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Time and the Mind Body Problem: A Quantum Perspective

From: American Imago
Volume 54, Number 3, Fall 1997
pp. 307-322 | 10.1353/aim.1997.0015

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American Imago 54.3 (1997) 307-322
Publisher's Note

1. The Problem

Insofar as we perceive the human body (our own and others) as we do any physical object, it is legitimate to study it with the methods of biophysics, and even of physics. In this respect, the Mind/Body problem is part of the Mind/Matter problem.

It happens that in today's physics, namely in Quantum Mechanics, the status of what an object is is problematic. My objective here is to show that, as a consequence, the point of view of the so called cognitive sciences is perhaps to be turned up side down. I will investigate whether it is pertinent, or not, to see the Mind as an "emanation from" the material body.

But, first of all, is there anything like "Mind" at all? We live in a technical epoch where computers and drugs have the pretension to explain every mental state in terms of mechanical tropisms. It is thus not useless, for the sake of the human condition, to recall why a Weltanshauung with no Subject cannot explain the totality of everyone's experience. There are several ways to conduct such a demonstration, resting for example on the absence of demonstrative foundations of the mathematical concepts used by the scientific theories themselves. I will rather take my argument from the analysis of Time. The decisive point is that there is nothing in physics allowing one to speak of anything like the "now." The only way to express the now lies in the symbolic dimension of meaning in language. It is customary for physicists to think of language in terms of communication and exchange of information. But the dimension of meaning is excluded from such a view. Thus, if one does not accept the immaterial notion of "meaning," one is forced to exclude anything like the "now" or the present instant.

One could worry about the possibility or the necessity of exploring the Mind/Body problem. This necessity is imposed by the empirical fact that we are, in one way or another, entangled with a body partially described by the methodology of physics and chemistry (leading for instance to the pharmacological care of our body). In Freudian Metapsychology, the Mind/Body link is ensured by drive. It is the "psychic representative of somatic excitations." But Quantum Theory has revolutionized our views of the soma which has no more objective properties on its own. It has therefore become urgent to revisit the Mind/Body problem in the light of quantum concepts. The interesting outcome of a quantum perspective is that, as we shall see, it offers a hypothesis for the way by which a mental representation changes the state of the body.

Several authors in the past, for instance Peirce, Heidegger, and Derrida, have shown that the Mind is intimately involved with time. A rigorous investigation of the Mind/Matter problem thus requires some insight into the concept of time. I will therefore make use of some results of recent elaborations of this notion, in close connection with Quantum Mechanics.

2. A Brief Account on Quantum
Mechanics and its Problems

Many authors are confused by the formulation of QM in plain language. These formulations, if they are taken "à la lettre," are often misleading. For instance, everyone can understand a sentence such as "the uncertainty of the position of an electron is Dx." But, taken rigorously, it is incorrect, as we shall see. It is therefore necessary to state first in a correct manner what QM exactly says.

2.1 The General Framework of QM

The conceptual framework of QM can be divided into two parts. It must be noted that it is almost impossible to explain it correctly in plain language, unless one makes use of metaphors. These metaphors are most often fallacious, so that I choose to make use, as simply as possible, of the language in which physical concepts have been built.

Construction and "Natural Evolution" of an Object

The usual textbooks on Quantum Mechanics start with the primitive notion of "system:" it is the object under study. But, in fact, an object in Quantum Physics is different from objects of everyday experience...