Quantum Theory Won’t Save The Soul

By Neuroskeptic | December 22, 2013 6:04 am

Could quantum mechanics save the soul? In the light of 20th century physics, is free will plausible?

Such as been the hope of some philosophers, scientists (and pretenders to those titles) – but neuroscientist Peter Clarke argues that it’s just not happening, in an interesting new paper: Neuroscience, quantum indeterminism and the Cartesian soul

quantum_soul_heisenberg

Clarke first outlines the dualism of Rene Descartes, who famously believed in an immaterial human soul separate from the brain, and responsible for rational thought. But this implied that an immaterial soul could break the laws of physics, and affect some physical processes in the brain, in order to control our actions. Even in the 17th century, this was regarded as a bit much:

Princess Elizabeth of Bohemia (oldest daughter of King James VI), wrote: “…it would be easier for me to concede matter and extension to the soul, than to concede the capacity to move a body and to be moved by it to an immaterial thing.”

But the 20th century gave new life to dualism. Quantum theory taught that physics is non-deterministic on the smallest scales; most famously, Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle states that we can’t know the exact properties of any particle for sure – only the probability of finding a certain kind of particle in a certain place.

Since then, a number of authors have argued that the soul interacts with the brain by altering the distribution of quantum states, in such a way that it alters brain function. Arguably, this would not be ‘breaking the laws of physics’ in an objectionable Cartesian way. Because, thanks to Heisenberg, there was always a chance that the system would have ended up the desired way all along.

But Clarke pours cold water on this hope:

We consider whether a fluctuation within the limits of Heisenbergian uncertainty could affect the presynaptic calcium concentration by permitting a chemical bond to be modified in an ion channel, as has been proposed…

Tinkering with presynaptic calcium channels is one of the main proposals for how souls could alter neuronal firing. However,

… even with the conservative value of a time uncertainty of 10 milliseconds, Heisenberg’s equation gives an energy uncertainty of approximately 5.2 x 10^-30 J, which is about 200,000 times too small to disrupt even a single Van der Waals interaction, the weakest kind of chemical bond.

In other words, even if the soul were only aiming to influence a calcium channel for 10 milliseconds, the bare minimum it would need to, it wouldn’t have nearly enough quantum ‘wiggle room’ to make a difference (the longer the time, the less room.)

Some have argued that even tiny quantum nudges could nonetheless control brain activity, because of the butterfly effect: a small change might lead, indirectly, to a big one, in the complex system of the brain.

However, Clarke squashes this idea too. He says that the brain is actually very good at not being influenced by tiny changes. It has to be, because thermal noise – the random movement of atoms, due to temperature – is constantly throwing up tiny changes, and this noise would drown out any plausible Heisenberg-based effects:

Thus, the thermal energy of the molecules is 9 orders of magnitude greater than the energy change that can be hidden by Heisenbergian uncertainty. But the functioning of neurons has to be resistant to thermal noise. And if the Heisenbergian uncertainty is amplified by chaos or in other ways, the far greater fluctuations due to thermal energy will presumably be amplified as well.

Clarke does, however, note that not all ‘quantum brain’ theories are based around the uncertainty principle. The alternative is the idea that neuronal function involves quantum coherence; if so this might open the door for large-scale quantum effects. This is the foundation of the Penrose-Hameroff theory (not about the ‘soul’ per se, but about consciousness). However,

Coherence is thought to be rare in biology, or exceedingly brief, because molecular noise in living cells tends to destroy the coherence… a few examples of quantum effects in biology have been reported, and this new field is gaining momentum, but some of the data are controversial… To date, there is no evidence that such quantum processes are involved in neuron-to-neuron communication or brain function.

ResearchBlogging.orgClarke PG (2013). Neuroscience, quantum indeterminism and the Cartesian soul. Brain and cognition, 84 (1), 109-117 PMID: 24355546

  • templeruins

    Just like Eastern philosophical thought all along then? The influence of the Greeks, Christians, and Descartes is so deeply rooted in modern scientific thought it’s like picking out chewing gum from hair. Of course the modern scientific method has much (if not all) to owe to that Cartesian way of thinking, but no doubt it’s left us with all sort of non existent problems.

    I would also say this completely misrepresents Heisenberg’s own thinking on his principle. He had a strong interest in Eastern philosophies noticing quickly their striking similarities in his findings. To say Heisenberg’s findings propped up dualism of Descartes is really about as far away from the truth as possible.

    Heisenberg visited India (like Niels Bohr who visited China and later incorporated the Yin Yang symbol into his crest) and spoke with Tagore, and said these talks helped him hugely in his physics. Anyone who’s read can tell you the differences from Eastern and Cartesian western thought are fundamentally significant. So I’m for one slightly confused by this article’s inclusion of Heisenberg and quantum physics as a supporter of Cartesian thought.

    • Anarcissie

      It is kind of odd. A number of seemingly bright people carefully define the ‘soul’ (or whatever you want to call that aspect or dimension of things) out of existence, and then go around the barn several times to bring it back.

      • templeruins

        Even odder (or possibly not if you’ve a good understand of empiricism in western science history) is that those people are quite often hard nosed scientists. They’re trying to disprove the soul when their science never said it existed anyway. It’s so deeply ingrained though I’m not sure most scientists even know what they’re looking at.

        Maybe the author of this article is confusing wave particle duality with dualism? I don’t know, I’m at a loss how Heisenberg equates with Descartes.

        • Anarcissie

          I have seen the sort of thing the article is talking about.

          Hardnosedness is a funny thing. As you may know hardnosed 17th-century scientists resisted Newton’s theory of gravity because there was no mechanical explanation of gravitational attraction — it was ‘spooky action at a distance’.

          QM and Chaos Theory, or rather, the popularizations thereof, have caused a lot of people to embark on quasi-mechanical explanations of consciousness, will, and other mental facts, which are undeniable in experience but seem impossible to explain materialistically, unless consciousness is somehow an intrinsic attribute of matter. If you have unpredictability, even on an infinitesimal level, and a way of transporting it to the everyday world, you can produce any sort of explanation you want — a magical scientific sausage machine. Which I guess is comforting to those seriously hung up on mechanical explanations for things.

