Chapter 7. Summary and critique of Amit Goswami's interpretation of quantum theory within monistic idealism

7.1. The physics of monistic idealism

Until now, except for the subjective interpretation of quantum theory, the physics that has been discussed is based on the concept of an external, objective reality verified by experimental observations and, as long as the alternative interpretations of quantum theory that were presented are included, it would probably receive consensus agreement among most physicists. However, the present chapter is much more speculative. In it we present some of the results from Amit Goswami’s 1993 book, The Self-Aware Universe. We shall see that Goswami assumes the validity of the concept of an objective reality, but is forced into a questionable extension of this concept into a realm that is unmeasurable and unverifiable, the transcendental realm. We cite Goswami's theory as a good example of the quandary that results when an objective theory is postulated to explain subjective experience.  

Goswami attempts to place his quantum theory of consciousness within the overall context of monistic idealism (see Section 1.4). In so doing, he postulates that consciousness has the following structure:

a) Consciousness, the ground of all being, is primary.

b) Consciousness contains the following three realms: the two immanent realms, which are the world of matter and the world of mental phenomena; and the transcendental realm. All of these realms exist within and as consciousness, so there is nothing outside of consciousness.

c) The transcendental realm is the source of the immanent realms. In his theory, the immanent realms are the phenomenal manifestation of the transcendental realm.  

Traditional idealism holds that consciousness is the primary reality, and that all objects, whether material or mental, are objects within consciousness. However, it does not explain how the individual subject or experiencer in the subject-object experience arises. Even traditional monistic idealism, however, states that the consciousness of the individual subject is identical to the consciousness that is the ground of all being. The sense of separation that we feel is an illusion, as has always been claimed by the sages.

The sages proclaim that separation does not exist in reality. Ignorance of our true nature gives us the illusion of separateness, and this sense of separateness is the basis of all of our suffering (see Chapter 11). Monistic idealism tells us that the sense of separation is illusory, but Goswami’s interpretation of quantum theory within monistic idealism goes further by purporting to explain how the illusion arises.

As we saw in Section 6.9 , if wavefunction collapse is the mechanism for manifestation, it must be simultaneous everywhere. Yet, in an objective theory, how can it manifest everywhere simultaneously without violating Einstein locality? Goswami replies that, in monistic idealism, wavefunction collapse does not occur in space-time because wavefunction collapse is what manifests space-time. He argues that the wavefunction exists not in space-time, but in a transcendental domain. Therefore, wavefunction collapse does not violate Einstein locality.

The transcendental realm must not be thought of as including, or as being included in, the physical world of space-time. Transcendental in this context means absence of space-time. The transcendental realm cannot be located or perceived. It can be pointed to but only by pointing away from all that is perceived--not this, not that, not anything known, not anything knowable.

Recall that, in our adaptation of Plato’s cave allegory (see Section 1.4), the material world consists of the shadows of Plato’s transcendental archetypes. In Goswami’s picture, the wavefunctions are the equivalent of the transcendental archetypes. Consciousness manifests the immanent from the transcendent by collapsing the wavefunction. All of this occurs entirely within consciousness.

7.2. Schrödinger’s cat revisited

We recall that the cat paradox (Section 4.2) was invented by Schrödinger to point out the strange consequences of coupling the microscopic with the macroscopic in such a way that both must be included in the wavefunction. Let us review this paradox.

A radioactive atom, a Geiger counter, a vial of poison gas, and a cat are in a box. The atom has a 50% chance of decaying in one minute. If it decays, the Geiger counter is triggered, causing the poison to be released and the cat to die. If it does not decay, the cat is still alive after one minute. At one minute, I look to see if the cat is alive or dead. We assume that everything in the box can be described by quantum theory, so before I look there is nothing but a wavefunction. The wavefunction contains a superposition of two terms, one describing a dead cat and one describing a live cat. Before I look, there is neither a dead nor a live cat. When I look, I do not see a superposition, I see either a dead or a live cat. The dead cat part of the wavefunction represents, with increasing probability, a cat that may have been dead for any time up to one minute.

