The Yogic View of Consciousness 1: The Basics

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1. mirror composite 11Here I lay out the yogic theory of consciousness based on I.K. Taimni’s commentaries to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, with some help from J.J. van der Leeuw.

Contents for The Yogic View of Consciousness:

Intro Ch 1 Ch 2 Ch 3 Ch 4 Ch 5 Ch 6 Ch7 Ch 8
Ch 9 Ch 10 Ch 11 Ch 12 Ch 13 Ch 14 Ch 15 Ch 16 Ch 17
Ch 18 Ch 19 Ch 20 Ch 21 Ch 22 Ch 23 Ch 24 Ch 25 Ch 26
Ch 27 Ch 28 Ch 29 Ch 30 Ch 31 Ch 32 Ch 33

 

Introduction
I want to make this as straight-forward as possible to follow. I will do so by presenting a series of diagrams, with accompanying concise comments, and minimal elaboration. We begin with van der Leeuw’s ideas and then present Taimni’s ideas. Then I will wrap up with a general summary.

Here is an overview so you know where we are going.

According to van der Leeuw, our awareness of the external nature of the world is literally an illusion. This does not deny that the world exists. The seemingly external world is real, but it occurs, or is located in the “center of consciousness.”  However, our perceptions are somehow projected to create the illusion that the world is external and we are embedded in it.

Taimni explains this projection process as akin to how a mirror projects a virtual image. He introduces two important ideas. Paranga cetana is consciousness directed towards the projected image. Pratyak cetana is consciousness directed towards the center of consciousness.

These ideas are laid out below.  In Part 2, I will elaborate on these ideas and try to present them in the most modern terms I am capable.  But for now, let’s just learn the main ideas first.

The World Image: Trapped in Consciousness
In Conquest of Illusion, van der Leeuw explains that our conscious awareness is a type of projection. To do so, he walks the Reader through a series of images starting from our common sense view of consciousness.

One must first overcome the illusion fostered by TV, movies, abstract thinking in general, etc. that we, in any sense, have a 3rd person view of things. As individual people we always have a 1st person view of the world, where we are at the center, and the entire world surrounds us. The following picture is meant to depict the world as we each see it:

1

Figure 1: The first person view of the world of consciousness.

What Figure 1 cannot do is depict what is behind our consciousness of the external world: our emotions, thoughts, memories, will, and self. The Reader will have to imagine those in the above picture.

Now we turn to drawings van der Leeuw used in Conquest of Illusion. Figure 2 depicts primitive sense realism, in which we assume that things as they appear in our consciousness are identical with the thing as they exist outside of our consciousness. Our consciousness is akin to a camera and records direct replicas of what is outside of us.

Figure 2: Primitive sense realism

Figure 2: Primitive sense realism

Next, van der Leeuw expresses the scientific view by including the brain as a middle-man between things outside us and our awareness of things outside us. This view recognizes that stimuli convey to the senses information about the external world which enters the brain, and via some black-box process (symbolized by the question mark in his picture) causes consciousness of the external world.  We could add thalamocortical loops, gamma oscillations, and quantum processes to his picture, but the question mark would still remain.

Figure 3: The scientific view that the brain creates consciousness

Figure 3: The scientific view that the brain creates consciousness

Thus, Figure 3 goes beyond primitive sense realism because the brain is recognized to play a constructive role in generating the contents in consciousness. However, to use van der Leeuw’s terms, we still do not know where the “blue of the sky” or the “green of the grass” enters into consciousness.

However, van der Leeuw now questions that status of eyes, nerves, and brains:

“.. we must somewhat revise our conception of the process of sense-perception. In it the object outside was supposed to be unknown, but the vibration which it sent out, the eye reached by that vibration and the nerve and brain affected in consequence, were all accepted as known and familiar quantities and never doubted as objective realities existing there, exactly as we perceive them. It was this ready assumption of the physical body as an independent reality existing without, which caused the gap between the last change in the brain and the image arising in our consciousness. This gap disappears when we realize that our physical body too, as we know it in its shape and colours, with all its qualities, is also an image produced in our consciousness by an unknown reality. Thus the situation becomes that shown in Plate III, where tree, vibration, eye, retina, optic nerve, brain and physical body in general, are one and all shown as images arising in the world of our consciousness.”