          • Vulcan With a Mullet

            Ah, but just because consciousness is impossible to explain or predict doesn’t mean that it is necessarily non-material. Plenty of things in nature are impossible to “explain” in this way, or at least can’t be explained yet, because of massive complexity and emergent properties. Examples: weather, the location of atoms in a chamber, etc. I see no reason to give the mind “special” status outside of the material world just because it is beyond our understanding, whether for now or forever.

        • Afshin Nejat

          He is doing just that. Conflating and confusing the issue to reflect his own jumbled understanding. It is question begging at its finest… going round that barn indeed.

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  • http://jaymans.wordpress.com/ JayMan

    Clarke is trying to pull a fast one. First, let me start by saying one does not need to address quantum mechanics to rule out the idea that human consciousness requires a “soul.” Neuroscience, not the least bit being the example he gives, clearly shows that a soul is superfluous. We have clear examples of the physical matter in the brain leading to the effects of cognition and behavior. Holding on to a soul is a proposition unwarranted by the evidence.

    However, trying to close off the quantum aspect to brain function is to merely delve into another debate entirely, the conflict between the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics vs. the “many worlds” interpretation. All of Clarke’s claims rest on the idea that Copenhagen is a priori correct.

    However, it’s not. The fact of the matter is, despite the many clever tricks employed by Copenhagen adherents to argue for it, is that there is simply no way to reconcile a indeterminant quantum world with a deterministic macro world. If the small world is ultimately probabilistic, so must the large world. That includes the brains within it.

    See:

    Q: Which is a better approach to quantum mechanics: Copenhagen or Many Worlds? | Ask a Mathematician / Ask a Physicist

    The natural philosophy of Quanta | elijahlarmstrong

    • Buddy199

      We have clear examples of the physical matter in the brain leading to the effects of cognition and behavior.
      ————-
      Sure, but cognition and the physical matter associated with it are apparently two separate things. It’s not possible to put the cognitions of “blue” or “sour” into a test tube even though we can precisely identify and physically isolate all of the biochemical matter associated with them. I certainly don’t know what cognitions are composed of, any more than Newton could describe gravity but had no idea about it’s actual underlying basis in curved space-time. Not having an answer doesn’t mean you can’t clearly recognize a question.

  • tonipepperoni

    “Coherence is thought to be rare in biology, or exceedingly brief”

    And what about smell? navigation of birds? Photosynthesis? Quantum biology is a developing area, and isn’t so easily dismissed. The title is disturbingly misleading and wishful.

    • J_R_K

      “Coherence is thought to be rare in biology, or exceedingly brief” …. It must be true…. I have noticed that tendency in my fellow employees, my in-laws and especially on online political forums.

    • fellah

      Those are not quantum occasions, but simple physical instances in the non-quantum world, easily explained by following the standard model. You are using a watermelon to explain motorbikes here.

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  • http://petrossa.me/ petrossa

    weird obsession with eternal existence never fails to confuse me. Already after a mere 6 decades i find that life is a bit repetitive, the idea it would last eternally scares me more then eating a vegan meal. Luckily the whole concept it’s only philosophy so totally pointless and meaningless. Mental masturbation, fun at first but after awhile boring.

    • staraffinity

      Hey, what’s so wrong about a vegan meal a priori?

      • http://petrossa.me/ petrossa

        It signals a religious bent mind. Dogmatic, following something against all better knowledge. Not the sort of mind you’d want to see in a scientist, but rather in a cultist.

        • staraffinity

          Wow, so you’re saying veganism is comparable to religion? I don’t see how. I’d say it’s a highly scientific approach. It has less of an environmental impact, it is fully possible to get all the nutrition you need and you have the etical aspect of not supporting the meat industry which often mistreat animals.

          What is religous about this and in what way does it signal a “bent mind”? I’d say it’s rather the general meat eater that has a bent mind.

          • http://petrossa.me/ petrossa

            homo sapiens has inadequate molars for vegetation squashing, one stomach with low ph so inhospitable to fermentation microbes, short intestinal tract, short gut retention. So all in all scientifically a digestive system geared towards meat, starch and fruits. Since the stomach is too small to hold enough starch& fruits to deliver enough energy for our lifestyle, homo sapiens is in effect a carnivore that can eat nuts, roots and fruits as a side dish. To make vegetation derived food read for human consumption so you won’t die of starvation enormous energy needs to be put into preparing the food. Also vitamin additives are needed if a healthy life is desired.
            So to lead such a totally artificial life you need a dogmatic mind. A bent mind, because it’s unnatural.

          • staraffinity

            Interesting, but there seems to be some misinformation included in your post or at least you’re making claims that I’ve never heard of and they certainly don’t match reality.

            First of all I’d say we’re omnivores, not carnivores. It’s fully possible for most of us to survive on a diet containing mostly meat and it’s fully possible to survive on a diet containing only vegetables, fruits and nuts. Eating only meat would probably be more difficult (if even possible) nutrition wise than eating only vegetables fruits and nuts. At least going for a vegetarian diet, i.e. vegetables, fruits, nuts, dairy products and eggs easily makes it possibly to get all the nutritions you need such as proteins, vitamins and minerals. Going for a vegan diet (i.e. skiping dairy products and eggs) is also fully possible, although I can imagine it requires some more awareness than the vegetarian diet. Maybe a high intake of legumes.

            I’m a vegetarian myself and has been that for nine years now. My girlfriend has been a vegetarian for 14 years. There’s no vitamin pills or anything “extra” added to our diet.

            “To make vegetation derived food ready for human consumption so you won’t die of starvation enormous energy needs to be put into preparing the food.”

