Preprint from Timo Järvilehto: Man and his environment
CONSCIOUSNESS AND THE ULTIMATE ESSENCE OF MATTER
Psychology has from its beginnings in the 19th century
had very intimate relation to physics. The first representatives
of scientific psychology, men like G.H.Fechner or H.Helmholtz,
were physicists or had a close relation to physics. It is therefore
no wonder that also the modern physics has encountered problems,
the solution of which seems to presuppose clarification of several
psychological positions related to the characteristics of perception
and modelling of the universe.
Especially the problem of consciousness and the relation between
spirit and matter has again become crucial in interpretation of
results of physics on elementary particles, the assumed ultimate
building bricks of matter. The modern quantum theory still waits
for its ontological interpretation which seems not to be possible
without clear understanding of the objects of perception and consciousness.
The minimal energy package of matter, the quantum, seems to behave
in ways the description of which seems not possible without understanding
of human consciousness.
A quantum may be described as a probability wave or as a particle
located in a certain place. If we have one quantum in a closed
box and we use wave model the quantum will be located simultaneously
in every part of the box. All the possible alternative positions
of the quantum exist simultaneously as a wave, we have superposition,
the state of simultaneous existence of all possible descriptions.
When we divide the box with an opaque wall and measure the quantum
as a particle, its location may be only in the other side of the
box; thus, it has disappeared from the other. This collapse of
the superposition or change to one state of quanta description
seems thus be dependent on whether the quantum is measured or
not. The measurement seems to influence whether the quantum exists
at all, where it is located and what are its properties. The conclusion
has been that consciousness may influence the matter by causing
the collapse of the superposition and that it is only consciousness
which may fix the quantum to space and time (cf. Wigner, 1962;
Davies and Brown, 1989). Therefore, there should be a causal relation
between the consciousness or spirit and matter.
Such problems are related to our general understanding of the
objects of perception and description of the parts of environment
with which we are dealing in physical experiments. This should
be the task of psychology, but the contemporary psychology is
actually not of much help for physics here. After its scientific
birth psychology was separated from philosophy and was implicitly
based on Newtonian conception of the world as things moving around
in the universe independent of any observers. In physics this
view was challenged by the relativity theory, but psychology never
followed this challenge, although there were in the beginning
of this century some attempts into this direction (e.g. Köhler,
From the point of view of the theory of organism-environment system
we may look at this situation from a new angle. According to this
theory the world which may be described appeared with the appearance
of the human consciousness. Consciousness was created in a system
of several individuals when they joined their actions to produce
common results. This joining was possible through communication
which later developed to language. As the communication was needed
primarily for production of common results, also language may
describe world only as indicators of results, fixed point in the
common action of the individuals.
Those parts of the universe which became objects of description
were primarily those which were needed by human beings in their
actions and by their bodies. Therefore, the perceived (conscious)
structure of the world reflects more the structure of the human
body as it may fit the environment than any independent structure
of the world. In fact, the universe may have any structure depending
on the beings which live in it. This means that there is probably
an infinite amount of possible parallel descriptions of the universe.
The implicate order of the universe for man (cf. Bohm) is the
implicate order of the human body in its environment. This however,
is not the only possible way the division of the world into meaningful
As the whole human world appeared only with the appearance of
consciousness we may say that the world is a product of spirit.
Every perceived thing is a product of spirit, a result of co-operation
between human beings. However, the concrete thing itself is only
an indicator of the result, an indicator of one just aspect of
the reality. The result is much more, because it means a part
of past stretching to the future, a possibility to develop into
the nature. And just this is the reality: change, development,
approach to the nature, to the absolute reality. Therefore, we
may like Plato say that only ideas are real and the perceived
world only shadows of real things, ghosts flattering on the wall
of the cave. This metaphor is, however, not so good so far that
these perceived parts of the reality are not only shadows, loose
and without significance, but they are also significant and meaningful
parts of reality. As they, however, get their concrete form through
the human structure they are only one possible aspect of reality,
not the reality in its completeness.
The basic mistake in most traditional explanations of the world
and human action in this world is that explanation is started
with such concepts which man may understand, i.e. with concepts
which describe some perceived or conceived parts of the human
world. By using such concepts it is then tried to make understandable
also such parts of the world which may not be directly observed.
