What causes wave function collapse in quantum mechanics?

Quora Question: What is wave function collapse in the context of quantum mechanics, and how does (or doesn’t) it relate to consciousness?

My answer: I notice that a lot of physicists and others are still having problems with the ‘Consciousness Causes Collapse’ interpretation because they approach it from the old paradigm.

Old worldview
The universe a large billiard ball machine. Everything is made of particles and life and consciousness are both the result of pure randomness, physical processes and evolution. There is no proof for anything ‘magical’ going on.

From this perspective, consciousness – as merely a brain function – can have no effect on the physical world. The very idea is ludicrous.

However, is this the best worldview we have? I think not.

New worldview
Conscious life and the entire physical universe originate from a non-local mind field and is a unified whole. We are all part of an information matrix. Reality, therefore, is a process that involves your consciousness (which is really not your consciousness, but part of a larger cosmic mind). Therefore, the conscious mind transforms all quantum possibilities into a manifest outcome.

Strange loop: who collapses the conscious observer?

This new worldview, which is beautifully described in Robert Lanza’s Biocentrism, has a number of radical implications for how we view the universe:
– The physical world and conscious observer are intertwined and cannot be separated. There is no outside world that exists independent of mind.
– Non-living matter exists only in probability state when not being observed.
– Space and time are tools of the mind and have no independent, objective existence.
– The brain does not generate consciousness, but acts as reducing valve, keeping experience restricted to our local experience ensuring our fitness for survival.

There are many reasons to believe this worldview is much better suited to explain nature in its totality. Quantum mechanics is one of these reasons, because whatever the observer seems to do, impacts the experimental results. This goes so far that a decision an experimenter makes in the present, can impact the behavior of a particle in the past (delayed choice experiments).

There is still a lot of resistance against this worldview, because it is so radically different than what our current scientific culture dictates. However, there are some physicists reevaluating their thinking. Like Scott M. Tyson. In his book The Unobservable Universe: A Paradox-Free Framework for Understanding the Universe, he writes: “you simply cannot remove the observer from reality. It can’t be done and it is pointless to resist.”

Read more answers about the relation between quantum mechanics and consciousness in my posts on Quora.

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Het mentale universum

Met de opkomst van kwantummechanica een eeuw geleden deed het universum een verdwijntruc en het is er sindsdien niet meer solide op geworden. Met zijn uitstekende TED-talk maakt Anil Seth duidelijk dat de neurobiologie het volgende gebied is wat het onvermijdelijke duidelijk maakt; we leven in een mentaal en niet een fysiek universum.

De plaatjes die ons bewustzijn via onze hersenen genereert komen zowel van binnen als van buiten het brein. Als je dit verder doordenkt, ga je je afvragen wat het verschil eigenlijk is tussen die twee. Is er wel een verschil? Ik denk het niet; Robert Lanza heeft gelijk: onze interne wereld en de externe wereld zijn één en dezelfde.

Intuïtief blijft dit een lastig idee omdat we gedeelde ervaringen hebben. Stel, je gaat een schoenenwinkel in met je vriendin en je ziet allebei een paar blauwe sportschoenen. Theoretisch is het mogelijk om jouw brein te modereren, zodat je in plaats van het paar schoenen twee knalrode kreeften zie. Je vriendin ziet nog steeds de blauwe schoenen en de schoenenverkoper ziet ze ook, maar jij ziet kreeften. Wat zegt dat over die schoenen? Waar bevinden die zich? Puur in onze hoofden, niet in een winkel die buiten ons bewustzijn bestaat. Onze gedeelde ervaringen noemen we de buitenwereld, maar we ervaren hetzelfde – niet omdat er een externe wereld is – maar omdat we allemaal via ons bewustzijn zitten aangesloten op een soort bio-matrix: een oneindig raster van mogelijkheden waar we ons op lineaire wijze bewust van worden.

Voor een Indiaan die 10.000 jaar geleden met een speer in de jungle rondrende was het idee van een mentaal universum makkelijker te accepteren, dan in deze hypermoderne tijd waarin we omringt zijn door auto’s, stoelen, stofzuigers, computerschermen, koffiezetapparaten, sportkleding, McDonalds-drive ins, flatgebouwen, treinen en billboards. Die wekken sterk de indruk dat er echt een externe wereld bestaat, maar het zijn allemaal mentale projecties. Objecten zijn hoopjes moleculen die wij waarnemen als een soort vormen, maar we hallucineren de hele boel bij elkaar. Zelfs onze eigen lichamen en hersenen kunnen we als objecten beschouwen.