Figure 4: Consciousness as a closed system.

Figure 4: Consciousness as a closed system.

Thus van der Leeuw comes to Plato’s Allegory of The Cave. We are trapped in the Cave of our consciousness: Everything of which we are aware—literally everything—occurs only inside of consciousness. This too is Kant’s view of things. We only know what is in our consciousness. What is outside of consciousness, outside of the mind, Kant called the “transcendental” because it transcends our ability to directly access it. In this view, we are forever trapped inside of our minds.

The Centre of Consciousness
van der Leeuw next introduces the idea of the center of consciousness. This idea is not unique to van der Leeuw but is understood in yoga, where this center is called a laya center or a bindu.

The idea here is rather abstract. What is outside of consciousness is not found to be outside of the body where we seem to perceive it, but instead is found at the very center of consciousness itself.

The following diagram is meant to convey the relationship between the outer surface of our consciousness and the unknowable (“transcendental”) external reality that exists outside of consciousness but projects itself into consciousness via this laya center.

Figure 5: The inside and outside of consciousness meet at a point, the center of consciousness, also called bindu or laya center.

Figure 5: The inside and outside of consciousness meet at a point, the center of consciousness, also called bindu or laya center.

Van der Leeuw explains this figure:

“The relation of the real world to our consciousness and the image produced in it, is again shown in Plate V (Figure 5)…. In it we see how the things in themselves, as they exist in the world of the Real [“world of the Real” van der Leeuw’s term for “transcendental”, or just the plain old external world as it exists in itself –Don], act on our center of consciousness and, through it, are projected as images in the world of consciousness, thus forming our world-image. It is clear how, through our consciousness, all things are as it were turned inside out; instead of being aware that they act on us from within we gaze upon the image we have produced and wonder how it influences us from without. It has become our fatal habit thus to look outwards upon the images produced in our consciousness and to forget entirely that they are projected there by the action upon our consciousness of things in the world of the Real. Thus, we are only aware of our own world, and, like the prisoners in Plato’s cave, we are so used to gaze upon the back wall of our cave and see the shadows moving there, that we forget and even deny the possibility of turning round and knowing the reality which casts the shadows.”

A Quick Summary
Van der Leeuw begins with the view that the real world is “out there”, outside of our bodies. He then points out that everything we are aware of is inside of our mind. Everything: the external world, including the body, senses, brain and so on. This gets us to Plato and Kant, where we are trapped inside our consciousness. We cannot know what the “real world” is because we can only know what is in our minds.

Then he brings in the yoga idea that our consciousness is not completely closed, but that it has a “hole” in it; a center of consciousness, bindu, or laya center. The world projects itself into consciousness through this “hole” INSIDE of consciousness.

It is a very strange and abstract idea. The only place one really finds the idea in Western thought is in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. Something must project to make the shadows. In Plato’s Allegory, a fire burning at the opening of the cave projects light into the cave to generate the shadows. According to yoga, the projection occurs from the laya center, which would be the opening of the Cave in Plato’s Allegory. But how does this work?

Outward Directed and Inward Directed Consciousness
How could such a process of projection occur? Taimni is the only author I have come across who directly discussed this issue. To understand what van der Leeuw described, we now quote extensively from Taimni’s The Science of Yoga. He begins by introducing the ideas of outward and inward-directed consciousness. [Note: All the bolding throughout is mine].

“The … ordinary mind is…constantly and completely turned outwards. It is used to taking interest only in the objects of the outer world and this habit has become so strong that any effort to reverse the direction of consciousness and to make the mind withdraw from the periphery to the centre is accompanied by a mental struggle…”

“… These two tendencies which make the mind inward-turned or outward-turned correspond to Pratyak and Paranga Cetana (Figure 6)… This condition of the mind in which it is turned outwards and is subject to distractions is also called Viksepa. It is the normal condition in the case of the ordinary man and is taken as a matter of course by him because he grows up with it…But there is a mystery underlying this natural tendency of the mind to remain outward-turned….”

6

Figure 6: Inward (pratyak) and outward (paranga) directed consciousness.

