Commentary 04 on|
Karl Jaspers Forum, Target Article 6, 24 February 1998
ARE QUANTUM THEORIES OF CONSCIOUSNESS WORTH BOTHERING ABOUT?
By Chris Nunn
MULTIFORM CONSCIOUSNESS BEYOND THE BRAIN
by Paul Jones
3 March 1998
The principal statements of Nunn's article are considered from the
viewpoint of a collective-effect conception of consciousness,
incorporating materialism, multiparadigm approach and sociality.
Physiology is not enough to speak of consciousness, since
consciousness does not belong to a single organism, being an
effect of non-linear interaction of many organisms.
As I regard it, Nunn's article puts forward the following basic ideas:
- neuroscience cannot be considered as the only way to the science of consciousness;
- different paradigms should be combined for an adequate description
of phenomena that are diverse by their nature;
- consciousness is a part of a "larger realm", which embraces both
material and ideal phenomena;
- what is often treated as "paranormal" may be mere manifestation
of another aspect of quite common processes revealing their less
- quantum theory is an essentially multilevel paradigm, and its
laws will be applicable every time the relations between different
levels of a specific phenomenon have to be considered.
I will comment on some of these statements in more detail, hoping that
Chris Nunn will forgive me if I misinterpret his words mislead by my
Personally, I liked Nunn's irony towards neuroscience and the grandeur
of its achievements. Indeed, for an old-fashioned guy who learned
neuropsychology from Luria and psychology from Vygotsky and Leontiev,
the activities of neuroscientists may look like an elite club, where
respectable people spend their lives pretending that they are doing
something serious. At a closer look one may get astonished by the fact
that, despite all the bright theories and an ocean of physiological
discoveries, there have been no progress in what concerns human
psychology and consciousness proper. I do not want to compare neuroscience
with astrology or medieval demonology, but the spirit of Descartes
appears to haunt every book on the neural mechanisms of consciousness,
or a properly moderated "scientific" dispute of the members of the club.
The constructions suggested by neuroscientists are in no way less abstract
and speculative as those by Plotinos or Thomas Aquinas or the
spiritualistic ideas of Goswami, to pick a more recent example.
Of course, nobody can neglect the valuable experience acquired in
neuroscientific research, be it either impressive pictures of the
functioning of the brain, or ingenious mental experiments and logical
tricks. It is only when one wants to learn something about consciousness
that they have to abandon neuroscience, save possibly the negative result:
there is no consciousness in the brain. This has nothing to do with
denying materialism as the basis of any scientific approach.
Consciousness cannot exist without being implemented in that complex
biological systems, it needs a kind of brain but a single brain is not
enough for it. It is not only that there is no part of the brain where
consciousness could be localised, but there is no single brain (or a body)
that can be told to host consciousness. Consciousness is no more the
result of the brain's functioning than the velocity of a falling stone
is related to its mineral composition. Nobody doubts that the laws of
motion may depend on the properties of the moving bodies (just take
parametric resonance for a well known example); however, any motion can
only be relative to a definite reference frame, and it is external
interactions of bodies that specify both kinematics and dynamics within
the whole system.
Here I come to the definition of consciousness as a collective effect
in a social system. To produce consciousness, Nature had first to develop
the three indispensable components:
1) complex enough organisms with flexible reactions to external stimuli;
2) complex enough environment that would make these organisms co-operate to survive;
3) the ability of the individuals to reflect their co-operation and its products.
This system is essentially non-linear, with any activity distributed among
all the members of the community, being reflected in every individual in
a specific way. As it is well known, distributed non-linear systems may
exhibit collective behavior, so that many individuals would act in sync
forming a relatively stable structure. When the structure is hierarchical,
there is a topmost element (like the crest of the wave), which could be
identified with the Subject. The reflection of this hierarchy in the
topmost element is consciousness.
Thus understood, consciousness is relatively independent of the particulars
of the brain physiology, or any other possible implementation, provided
the individuals are complex enough. However, participating in collective
motion creates a very special kind of environment for an individual organism,
influencing its development in a way supporting quite certain physiological
formations and suppressing the infinity of other possibilities. The approach
is exactly inverse of that of neuroscience: it is not that brain functioning
defines consciousness, but rather consciousness gets projected into the brain,
regulating the relationships between its various subsystems. This accounts
for the well known fact that the same behavior may be accompanied by quite
different patterns of neural activity, and this diversity grows with the
degree of subjectivity increasing.
The rest can be readily deduced from the collective-effect model of
consciousness. Thus, it does not matter which kind of mechanics is used
for the description of conscious behavior: there may be different aspects
of it, and some of them allow using the methods of analytical mechanics ,
while some others may fit well into the quantum picture . Analogously,
there are solitons, shock and stress waves etc. in classical physics—and
there are numerous collective effects in quantum physics too: wave packets,
phonons, laser modes, autoionizing states and so on. One could also mention
numerous non-linear effects in both quantum and classical thermodynamics and
kinetics, which lead to the variety of phase transition phenomena, and the
popular today chaos and catastrophes.
The collective (social) model of consciousness might also account for the
cases of "paranormal" correlation in behavior mentioned by Nunn. Indeed,
two persons may act in sync just because they are involved in the same
activity, and there is no need to physically communicate. However, the
possible subtle interactions of a conscious individual with a physical
system (like electroencephalograph) must be treated with more caution,
to avoid attributing them to consciousness where the physical and
physiological factors are more appropriate. One should distinguish
subjective states from (neuro)physiological states, and distinguish
physical states from them both.
Also, it could be argued what has actually been established in experiment,
since there is no direct link between physiological effects and consciousness.
See  for more considerations on the subject.
 G V Korenev, Introduction to the mechanics of man (Moscow: Nauka, 1977)
 Y A Ivliyev "New mathematical methods in psychology, their development
and application (a problem study)" Psychological Journal (Russia),
vol. 9, pp. 103-113 (1988)
 P B Ivanov "Physics and Psychology in the Hierarchical World: Towards
Physical Psychology" http://unism.pjwb.org/arc/1996pp/ppe.htm