            Is that so? I don’t see how it requires more energy than preparing a meat dish, but even if it did it requires a lot more energy to produced meat than vegetables, fruit and legumes. Here’s one graph I found, but there’s of course a lot more about this to be found online: http://www.thedailygreen.com/cm/thedailygreen/images/Nr/carbon-footprint-of-food-600×800.jpg

            I want to end by saying that I have never heard that it would affect your stomach in a bad way to go for a veggie diet — rather the opposite. But I guess people have different types of stomach’s. In any case I don’t see what it is that makes you “scared” of a vegan meal. Doesn’t sound rational and scientific at all if you ask me.

          • http://petrossa.me/ petrossa

            There is this weird misunderstanding about what omnivore means. Omnivore means ‘everything eater’. As in everything other animals eat. Well quite obviously homo sapiens can’t eat everything so that’s wrong. You can’t survive on bark, leaves, grass whatever. You can’t digest it in any form.So that’s a big portion of herbivores diet out.
            Having established we are not omnivores, the question arises what are we? And that i answered more then sufficiently and well founded. We are mainly carnivores that can eat starchy foods and fruits as a supportive dish.
            You are free to religiously believe contrary to the facts otherwise. Being silly is everyone’s right.

    • Reverend Joe Ruyle

      A good explanation of your current condition…… and, like you, at 64 there are not a great many additional things I have either the time or the money to do…… thus life IS a bit boring sometimes. But our mutual boredom is due to the finite nature of our existence…. limited time….. limited resources…… limited abilities….. etc. What if you were given infinite time, infinite resources, infinite abilities, and infinite knowledge? This plain of existence is our greatest single limitation. The gravity, the limited number of dimensions, the physical constraints of our bodies, having to deal with the construct of time, etc. In the teachings of Jesus He said “All these things you may do also.” in reference to the seeming mericles

  • Buddy199

    Q: So, a human being is nothing more than a very long, complex chemical reaction?

    A: Well…no…but…

    Even the vast majority of rock-ribbed materialists would answer as such Start by trying to unravel what the “no” part is, aside from the very long, complex chemical reaction; the most interesting of all questions humans are faced with.

    • Parallel Pain

      According to best available scientific evidence the answer to that question is : yes.
      I find it odd that people think somehow being “just animals” or “just chemical reactions” debasing. Instead of feeling inferior, they should be amazed that “just animals” or “just chemical reaction” could result in something so complicated and fantastic as human beings.

      • Buddy199

        So a human being is really nothing qualitatively different from a fire place log burning? I, and most scientists I’d say, would find that counterintuitive. What makes us different from fire place logs?

        • Parallel Pain

          And this is what I was talking about.
          In the sense that it’s all chemical/physical reactions, yes we’re no different from fire place logs. Or the sun, or the brightest star. Or a volcano. Or Haley’s comet. Or a roaring lion. But you had to pick a log.
          The difference is the amount of reactions, the place, time, type, chemicals involved, and reaction type/ chain-reactions.

          • Buddy199

            Except that fire place logs, household thermostats and neutron stars don’t strive to stay alive and reproduce themselves, among other differences with even the simplest type of life form. Biochemical reactions can certainly have more self-organization and self-replication than inorganic reactions but no one understands the leap from biochemical reactions that mimic aspects of life to an actual living organism, even the simplest type.

          • Parallel Pain

            Your research is about 2 to 5 years behind. Laboratory research of self-replicating chemicals (RNA to be specific) has been promising. And there’s case of virus: non-life that “strives” for self-replication.
            As soon as self-replication is secure, evolution takes over. Whether a thing changes conciously or subconciouly, or whether it has a contious at all, it matters not. If it doesn’t fit the environment, it disappers. Soon(ish) only those that change to fit the changing environment will be left. Even without “active” competion, a chemical that is more efficient at turning iron, for example, into a new copy of that chemical will deprive less efficient chemicals of iron. From there we go on to eventually life that has brains (and not all do) that actively, consciously try to do what they need to in order to continue to exist.
            Life “strive” for existence and reproduction because it needs to, and has evolved to do so.
            No need for soul at all.

          • September Amyx

            I’m fairly sure the human body doesn’t NEED a soul, but while the soul is on this plane, it NEEDS something on this plane to integrate with. The things on this plane are finite, the soul is not.

          • Parallel Pain

            It’s good you agree that the human body doesn’t need a soul.
            Since that is the case, every single thing the human body is capable of doing doesn’t need the influence of a soul.
            As that is the case, the burden of proof for the existence of the soul falls on, as it has always, the people (namely religious and philosophical people who are discomforted by a soul-less existence) to provide proof that the soul exist.
            And as this article points out, “soul advocates” have been clinging onto the hope that something in quantum theory could be used as evidence for the soul, or at least its necessity. But quantum theory doesn’t provide either.
            It in fact further adds weight to the scientific position that there’s no such thing as an infinite soul that is independent of the body.

          • Panda Monium

            You said ‘self-organizing!’ Love it. Ever read ‘The Self-Organizing Universe’ by Erich Jantsch? The most important book of the 20th century you’ve never heard of. Definitely will address your questions.
            We are not like a burning log because a burning log is essentially a closed system that will on its own tend to entropy. We are open systems (dissipative structures, actually. Google that!) that can take in matter/energy to decrease our own entropy. The system as a whole tends to entropy still, but our little pocket, for a while, doesn’t.

          • colindenronden

            The basic ‘meaning of life’ is to reproduce, because this is what distinguishes life from non-life. Intelligence (a high degree of order) is a force of nature in itself, it counteracts the second law of thermodynamics. The universe starts off as chaos (totally disordered) and ends up in perfect order. That is our direction.

        • Elizabeth_Reed

          Your logic baffles me: X has Y in common with Z; therefore, X and Z must be essentially identical…huh? You asked about the difference between humans and logs as though this somehow demolishes the other side’s claim, but it’s like saying, “Oh sure – yeah right – we are made of flesh and bone, just like donkeys. How preposterous! We’re nothing like donkeys.” It is true that humans are neither like donkeys nor fireplace logs (we’re not like any sort of log, actually, but I digress), and it is also true that humans and donkeys and fireplace logs are chemical phenomena.