 “If we are to understand this mystery let us first consider the formation of a virtual image by a mirror. We all know that if an object is placed in front of a plain mirror an exact image of it is seen in the mirror and the image appears to be on the other side of the mirror at the same distance as the object is in front of it. The formation of such an image can be illustrated by the following diagram.”

Figure 7: How a mirror creates a virtual image

Figure 7: How a mirror creates a virtual image

 “A is the object and A’ is its image formed by the mirror MN. It will be seen that all the rays coming from the object and striking the mirror are reflected in such a manner that if the reflected rays are produced backwards they would meet at the point A’ where the image of the object is seen. It is because the reflected rays all seem to come from the point A’ that the virtual image of the object is seen at that point. It is easy to see that this virtual image is a pure illusion produced by the peculiar reflection of light rays. But the important point to note in this phenomenon is that an object can be seen at a place where there exists nothing at all corresponding to it.”

“In a similar manner the familiar world of forms, colours, sounds etc. which we see outside us and in which we live our life is formed by a mysterious process of mental projection. The vibrations which are conveyed through the sense-organs to our brain produce through the instrumentality of the mind an image in our consciousness, but the mind projects this image outwards and it is this projection which produces the impression of a real world outside us.”

“As a matter of fact, this impression of the familiar solid and tangible world outside us is a pure illusion. The world-image we see is a virtual image in the sense that the objects we see outside us are not there at all. Their appearance there is based on the external world of atoms and molecules and their vibrations which stimulate the sense-organs as well as on the inner world of Reality which is the ultimate basis of the mental image. The mind brings about the interaction of spirit and matter and in addition projects the result of this interaction outside as a virtual image as shown in the following diagram:”

Figure 8: Projection from the center of consciousness of the world seemingly outside of consciousness.

Figure 8: Projection from the center of consciousness of the world seemingly outside of consciousness.

 “It is this projection outwards by the lower mind of what is really within which constitutes the fundamental nature of Viksepa and which lies at the basis of this outward-turned condition of the mind.”

“The fact that the world image which we see outside us is an illusion does not necessarily mean the denial of the physical world.”

Taimni not only gives us insight into van der Leeuw’s idea about the center of consciousness, but introduces the ideas of paranga and pratyak cetana, which makes van der Leeuw’s ideas intelligible. I note that Figure 8 is Taimni’s conception of what van der Leeuw shows in Figure 5.

General Summary
According to common sense, it seems like the world interacts with the body and conveys information into the mind and consciousness via the senses and brain. Under this view, we are compelled to determine where in this chain consciousness enters the picture. Kant showed it is an impossible task to do so. Anyone attempting to explain consciousness in such terms simply does not understand the importance of what Kant did. Not accounting for Kant should automatically disqualify anyone from playing the game of “guess what the mind and/or consciousness is”.

The yogic view of consciousness is the exact opposite of the common sense view. The world you perceive directly in your consciousness is the outer-most part of the inside of your consciousness. It is the end point of a chain of events that begin DEEP INSIDE of your mind.

The chain of events begins in the unconscious depths underneath your conscious mind. Way, way, way at the very bottom of your consciousness is a “hole”, the bindu. Something projects up into this hole, like light coming through a crack. Whatever this something is, it projects up from the depths of the unconscious mind, is filtered through the subconscious mind, and finally generates the conscious mind.

In this fashion, your conscious mind is like a screen on to which a movie is projected. The “hole”, the bindu or center of consciousness is like the aperture of a projector, and whatever it is that is projected is like the movie reel.

You can imagine your immediate awareness as the inside surface of a balloon. The world you seem to perceive outside of your body is actually a projection of a “movie” on to this inside surface. The world that seems to be outside of your body actually exists on the other side of the hole at the center of your consciousness.

That is to say, the very center of your being is where the external world is located.

It is not outside of you. It is deep, deep, deep inside of you, inside your mind.

That is the yogic view of consciousness.

The yogic view is not beset with Kant’s problem. In the yogic view, there is no “transcendental” because the entirety of the external world is inside of you, access to which is hidden at the very bottom of your consciousness.

