Quantum Vision

Can quantum physics explain consciousness? The fact that the mind is instantiated in the physical brain has made it difficult for people to imagine how a physical object like the brain leads to conscious experience in similar ways that it becomes difficult to believe in free will. A number of people have hoped to find the solution in the indeterminacy of quantum physics.

There is a new hypothesis out from Efstratios Manousakis of Florida State University. The phenomenon that he is interested in understanding is binocular rivalry. In binocular rivalry, a different image is displayed to each of your eyes. Instead of seeing a mishmash of the two images, you tend to see one, then the other, then the first one again, ad infinitum. It’s not possible to do a demonstration over the internet, but the experience is similar to looking at a Necker Cube, where you first see it popping out of the page, then receding from the page, then popping out, and so on. Notice that what your “eye” sees doesn’t change. But your conscious experience does.

Manousakis has found that quantum waveform formulas describe this reasonably well. The question is whether they describe it well because the phenomenon is a quantum phenomenon or because there are two different phenomena for which the same formulas work. Keep in mind that binocular rivalry is something that can actually be seen with neuroimaging. That is, you can see the patterns in the brain change as the person first sees one image, then the other, etc. So if this is really a quantum effect, it is operating at a macro scale. New Scientist has an interesting article on this story this last week. It’s not clear from the article if this is a problem Manousakis has thought about or not, and unfortunately his actual journal article isn’t available on his website.

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