The idealist interpretation of Goswami states that, before observation, the cat is in a superposition of live and dead states and this superposition is collapsed by our observation. This is similar to the Copenhagen interpretation, except that in Goswami's version, the superposition of states is in the transcendental realm, while in the Copenhagen case, the superposition is in physical space-time. Any conscious observer including the cat itself, or even a cockroach in the box, may collapse the wavefunction. Different observations, whether by the same or by different observers, will in general have different results, but only within the limits allowed by quantum theory and the probabilities given by it. [Technical note: This discussion ignores the effects of decoherence processes that occur before an observation (see Section 6.7). Decoherence theory is a many-worlds theory that, for our purposes, can be considered equivalent to the Copenhagen interpretation (see Section 6.8).]

Suppose two observers simultaneously look in a box in which the wavefunction still has not collapsed. Which observer collapses the wavefunction? It is the same paradox as that of two detectors and two observers in the Stern-Gerlach experiment described in Section 6.5. The only resolution is that the consciousness that collapses the wavefunction must be unitary and nonlocal (universal). This means that what appears to be individual consciousness is in reality universal consciousness. In other words, the consciousness that I think is mine is identical to the consciousness that you think is yours. This does not mean that the contents of my mind are the same as the contents of your mind. These are individual, and depend on our individual sensory mechanisms, brain structures, and conditioning.

In quantum theory, observation is not a continuous process, but is a rapid sequence of discrete snapshot-like observations. "Between" successive observations, there is only the wavefunction, in most cases a very complex one. This wavefunction includes not only the external world, but also our body-minds. Change occurs only "between" observations, but remember that according to Goswami, the wavefunction "between" observations exists in the transcendental realm outside of time, so change actually occurs discontinuously in time. Only the wavefunction can change and it changes in accordance with quantum theory. [For example, human vision cannot discern more than about 20 different images/s, which corresponds to about 50 ms per image. Movies are filmed at 24 or 30 frames/s so that motion appears to be continuous instead of flickering. In classical Indian philosophy, the duration of one discrete observation is called a kshana, which is stated to be 1/4500 min or 1/75 s, see] 

Exercise: Find a quiet place and close your eyes. Focus on your body sensations, particularly those in your hands or feet. See if you feel a tingling sensation in them. Do you think this is evidence that sensations are discrete rather than continuous? Now, with your eyes still closed, focus on your visual field. Do you see the tiny grainy fluctuations? Do you think these are evidence that sensations are discrete rather than continuous?
Question: When you see a slow motion scene in a movie, why does it seem to be continuous rather than flickering?

At the present time, most mainstream physicists think quantum theory can describe any physical object, including cats and our own bodies. In cosmology, even the entire early universe is thought to have been represented by a wavefunction. This is an enormous extrapolation from the most complex, but still relatively simple, objects that have been experimentally shown to obey quantum theory (see Section 4.2). Nevertheless, in this chapter we shall make the assumption that everything in the physical world is quantum mechanical. However, we must keep in mind that this assumption ignores the difficulties in interpreting quantum theory and in resolving its paradoxes, as discussed in Chapter 6.

7.3. The world in idealism

We now face the problem of understanding how the world arises. If the universe is a wavefunction in the transcendental domain "until" the first conscious observation, and the transcendental domain is outside of space-time, then time itself does not exist until observations begin. Space-time, the observed universe, and the brain-sensory system are all manifested simultaneously. This does not occur "until" the wavefunction for a sufficiently complex brain-sensory system is present so that an aware, sentient being can be manifested simultaneously with the observation. Actually, this process is occurring constantly: Space-time, observing objects and observed objects are constantly and simultaneously being materialized by collapse of the wavefunction, see Figure 1.

Question: What is the evidence for the constant and simultaneous creation of space-time, observing objects, and observed objects? What is the evidence against it?

Nonlocal consciousness collapses the wavefunction. Space-time, perceived objects, and perceiving objects simultaneously appear. The external, perceived objects, many of which are also perceiving objects, form the external, objective, empirical reality. These objects are macroscopic and classical; therefore they have essentially no uncertainties in position and velocity. They appear to be stable because, while their wavefunctions change "between" observations, in perceived time this happens slowly. Perceiving objects derive their self-consciousness and awareness from the nonlocal, universal consciousness that materializes them. We will see later how this happens.