Final Thoughts for Now
What is the implication of the yogic view of consciousness? We will get into this in later parts of this book. For now, let us end with van der Leeuw’s profound description of the implications of the yogic view of consciousness:

 

“Let us then do what so few ever do in our hurried civilization—be alone and be silent. We should relax all effort, and renounce all sensation coming to us from without, still our emotions and our thoughts and sink back into the depth of our own consciousness, like a diver sinking deep into the cool dark waters.”

“When thus we sink back into the depth of our own consciousness we come to a state in which nothing seems to be any more, in which we ourselves seem to have lost name and form and all characteristics. We come to the great Void.”

“When we reach the Void within, the state in which nothing more seems to be, it would appear as if we were surrounded on all sides by a blank wall and as if it were impossible to proceed any further. Then comes the moment when we must break the habit of ages and, like the prisoner in the cave, dare to turn our faces the other way and find the way out of the cave, find reality, freedom.”

“We have to move in a dimension we did not know before; the prisoner in the cave never realized that there was such a thing as a world behind him and we can well imagine how, when first he strives towards freedom and ceases to contemplate his shadow-play on the back wall of his cave, nothing seems to remain to him and he too finds himself in the great Void.”

“The first part of our journey towards reality is the surrendering of our world-image and the turning inwards until we reach the center of consciousness, the second is to pierce through that center and find the reality which, acting on that center produces the world-image in the cave of our consciousness.

The experience of going through the center of consciousness and emerging, as it were, on the other side is very much one of turning inside out. In our ordinary consciousness we are turned outwards towards the world-image which we externalized around us. In going through our consciousness the entire process is reversed, we experience an inversion, or conversion, in which that which was without becomes within. In fact, when we succeed in going through our center of consciousness and emerge on the other side, we do not so much realize a new world around us as a new world within us.”

“We seem to be on the surface of a sphere having all within ourselves and yet to be at each point of it simultaneously.”

Go to Part 2

12 thoughts on “The Yogic View of Consciousness 1: The Basics

  1. kashyap vasavada

    Hi Don:
    Interesting article. I also saw your comment on Lubos’ blog. I do not think anyone would reply to your comments there. Lubos and most of the readers of that blog belong to “shut up and calculate club”! They do not think any interpretation of quantum mechanics is necessary and believe that philosophy has made zero contribution to physics! According to them, agreement of quantum mechanics with experiments shuts up all arguments!! On the other hand, debates about interpretation of quantum mechanics have been going on for some 90 years without any resolution and even great physicists like Weinberg and ‘t Hooft think that the situation is not satisfactory. I do not think Einstein and Schrodinger were wrong for raising intriguing questions about quantum theory. In some sense jury is still out!
    I am sure, you are aware of most of this stuff. Sometime, I will look at Yudkowsky’s articles more carefully and I may have something more to say. But for the time being, I would say that most physicists accept wave-particle duality as a fact of life. It appears as wave if you set up experiment to look at the wave properties and appears as a particle if you set up experiment to look at the particle properties. This is the fact behind statement of observer dependence and the participatory universe. Once you realize it as this stuff going through both the branches of interferometer, the apparent paradox disappears. Bell’s results proved beyond doubt that “particles do not have any specific properties before you measure them”. Thus observer independent reality has been pretty much ruled out. In this sense it is close to what you are saying about role of consciousness in interpreting the so called “reality” of the external world and the yogic experiences. But the nagging question remains. Experiments are done by people holding equipment in their hands. Cell phone in your pocket and computer on your desk are not illusions. They have been made using quantum theory! We are classical objects in our everyday life. So the tough question is: how do you reconcile the two worlds? They must intersect at some point.
    The other question is consensus among humans about the “reality”. This makes me think that Vedic concept of source of consciousness as external and individuals reflecting it like mirrors or diamonds may have something to it.
    Well. Keep up the good work. We will discuss some more later.

    • Hi Kashyap!

      Always an honor to hear from you, Sir! Thank you for fielding my question from Lubos’ blog. Generally speaking, I am happy he answers any of my questions because they are often so elementary compared to the level he is at. I didn’t really consider my question one of “interpretations” of QM. I was really asking if Yudkowsky’s descriptions of QM were technically accurate. The question about the state as an “object” was not meant to be philosophical. I was just trying to make sure I understood exactly what it being computed by QM. Yudkowsky speaks of the squared moduli as what is measured, and that these correspond to states of the system. When I asked about “objects” I was just trying to get confirmation that the square moduli describe the states and that the state is the basic “object” in QM.

