Henry P. Stapp
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
University of California
Berkeley, California 94720

LBNL-40722 July 21, 1998

 From: http://www.swcp.com/~hswift/swc/Summer00/stapp0001.htm

Editor's Note: This 45 page paper by Henry P Stapp is available in several formats from his web site http://www.physics.lbl.gov/~stapp/stappfiles.html and from http://categoricalanalysis.com____(Acrobat Format)Only the Abstract and Introduction from this article are included herein. The reader can access the referenced web site for the remainder of the article, which provides the supporting detailed analysis for the conclusions given therein. The word "knowings" utilized herein refers,of course, to "appearances" within consciousness, thereby providing a conceptual bridge between Stapp's concepts and those of Amit Goswami in his Science Within Consciousness. Stapp, however, stops short of concluding, as does Goswami, that consciousness, an incomprehensible, pre-existing reality, is the effective agent in choosing which of the quantum mechanical possibilities is to become manifest as "knowings". Goswami draws on the ancient Indian philosophy of Advaita Vedanta for his authority for this usage of the term consciousness, as "The Ground of All Being".



The Solvay conference of 1927 marked the birth of quantum theory. This theory constitutes a radical break with prior tradition in physics, because it avers, if taken seriously, that nature is built not out of matter but out of knowings. However, the founders of the theory stipulated, cautiously, that the theory was not to be taken seriously, in this sense, as a description of nature herself, but was to be construed as merely a way of computing expectations about future knowings on the basis of information provided by past knowings. There have been many efforts over the intervening seventy years to rid physics of this contamination of matter by mind. But I use the reports at this Symposium to support the claim that these decontamination efforts have failed, and that, because of recent developments pertaining to causality, the time has come to take quantum theory seriously: to take it as the basis for a conception of the universe built on knowings, and other things of the same kind.

Quantum theory ensures that this conception will yield all the empirical regularities that had formerly been thought to arise from the properties of matter, together with all of those more recently discovered regularities that cannot be understood in that mechanical way. Thus I propose to break away from the cautious stance of the founders of quantum theory, and build a theory of reality by taking seriously what the incredible accuracy of the predictions of the formalism seems to proclaim, namely that nature is best understood as being built around knowings that enjoy the mathematical properties ascribed to them by quantum theory. I explain why this idea had formerly been incorrectly regarded as untenable, due to a failure to distinguish signals from influences: relativistic quantum field theory ensures both that signals cannot travel faster than light, but that influences, broadly conceived, cannot be imagined to enjoy that property. Failure to recognize this fact had made a realistic interpretation of quantum theory seem impossible. I then explain how our conscious knowings can play a causally efficacious and binding role in brain dynamics without violating the statistical rules of quantum theory, and describe how these features provide a foundation for understanding how consciousness could have evolved by natural selection from primitive beginnings.


The modern era was created probably as much by Descartes' conceptual separation of mind from matter as by any other event. This move freed science from the religious dogmas and constraints of earlier times, and allowed scientists to delve into the important mathematical regularities of the observed physical world. Descartes himself allowed interaction between mind and matter to occur within the confine of a human brain, but the deterministic character of the physical world specified later by Newtonian mechanics seemed to rule out completely, even within our brains, any interference of mind with the workings of matter. Thus the notion of a completely mechanical universe, controlled by universal physical laws, became the new dogma of science. It can readily be imagined that within the milieu dominated by such thinking there would be stout opposition to the radical claims of the founders of quantum theory that our conscious human knowings should be taken as the basis of our fundamental theory of nature. Yet the opposition to this profound shift in scientific thinking was less fierce than one might suppose. For, in the end, no one could dispute that science rests on what we can know, and quantum theory was formulated in practical human terms that rested squarely on that fact. Hence the momentous philosophical shift was achieved by some subtle linguistic reformulations that were inculcated into the minds of the students and practitioners of quantum theory. The new thought patterns, and the calculations they engendered, worked beautifully, insofar as one kept to the specified practical issues, and avoided metaphysical questions.

Of course, there are a few physicists who are dissatisfied with purely practical success, and want to understand what the practical success of these computational rules is telling us about ourselves and the nature of the world in which we live. Efforts to achieve such an understanding are proliferating, and the present work is of that genre. Historically, efforts to achieve increasingly coherent and comprehensive understandings of the clues we extract from Nature have occasionally led to scientific progress. The outline of the present work is as follows:

In section 2, I document the claim made above that the orthodox Copenhagen interpretation of quantum theory is based squarely and explicitly on human knowings. The aim of the paper is to imbed this orthodox pragmatic epistemological theory in a rationally coherent naturalistic ontology in a minimalistic way that causes no disruption of anything that orthodox quantum theory says, but merely supplies a natural ontological underpinning. In the special case of processes occurring in human body/brains this ontological structure involves human conscious knowings that enter into the brain dynamics in a manner that accounts for the way that these knowings enter into the orthodox interpretation of quantum theory.

In section 3, I discuss another interpretation, which is probably the common contemporary interpretation of the Copenhagen interpretation. It is coarse in that it is imprecise on essential theoretical points. Because it is common and coarse I call it the Vulgar Copenhagen Interpretation.