Figure 1. Manifestation of sentience by wavefunction collapse.


The universe creates itself by observing itself (J.A. Wheeler, 1975)

7.4. The quantum-classical brain

None of the traditional idealist philosophies explains how the personal "I" experience arises. This is such a persistent and compelling experience that it must be explained.

Goswami proposes a model of the brain-mind that has a quantum part and a classical part that are coupled together. In justifying the quantum part of the brain-mind, Goswami notes that the mind has several properties that are quantum-like:

a) Uncertainty and complementarity. A thought has feature, which is instantaneous content, analogous to the position of a particle.It also has association, which is movement, analogous to the velocity (or momentum) of a particle. A thought occurs in the field of awareness, which is analogous to space. Feature and association are complementary. If we concentrate on one and clearly identify it (small uncertainty), we tend to lose sight of the other (large uncertainty).

b) Discontinuity, or jumps. For example, in creative thinking, new concepts appear discontinuously.

c) Nonlocality. The correlations in the observations of different observers is a form of nonlocality (see Section 4.3).

d) Superposition. Psychological experiments by A.J. Marcel [Conscious and preconscious recognition of polysemous words: locating the selective effect of prior verbal context, in Attention and Performance VIII (1980), (Ed., R.S. Nickerson)], too complicated to be discussed here, can be interpreted in terms of a model of the subject’s brain which exists in a superposition of possibilities until the subject recognizes the object.

Exercise: Close your eyes and watch the thoughts come and go in your mind. First, concentrate on an image in the mind. Does concentrating on the image tend to fix it in place so that it doesn't disappear?
Now concentrate on the flow of thoughts without singling any one out. Does concentrating on the flow (the movement) tend to blur the features of the individual thoughts?

In Goswami’s model, the brain, consisting of coupled quantum and classical parts, exists as a wavefunction in the transcendental domain (not in space-time) "until" wavefunction collapse materializes it. [Think of the Stern-Gerlach experiment or the Schrödinger cat paradox. "Prior" to collapse, the quantum states of the quantum part (the spin or the radioactive nucleus) are coupled to the classically separate states of the classical part ("on" or "off" of the spin detector, or dead or alive of the particle detector-cat combination) to form a quantum superposition in the transcendental domain.]  Nonlocal consciousness collapses the wavefunction of the entire system into one of the states allowed by the classical part. The mind consists of the experiences of these collapsed physical states of the brain, not the states themselves.

The presence of the quantum part of the brain provides a large, possibly infinite, number of possibilities available to the classical part. (In our simple analogies, the only available possibilities were the spin-up and spin-down states in the Stern-Gerlach experiment, and the decay and no-decay states of the radioactive nucleus in the Schrödinger cat example.)  All of the creativity and originality that the brain has comes from the quantum part, see Figure 2.

Figure 2. Quantum-classical model of the brain

Just as in our analogies, the presence of the classical part is necessary for collapse to occur and to provide the experienced final states. In our analogies, these final states were the observed states of detector-on or detector-off, and live-cat or dead-cat. Only the states of the classical part can be experienced by consciousness, exactly as in these analogies. These classical states must be distinct and nonoverlapping to correspond to our experience of only one distinct event at a time. They must also be memory states, which are states that are irreversible in time (resulting in the experience of time moving forward), with wavefunctions that change only slowly so that persistent records of the collapsed events are made, leading to a sense of continuity in our experiences. The classical part functions completely deterministically just like any classical machine. The quantum states of the two parts of the brain are depicted in Figure 3.

Figure 3. Quantum-classical states of the brain

Unitary, nonlocal consciousness chooses (see Section 7.9) the state to be experienced, but because the classical part is localized and isolated, the experience of the final brain states is local and individual. Although we are aware of the experience of an event, we are unaware of the choosing process that collapses the wavefunction that results in the event, i.e., the choice is made unconsciously. This is clearly so when we are passively observing passing events so that the time sequence appears to proceed on its own without our intervention. However, it is even true when we think we are making decisions (see Section 5.9).