      As to the shut up and calculate mentality. To some measure, Lubos has convinced me it is the right one. As a practicing scientist myself, there have been many instances when I had to proceed on the basis of incomplete information. At such junctures, one either stands paralyzed for lack of information, or goes ahead and does the experiment anyway, hoping the outcome will move things even one delta of information ahead. This is how I interpret Motl’s interpretation of the Copenhagen thing. Of course, he goes much farther, claiming it is the end of the story and nothing else needs to be said. Given my extreme bias that Hindu interpretations of the mind and consciousness are generally correct, I am skeptical QM could get us even remotely close to what Patanjali or other great yoga authors have described. So, I tend to agree with Lubos’ rejection of links between QM and consciousness, but for very different reasons than he does.

      All that said, you raise important points that distinguish classical from QM physics in terms of the potential for their to be an observer-independent reality. But again, the scientist in me tends to win out over the metaphysical me, in that I interpret these as very common and ordinary facts. If one is trying to measure a system that is on the same scale as the probe, then of course the probe will perturb the system. That is all I read into QM. As I learn the formalism, QM seems to me to be simply an accounting system that has to take into account that, depending on what is measured, you can’t probe two different observables (again when probe and observable are of the same magnitude) in arbitrary order, which is the non-communtivity relationship captured in the uncertainty principle. This necessitates the use of fancy matrix algebra that can model such a situation.

      Your final statement struck me the most. It is my hope that by exposing the meaning of the Hindu concepts that someone with the appropriate background may be able to garner some new insight that can be of use in physical sciences. The yogic, Vedic, and other Hindu traditions are full of all kinds of abstractions that could be converted to new mathematical insights if one has the right background to do so.

      The key idea of the present post, that the world is centered in the depths of the mind and filters up into immediate awareness is one such abstraction that, it seems to me, has great potential to lead to novel insights in math and physics. A couple people moving along this track already are Ralph Abraham and Sisir Roy, for example their book Demystifying the Akasha.

      Again, Kashyap, so great to hear from you. Please do comment as your time allows. It is always a pleasure. Thank you!

      My very best,

      Don

      • kashyap vasavada

        Hi Don:
        Good to hear from you. Please don’t call me sir! We are just friends exchanging ideas! I have physics background and you have biology background. But in addition, you know much more about Yoga than I do.
        I read Yudkowsky’s articles. They are well written and technically correct. I do not know how clear they would be for a person who has never been exposed to quantum mechanics. But I would have no problem in recommending them to physics students and other intellectuals who want to understand QM. He does bring in essential points of QM; crucial importance of the idea of a complex valued wave function (he calls it configuration, but that does not change anything). Real valued function would not do! The whole QM is essentially a game of interference between complex valued wave functions. This was the great contribution of Schrodinger. Although Heisenberg’s and Dirac’s contributions did make advances in quantum field theory possible, I would not look down upon Schrodinger’s contribution in comparison. Granted that initially he was disturbed quite a bit about its implications but finally he reconciled! BTW chemists find Schrodinger’s formalism more useful to study bonding between atoms to produce molecules, and I think, Schrodinger’s formalism possibly may help in understanding biophysics and biochemistry someday.
        I agree with Lubos that, for a working physicist, “shut up and calculate” should be the best approach. In teaching QM to students, most of the time should be spent on this. But they should also know that there have been debates for 90 years about interpretation of QM which is a thorny problem in our classical life!! In fact the word “interpretation” already warns people. Nobody has ever heard of debate about interpretation of Newton’s laws!! So in that sense I differ with Lubos. It is OK for people to be confused about the meaning of QM and it is OK for people who are interested in it to think about it. This is called “foundations of QM”. I would not regard it as a useless activity!
        Anyway, there is lot of controversy whether brain processes have anything to do with QM. Some people say that brain is too large, too hot and wet to have relevance of QM. To that, my answer is: physicists have been finding larger and larger systems for which QM is relevant. For example, lasers are large systems at room temperature. Also people are hoping to find room temperature superconductivity. So as far as I am concerned, the issue is still open.
        Whether consciousness has anything to do with QM or not, the two, sensory and non-sensory ideas have to meet somewhere. After all both are in the same world. You cannot put a wall between the two experiences. Thus both science and Yogic ideas of consciousness will have to meet somewhere. I think, you will agree with this statement. How far each has to move from its initial position, is not clear at present.
        Cheers!
        kashyap vasavada

