Copenhagen interpretation claims this, but have we actually verified this? There exist two options:

  1. Objective collapse: Consider a large isolated box inside which there is a macroscopic classical system and a microscopic quantum system. At some time $t$, the microscopic system becomes entangled with the macroscopic system. After some more time, there will be decoherence and the density matrix will diagonalise. The decoherence itself doesn't lead to the "picking" of any one eigenvalue. Copenhagen interpretation claims that, after this decoherence, one of the eigenvalues will get "picked" according to some unknown collapse mechanism.

The problem is that this not just an interpretation. This is a different theory! Its predictions deviate from standard quantum mechanics. Standard quantum mechanics says that the entire box will evolve according to the Schrodinger equation. But this Copenhagen theory is saying that the system collapses mid-way before we even open the box.

Since this Copenhagen theory is verifiably true or false, has it been verified by experiments? I believe experimental evidence is so far against this. People have shown that decoherence is reversible in many complicated entanglement experiments. Decoherence is unitary.

If objective collapse is experimentally false, then the other option is:

  1. Subjective collapse: This says that one system can collapse another quantum system from its own subjective point of view, but the combined system still evolves unitarily from an external observer's point of view. According to this, that system in the box will evolve completely according to the Schrodinger equation.

The problem with this is that it's making completely unverifiable claims. Whether a quantum system can subjectively collapse another quantum system or not, it will have no observable effect on the outcome of our experiments, as our experiments only evolve according to the Schrodinger equation. Subjective phenomena are, by definition, unverifiable, in the same way consciousness in unverifiable from an external point of view. You can only verify that you yourself can collapse the wavefunction. You can't verify if other people can do it, you can't verify if inanimate objects can do it.

Many worlds interpretation has identical problems. You can only verify that you yourself end up in one of the worlds. The rest of the world must always be in a superposition relative to you, for agreement with experimental results.

SUMMARY : Based on all of this, I am saying that consciousness collapsing the wavefunction is the only thing that has been experimentally verified. If we insist that all macroscopic objects can do it, we'll have to verify objective collapse, which deviates from the Schrodinger equation. If we insist that all macroscopic objects can do it subjectively, then that's unverifiable and it's the same as saying that inanmiate objects have a subjective experience.

But, the consciousness collapse theory has long been discarded from mainstream science. Then, what is wrong with my reasoning? Are physicists hoping that there will be a non-linear "objective collapse" correction term to the Schrodinger evolution?

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    $\begingroup$ "I am saying that consciousness collapsing the wavefunction is the only thing that has been experimentally verified." How has that been verified? Can it even be done in a scientific way? $\endgroup$ Sep 15, 2022 at 6:55
  • $\begingroup$ @flippiefanus I already addressed this. We've each verified it for our own. We can never verify it for other people. And if we insist that inanimate objects can subjectively do it, then it's the same as saying that everything is conscious, that everything has an unverifiable subjective experience.. If we insist that inanimate objects can objectively do this, then it means a deviation from the Schrodinger equation which is lacking experimental evidence. $\endgroup$ Sep 15, 2022 at 7:01
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    $\begingroup$ Hence, it is subjectively verified, which means it is not a scientific statement. $\endgroup$ Sep 15, 2022 at 7:03
  • $\begingroup$ @flippiefanus No one is there to contest it. It's been unanimously verified. On a side note, are you saying that there exists a deviation from the Schrodinger equation, or that every object can collapse wavefunctions in their subjective experience? If it's the latter, then you're saying that a subjective experience exists for objects, which is the same as saying that subjective experience causes collapse. $\endgroup$ Sep 15, 2022 at 7:13
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    $\begingroup$ You cannot apply Born rule 'mid-way'. Born rule is about measurement, so if you apply Born rule, you are at the end of the unitary evolution, not mid-way. And since QM is not counterfactual, there is nothing the theory says about the contents of the box in your experiment until you open it. It seems to me that what you are proposing here is simply a variation of the old Wigner's friend thought experiment. $\endgroup$ Sep 15, 2022 at 12:57

1 Answer 1


You are right that objective collapse theories and Copenhagen collapse theories make (in-principle) measurably different predictions than pure unitary evolution (Everettian or Many Worlds theory).

All experimental observations so far are consistent with NO objective collapse. That is, experiments have been performed that put bounds on parameters leading to deviations from the unitary Schrodinger equation and all of these experiments find the parameters to be consistent with zero (of course with some small error bar).

The main efforts I'm aware of towards exploring this are performing macroscopic interferometry measurements and optomechanics. Both are attempting to make bigger and bigger superpositions and look for excess decoherence of quantum states beyond that expected due to known environmental coupling mechanisms.

None of this is to say that objective collapse is false. The existing experiments are consistent with NO objective collapse, but they're also consistent with objective collapse happening only for superpositions bigger than those that have been tested so far. In the future an experiment may be performed that finds a deviation with unitary evolution, but that has not happened yet.

  • $\begingroup$ So when we say consciousness collapse is false, are we hoping that objective collapse is true? This seems like a weird attitude of the physics community to me. In the absence of evidence, we should conclude that so far experiments are in favor of consciousness collapse, that collapse is subjective experience that is unverifiable from an outside point of view. $\endgroup$ Sep 16, 2022 at 2:51
  • $\begingroup$ @LeopardMamba No, it's not the case the "we should conclude that so far experiments are in favor of consciousness collapse". Like I said in the answer, what is the case is that "current experiments are consistent with no objective collapse AND with objective collapse at larger scales than we have probed so far". $\endgroup$
    – Jagerber48
    Sep 16, 2022 at 3:19
  • $\begingroup$ What I'll say with respect to "consciousness" or "subjective experience" is that, yes, in absence of objective collapse I personally think that we require novel physical, philosophical, and neurological models of subjective experience and consciousness to solve the measurement problem. But unless we experimentally rule out objective collapse at the scale of an entire human, it will be possible that there is in fact objective collapse that helps solve mind-body type mysteries with the measurement problem. $\endgroup$
    – Jagerber48
    Sep 16, 2022 at 3:22

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