      • September Amyx

        Your assertion is untrue. We are not just chemical reactions, otherwise we would be entirely predictable. All the other answers from scientists, even while denying a soul, disagree with this simplitude.

        • Parallel Pain

          I would also disagree with “this simplitude” because I know that chemical reactions are very complex things, and the human body is a very complex system containing countless such complex reactions.
          This is exactly what I’ve been saying. Arguing that we need a soul to differentiate us from burning logs is like Fermat’s Theorem arguing that it must be made up of a different set of numbers than that makes up Addition and Subtraction because it is far more complex than the latter two.
          Humans are not entirely predictable because this system is so complex, just like volcanoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, and the stock market. Would you argue these things have souls as well?
          Also like these things (except for the stock market) we can predict humans, whether behaviors or physical/chemical reactions, to a high degree of probability. We know a certain dosage of a certain drug would effect the mind and/or body a certain way. And everyone can tell to quite a high degree of accuracy how their closest family member will react in a given situation.

    • Christine Mattson Carlson

      Thoughts, love, fear, pain, joy, compassion, charity – Where do these come from?

  • tonipepperoni

    I’d like Clarke to elaborate on how, as a neuroscientist, how an artificially intelligent being which uses classical computation is able to experience pain or pleasure. IF not for the quantum world, how is a classical computer supposed to experience it? Do you have an idea. Even basic strategy. At least Penrose has provided some basis… but it seems the AI/neuroscience camp has maintained that ‘consciousness’ arises out of complexity… but when exactly does this complexity translate to ‘feeling’ and ‘emotion’? Is there even a philosophy behind this? It seems y’all in the same camp as everyone else: You really don’t know. So stop making pathetic titles based on scientism which is about as delusional as those who practice quantum buddhism or whatever.

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/ Neuroskeptic

      We don’t know how a classical computer could experience pain and pleasure, but I don’t think we have any idea how a quantum one could either.

      • fredflintstone

        Exactly. However, the difference is you’ve made a presupposition, and you’ve precluded a quantum mind altogether.

        There’s a few things which are interesting about Penrose’s theory:
        – The idea of Non-computability and how a quantum computer is able to facilitate non-computable knowledge.
        – Some kind of framework to tackle metaphysics/qualia

        Penrose at least provides some kind of basis on how to tackle the gap between epistemology and metaphysics. Neuroscientists are completely blind to it.

    • fellah

      It may eventually be possible, if not probable. Life, as we know it in this universe was highly improbable. But with a petri dish the size of this universe AND given 14 Billion years of chemical interactions… we managed to fluke out one instance that has survived long enough for you and I to be here, consciously discussing our own determinism.

      Be that as it may, so far, we seem to be the only species capable of doing so… out of many thousands.

      So the odds of it happening with AI are highly improbable, at least until we have the knowledge to create a machine capable of the rare phenomena similar to what happens with our brains .

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  • Helicopteryx

    It remains a fact that the act of conscious observation changes the state of the quantum wave, making the quantum phenomenon manifest in reality. Thus, consciousness (i.e. mind) is mysteriously connected to matter, in itself. It seems to imply that mind is an intrinsic property of nature rather than merely an emergent factor of neural signalling. One could think of the human brain as an amplifier, capable of amplifying the unconscious mind that permeates nature, so that it reaches the conscious level. John Wheeler’s notion of the universe as an enormous feedback loop, involving consciousness, is portrayed in the following article. According to Wheeler, human consciousness shapes not only the present but the past as well.
    http://discovermagazine.com/2002/jun/featuniverse#.Uq6mFNJDt8E
    /H.

    • Reverend Joe Ruyle

      The best explanation I’ve read so far is that there exists a subtle connection between what we perceive as consciousness and an equally elusive quality of spacetime referred to as the zero point field. Our minds all operate on slightly different frequencies and thus “tune in” to a specific part of this field. Think of it as the cosmic icloud for informational storage. In other words the thoughts we have are “backed up” on the zero point field. In turn that collection of thoughts and memories becomes our “soul” which is eternally powered by the living energy of the field. That makes the soul immortal.

    • http://www.thinkyhead.com/ Thinkyhead

      Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. The point about the observer has nothing to do with consciousness. The “observer” in any experiment is something physical, such as a detector next to the slit. All observation requires physical interaction, and no data reaches anyone except through physical media. There is nothing special about “consciousness” and in fact to say so is a complete inversion of the point. The point is that we are physical entities, and therefore are part of the system being measured. That is it! Go read up on it if your woo is still unmoved.

    • fellah

      I think you are taking observation too far here. It doesn’t change a state in the same way we turn on a switch, It simply forces a real observation and the uncertainty becomes a certain outcome.

      The observer is not manifesting a cause, they are confirming an outcome.

      The tool an observer may be required to use could have causal effects, but the act of observation is a passive recording of results.

  • John H.

    A lot of this stuff is about fear of death. That is, fear of nothingness. How can we scared of nothingness?

    • September Amyx

      It’s not a fear of nothingness, it’s the fear of destruction of self.

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  • xtra

    Straw man arguments and mixing apples and oranges. If a person follows the argument that there are “deniers” who reject “science” then why aren’t the deniers saying that airplanes can’t fly because only angels and birds can fly in the Bible? Should scientists be arguing whether or not angels exist by claiming that airplanes really do fly? These kinds of articles where no one is denying nuclear physics are trying to create cover for two theories that are denied, evolution and global warming and for the same reasons. Mixing souls and nuclear physics is as silly as using aeronautical engineering to disprove or prove the existence of angels.

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/ Neuroskeptic

      If someone who denies the validity of climatology, evolutionary biology and most of medical science uses an airplane then they lack integrity. If they were being consistent they would walk!

      • xtra

        My point is the only theories that are denied are evolution and global warming. One is prophecy backward, the other prophecy forward. “Scientist” should ask themselves why, in the most technologically advanced nation in the world, those two theories are rejected by 1/2 of the people, even after campaigns by evolution believers that, if political, would be classed as the basest forms of propaganda and intellectual coercion, fraud and assault.. America is a nation of skeptics. People come to Jesus, in many cases, after doubt and distrust. If the Christians strain the Bible for gnats, they aren’t going to swallow any camels.