      • Hi Kashyap

        Thank you so much for assessing Yudkowsky’s articles (a series that starts here for anyone who is interested). That is very kind of you to take the time to do so! And thank you for filling in some additional framework re Schrodinger vs Heisenberg. I found Yudkowsky explanation of the difference between classical probabilities and those calculated based on using imaginary numbers to be helpful. Susskind’s QM lectures on Youtube are also a good intro to QM (for anyone reading this that wants to learn the technical basics).

        Yes, I think you express a balanced view on foundations of QM. Reading Hermann Weyl’s essays on math and science has given me a somewhat different framework to interpret these issues. Weyl knew philosophy very well. He combined his understanding of the technical application of math formalisms to science with his understanding of Western philosophy. This led him, quite surprisingly, to ideas similar to those taught in the Raja Yoga of Patanjali. I am rereading Weyl to make sure I understanding him correctly, and hope to write on this soon. In What Is Science? I talked about how patterns at the level of the mind reflect, capture, or resonate with patterns at the level of sensory perception, based on the yogic idea of gunas. Weyl’s ideas are similar but of course he uses different words to express them.

        As a working neuroscientist (neuropathologist to be technically correct), I am not aware of anyone applying the technical formalism of QM to study whole brain function in the laboratory. What would you apply it to? There are so many different parts and scales of structure and function in the brain, that by the time you get to levels where QM applies, it would be hopelessly complex and intractable by any approach imaginable today. The brain presents really interesting theoretical problems of multi-scaled structure, and is a system to make condensed matter physicists pull their hair out. For the foreseeable future, I am afraid neurosciences will remain an inductive jungle as people simply classify and describe the enormous variety of activities occurring in real brains, of which our present view is certainly only partial.

        That said, it is perfectly reasonable to assume that QM plays many roles in brain function, but these would have to be embedded in an unbelievably complex hierarchy of structure and function. If we carry this imaginary exercise through to its conclusion, one would have to ask what you would have and what you could do with a “complete” theoretical description of a brain? One wonders if, in the end, we would run into the problem Chaitin describes where the description has on order the same information content as the real system. In which case, he claims such is not a theory, but is just a description of an irreducibly complex system.

        And yes, I do agree with you that you cannot put walls between the two experiences. The current series on the yoga theory of consciousness will address this issue in part 2 in terms of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, where these two levels of experience are seen to be the same in terms of being different shadows on the cave wall. I won’t elaborate here since part 2 will hopefully be up shortly!

        Again, thank you so much Kashyap! It is so great to have you contribute your thoughts here!

        Very best,

        Don

  2. kashyap vasavada

    Hi Don: I forgot to mention absolute values. According to the currently accepted model, absolute square of the wave function gives the probability of the next measurement giving that value. It is the only thing which is measurable. This does include interference terms. Although the formalism is very crucially dependent on the wave function being complex, obviously experiments will only give real numbers.
    Different interpretations give models about what happens during the process of measurement.Everyone agrees about how the wave function evolves in between measurements, by Schrodinger equation. The Copenhagen interpretation says that the wave function is the limit of our knowledge and every time we make measurement we are gaining knowledge about the system. In what state the system was before measurement is not answerable by measurement! So that is left up to philosophy!

    • Right, the absolute value is what Yudkowsky called the square of the moduli, right? Also, I think you hit on why Bayesian stats plays a role in QM when you say “every time we make a measurement we are gaining knowledge…” Is this what you are getting at?

