How can hard atheism & physicalism be adhered with confidence given quantum mechanics?



This is something I've wondered about. At first it didn't seem to be a problem and everything seemed nice and clear but as I read more, clarity of course gave way to mud, again. I am not sure whether this is a question for philosophy, for physics, or both -- it seems to be a strong crossover between the two. Or even religion though you could argue religion is related to philosophy.

In particular, I would usually have been under the impression that quantum mechanics does not require a conscious observer. But then I see stuff like this:

that suggests that perhaps there is room for this view. Also, that it is very difficult to test it scientifically, which seems to move it at least partway out of the realm of physical science and towards a more philosophic / religious realm and that's why I post it here. But maybe it should be posted elsewhere.

Note that it seems to though, of course, hint at a problem which almost comes close to what I call -- because I've never been able to see it named or mentioned anywhere as anything specific -- the "chronology problem" and that is, if we accept for example that some sort of definitive reality is contingent upon the existence of conscious thinking beings such as humans, how do we account for the extensive empirical evidence that appears to show the universe as far pre-dating them by billions of years? This chronology problem seems to be a strong rebuke against such things, yet if they are showing some promise or there is enough room for debate to include this, perhaps there must be some resolution that some are getting behind as I find it hard to imagine anyone has not conceived of this challenge before, although I find the lack of mention or any name I am aware of to be puzzling, but perhaps that is simply due to a lack of good research skills. But I'm not after a specific resolution with this question. Rather I am after this. Suppose we take it that the R process of quantum mechanics (or type II dynamical law) requires a conscious observer. What separates this from unconscious matter? If we assume "physicalism" that only "physical" stuff obeying what we call laws of physics and matter/energy exists (modulo all sorts of contortions required to "define this precisely" but rather just getting the intuitive "gist"), then we have the problem that conscious beings are themselves made of quantum particles, and only of quantum particles. But those then are essentially unconscious, thus governed by the U process, a seeming contradiction.

But it seems one possible -- and I'm not saying it is the only possible -- way to resolve this is to posit that consciousness, or "experience" or at least whatever collapses quantum mush, is in a non-physical "spiritual" or "supernatural" substance. Then the R process can be defined exactly: it is when they come into interaction with this supernatural substance. Furthermore, we could even possibly argue that the past chronology of the universe is due to a universal spiritual substance ... "God", if we want, acting upon it.

But nonetheless it seems that so many scientists, even very expert in quantum theory, seem to adhere to hard atheism. Now perhaps one could say this is because they reject the notion that consciousness is involved ... but nonetheless, as said before, it seems like it is up for dispute and an open question, and definitely far from a small one by any stretch, this seems like a huge gaping gap in our understanding of the universe, thus to me it seems one should be open to many possibilities, especially in light of that there does not yet appear to be a reliable way to "prove" any particular opinion on this to high certainty.

Thus in light of the openness of that gaping question, and perhaps also the openness of the similarly large-import, but non-physics-domained, question of "hard problem of consciousness", how one can be rationalistically very confident (e.g. like Richard Dawkins, I believe, is an example) in the premise of hard atheism and physicalism -- which means a positive presence of belief in the concepts that gods and the spiritual do not exist or more accurately perhaps we can assign them an extremely low a priori probability, and that reality is limited and circumscribed to the physical world only, as opposed to "weak atheism and physicalism" or "agnosticism" as it is sometimes called, which is the mere absence of any positive beliefs either in favor or against and assignment of equivocal probability. How can the very low prior probability be justified rationally given the presenece of these huge unknowns for which there does not seem to be any solid countermanding evidence to rule out such explanations? Especially if we admit "non Abrahamic" concepts of gods and spirit that are closer to "universal consciousness" than to "guy sitting on a chair in the sky pronouncing judgments."


Posted 2017-06-29T06:15:41.920

Reputation: 297

Question was closed 2017-06-30T19:17:23.137

"Ultime" conclusion regarding so-called philosophical issues derived from current scientific theorirs are very very dangerous. Scientific theories are updated and revised according to new evidences/discoveries and new intuitions. Thus, there is no "rational" reason to assert that quantum mechanics supports atheism or other metaphysical point of view. – Mauro ALLEGRANZA – 2017-06-29T07:15:27.860

The second paragraph seems to be missing a part. You end with with a : that seems to be leading to some example quote, but it isn't present. – Dave – 2017-06-29T10:31:32.340

Wigner actually shifted to those interpretations (and away from "consciousness causes collapse") in his later years. This was partly because he was embarrassed that "consciousness causes collapse" can lead to a kind of solipsism... "consciousness causes collapse" relies upon an interactionist form of dualism that is inconsistent with the materialism presupposed by many physicists – None – 2017-06-29T21:50:41.530



Even if one posits the requirement that a conscious observer is needed for waveform collapse, it is still perfectly fine to have a universe prior to the evolution of consciousness. It just means that there was only superposition and no collapse.

Personally, I don't find this particularly satisfactory as an interpretation but it is self-consistent.

The proposition that God is the cause of collapse suffers from being a God of the gaps argument. It isn't very valuable from a scientific point of view, as it has no predictive power. It also suffers from a philosophical point of view in that, as we understand more about the interface between quantum and classical scales, we'd be giving God less and less to do.

In my experience, most atheists would be perfectly willing to believe in the existence of a god if there were incontrovertible proof. As a trite example, if giant flaming letters appeared halfway between Earth and the Sun that stated "I exist" and that everyone on Earth could read them regardless of language/blindness etc.

However, without the presence of extraordinary proof, many atheists hold that the most reasonable position is to assume that no god exists. There may be atheists that hold that no evidence could, even in principle, convince them but I haven't met any.


Posted 2017-06-29T06:15:41.920

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