        • Iknowknow1

          As someone who’s been a student o religion all of my adult life with a special emphasis on early Christianity I have found that the overwhelming majority of Christians are the most incurious group of folks one can find especially when it comes to early Christianity.
          They are not interested in the truth all they’re looking for is being right.

          • fellah

            Give this man/woman a case of ale!

        • Vulcan With a Mullet

          What world do you live in? “America is a nation of skeptics?” No, actually it’s the most religious of the first-world countries, and polls regularly show in excess of 90% of the population believing in Heaven, Hell and God.
          And evolution is “Intellectual coercion, fraud and assault”? This is.. to put it kindly… a stretch. Evolution is accepted by the scientific establishment and has been for over 100 years. Those who battle it are on the fringes of science or outside it completely. And most reputable scientists do their work quietly and don’t expect to convince the 1/2 of “evolution skeptics”.

          Yes, evolution is “prophecy backward”, in the sense that it uses physical evidence (fossil record, geological information, genetic information, observation of actual evolution in the laboratory in microorganisms, etc., etc.) to make extremely educated guesses about how life has evolved and how it continues to evolve. This is how all science works. But I doubt these facts will change your mind… I just owe it to my intellectual conscience to point them out.
          Please… stick to your own areas of knowledge and don’t try to make comments about subjects you clearly have no experience or interest in.

          • xtra

            I have an intense interest in this. Grew up on a farm and majored in biology in college. The evidence of the fossil record as per Neanderthals is fraud, speculation and myth. When any student questioned it, the student was subjected to intellectual abuse and coercion. Skeptics were not allowed. Darwin was the gospel. Dawkin’s advocates abuse and assault of any intellectual disagreement. “Just tell them they are stupid” I doubt that legitimate doubts will change your mind I owe it to my intellectual conscience to point these facts out.
            No one is born a Christian, I was raised by atheist. Yes, I subjected the Bible to careful scrutiny and found it to be true, not as a scientific treatise but as “the way, the truth and the life.” Mixing science and religion is not the proper use of either. Souls are souls, atoms are atoms. And I say the evolution as written by Darwin is myth, supposition and racism (yes, I read all his works) and as taught in the schools, is fraud, speculation and myth with belief coerced as doctrinal truth through intellectual assault and abuse.

      • xtra

        It is not my intention to write a book but I can understand nuclear physics and I can’t understand evolution.

        Consider This: In 2013, mitochondrial DNA from a 400,000 year old hominin femur bone from Spain, which had been seen as either Neanderthal or Homo heidelbergensis, was found to be closer to Denisovan mtDNA than to Neanderthal mtDNA..
        In THOUSANDS of years this creature did not mate with Neanderthals nor did it evolve.
        Now Physics.
        Consider Black Holes in 10 Dimensions: According to the Theory of Relativity, a person on earth is in 3 dimensions of space (s) and 1 dimension of time. (t) . A person traveling at the speed of light is in a different 3 dimensions of space (s), 1 time (t). Both are in absolute Time (T) Space (S). Absolute Time (T) and Space (S) is a singularity..Add them up. 10 Dimensions Total. That is the description of a black hole, as I understand it.
        My understanding may be flawed but Physics makes sense to me, evolution does not. I therefore answer, “God created the world 10,000 years ago”..but as I seem to notice in black holes, creation may be an singularity.

        • fellah

          “Thousands of years” is not very long for evolution. If people stopped thinking of evolution as a verb, but rather as a noun (i.e. an outcome) they may be able to do better with thought experiments.

          Some creatures have not changed much over millenia because they managed to survive and reproduce in their current state BETTER than their mutative state.

          Rate of change may or may not be applicable over time. Survival and reproduction are the only variables that matter.

  • Frogwatch

    One does not need to invoke the uncertainty principle to find a way for a “soul” to influence events in a non-deterministic way that does not violate laws of physics. Many systems have states that are only a bit less likely than others and an occasional nudge (by the soul) to increase the probability of one combined with another one would lead to an outcome that could not be predicted by quantum physics as being the most likely outcome but would still be within what is allowed by physics.

    Consider this example of a possibility of God acting:
    One traps a neutron in a potential well with walls if just the right thickness as to produce a half life of 3 days (based on a large number of measurements). This gadget is used to set off a nuclear chain reaction in a nuclear bomb and the bomb is placed in NYC on Friday. On Monday, does NYC still exist? 50/50 chance. By wed is it still there? (75/25 against). What about by the next Saturday? What about 300 days hence, etc. Any of these answers is allowed by physics and although the long therm survival of NYC might be low probability, it’s long term survival should not surprise anybody. God could nudge the neutron in a way that produces long term survival completely consistent with laws of physics and we would never know it.
    Similar arguments can be made for the action of “free will” (or soul) particularly if they involve multiple single events producing an outcome. One would never be able to detect any non-physical mechanism at work because the outcomes are allowed by Quantum mechanics. Further, the probabilistic nature of QM is a “complete” theory in that we need no “reasons” for why one wave function is “chosen’ over another and even asking “why” one occurs over another makes no sense.

    • Zaoldyeck

      This seems like a “not even wrong” situation. If you could estimate the degree by which God’s influence could act, quantify over what scales, or the like… you set up a falsifiable model for god. Which would involve an experiment that, I’d tend to bet, would show “no God effect” present.

      But “God can impact the laws of physics in a way that is neither quantifiable, but still implicitly there” is inherently non-falsifiable. It’s a pointless conjecture.

      Any attempts to quantify a “God” effect tend to reflect poorly on ‘God’s abilities, and any non-falsifiable postulates are banal at best.

  • Melissa Cockrell

    MelissaCockrell
    Free will is like those which way books you read in school where you get to pick your next course of action, but no matter what the ending is already planned and known (by God), but you still get a choice even tho it’s pre-planned. That’s how I perceive it at least.

