Preprint from Timo Järvilehto: Man and his environment (working title)

CHAPTER xx

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, Koffka).

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 parts.

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 to understand.

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 positivists.

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 world.

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 example.

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 non-classical objects.

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 with certainty.

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?".