      Perhaps I am projecting my inductive science methods on QM, but the discontinuity at the collapse doesn’t seem too big a deal to me. I am accepting that QM is just a catalog that says state A, B, C occurs with probability X, Y, Z. That’s it. It really isn’t designed to go any further than this. Attempts to “bend” the catalog to output additional information such as “Y will occur this time” is asking too much from the formalism, and such attempts, like Bohms, seem to have failed. After reading Yudkowsky I get the sense that the problem lies in the fact that classical mechanics used differential equations with trajectories that always could tell you Y +/- some range will occur now. But QM just doesn’t work like this, yet somehow people want to it to work like the old fashioned ODE method (haha, I should talk…I’m using such old fashion ODEs in my current research work!). Does this sound correct to you?

      • kashyap vasavada

        Hi Don:
        Yes. But that is Copenhagen interpretation with original emphasis from Bohr. After Schrodinger proposed his equation, Max Born came up with this probability interpretation. Schrodinger was wondering how to relate his equation to experiment. It says that the exact knowledge of the system is not just unknown at the moment, like whether a coin toss will land as head or tail; but unknowable in principle, no matter how refined your experiments and calculations are. This is different from classical physics. There, if I know all the forces and torques on the coin, I can in principle say whether it will be head or tail. So probabilistic occurrence in quantum mechanics is bigger deal than the one in classical physics. As long as you do not make a measurement, the system is believed to behave nicely in a completely predictable manner by Schrodinger equation. The equation does not give you exact deterministic prediction of states, but gives you an exact value of a wave function which has different components with different probabilities for finding those values. To take a simple example, suppose you have an electron state as 0.6 (spin 1/2) + 0.8(spin -1/2). If you do the experiment to measure spin, it will give you spin +1/2 with (0.6) ^2=0.36 probability and spin -1/2 with (0.8) ^2 =0.64 probability. You will never be able to say with any certainty what the next measurement of spin will give. I have purposely chosen real coefficients for simplification. Complex coefficients will show up as interference. Incidentally, this mathematical equation is what you can call an electron state or electron object (like Yudkowsky) or just electron. There is no other way to refer to an electron!
        There is one interpretation, the so called many world interpretation which says that when you do the experiment, your universe splits into two (in this case). When you get +1/2, some experimenter in the parallel universe is getting –1/2!! So in this interpretation there is no discontinuity. I must admit I am not comfortable with this interpretation! All the other interpretations have discontinuity.
        Copenhagen interpretation is the standard one taught in every QM book. And not a single experiment done so far is in contradiction with it. But many people do not like it because there is no equation which predicts the discontinuity! There are some more than dozen different interpretations. There is no consensus. If you like, look at this, a report on a conference! http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2013/01/17/the-most-embarrassing-graph-in-modern-physics/
        People do not mind probabilities but there is no procedure for calculating what will happen in the next experiment i.e. take, square absolute value for probability comes as a separate ansatz. Of course if you measure million electrons prepared in this way, it is pretty much certain that 360,000 electrons will have spin +1/2 and 640,000 electrons will have spin -1/2!! This is the only reason why it can stand as a science. Predictability comes out when you have large numbers as in usual statistics.
        This has been quite a bit longer write up! But cheers!
        Kashyap vasavada

      • That is really great, Kashyap! Thanks for adding the additional detail and example. Just a quick comment about the Many Worlds interpretation. As you know, Motl detests it. He claims it is dead-on-arrival because the various outcomes are coupled (i.e. “coherent”) in the wave equation by the phases in the sin and cos terms, and so that one cannot even think of the separate outcomes as real in any sense at all. Or to say it different, when you look at Feynman’s explanation using the path integral of how the various paths cancel when a photon travels from A to B, this “coupling” of all the paths means they cannot even be thought of as independent entities in any sense. Therefore, Motl says, to claim that each of these can “split” and generate independent, non-interacting universes (where the ideas of independent and non-interacting are key) means that the MWI was founded on faulty premises to begin with. Seeing as you know the technical details so much better than I do, what do you think of Motl’s criticism? Thanks, Kashyap! This is really fun and educational. I am extremely grateful of you to take the time and engage me about these topics! Best wishes, Don.