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  • kentarch

    I would approach the study using sound waves as a framework…

    • Doc Lem

      Can you prove the extianse of what stares back at you in the mirror?

      • hp b

        Like cutting yourself shaving?
        It’s all an illusion.
        (but it’s really gonna hurt)

      • kentarch

        We aren’t on the same page. You’re talking philosophy while I’m talking application.

        • Doc Lem

          Philosophy is math, and all aspects of science and reason…

    • Guest

      If I had to come up with a general definition of the soul to use in this study then I would say that the soul or spirit is the entity that generates molecular processes in the brain. A lot of studies tend to approach the study of the brain by tracing the brains affect on the body. However, I suggest that the processes in the brain do not originate in the brain but rather the spirit. This article suggests that “dendrites use certain molecules to autonomously generate electrical spikes”…what happens if the dendrites aren’t behaving autonomously but are rather reacting to sounds waves that originate in the spirit? How could sound waves produce electrical spikes in the dendrites?

      http://io9.com/biologists-discover-tiny-neural-computers-in-the-brain-1453512218

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  • duelles

    If people can influence a random heads/tails machine, they can influence.. . . .? Anything else?

  • walller

    You’re looking for the soul the wrong way.
    The forest for the trees senerio.

  • hp b

    Maybe this will help..

    Google: Vedic Quantum Founders

    Vedic Quantum Founders

  • William Blight

    The empirical evidence for the soul is probably based on the existence of ghosts and spirit evidence. Not all this evidence evaporates on observation. Besides having a possible quantum component, our visible world may be intimately connected with dark matter. Since no overall theory for the universe has been created, the study of ghosts and esp phenomenon may be our best avenues of research.

  • Doc Lem

    “The Soul” is never a clear viewpoint and can’t be understood as such & hence the controversy.. If you are soul, then “The Soul” as a viewpoint is an abstraction, a concept and a path away from just being soul. I am SOUL, what are you?

  • abinico

    The soul cannot be quantified, nor can the realm from which the soul comes. There are no laws of physics in the other world.

    • September Amyx

      Actually, there are laws of physics on the immediate other side. In order to interact with this side there has to be some sort of foundation of physics used, a ‘bridge of physical law’ so to speak.

      • abinico

        The other side has no mass, no time, no dimensionality – it is beyond physics; it is beyond our comprehension. But feel free to enumerate the “laws of physics on the immediate other side” – I’d love to know what they are.

        • September Amyx

          You stated above that the soul can’t be quantified, nor the realm. Which I took to be an assertion that you know that the soul and the other realm exist. If you are right, then their interaction with this dimension has to operate within laws (of physics), which have to exist also on the other side, in order for the interaction to exist. It’s simple logic. Once we cross over, either our soul continues to operate within a set of laws it’s already compatible with, or when it crosses over it finds itself in a dimension with incompatible laws and ceases to exist. Since the soul is energy, it doesn’t cease to exist, so therefore it operates within laws compatible with energy such as the laws of physics.

      • Christine Mattson Carlson

        How do you know, were you there visiting the other side long enough that you were able to study and research the laws of physics on the other side? Your argument is illogical.

        • September Amyx

          Yes I was, yes I did, and my argument is logical.

    • fellah

      Says you.

      • abinico

        So do it fellah.

  • Afshin Nejat

    This doesn’t have the slightest impact on the REAL discussion of this philosophy of mind problem, which though perennial is not open to charlatans, neither for dismissal of a side, nor the taking of one. Not when thinking it out and deciding it philosophically is concerned. Yet “many pretenders” INDEED are jumping at the chance to put on the purple robes of Philosophy… and FAILING

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  • colindenronden

    Everything we do was determined at the Big Bang. We have the illusion of free will, it just depends on what level you want to look at. Scientists have grabbed onto the concept of randomness as an article of their ‘faith’, but all is belief, not logic. You can’t escape non-rational thought. Scientists have motives, and all motive is emotive; a machine, such as a super-duper computer, has no self-motive, it has to be programmed, and the programmer’s motives determine what it does. So if we replaced politicians with computers to run the world more rationally, we would have to make sure the programmers didn’t sneak some self-serving items in.

  • george purdy

    Penrose and Hameroff should not be dismissed in such an offhand manner. Penrose is a brilliant physicist and Hameroff is a research doctor specializing in anesthetics, the study of things that turn off consciousness. They know more than anyone else alive about the quantum physics of consciousness.

  • Near-Death.com Webmaster

    The reductive materialist model, on which conventional science is based, is fundamentally flawed. At its core, it intentionally ignores the fundamental component of existence – the nature of consciousness. The early experiments involving quantum mechanics demonstrated that consciousness has a definite role in creating reality. But it was the “quantum eraser experiments” (google it) performed in 2000 which strongly demonstrated that consciousness itself is deeply rooted in quantum processes. Quantum eraser experiments by Wheeler and others reveal that an experimenter is able to successfully chose and predict the random outcome of an event even after the outcome has already taken place. Quantum eraser experiments show how the outcome of whether or not a photon of light is a wave or a particle can be predicted after the fact by the experimenter making a random mental choice of the experiment’s outcome. In other words, the experimenter’s “after the fact” choice of the outcome actually determines the experiment’s outcome. These astonishing findings dramatically shows that the our choices made today may determine the outcome of the past. This “holistic” view of consciousness and quantum theory (as opposed to the reductionist view) can also be applied to the human brain. The “Holographic Principle” developed by Leonard Susskind which theorizes the universe to be a hologram has just recently been verified. See this article: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=universe-really-is-a-holo

    A holographic universe solves the mystery of “quantum entanglement” which Einstein called “spooky actions from a distance.” A holographic universe (which includes a holographic brain) does away with dualism as it relates to the mind and body.

    The Holographic Principle was a catalyst towards a theory of quantum consciousness called the “Holonomic Brain Theory” (google it) which explains how the brain encodes memories in a holographic manner. The Holonomic Brain Theory originated from David Bohm and Karl Pribram who synchronistically arrived at a holographic model of the mind at the same time David Bohm was developing a holographic model of the universe. Taken all together, this holographic model is part of a new emerging paradigm called “holism.” Holism is the principle of a whole system being more than just the sum of its parts. The best way to study the behavior of many complex systems is to treat it as a whole.