In section 4 the unusual causal structure of quantum theory is discussed, and is used to justify, in the context of trying to understand the role of mind in nature:

    1. the rejection of the classical ontology,
    2. the reasonableness of attempting to ontologicalize the orthodox interpretation of quantum theory, and
    3. the expectation that our knowings involve non-local aspects.

Section 5 is entitled ``All roads lead to Solvay 1927''. The 1927 Solvay conference, seventy years ago, marked the birth of the orthodox Copenhagen interpretation of quantum theory. In this section I review this Symposium from a certain point of view, namely the viewpoint that many of the highlights of the Symposium confirm the basic message of the orthodox interpretation, namely that the only reasonable way to make rational sense out of the empirical data is to regard nature as being built out of knowings. I argue that the experience of the last seventy years suggests the reasonableness of taking this interpretation seriously: more seriously than the founders of quantum theory took it. Basically, they said cautiously that the mathematical formalism is a useful tool for forming expectations about our future knowings on the basis of our past ones. That claim has been now been abundantly confirmed, also in fields far beyond the narrow confines of atomic physics. But the founders scrupulously avoided any suggestion that this mathematical formalism corresponded to reality. They either discouraged us from asking questions about what is really happening, or, if pressed, looked for reality not in their own knowledge-based formalism, but in terms of more conventional physical terms. This reluctance to take their own formalism seriously was, I think, the result partly of an inertial carry-over from classical physics, which shunned and excluded any serious consideration of mind in physics, and partly of a carry-over of an idea from the special theory of relativity. This is the idea that no influence or signal could propagate faster than light. However, in quantum theory there is a sharp distinction between signal and influence, because it can be proved both that no signal can be transmitted faster than light, and that this property cannot be imagined to hold for influences. The distinction between signal and influence has to do with the difference between the causal structure of the deterministic evolution of the {statistical predictions of the theory} and the causal structure of something that has no analog in classical mechanics, namely the {selection process} that acts within the deterministic structure that is the analog of the classical deterministic structure, but that is not fully determined by that structure. In cosmological solutions in general relativity there is usually a preferred set of advancing space like surfaces that provide a natural definition of instantaneousness. Also, there is the empirical cosmological preferred frame defined by the background black-body radiation. So the idea of special relativity that there is no preferred frame for the universe, although it may indeed hold for the formulation of the general local-deterministic laws, is not as compelling now as it was in 1905, or even 1927: that idea could very well break down in our particular universe at the level of the selection of particular individual results (knowings). Indeed, I believe it {must} break down at that level. (Stapp, 1997) So I propose to take seriously the message of Solvay 1927, that nature be understood as built out of knowings. But we must then learn how better to understand knowings, within the mathematical framework provided by the quantum formalism.

In section 6 I distinguish the two different components of the quantum mechanical evolutionary process, the unitary/local part and the nonunitary/nonlocal part, and note that our conscious knowings, as they occur in the quantum description, enter only into the latter part. But that part is eliminated when one takes the classical approximation to the quantum dynamics. Thus from the perspective of quantum mechanics it would be irrational to try to find consciousness in a classical conception of nature, because that conception corresponds to an approximation to the basic dynamics from which the process associated with consciousness has been eradicated. I note there also that the ontologicalization of the quantum mechanical description dissolves, or at least radically transforms the mind-matter dualism. The reason is this: in the classical theory one specifies at the outset that the mathematical quantities of the theory represent the physical configuration of matter, and hence one needs to explain later how something so seemingly different from matter as our conscious knowings fit in. But in the quantum case one specifies from the outset that the mathematical quantities of the theory describe properties of knowings, so there is no duality that needs explaining: no reality resembling the substantive matter of classical physics ever enters at all. One has, instead, a sequence of events that are associated from the outset with experiences, and that evolve within a mathematically specified framework.

Section 7 lays out more explicitly the two kinds of processes by showing how they can be considered to be evolutions in two different time variables, called process time and mathematical time.

Section 8 goes into the question of the ontological nature of the ``quantum stuff'' of the universe.

In sections 9 and 10, I describe the proposed ontology. It brings conscious knowings efficaciously into quantum brain dynamics. The basic point is that in a theory with objectively real quantum jumps, some of which are identifiable with the quantum jumps that occur in the orthodox epistemological interpretation, one needs three things that lie beyond what orthodox quantum theory provides:

  1. A process that defines the conditions under which these jumps occur, and the possibilities for what that jump might be.
  2. A process that selects which one of the possibilities actually occurs.
  3. A process that brings the entire universe into concordance with the selected outcome.

Nothing in the normal quantum description of nature in terms of vectors in Hilbert space accomplishes either 1 or 2. And 3 is simply put in by hand. So there is a huge logical gap in the orthodox quantum description, if considered from an ontological point of view. [Some extra process, or set of processes, not described in the orthodox physical theory, is needed.] I take a minimalistic and naturalistic stance, admitting only the least needed to account for the structure of the orthodox.

In appendix A I show why the quantum character of certain synaptic processes make it virtually certain that the quantum collapse process will exercise dominant control over the course of a conscious mind/brain.