Without a quantum part coupled to a classical part there would be no world of perceived objects. Both parts of the brain are necessary for wavefunction collapse to occur.

7.5. Paradoxes and tangled hierarchies

Normally, we identify only with the experiences associated with a particular brain-body. In order to explain how universal consciousness might identify with a such a physical object (the combined sensory mechanism-brain structure), Goswami utilizes the concept of a tangled hierarchy which he borrowed from the 1980 book by Douglas Hofstadter, Gödel, Escher, and Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. He gave the following analogy in order to illustrate this concept. 

We first introduce the concept of logical types. An example of logical types is the following:

1. People who make statements

2. Statements

An item which defines the context for another item is of a higher logical type than that of the other item. In the example above, the first item identifies objects (people) that define the context for the second item (statements that people make). Thus, people are of a higher logical type than statements.

Next we define a self-referential system. An example is the following:

1. The following statement is true.

2. The preceding statement is true.

Both of these items are of the same logical type since they are both statements. However, they refer to each other, making the system self-referential. In addition, the statements reinforce each other, strengthening the validity of each.

Now consider a paradoxical system of items of the same logical type:

1. The following statement is true.

2. The preceding statement is false.

If the first statement is true, the second statement makes it false, etc., thus leading to an infinite series of opposite conclusions. This is a paradox. All logical paradoxes arise from self-referential systems, i.e., systems that refer to themselves rather than to something outside of themselves.

We can reformulate both the reinforcing and paradoxical systems as single statements:

3. This statement is true (reinforcing).

4. This statement is false (paradoxical infinite series).

Now consider the following self-referential system:

5. I am a liar.

Let us consider three alternative interpretations of this statement.

a) If the "I" is the statement itself, then this does not mix logical types and is equivalent to the paradoxical infinite series of statement number 4 above.

b) However, if I am the person that is making the statement, I am of a higher logical type (I am the context of) than the statement I am making. Now there need be no paradox because the statement does not refer to itself or to another statement of the same logical type, but to I, which is of a higher logical type. If the statement does not affect its context, there is no mixing of the level of the statement with the level of its context. Thus, we do not yet have a tangled hierarchy because the clear delineation between the two levels is maintained.

One can say that the infinite series of interpretation a) may be discontinuously terminated by a shift in the meaning of "I" in order to obtain interpretation b). In this way, the paradox is eliminated.

c) Now suppose I start to think about the statement, and I begin to take it seriously, perhaps even believing it. The statement is affecting its context, and it changes it. Assuming that I was not a liar initially, I could actually become a liar, which would be a radical change in the context. If I become a thoroughgoing, inveterate liar and cannot make a truthful statement, a paradox develops. If I never tell the truth, and I state that I am a liar, then I am not lying, etc. The two levels have become inextricably entangled in a paradoxical, tangled hierarchy.

Question: Has anybody ever told you that they were a liar? Was the self-contradiction obvious to them?

In the brain-mind system, the brain consisting of quantum and classical parts is stimulated by an input from the physical sensory system, leading to a superposition in the transcendental domain of all the possibilities of the coupled quantum-classical brain. This quantum state continues "until" the wavefunction is collapsed by nonlocal consciousness. In the next three sections, we shall see how the level of the physical brain and the level of nonlocal consciousness might be mixed together to form a self-referential, paradoxical, tangled hierarchy, resulting in the experience of individual self-consciousness. This is analogous to interpretation c) of statement 5 above.

7.6. The first identification: The appearance of sentience

At the first collapse of the brain-sensory system wavefunction of the embryo or fetus, sentience appears, but without an observer/observed duality. (Exactly when this collapse occurs is unknown and consequently is an inadequacy of the theory.) Goswami explains this collapse as self-referential collapse between nonlocal consciousness and the brain wavefunction. Brain wavefunction and nonlocal consciousness mix with each other to make the collapse self-referential. Without self-referential collapse, there would be no sentience and no manifestation. The result is not only sentience but also entanglement of the level of nonlocal consciousness with the level of the physical system, a tangled hierarchy. This results in identification of nonlocal consciousness with the physical mechanism.

