Does Consciousness Affect Matter?

by Scott Morrice on 12/31/2011

I am finding the issue of does consciousness affect matter to be very difficult to get my head around. To my credit I did state in my A Consciousness Definition that “…some of the extrapolations made from even relatively widely accepted “base-lines” are at best controversial, and at worst, sensationalist and very misleading.” This, in the context of my commenting that there was not total unanimity among scientists in the field of Quantum Physics.

And I must admit that when I was researching, and then writing about some of the theories that arise out of the field of Quantum Physics I was particularly troubled by the notion of the “observer effect”.

You may recall that this principle states that the only time quanta manifests as particles, as something solid and observable, is when they are disturbed by being observed or measured. When disturbed, the subatomic particle that existed only as pure potential to that point collapses into one particular state, into something “real”. The idea is almost saying that when we are not looking at it, the world is radically ambiguous, and is a flowing, quantum soup. When we try to see it, and not until we try to see it, our glance turns it into our everyday reality. In fact, many writers are taking this to another level and are saying that it is consciousness that causes the collapse. The collapse of the “pure potential” into something “real” occurs at the first conscious observation of it. So, does consciousness affect matter?

As I said, when I was reading this, and writing about it, I had a vague uneasiness about it. Something about it wasn’t making sense to me, but I couldn’t really put my finger on what that was. And I still can’t really. At first I just attributed this to my failure to really understand what was being said. And that’s no big surprise, I am definitely not a physicist, and I’m not pretending to be one.

But I guess if I was to try to articulate my problem with the question of does consciousness affect matter—and this will really underline, I am sure, the depth of my failure to grasp the principles being discussed—it is as follows. I just can’t understand how we could be examining, today, the physical evidence of anything (including rudimentary forms of life) that existed before there was anything in existence around to observe it and thereby perform the function of collapsing the “pure potential” into something “real”. If it didn’t collapse into something “real” billions of years ago, how could it leave evidence behind that it did exist that we are finding today?

And then I was doing some reading yesterday on a completely different issue and I came across much material that indicated that in fact there were many, many issues with explaining the observer effect, and particularly the whole idea that it is consciousness that causes the collapse of the “pure potential” into something real. There is certainly not any kind of universal agreement among quantum physicists as to how to explain the observer effect, or even how to interpret the data that gave rise to the theory of the observer effect. In fact some argue that there is no need to explain the observer effect at all because they theorize that there is no collapse, and therefore no observer effect to explain. And there is even more disagreement in that community as to the role consciousness plays in the collapse (if in fact there is a collapse).

Notwithstanding all of this uncertainty and disagreement, and this finally gets to the point of this post, the role that consciousness plays in this collapse of “pure potential” into something “real” is very important, and even a foundation, for much that has been written in the field of Mind, Body and Spirit. And yet now we see that the whole idea of the observer effect is not an idea that has been universally accepted, even by quantum physicists. There is much controversy surrounding this idea of does consciousness affect matter, and even more controversy surrounding any extension of it, such as into the role that consciousness plays.

So I would suggest that to postulate, almost as a given, that quantum physics supports the idea that nothing in the universe exists as an actual thing independent of our perception of it, or to suggest that the idea that consciousness affects matter is at the very centre of the difference between the worldview held by classical physicists (those shortsighted “Newtonians”) and the worldview held by quantum physicists, is dangerous.

It also makes me worry that at times some of these writers are also guilty of the same shortcoming that they use so much energy in accusing the classical physicists of—and this is being close-minded and not open to any ideas or theories that threaten their own.

It’s very confusing out there!

I’ll keep you posted.

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