GUEST ESSAY: The Idealistic Model

By Adur Alkain

(This is a guest essay submitted to the Metaphysical Speculations Discussion Forum, reviewed and commented on by forum members. The opinions expressed in the essay are those of its author. For my own views on the subject of this essay, see my book The Idea of the World and a Scientific American summary of one of the book's core contentions.)

Source: Wikipedia.
I’m proposing an idealistic interpretation of quantum mechanics. This is not an original idea, but my purpose is to formulate it in a clear, simple way. This is the essential outline:

  1. There is no “physical world” (understood as a world of objects that exist outside observation). There is only observation.
  2. Quantum mechanics doesn’t describe a hypothetical world of very small objects (subatomic particles, waves, fields, etc.). Quantum mechanics describes the probabilities of future observations.
  3. Observation can be defined as a special modality of conscious experience that is bound by the laws of physics.
  4. The laws of physics are the laws of observation.

Please note that this idealistic interpretation is slightly different than the traditional “consciousness causes collapse” interpretation. It is not that consciousness somehow influences the physical world. There is no physical world. There is only consciousness.


According to this interpretation, all observers see and experience the same world because they all are bound by the same laws of observation, the laws of physics


This interpretation is also distinct from panpsychism. It is not that “subatomic particles” like electrons or quarks have minds, or some kind of mental properties. There are no subatomic particles. Quarks and electrons are nothing but mental constructs derived from an inaccurate interpretation of what the laws of physics (the laws of observation) actually say about the world. In other words, quarks and electrons only exist in human minds as vague mental concepts, or in the virtual world of the laws of physics as mathematical abstractions.

In my understanding, this very simple idea solves all the apparent paradoxes and problems of quantum mechanics, like the measurement problem, wave-particle duality, etc. It also solves the main objection that has been traditionally made to philosophical idealism: the fact that all observers seem to perceive the same world. According to this interpretation, all observers see and experience the same world because they all are bound by the same laws of observation, the laws of physics.

Ultimately, the reason why we all perceive the same world is that we all are “entangled”. In quantum mechanics, the moment a system (it could be a single electron, or a complex observer) interacts with another system, both systems get entangled. That means that we all are entangled. Maybe I never interacted with you, but I surely interacted with somebody that interacted with somebody that interacted with somebody... that interacted with you. That's why we see the same moon.

In other words, the laws of quantum mechanics apply to the whole physical universe as a unified system, including all observers. There is only one wave function. The idea is that a single wave function describes in principle the whole universe.

The primacy of the fundamental laws of physics precludes solipsism.

Three levels of reality

To illustrate the implications of this idealistic interpretation, I will comment on Einstein’s famous objection (originally directed at the Copenhagen interpretation): “Do you really think the moon isn’t there if you aren’t looking at it?”

If we look closely at the word “moon”, we can recognize that it refers to three different realities:

  1. The observed moon: the moon as it appears to an actual observer.
  2. The mental moon: the moon as a thought or mental concept.
  3. The physical moon: the result of the physical laws that predict the probabilities of the moon being observed by any possible observer at any given point in spacetime.

We can call these three distinct realities moon1, moon2 and moon3. In answer to Einstein’s question, we can say that moon1 only exists when it is being observed by at least one conscious observer, moon2 exists independently of any observation, but only in our minds, and moon3 exists in the virtual realm of the fundamental laws of physics, the laws of observation. This moon3 or “physical moon” exist only as pure potentiality (the probabilities of moon1 occurring), but its existence is as reliable and objective as the hypothetical “material moon” postulated by materialism. There is no added “fuzziness” in this interpretation. All the known laws of physics stay in place.

If we apply the same analysis to “elementary particles”, we find a slightly different result. Let’s take a quark, for example. We can see that:

  1. quark1 doesn’t exist as such: quarks can’t be observed directly; they can only be “detected” through a complex process of applying mathematical calculations to actual observations (under very specific conditions of measurement).
  2. quark2 (“quark” as a mental concept) doesn’t exist as such, either; it is not possible for the human mind to have a clear and consistent concept of such a thing as a “quark”. Like electrons and all other “elementary particles”, quarks are sometimes thought of as particles, sometimes as waves, sometimes as fields, etc.
  3. quark3 (“quark” as defined by the laws of physics) is the only real meaning of the term “quark”. Quarks (like all other “particles”) are nothing but mathematical abstractions, described in the standard model of particle physics.