Question: In experiential terms, what is the evidence for the identification of nonlocal consciousness with the physical mechanism? What if there were no such identification?

According to Goswami, this tangled hierarchy is necessary for sentience to appear and for the life processes of the physical mechanism to occur. It also produces the experience of awareness: Nonlocal consciousness thereby becomes aware. We may call this state the unconditioned self. This is shown graphically in Figure 4:

Figure 4. Diagram of the first identification

7.7. The second identification: The appearance of the "I"

The classical part records in its memory every experience (every collapse) in response to a sensory stimulus. If the same or similar stimulus is again presented to the brain, the memory of the previous stimulus is triggered, and this memory acts as a restimulus to the quantum part. The combined quantum-classical wavefunction is again collapsed and the new memory reinforces the old one. Repeated similar stimuli inevitably lead ultimately to an almost totally conditioned response, one in which the probability of a new, creative response approaches zero. The brain then behaves almost like a classical deterministic system. This is depicted in Figure 5:


Figure 5. Model of the brain-sensory system

The repeated restimulation of the quantum part by the classical part results in a chain of secondary collapses. These secondary collapses correspond to the classical states of evoked memories, habitual reactions, introspective experiences, and conditioned motor responses. However, we can see evidence for the functioning of the quantum part even in introspection and memory because of the quantum characteristics of the mind that we discussed in Section 7.4 above.

The secondary processes and repeated running of the learned programs of the classical part conceal from us the essential role of nonlocal consciousness in collapsing the wavefunction and creating an experience. The result is the persistent thought of an entity (the "I"-concept) that resides in the mind. Now, a second tangled hierarchy can occur, this time between nonlocal consciousness and the "I"-concept, resulting in identification of nonlocal consciousness with the "I"-concept. When this occurs, the illusion of what we call the ego, the "me", "I"-entity, or "I"-doer is formed. The ego, or false self, is an assumed separate entity with an assumed power of agency that is associated with the classical, conditioned, deterministic part, while the unconditioned self is an experience that is dominated by the full range of possibilities of the quantum part. The appearance of the ego is shown graphically in Figure 6:

Figure 6. Diagram of the second identification

To recapitulate, two distinct levels of identification (tangled hierarchy) occur, the first resulting in pure awareness, the second resulting in the false self, ego, "me", or fictitious "I"-entity.

The ego does not exist as an entity. It is nothing but a presumption--the presumption that, if thinking, experiencing, or doing occur, there must be an entity that thinks, experiences, or does. It is the identification of nonlocal consciousness with the "I"-thought in the mind. As a result of this identification, the experience of freedom that is really a property of the unconditioned self becomes limited and is falsely attributed to the ego, resulting in the assumption that the "me" has free will instead of being a completely conditioned product of repeated experiences.

Exercise: Look and see if you can find the ego. What did you find?

If we believe that we are egos, we will believe that our consciousnesses are separate from other consciousnesses and that we have free will. However, at the same time, we will contradictorily perceive ourselves as being inside and subject to space-time and as the victim of our surroundings. The reality is that our true identity is the nonlocal, unitary, unlimited consciousness which transcends space-time, and the experience of our true identity is the infinitely free, unconditioned self.

7.8. Further discussion of the unconditioned self, the ego, and freedom

In this discussion, we must make a clear distinction between the two types of experience that are related to the two types of processes occurring in the brain. The first process to occur in response to a sensory stimulus is the establishment of a response wavefunction in the combined quantum-classical brain. This is a superposition of all possibilities of which the brain is capable in response to the stimulus. Nonlocal consciousness self-referentially collapses the wavefunction. Remember that in this first tangled hierarchy, the contextual level of nonlocal consciousness and the level of the physical brain become inextricably mixed. This tangled hierarchy gives rise to awareness and perception, but still without the concept of an entity which perceives or observes. Goswami variously calls this primary awareness, pure awareness, the unconditioned self, or the Atman. It is important to realize that the unconditioned self is not an entity, thing or object. Pure experience needs no entity. In this state there is no experiencer and nothing experienced. There is only experiencing itself. This is the state of the unconditioned infant, and of the enlightened sage (a redundant term).