Thus god is described as an old man, or atom as a set of balls
revolving around. This way of explanation of the world is not
satisfactory therefore that it may never lead us to understand
how this perceived and conceived world may have developed. Visible
things develop from the invisible ones and just this invisible
we should first contemplate. As we may never make invisible visible
without destroying its nature we must be satisfied with assumptions
which we may never really understand in the same sense as we may
understand that what we see. This, however, is not essential;
essential is whether we may from our assumptions derive such conclusions
which we may test in our visible and measurable world with our
experience. Thus there are two basic features in any scientific
theory: inner consistency and possibility to test the consequences
of the theory with experience.
For example, parapsychology has here the problem that it stays
only in the phase of assumptions, it has no consistent relation
to the experience. On the other hand, positivistic psychology
stays only in the experience and has then no connection to the
invisible. Therefore neither of them helps scientific understanding
of human beings and their world.
It is, of course, natural to think, for example, that the earth
is the central point in the whole universe; this we may certainly
understand. If we derive from this starting point a description
of the world we may very well understand all corollaries. However,
the farther we go the more difficult it gets to see the consequences,
and finally we must rely on additional ad hoc assumptions like
a heavenly physics to explain the strange movements of the planets.
However, if we take as a point of departure such an assumption
which we may not directly observe or understand from our daily
experience, like the revolving movement of the earth, we soon
notice that many observations in our daily life become easier
Similarly, when we assume an organism-environment system this
is something which cannot be directly observed or understood,
but from this starting point we may have developmental hypotheses
which makes understandable why the table is the table, or why
and how human consciousness appears. If I assume certain types
of elementary particles I may not understand them in the sense
I understand what is a table, but assuming such particles may
make many results of physical experiments understandable. If we
would try to derive universal laws from our observations we could
never arrive to such assumptions which make these observations
understandable. This was the basic and so natural mistake of the
Spinoza understood very well this basic scientific principle:
If we try to explain the world by assuming a humanlike god, we
will never go further in understanding. If we instead assume that
originally there is something which larger than man and inconceivable
for him and from this inconceivable appears the conceivable world,
we may go much further. Einstein was only partly right in maintaining
that most inconceivable thing in the universe is that it may be
conceived. The universe as a whole may never be completely conceived
by the humans even in principle, but if we accept the inconceivable
character of the universe it becomes conceivable so far man may
exist in it. Man may understand his own world and his own action
only by going outside of the immediate conscious experience.
From this point of view the contrast between spirit and matter
is, of course, artificial. Spirit and matter cannot be separate
or in a causal relation, because they belong to the same system.
Matter may not be separated to some kind of basic substance with
absolute existence, the properties of which would exist without
any living being. On the other hand, the spirit is not producing
matter as a separate factor, because the properties of matter
are not something spiritual, but real properties which get concretised
by living beings giving to these aspects of reality their significance
and meaning. It was consciousness which made possible the description
of the properties of matter and thus their existence as relations
to man. If there was in the universe a time when there were no
living systems then it means that there was a time of a universe
without properties, because only living organisms made possible
the existence of its definable properties.
Therefore, measurement means ascription of property to some aspect
of matter. This ascription is not something fictional or existing
only in the head of the observer, because measurement means creation
of a system in which the measured object joins into the organism-environment
system of the observer (actually to the whole culture of observations)
. The problem here is that all words which we may use in the description
of the result of measurement must refer to something existing
in the scale of our every-day life. So a "particle"
is like a small piece of dust; an "atom" is like a ball;
light propagates as a "wave" like the waves on the sea
etc. Even the verbs describing events in the microworld must be
borrowed from our every-day experience. What could mean division
of the atom, for example? We may never really cut the atom in
pieces with knife, but the indivisible is something which cannot
be divided in parts like a cake.
The fact that the quantum may exist everywhere before we measure
it, means only that the elementary particle has no properties
(it is not even "particle") before we measure it, because
it is just the measurement which joins this originally indescribable
part of the universe to the human action system. When we measure
a photon and give its description this means that we create a
relation to some unobservable part of the universe by our measuring
system which is so designed that we may concretise this part of
the universe from some of its aspect in our scale of observation.
