologise, I simply never followed the arguments over it, ( they are probably beyond me), but at least it is physics and it is testable.

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    I'll be honest, I expected as much... The thing is I don't want to have some silly conversation with philosophers! I want hard physics from people who know what they're talking about. It's as if the physics community has decided that physics ends at this arbitrary boundary and won't look into anything unless it's on the right side of that line. Perhaps if theoretical physicists would spend some time thinking about these concepts they would come up with testable predictions. Instead, no progress is made because we refuse to look in new places... Physics should be trying to explain everything. – JeneralJames Nov 28 '16 at 16:31
  • I don't agree that my "hypothesis" makes no predictions. Consider this experiment. If consciousness is capable of influencing the outcome of particular observations, then have a person consciously trying to influence the outcome of a spin up/down measurement to go "up" at certain times and other times not to try at all and see if there is any slight skew in the distribution as a result of their conscious influence on the system. Repeat the whole process many times to eliminate statistical anomalies. When has anyone ever tried to consciously affect the result of a quantum measurement in a lab? – JeneralJames Nov 28 '16 at 16:35
  • Also, I have looked into decoherence in the past and it was my understanding that it does not even try to resolve the measurement problem? Decoherence is a theory for the mechanism by which information is "lost" to the environment but it does not explain what causes collapse in the first place. Have I misunderstood? – JeneralJames Nov 28 '16 at 16:46

You say that you "do not intend to have a hocus-pocus discussion and fairies and wizards here", but then you start out with fairies and wizards right off the bat with your supposition of "some as yet unknown mechanism" that has all sorts of mystical powers. The fact that you choose to give this mechanism a fancy name rather than call it "hocus-pocus" makes no difference. It is at this point where you have already left the realm of science.

Other than that, I will just note in passing that there is no "fine-tuning problem", since the issue referred to by this name is nothing but a pseudo-problem invented by confused minds.

Finally, the problem of free will has been explored in-depth in philosophy. Suffice it to say that the concept of "free will" is not simple, and everything depends on what we mean by this term. I do not think that going into the philosophical discussion of these topics is a productive endeavor in a physics forum.

So, the reason the scientific community does not look into these topics is simply that they are not in the realm of science.

  • I thank you for your answer but I disagree that this is not in the realm of science. Science is supposed to be the pursuit of knowledge is it not? The current scientific community has hit a road block and what we have here is a theory that - with a little development - could explain away so many problems in physics but no one aside from a handful of people is taking it seriously purely because it's automatically regarded as mysticism, a point you very well demonstrated in your answer. I don't believe this is mysticism at all, this is the beginnings of a scientific theory. Continued... – JeneralJames Nov 28 '16 at 16:24
  • Just because the theory invokes consciousness, does not make it some kind of religious philosophy. Consciousness is a very real, very prevalent aspect of the universe. What hope does the scientific community truly have of ever understanding everything if they refuse to consider theories which include consciousness? It is quite clear that materialism can never explain the phenomenon of conscious experience. If we're not going to look beyond the physical, then how on Earth are we ever going to understand consciousness? I very much regard this as a physics issue, not a philosophical one. – JeneralJames Nov 28 '16 at 16:27
  • On a different note, please could you elaborate on your statement that "there is no fine-tuning problem"? Is it not true that there are certain parameters in the universe such as the gravitational constant that - had they been different by even a small amount would have led to a universe that could not have supported life? – JeneralJames Nov 28 '16 at 16:40
  • It is probably true that there are certain parameters in the universe that - had they been different by even a small amount, they would have led to a universe that could not have supported life. So what? The fact that we are living in such a universe is a simple tautology. Nothing follows from it, and there is no need for an explanation. Like I said, this is nothing but a meaningless pseudo-problem. As for your other questions, I do not believe it will be productive to pursue this discussion along the lines you are forcing it. – Pirx Nov 28 '16 at 17:37
  • All physics rests on assumptions. New theories are often posited by presupposing something or another and putting the results to experimental test. You also have no basis for saying that the fine-tuning problem isn't a problem... – boson Nov 28 '16 at 20:11

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