Question: Have you ever experienced pure Awareness? What is the contradiction in that question?

The other type of experience is related to the secondary processes in the brain. These are the processes in which the classical part restimulates the quantum part, and the combined quantum-classical wavefunction again collapses into the same or similar classical brain state, which restimulates the quantum part, etc. After sufficient conditioning of the classical part, the quantum-classical brain tends to respond in a deterministic pattern of habitual states. Included in these states is the concept of a separate entity. In the second tangled hierarchy, nonlocal consciousness identifies with this concept, and the assumed "me" or ego arises. When we are in this identified condition, we are normally unaware of both the tangled hierarchies and of the unconditioned self.

Identification that leads to the illusory "me" arises during early childhood when the child has been conditioned to think of itself as a separate person. This occurs after the child has been called repeatedly by its name; has been referred to as "you" (implying that there is another); has been instructed, "Do this!", "Don’t do that!"; and generally has been treated as being an independent person separate from its mother. However, one should not think that this conditioning process is something that can be avoided, since it is a necessary part of child development (see Section 5.8). The child is being conditioned for survival in the world.

The ego is presumed to be the thinker, chooser, and doer. However, it is absurd to think that a mere concept could actually be an agent with the power to think, choose, or do. The ego is nothing but a figment of the imagination, does not exist as an entity, and has no power whatsoever. In reality there is never a thinker, chooser, or doer. There is nothing but identification of nonlocal consciousness (which is not an entity) with the conditioned quantum-classical brain.

There is only one consciousness. Our consciousness is nonlocal consciousness. My consciousness is identical to your consciousness. Only the contents are different. The entities that we falsely think we are result from identification of this consciousness with a concept in the conditioned mind.

Identification with the hard conditioning and rigid isolation of the fictitious ego is relaxed in so-called transpersonal, or peak, experiences, which lead to a creative expansion of the self-image (described by Abraham Maslow in The Farther Reaches of Human Nature (1971). These experiences approach, but are not identical to, those of the unconditioned self, since identification with a self-image is still present although the self-image becomes expanded.

The unconditioned self is experienced as pure awareness, pure presence, and pure subjectivity in which there is no entity at all, and which arises when the unconditioned quantum wavefunction is first collapsed (or later in life after disidentification from the self-image has occurred). Awareness is what we really are, and is equivalent to the Atman of Indian philosophy, or not-self in Buddhism. The goal of all spiritual practice is to disidentify from the fictitious "me" and so to realize our true nature.

7.9. The disappearance of the ego. The experience of freedom from bondage.

We are now in a position to complete our discussion of freedom. Goswami uses the term "choice" to mean the nonvolitional action of nonlocal consciousness in selecting a particular possibility out of the range of possibilities defined by the wavefunction. (Choice is nonvolitional because there is no entity to exert volitional choice.) Without identification, choice is free. With identification, choice becomes limited. However, even when we think we are egos, we are aware and we know that we are aware. Therefore identification of awareness with the I-concept is never actually complete, and this allows the possibility of disidentification from the false self.

We found in Sections 5.9, 5.10, 5.11, and 5.12 that freedom of choice does not exist in a separate entity. Therefore, even if the ego were real it would still not have the freedom to choose. However, because the ego is nothing but a fictional self-image, it does not even exist as an entity. Therefore its freedom is doubly fictitious. All choice is the nonvolitional choice of nonlocal consciousness, and complete freedom is the experience of unconditioned, disidentified awareness.

We come now to the paradox of the paradoxical tangled hierarchy (Section 7.5).  The ego is the belief that it is free to choose, but it is not. The unconditioned self is freedom itself, but it is not a separate entity that can choose. Remember from Section 5.12 that the belief in free will depends on a perceived separation or dualism between a controller and a controlled. Within the unconditioned self there is no separation or isolation--there is no entity--so there is no dualism. Hence, in the state of pure, or primary, awareness, there is no illusion of free will .  