Measurement is the only possibility to "observe" a photon,
because we cannot join this micropart directly into our macrosystem.
With the measurement we relate the photon to the human world and
culture and we may conclude from the result of our measurement
that there must exist certain kinds of properties of matter, elementary
particles, to make understable our result. These particles, however,
have no such properties as the things around us. They are not
"balls" or "coloured", they are not even "particles",
because these descriptions are metaphors borrowed from our ordinary
If descriptions of invisible parts of the universe are taken literally
we have such paradoxes as the problem of the character of light,
for example. Many researchers are still now wondering why light
may be simultaneously particle and wave which may be demonstrated
for example with the two-slot experiment. Such difficulties disappear
if we understand that these concepts are only metaphors or "complementary"
(Bohr) descriptions based on experiments showing different aspects
of the characteristics of light. Thus, "particle" or
"wave" does not in this connection refer to those particles
or waves which we may see on the basis of reflected light, for
The ontology of quantum physics has been difficult to conceive
therefore that quanta were supposed to exist as such with certain
properties. Instead of that we should think that an experiment
in quantum physics reveals from the world such aspects for which
we simply do not have originally any concepts. We may observe
that there exists in the accelerator something which leaves a
trace turning to the left in a certain kind of magnetic field.
If we say that this something is a "particle" we are
using only a metaphor from our ordinary life. If we say that the
"particle" which we may reveal in the accelerator is
the basic building brick of the matter we are committing ourselves
to a thinking mistake which is based on our tendency to think
in hierarchical ways. Doesn't the trace left by the "particle"
only show that matter has aspects which may be seen only under
very artificial conditions?
As a matter of fact, the whole "hunting for the most elementary
part of the matter" is a hunt which will never end. The more
ingenious systems of measurement are created the more elementary
particles are to be found. Matter is infinite and shows always
new properties and aspects when new measuring devices are developed.
Similarly as with elementary particles, also other measurements
yield results and descriptions which should not be taken literally.
When we look at a cell in the microscope we see a cell only because
we are transforming light in such way that we may describe the
object with the concepts of our ordinary life. We see walls, particles
etc., not because there are such things, but because we have a
cell theory which leads us to observe the transformed light in
the microscope as such lines and points which we may describe
with our ordinary concepts. Man may join his environment only
in his own scale of measurement; everything which goes outside
of this scale has no properties until it is connected to some
measuring devices making the observation possible. The properties
created in the process of observation are, however, not the whole
thing, but only some aspect of reality abstracted through the
theory of the observer.
The same situation is in question, but in another way, when we
describe moon as a ball, for example. Moon has, of course, nothing
to do with the real balls of our ordinary life. Also here we use
only a geometrical metaphor. As little we may ever experience
the earth on which we are walking as a real ball.
The basic mistake in ontological considerations of quantum physics
is the assumption of reality with all its properties independent
of the human being. From this follows Munchhausen's problem: one
develops more and more refined methods in trying to lift oneself
from the hair into the air.
There are also other problems which seem to be very hard for the
physicists: "How is it possible that a fundamental particle
may be in interaction with the macroscopic measuring system ?".
No, it cannot. This is a similar mistake which we have in the
traditional psychology when we say that a stimulus causes perception!
An element may be defined only in relation to other elements,
an elementary particle cannot have any relation to the macrosystem,
but only to other elementary particles. Similarly, man may not
be defined as a human being among the wolfs, but as a special
kind of wolf. (A single human being cannot be related to the system
of wolfs, but to the single wolfs). A "particle" loses
its physical meaning without other particles with which it stays
in connection. This connection is created in the measuring device.
The result of measurement is, however, not a particle, but some
new macroscopically state of the measuring device resulting from
the interaction of the particles. This macroscopical state never
interacts with particles which constitute it!