Thus, we can distinguish three distinct levels of reality:

Level 1 is the level of observation. This is the “classical world”, the world that we perceive. It doesn’t exist outside our observation. Therefore, it is subjective. On this level, each observer inhabits a different world (seen and experienced from a particular location and perspective). But all those worlds are connected through entanglement, and therefore are consistent with each other (all observers are bound by the same laws of observation, the same wave function.)

Level 2 is the level of thought. This is the world we create in our thoughts. It can take the form of pure imagination and fantasy, or the form of a mental model based on observation, the mental model of a hypothetical world that exists “out there”.

Level 3 is the level of pure potentiality and mathematical abstraction. This is the world of the laws of physics, the laws that describe the probabilities of observation. It is an objective world, but it only exists in virtuality.

Many scientists tend to confuse these three levels, which results in all kinds of misunderstandings.

We can postulate the existence of a more fundamental level of reality, level 0. This would be the level of Platonic ideas and of pure consciousness or “mind-at-large”. We can speculate that, from the point of view of mind-at-large, all the multiple worlds of level 1 appear as unified into one. This would be an objective, unified, real world, the sum of all observations. In this view, individual observers could be understood as the sense organs of mind-at-large. But these metaphysical speculations lie outside the realm of physics, and therefore outside the scope of the present essay. Physics deals solely with the three levels of reality described above.

Implications of indeterminism

According to this interpretation, the laws of quantum mechanics are fundamentally indeterministic and probabilistic. This indeterminism leaves open the question of what “decides” the result of any given quantum-level event (collapse of the wave function). I will venture to suggest two opposed and verifiable hypotheses:

  • the stochastic hypothesis: the results of quantum-level events are purely random, strictly obeying the probabilities described by the wave function.
  • the volitional hypothesis: an inherent quality of reality that we can tentatively name “volition”, or “will”, decides the outcome of quantum-level events, within the range of probabilities described by the wave function.

This could be tested by repeating a quantum-level experiment as many times as possible, while the experimenters-observers tried to influence the result with their “will”. For example, a very simple system with two possible outcomes of 50%-50% probability should give results with a 50-50 distribution, according to the stochastic hypothesis. A statistically significant deviation from this expected distribution would support the volitional hypothesis. A 50-50 distribution would not necessarily invalidate this hypothesis, though. Volition, or will, could be a property of the underlying reality (mind-at-large), not accessible to individual observers.

Copyright © 2018 by Adur Alkain. Published with permission.
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11 comments:

  1. I snap my fingers, and at that moment ... all humans are gone. Instantly. No more humans to make an observation.

    Where does everything else go? (Including animals, life on other planets that may include other living bipeds, other solar systems etc...)

    If you're saying humans need to be "the observers," that's mighty anthropocentric. We aren't that important.

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    1. Your point is logical Joseph, yet it may have a hole. As a naturalist, I understand explicitly (moon as example) how many of earths creatures and functions are "entangled" with moon. I would have to imagine that all of these observations are the sum of the example here. Humans just may have a better grasp of it.

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    2. As far as I can tell from my reading of the above, this is not an issue because the grand unified waveform, so to speak, would roll on, regardless of the presence or absence of individual human consciousnesses.

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  2. I suppose humans need to be the observers to make it known we see something otherwise without humans, humans wouldn't know they saw something. Animals have their own observational world as well it's just that we can't communicate such constructs to them and they can't reply to us with how we view communication. Yes, humans are destined to be anthropocentric, purely selfish, as I believe we are innately born to construct the world in our minds so that we can continue to thrive in this world as a species that makes whatever sense to us in order to continue to exist as humans.

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  3. I feel as it is a pitty that thinkers and authors (for some reason it pays not to discuss here) seems to want so much to have their own points of view to succed and surpass the others that they do not consider them, even when they are so aligned. It is like God, Alah & Jeovah discussed among the main religions... They all think there is only one true god... obviously their one. The 3 ascertain very similar properties to their gods, say the are unique and completely refuse to think that they might all be right, and deeded not to discuss about it, that it might just be a matter of point different cultural points of view about the same Thing... Comming back to the issue at hand... here we see a very interesting point of view from an author discussed by another one that seems to hold very similar views... something that the physicist Thomas Campbell has already exposed in his My Big TOE theory (www.mybigtoe.com.br - www.my-big-toe.com) and goes as completelly unoticed. Has to do also with Brian Whitworth to one side (information) and Donald Hoffman to the other side (Consiousness). Would all this people come together without prejudices and really hear what the others are saying we could by now have a much consistent advance for the Idealims point of view that is about to explode into our faces... But this is a very good article anyway... one thing is what I desire and another is how reality and humans behave in dayly business....