The experience of true freedom comes from the unconditioned self, whereas what we think of as free will comes from the noncreative, conditioned, imaginary ego. Whenever we experience pure freedom, pure creativity, or pure originality, it is a result of a momentary disidentification from the conditioned ego, permitting the experience of the freedom of the unconditioned self to be revealed. This is true freedom, creativity, and originality, not the mechanical workings of the conditioned, deterministic brain. During these moments, there is no individual “I”. When reidentification occurs, the conditioned “I” reappears and then takes credit for being free, creative, and original!

Questions: What is the experience of being absent?
What is the experience of being present?

The paradox of the paradoxical tangled hierarchy reveals itself in our experience of freedom even when we are bound by our belief that we have free will. The thought of free will, which is a thought of bondage, cannot conceal our true nature, which is pure freedom. However, the ego attributes the experience of freedom to free will instead of to pure consciousness even though nothing in the conditioned mind is free. 

How can we apply this knowledge to our personal lives? We have seen that our consciousness really is nonlocal universal consciousness and the goal of all spiritual practice is to know the freedom of unconditioned awareness. This can happen only when disidentification from the fictitious ego-entity has occurred. However, "you" as the ego cannot disidentify from the ego because the ego, being only a concept, can do nothing. Disidentification can only happen spontaneously. But understanding the ego and the feeling of bondage it entails are helpful in disidentification. The practices of Part 3 show this. However, "you" cannot do them. If they happen, they happen. If not, they don't (see also Section 5.15).

7.10. Critique of Goswami's model

Goswami’s hypothesis of a quantum part of the brain is only a hypothesis, and it is presently not known whether a quantum part exists. This is not a fundamental problem because it is a hypothesis that eventually can be put to experimental test, and perhaps some day we shall know whether or not some kind of quantum part can be verified. 

[Technical note: Every cell has a cytoskeletal structure consisting of microtobules.  Some scientists (e.g., Roger Penrose, Shadows of the Mind (1994), Chapter 7) have speculated that these microtobules might support coherent quantum states, i.e., an entire microtubule might exist in a single quantum state instead of in the individual quantum states of its molecules. This coherence would be similar to that exhibited in the Bell-Aspect experiments (see Section 4.3). If so, the microtubules in the neurons of the brain might comprise the quantum part of the brain, whereas the classical part of the brain might consist of the classically functioning neural synapses. The quantum states of the microtubules would interact with the classical states of the neural synapses to form the coupling between the quantum and classical parts. The microtubules in other types of cells in the body might contribute to a lower level of cellular intelligence.]

The reason Goswami hypothesized a transcendental realm was to explain how wavefunction collapse could occur without violating Einstein locality. Goswami's model, however, contains a fundamental flaw. The transcendental realm is hypothesized to contain the wavefunction, yet the wavefunction as normally conceived is a function of time and space, which are absent in the transcendental realm and in fact do not appear "until" wavefunction collapse. A more general way of stating the same flaw is that concepts in quantum theory are usually conceived within the context of time and space, so it is in principle impossible to use such quantum concepts in a realm in which space-time is absent. Thus, the concepts of wavefunctions and wavefunction collapse in the transcendental realm are meaningless.

Goswami's transcendental realm is only one of several that have been conjectured (see Section 8.1). Goswami’s model is useful in emphasizing the importance of identification and seeing how we are limited by it. In fact, knowing the exact mechanism for identification is not necessary for the validity or understanding of Parts 2 and 3 of this course. What is necessary is to see that identification is an ongoing process that is never complete, so it is always escapable, and therefore we are not forever doomed to suffer. Disidentification is possible at any time for any person (but the person cannot "do" it).

Nevertheless, because the existence of a transcendental realm, like the existence of any other objective reality, can never be proved, conceiving one is tantamount to sweeping the whole problem of the origin of the world under the rug so that it is out of sight, or to invoking an unexplained and unexplainable god as creator, or to implicitly admitting the impossibility of an explanation. A much more elegant approach is to simply interpret the wavefunction as a concept in the mind (see Section 6.11) rather than existing in either a transcendental realm or in space-time. As a pure concept, there is no collapse to try to explain.

This page last updated October 17, 2010.
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