    One of the most amazing things about the human thinking process being holographic is that every piece of information seems instantly cross-correlated with every other piece of information within the brain – another feature intrinsic to the hologram. Because every portion of a hologram is infinitely interconnected with every other portion, the human brain is perhaps nature’s supreme example of a cross-correlated, holistic system.

    A holistic storage of memory in the brain becomes more understandable in light of Pribram’s holographic model of the brain. Another holistic property of the brain is how it is able to translate the avalanche of frequencies it receives via the senses (light frequencies, sound frequencies, etc.) into the concrete world of our perceptions. Consciousness and perception processes sources of light energy. Encoding and decoding light frequencies is precisely what a hologram does best. Just as a hologram functions as a lens which translates meaningless blurs of frequencies into a coherent image, Pribram theorizes the brain also comprises a lens (e.g., the eye) and uses holographic principles to mathematically convert frequencies received by the senses into the inner world of our perceptions. An impressive body of evidence suggests the brain uses holographic principles to perform its operations. Pribram’s theory, in fact, has gained increasing support among neurophysiologists.

    Recent evidence linking biological functions to quantum processes supports the possibility of consciousness having nonlocal quantum functions in the brain. This suggests the nature of conscious experience requires a world view in which consciousness has irreducible components of reality. This interpretation defines superpositions becoming separations in reality with each possibility evolving its own distinct universe – giving the possibility of a multitude of universes. The difference between this holographic theory and Bohr’s interpretation is that the separations are randomly selected from among the superpositioned possibilities. The superposition of these locations can then viewed as separations in the very fabric of reality. This holographic paradigm posits that such conditions have evolved within the brain – inside brain neurons – where microtubules process quantum superpositions giving us our subjective reality. This quantum process within the brain may be the basis for consciousness transcending and surviving physical death as revealed in near-death experiences. In such altered states, the quantum process of superpositions may shift consciousness to different dimensions of higher frequencies. When death occurs, it is possible the quantum information of which consciousness is made of could shift to an existence outside the brain nonlocally. This supports the idea that the mind is not a material brain.

    A corresponding theory of quantum consciousness known as Orchestrated Objective Reduction (Orch-OR) was developed by the joint work of theoretical physicist, was developed by the joint work of theoretical physicist, Sir Roger Penrose, and anesthesiologist Stuart Hameroff. Like David Bohm and Karl Pribram before them, Penrose and Hameroff developed their theories synchronistically. Penrose approached the problem of consciousness from the view point of mathematics, while Hameroff approached it from his career in anesthesia that gave him an interest in brain structures.

    Mainstream theories assume consciousness emerged from the brain, so they focus particularly on complex computation at synapses allowing communication between neurons. Orch-OR assumes classical physics cannot fully explain consciousness. In the June 1994 issue of Discover Magazine, an article ran called “Quantum Consciousness” about how consciousness and quantum physics are intimately connected. The theory of quantum consciousness suggests that consciousness can be found inside the microtubules of brain cells. At death, the information energy inside these microtubules – what some people refer to as the “soul” – doesn’t disappear; but instead, is retained in the universe. One of the fundamental laws in physics, the first law of thermodynamics, states that energy cannot be created nor destroyed – it can only be converted. So if it is true that consciousness is a form of energy, then according to the first law of thermodynamics, consciousness cannot be created nor destroyed. Instead, it is converted into something else.

    I could go on and mention other interpretations of quantum mechanics supporting a transcendent consciousness (i.e. “soul”) such as the Many-Worlds Theory, and its corresponding Many-Minds Theory, and the Zero-Point Field Theory; but I don’t have the time or space.

    The old materialistic paradigm, prevalent mostly in the West, disregards the possibility of out-of-body dimensions; whereas, the new paradigm supports them. For this reason, open-minded scientists have acknowledged the time is now to abandon the old paradigm and focus on the new one. Disregarding the old paradigm became even more reasonable when, in December of 2001, The Lancet (the United Kingdom’s highly respected journal of medicine) published the results of a study by Dr. Pim van Lommel showing 18 percent of clinically dead patients having NDEs. Lommel’s study documented verified events observed by such patients from a perspective removed from their bodies – called “veridical perception” – suggesting the existence of a transcendent consciousness. Such studies beg the question of why the scientific community at large remains mostly silent about these facts. Current near-death studies, such as The AWARE Study (google it) is trying to determine if consciousness transcends death. The director of this study, Dr. Sam Parnia M.D., is a critical care physician and director of resuscitation research at the Stony Brook University School of Medicine in New York and is recognized as an authority on the scientific study of death, the human mind–brain relationship, and near-death experience. Dr. Parnia has been part of the AWARE study, launched by The Human Consciousness Project, twenty-five participating hospitals across Europe and North America have been examining reports of patients after their clinical death, several of whom are expected to have an out-of-body experience with physical perceptions of their surroundings. A major objective of the AWARE study is to test whether the perceptions reported by these patients can be verified. One method involves a visual target being placed near the ceiling where it can only be seen by someone reading it from above; patients who report OBEs are then asked to describe it.

    Near-death studies contain multiple reports of veridical perception of events which were outside the range of the NDE experiencer’s sensory perception and, therefore, of brain mediation (See Sabom, 1998; Ring, 2006; Sharp, 2003; Ring & Cooper, 2008; and van Lommel, van Wees, Meyers, & Elfferich, 2001). In some cases, such perceptions occur while the NDE experiencer is experiencing the brain inactivity following within 10 seconds of cessation of heartbeat (van Lommel et al., 2001). Over 100 such cases are published on http://www.iands.org, http://www.nderf.org, http://www.oberf.org and http://www.near-death.com. More discussion of veridical perception is presented in a response to the article entitled, “Does the Arousal System Contribute to Near-Death Experience?: A Response” PDF icon. in the Journal of Near-Death Studies. Taken altogether, the evidence strongly suggests the possibility of NDE and OBE perception occurring without the help of the physical senses or the brain. Therefore, for skeptics to refer to NDEs and OBEs in general as “illusions” or “delusions” is jumping the gun. Mainstream materialistic scientists have yet to fully quantify the mind; while near-death researchers provide veridical evidence reported in NDEs and OBEs as examples suggesting the mind can function independent of the physical brain. According to veridical NDE experts Jan Holden and Jeffrey Long: “Even if future research convincingly demonstrated that electrical stimulation of a particular area of the brain consistently induced typical OBEs, this finding would not explain veridical perception associated with OBEs.”