Het universum is een mentale wereld die zich via levende wezens van zichzelf bewust wordt. In de wetenschap is het nog steeds niet politiek correct om dit te benoemen en ook de media blijft hangen in het dominante beeld van mechanisch universum, maar de komende decennia gaat dit ongetwijfeld veranderen en komt er meer bewustzijn over deze uiteindelijk veel logischer interpretatie van het leven en de wereld. Anil Seth slaat de spijker op de kop: we zijn onlosmakelijk onderdeel van de natuur, en niet slechts een product uit de natuur. En omdat we onderdeel zijn van de ‘mind-at-large’ kunnen we nooit echt verdwijnen… Een mooie gedachte…

What Schrödinger’s Cat Tells Us About Reality

When you ask someone if it is possible to conduct an experiment in which a cat is both dead and alive simultaneously, she will wonder if you have gone mental (believe me, I tried it at work several times). “Off course this is not possible. That is complete rubbish!”

Or could it be that reality is much weirder than most people realize? In this short essay I will explain how this experiment is possible, why it works like it does, and what it means for our understanding of the world (it will turn out I have indeed gone mental, but in a different way). If you are willing to accept a paradigm shattering worldview, the result is not so crazy at all.

By the way, if you’re not yet familiar with the observer effect of quantum mechanics, check out this video first:

The Experiment
The Austrian quantum physicist Erwin Schrödinger (1887 – 1961) came up with the famous thought experiment to show how ridiculous the widely accepted Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics is. According to this interpretation, physical systems generally do not have definite properties prior to being measured, and quantum mechanics can only predict the probabilities that measurements will produce certain results. The act of measurement causes the set of probabilities to reduce to only one of the possible values immediately after the measurement. This feature is known as wave function collapse.

The experiment works like this: a cat is placed in a sealed box along with a Geiger counter, a bottle of poison and a radioactive particle that may or may not decay after an hour. If the Geiger counter detects that the particle has decayed, it will trigger the smashing of the bottle of poison and the cat will be killed. But because no one is observing the box, the radioactive particle exists in superposition, meaning it exists (or actually doesn’t exist) in all possible states at once. It is not until someone opens the box that the wave function collapses, the particle assumes a definite state and the cat is either killed or not.

The Implications
The paradigm that the world exists as independent reality and we are merely innocent bystanders is smashed by Schrödinger’s experiment. Nevertheless, this is still the dominant worldview today, especially in the West, while these experiments are already a century old. The observer is not observing an independent reality, but is in fact creating it. Not by herself; we are all part of a bigger consciousness that is determining what is manifested reality and what is not. It turns out that we are not living in a material world, but in a mental world. The only way to escape from the weirdness of the dead-alive cat is to accept mind as a property of reality besides matter. Off course I don’t mean mind as created by the material brain, but a mind that is linked to it, but also exists independent of the body.

What quantum mechanics shows us is that reality consists of two levels. One level is the everyday world we observe. Within this level we – as conscious observers – materialize objects within our relative perspectives of space and time. The other level is that of pure potentiality. At this level, everything merely exists as possibility, but nothing exists in a determined state. Within this level – that lies beyond the veil of our perception – space and time don’t exist as independent bedrock realities. And because these dimensions don’t exist, it is no longer possible to separate anything, so at this level we are all one. This is hard to grasp from our individual ego-states, but in special states of consciousness, such as near death, people experience it all the time.

That is the real radical stuff that quantum mechanics tells us, and most physicists don’t like it much. Schrödinger himself wanted to return to the objective worldview in which events were deterministic (meaning that if you have all information about a reality, you can predict what will happen). His experiment has become the perfect vehicle to demonstrate why this deterministic view does not work at all.

Quantum mechanics has shown us that a pure mechanical, material universe without mind could never exist. It has also shown us that living creatures could not have arisen out of dead matter, because without a conscious observer to begin with, matter has no definite place within reality. Consciousness must therefore be the unified basis of all existence.