Classical objects, like measuring devices and slots are real in
the sense that they may be included as wholes in our own scale
of living. Non-classical objects, like elementary particles, are
not objects in this sense, but only descriptions which our measuring
devices have made possible of those aspects of reality which we
may never directly observe. Correct physical theory may be developed
only in the same scale. This seems to be the basic problem of
ontological considerations of quantum physics where non-classical
and classical objects are described in the same sentence. This
leads to forgetting of metaphorical nature of descriptions of
Similar mistakes are very typical of neuroscience, too. When we
record activity from a neurone the neurone is at one end of the
measuring system and the other end consists of the neurones of
the observer. When the both ends (actually the whole system) act
together we have, for example, an action potential which we may
plot on paper or show in the oscilloscope screen and the every-day
metaphor which we may then use is "spike", something
sharp of which we think that it is transmitting information from
one neurone to another, because we may see increase in the spiking
frequency when we change the stimulus. There are, however, no
spikes in the neurone, and there is neither any information transmission.
These are also concepts for our every-day life and exist only
for us, not for the neurones.
The concept of a neurone is a similar abstraction as the concept
of an atom: it is used as an explanatory concept to make sense
of the results of some experiments. Therefore, we cannot use pure
neuronal data for description of human behaviour as little as
we may explain with the concept of atom why a table is a table.
The human behaviour is not realised by neurones as little as a
table is created only by atoms. If there are no human beings the
atoms may be in any order and the table does not exist, because
there exists nobody defining this order as a table.
Both neurone and atom are completely dependent on the theory which
we have of the nervous system or of matter, respectively. A neurone
is something which we have abstracted from the microworld on the
basis of our cell theory and scaled with our ordinary every-day
concepts into our scale of living. We may speak of walls, inner
organelles etc. In reality a cell is something that we may never
directly observe and we see them in the microscope as separate
units only because of our cell theory. If we would think that
chemical fields are the basic architectonic units of the organism
we would see no cells, but rather some blurred fields.
The quantum description of matter could be understood as a means
to describe all possible forms of existence of matter. Such description
could give, in principle, the mathematical building bricks for
the description of the world from the point of view of any organism,
the basic material for all possible worlds. Therefore we could
also say that the quantum worlds are "parallel" worlds.
Collapse of the superposition or the selection of one of these
worlds through the measurement would mean only that we would fix
one of these possibilities as that which the humans may use. The
measurement would not "collapse" the superposition,
but would simply define from all these possibilities only one.
As we may live only in the human world this would mean that the
possibility to change from one world to another would be pure
science fiction and comparable to the invention of time machines.
In conclusion, matter has no ultimate character; matter is infinite
and no descriptions of matter are more "fundamental".
Consciousness does not influence matter or produce the properties
of matter in some mystical way, but it is just the human possibility
to join his environment in its different aspects and give description
of these aspects, be it then micro- or macroscopic. It is clear
that a quantum description may not have any content or properties
(place or energy content) before the quantum has been fixed to
some measuring device. And if we fix the elementary particle to
measure its place we may no more measure exactly its momentum;
and if we let it move to measure its momentum we have no possibility
to give its exact place. This so called uncertainty principle
of Heisenberg (Heisenberg, 1959) would thus not mean that the
phenomena of the world would be somehow basically uncertain or
only probable, but this would show only that a measurement always
fixes the object of measurement in such ways that the measurement
of certain other properties are excluded or cannot be determined
The reason why psychology as science has not much helped understanding
of human action or consideration of physical characteristics of
the world is that the traditional psychology always starts with
visible and here-and-now concepts. The development of consistent
physical theory about the universe presupposes the combination
of quantum mechanics and field theory in a larger theory. To be
able to create such theory we need, however, also a new kind of
psychology, psychology which is not based on Newtonian principles,
but on the relativity principles. For Newtonian physics the psychology
based on Newtonian concepts of man and his environment was good
enough. With relativity physics this connection disappeared and
the basic problem the physicists today are encountering is that
they are trying to apply Newtonian psychology when trying to understand
the universe with relativity principles. No wonder they are wondering.
The separation of ontology and epistemology is based on separation
of man and environment. If the environment may exist with all
its properties also without a human being it is quite intelligible
to ask separately the questions on the existence of man and matter
and on knowing of the world. If man is born into a ready environment
it is, of course, completely logical to ask how he may get knowledge
from the surrounding environment and what the ultimate parts of
this environment really are and how we may be sure that
we may have correct knowledge about these properties. All such
problems disappear if we see that man and environment belong to
the same system. Then the question "What exists?" is
identical with the question "What can we know?".