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  4. And, as the author may well know, such experiments as those described at the end of the article in fact have been carried out, see Dr. Dean Radin, PEAR Labs, and others. Thus, the volitional hypothesis does have the weight of experimental evidence behind it.

    However, I can't help wondering if the truth might be somewhere in-between. Perhaps the "baseline" or probablistic model represents a sort of default matrix for the world of matter as we know it, but will or volition is also able to act within that matrix and change it.

    Or, perhaps that matrix itself is simply a one grand will, and smaller wills are able to compete with it in relatively minor ways. This could indicate some kind of theism.

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    1. The key, could be that our 'volition', is just our, not the decision of the universe.

      The universe, as the Quantum Mechanic set, has not one future, but many futures, coming to each decision on each place and each time.

      They are like many rivers who are coming to your place, and when they come to you (Your 'present'), only one take place.

      But before, all exist, not in time, but on their place, like the wave functions of the particle in the two-split experiment.

      And our 'voliion', only can interact with the universe in 'trying' to increase one probability, and reduce the other.

      But it is NOT our decision, it is the universe decision.

      Yes, experiments show the efect is NOT zero, and this is glorious.

      And it is science.

      But the decision who set wich river coming from future, reach you (For instance, if you should have an accident tomorrow, or get a new job, or lost you phone, or,,,,,,, any decision), never, never, should be 100% on any conscience, human or not human.

      It is a principle of the universe, the free creation of the present from the future, never 100% from the past.

      Henry Stapp, set this in a very nice work, 'the role of human mind in a quantum universe'.

      It is a strong grounded work, step by step, about what is any 'event' in this universe.

      In fact, it is a new symmetry, the symmetry of the many futures that come to any decision in the present.

      They are real in their wave function space.

      And this symmetry, is broken, when a conscience, adquire information on observation (This is the idea that emerge from H. Staap, any observation is a source of information that does not depend on all the past).

      The symmetry of the being.

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  5. Bernardo, I understand you about your fight against the limits of the scientific methodology, but you must be very carefull. Science , at his root, not the XXI century science, but XIX science, was the look for truth, whatever it was (Henry Poincare, the value of science, 1905).

    But since midle XX century, the science has been subordinated to political and echonomic considerations.

    The CERN, need about 1.400 millions euros each year.

    'Science', 'Nature', are property of very big publication groups, whose owners, two german brothers, are in forbes ( Stefan von Holtzbrinck, and Monika Schoeller).

    Still, mainstream science do a very good job, there achievements are really big.

    But I agree with you, it must, it can, be moore than just a big machine.

    Still, your ideas about we as seing the same, 'because we are etanlged', is just an idea.

    And on this, I agree on scientific method, you must made some quantitative predictions.

    If not, ideas are just this, ideas.

    I am sorry for being so hard, but, as you, I am in the frontier, and I feel it is the rigth place, to look for truth, the old goal of science, before money, before fame,

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    1. The essay you commented on is not mine, but written by a guest author.
      I am not against science at all, much to the contrary. Science has been my life. But science isn't philosophy. There are scientists that confused the two, and assume a particular metaphysics (namely, materialism) as if it were integral to science. That's just a reflection of their ignorance, not an issue with science itself.

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    2. Adur Alkain was the author, not you, right, I am sorry.

      Yes, science is not philosophy.

      In fact (I am 58 years old, and have been over 25 years on R&D), I see what you say, for them 'the mechanic universe' is the frame.

      I can not accept this, the 'mechanic universe' is just an human frame.

      Once, I asked a 'skeptical', (Who never had done R&D, never got a Phd), what happen if once in time, you can see a stone levitating, and after, come back to the floor, alone, without energy?.

      "! Oh, this is due to an unknow physical law!,,, Just wait to uncover this law'.

      The universe, for them, is a mechanism, no more.

      According to them, We, are over this frame.

      ..........................................

      I think this vie, is not the way.

      Thanks.

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  6. A good summary of the position: concise, clear, and reasonable. I'd suggest, as a strategic matter, to not use the word 'entanglement' in this context as it has a well-defined meaning within physics. Obviously, though, once one accepts the existence of other minds (inferred on the the basis of observed behavior) and accepts their testimony of what they've observed, it's clear we experience a common reality and that fact requires some sort of explanation within the idealist framework. Berkeley, of course, simply said that it's all within the mind of God. Today we're looking for some new concept to replace his.

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