    The AWARE study will release its preliminarily findings in 2014. If cases of out-of-body veridical perception have been scientifically proven, then the survival of consciousness after death hypothesis will come much closer to being a scientific fact.

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Shawn Strizek

      Interesting, indeed!

    • mbstru

      Also, some here might it find it interesting to google the works and books of Dr. Dean Radin as relevant to consciousness and psi.

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  • September Amyx

    In order for your logic to be sound, you would first have to show how
    the soul interacts on a physical level with the human body. Half of the
    data to answer this question is undiscovered, so your article is moot at
    this point in time.

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  • Stuart Hameroff

    The paper by Clarke addresses the Beck-Eccles model which doesn’t work for many reasons. Criticize this:
    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1571064513001188
    Stuart Hameroff

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/ Neuroskeptic

      Thanks for the comment.

      That paper is on my reading list!

  • abinico

    All modern theories totally fall apart if you accept that there is such a thing as precognition. And you know all modern theories are bunk if you have ever experienced precognition.

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  • t4exanadu

    I didn’t read the original article so maybe I missed it, but: how does an immaterial soul interact with a (material) brain? Invoking quantum processes doesn’t explain that, it just begs the question.

  • auntiegrav

    Basically, we are fooled by randomness because our brains evolved to distinguish and remember patterns. Survival advantage went to the brains that believed in things more than not believing in things (like an unseen tiger in the tall grass). Meanwhile, there are a lot of misconceptions on things like quantum physics and the uncertainty principle that get spread by reporters and writers. It isn’t that we can’t “know” the properties of particles, unless you mean “proved by measurement.” It’s the measurement that affects things, not “knowing.”
    As for the external consciousness: it needs to go the way of the dodo and the multi-universe hypotheses: into the trash can. We think because we have mechanisms to do so. There is ONE universe: that’s why it’s called that. If we find other properties to the universe, they become part of the universe. There is no way to travel through time except forward.

  • Archie Meijer

    Every equation we come up with, everything in science is based on human measurements and these measurements have limitations, often ones scientists don’t bother to state.

    For instance gravity is said to have infinite range, but past a certain point if it were to taper off or stop we wouldn’t notice. But when talking about gravity scientists don’t point out this limitation.

    So what if it is influenced by only the right thermal noise and in a manner not amenable to current measuring techniques, how would we know?

    Science can’t and shouldn’t be used to try to answer questions like free will v. determinism. To say we can answer this question is to say that our ability to know things is absolute, and that’s ridiculous.

    Instead of realism we should embrace instrumentalism in science. Science is a tool that derives formulas and conceptualizations that can then be applied to make an educated guess about what sort of actions or tools will work to do things we want to do. That’s it. Shut up and calculate.

    In fact in everyday life we should embrace instrumentalism. Assuming free will is real is conducive to living a better life, even according to best scientific measurements. A study showed people who don’t believe in free will tend more towards depression and anti-social behavior. So we should believe in free will because it’s a good tool to believe in it.

  • Vulcan With a Mullet

    I agree… it seems to me that there is no reason to invoke quantum effects in the mind when the sheer complexity of normal physical connections is enough to explain its function. The truth is it’s still too complex for us to get a grasp on, and that makes it easier for people to throw up their hands and blame quantum coherence, ghosts in the machine, etc.

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  • mattdisq

    The theory of soul can be predicted already even without physical and the chemical details of brain functioning and construction. Let us take the Trojan Wave Packet
    http://www.amazon.es/Trojan-Wave-Packet-Lambert-Surhone/dp/613046066X
    and suddenly remove the creating field. It is both a being and the soul in one in this example. The Hydrogen wave function spanned by the eigenstates has the time propagating phases Exp(i t/n^2). Therefore after a time being proportional to the lowest common multiple of n^2
    they will all return to 1 and the quantum states will exactly revive. Now if the wave function of the universe has rational energies while spanned it will also exactly revive and so the consciousness.
    But it the complicated evolution of the universe it may revive not precisely because of the cut-off and reality of the true energies so it may settle down approximately on the animal brain and reincarnate
    as well. For sure in the quantum universe described by the
    universal wave function the consciousness is immortal and

    nondestructive and this persistence to exist in global coherence is soul.

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  • IdPnSD

    Uncertainty principle is wrong. It makes assumptions. It uses Fourier Transform, which uses infinity. Infinity is not there in nature. Thus freewill cannot exist, and destiny theory is correct. Visit the site on Soul Theory for more details and analytical proof.

    http://theoryofsouls.wordpress.com/

  • J_R_K

    Just a touch of humor that is not really related to the subject matter of the article …..

    “…..the brain is actually very good at not being influenced by tiny changes.”

    I feel a lot better about not being to influenced by the huge changes of politically correct thought. If my brain can protect me in tiny things, why not big things, too? (I wonder if I may have some genetic predisposition at variance with political correctness?)

    That’s the good news. The bad news is that now, in a world where I used to think I knew every thing there was to know, now that all the rules have changed, every day I become more and more convinced that I know nothing at all. While the world goes to hell, I am very happy to remain in control of me…. I think.

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Neuroskeptic

No brain. No gain.

About Neuroskeptic

Neuroskeptic is a British neuroscientist who takes a skeptical look at his own field, and beyond. His blog offers a look at the latest developments in neuroscience, psychiatry and psychology through a critical lens.

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