  3. kashyap vasavada

    Hi Don: You may have heard about Penrose and Hemeroff’s papers. Penrose is a well known British mathematical physicist. Hameroff is an american anesthesiologist medical doctor, also interested in eastern philosophy. Together they have a preliminary model where vibrations in microtubules constitute flashes of consciousness. When you get time, you may want to google for it. As a neuroscientist, you will understand the physiological parts much better than what I can. From public reception, it is not clear if this is a successful model. But the claim is that there is some experimental evidence at a particular vibrational frequency in microtubules.

    • Yeah, this is a tricky one for me. I’ve had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Hameroff on the model and I think he is making a Herculean effort. However, it is outside the current mainstream in neuroscience. If you want to see the current mainstream, Olaf Sporn tells that story, and this is the material I teach right now when I lecture advanced neuroscience. If I had to guess, I would speculate that the future will look back at Penrose and Hameroff as important pioneers for advocating the idea that quantum effects play important roles in brain function. As far as consciousness goes though, I am highly biased to the Hindu and yogic ideas that treat consciousness as the cause of physical phenomena and not the reverse. An important aspect of this current series on the yogic theory of consciousness is to begin to rationalize this position. Thanks, Kashyap! Best, Don.

      • kashyap vasavada

        Hi Don:
        Yes. I am also uncomfortable with many world interpretation, but for different reasons than Lubos. Quite a few prominent people surprisingly believe in some version of MWI e.g. Nobel laureate Wilczek, Dewitt, Tegmark, Deutsch, Carroll, Steve Hawking, Penrose and perhaps number of others. I understand they believe that the technical difficulties mentioned by Lubos have been or can be overcome. Since I did not care for MWI, I have not studied it. But to me splitting of universe by human action seems completely arbitrary, although I do not have any problem with the general idea of multiverse. Suppose a physics professor asks a graduate student to do a quantum experiment tomorrow. If the student gets up early and does the experiment, then the universe splits. If he feels lazy and does not come to the lab, the universe does not split!! Also at the end of the experiment with a large sample every graduate student will get the same result! So all the various branches of the universe which are different for different students on different days have to conspire to give the same result at the end! Only way one could justify this is the following. If the branching takes place in human consciousness and if all human consciousness is same, the results would be identical. But this argument is too metaphysical for physicists to accept at this point. On the other hand if branching is already chosen in heavens and the observer merely chooses one branch or the other that would be even more metaphysical!! Weinberg and t’Hooft are dissatisfied with all the current interpretations! Thus finally we are back to shut up and calculate!!
        Best.
        Kashyap

      • Hi Kashyap
        Thanks for expanding on your take of the MWI. That is interesting that people think Motl’s issues can be overcome. My first impression is skeptical: how could you do so without wrecking the structure of QM? But I am not at all versed in the technical subtleties, so, I must remain open minded about the possibilities. Your points are very interesting and make a lot of sense without having to go into the technical math. It is funny, in an ironic way, that you come back to “shut up and calculate”! That is the nice thing about science in general. Even if we are stuck, there is always some work that can be done!

        I plan to do a post, or perhaps a series of them, on the multiverse idea. As you mentioned, Hinduism long ago posited a multiverse. One example of this is here. Ideas core to the logic and practice of yoga also imply a multiverse type idea. However, none of these resemble the MWI. They more resemble the string landscape or the inflation scenarios.

        On the other hand, I just posted part 2 of the yogic theory of consciousness. It ends discussing how we might think of maya in modern terms. Maya is a rich idea in Hindu thought and all but unknown in Western thought. There seems to be a link between ideas about maya in Hinduism and the QM formalism. It is the idea of projecting a range of related possibilities. In Hinduism, maya is thought of as projecting the illusion of diversity of objects in the world we seem to perceive outside of our minds. This sounds so very similar to QM where the solutions to a specific QM setup are all “tied together” (in my dumb layman terminology) or I guess “coherent” is the proper term. Then, in any actual physical instance of the setup, there is the “projection” of the illusion of an “object”, which people call the “collapse” of the wave packet. The two ideas, maya and QM’s formalism, look very similar when seen this way. I am wondering if perhaps a reading of the Hindu ideas from the proper perspective might help with some of theses issues that have been plaguing modern physics?

        Again, so great to get your insights, Kashyap! Thank you!

        Best,

        Don

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