Human Brain and Quantum Mechanics


by Disenchanted

The world at the scale of the atoms and beyond is strange.  The brightest human minds have been baffled with the behavior of physical entities on such scales. The seemingly intrinsic random behavior of electrons and atoms was confusing to Einstein. How could an electron change its state totally randomly and without any obvious cause? This was not a world that he could imagine based on his religious teachings. He frustratingly said once: “God does not play dice”!

But he was wrong. Nature turns out to be playing dice at least at small scales. Prior to Quantum Mechanics people were familiar with random phenomena. Clearly no one could with certainty predict the outcome of a coin toss. But the difficulty to predict that outcome was not the result of an intrinsic randomness in nature but a result of our ignorance. Ideally one could calculate the outcome of a coin toss by considering all the forces involved and solving the Newton equation. However in the case of an electron or other elementary particles no amount of information would do away with randomness.

Other bizarre aspects of quantum phenomena are passing of an electron through two holes (side by side and few millimeters apart) simultaneously, being at two places same time and penetration through the barriers (that would be like a ball passing through a concrete wall). Human mind cannot fathom such mysteries.

This brings up a very important issue. Should we be surprised or even upset as Einstein was when facing with exotic worlds such as the subatomic world? Do we have such a right or entitlement to know the world as it is? The right that is given to us let’s say by God?! Or we are given no such rights or guarantees to discover the secrets of nature and understand it as it is?!

One can approach this question from at least two different points of views. If one believes in stories of scriptures and the claim that we are created by God and on his own image and furthermore the God created the whole world for our sake, then clearly we should expect to be able to understand the world and reach the ultimate truth. From this vantage point the current language of Quantum Mechanics is not acceptable and hence the Einstein frustration.

However there is another point of view, that of evolution theory. Based on theory of evolution we are descendants of organisms that have survived and evolved by having being better adapted to their immediate environment than those who didn't lived long to have descendents. Our brain is nothing but an organ that is a product of this adaptation and natural selection. As such our brain is a tool for survival as opposed to being a tool for discovering the “truth”!

The brain was evolved to help us navigate for food and avoid the predators. The environment that the brain evolved in, as far as the dimension, speed and other properties are concerned is what’s called the middle world. As such our brain would find the other two extremes, the Macro cosmos (Galaxies and beyond) and micro cosmos (atom and beyond) unfamiliar territories.

More on this later.

No one could perhaps better explain this that one of the most brilliant minds of 20th century Richard Feynman in this video.


more from Disenchanted


by Fesenjoon2 on


For the most part, QM does indeed put the free will vs. determinism debate to rest. These are not my words. This view was championed by QM pioneers such as Jon Von Neumann, Eugene Wigner, John Wheeler, and Fritz London. According to them, QM does create free will in the sense that it creates reality (via the "consciousness" agent). 

If youre interested in a detailed discussion, check out the works of Henry Stapp on this matter (a good example). If you want an introductory text to get started, see Nick Herbert's Quantum Reality. Excellenet reading.

"To claim life to be center of the cosmos while we are sitting on this small planet, with meager resources and in isolation sounds like pipe dream."

If your sense data (i.e. taste, sight, hearing, touch, smell) are taken away, there's absolutely no way you can prove the small planet youre sitting on even exists. (which is why Idealism cannot be logically disproved). That's also what Descartes meant when he said "Cogito Ergo Sum": (which basically means: "Everything can be doubted except for the ability to doubt itself"). You should look into the Brain in the Vat thought experiment, such as those by Benjamin Libet. He showed that the brain, does not distinguish between real sense data, and falsified sense data (i.e. it cant tell the difference between reality and non-reality, for example: being actually touched and the thought of being touched). It is very interesting IMO. In the words of Donald Hoffman: "The universe is not made of space, time, and matter. All that exists is consciousness."

Again, if you wish, I can provide you references.

As for the "Fesenjooni" stuff, let me just give you a glimpse of it all:

The PEAR experiments have shown that consciousness does have a very subtle but statistically significant presence in the universe. One implication of this is spiritual or intentional "charge". Why do some places like Haram Imam Reza or St. Paul's Cathedral "feel"  spiritual and holy to people who go there? The pilgrims think it's a divine effect, whereas it is actually a QM effect. A good place to start is William Tiller's "Conscious Acts of Creation" where he discusses the spatial distribution and accumulation of "intentional charge". I once proposed to PEAR's Global Consciousness Project that these effects be measured inside haram of Imam Reza exactly during Norooz saal-tahveel. I speculated that it would give a very strong Signal to Noise Ratio. But...thanks to the current jackasses ruling Iran, I decided to forget about the experiment, lest I might end up in Evin or something.  

Anyway, nobody knows how these effects all happen, but there are theories, and all of them directly involve some aspect of QM:

Some folks like Karl Pribram believe that these effects (our intention, memories, etc) are quantum mechanically modulated (and stored) as a hologram in space-time (which is why memory is not exactly localized: Your memories e.g. are not stored in a specific track and sector in your brain). I had the honor of meeting Pribram in 2008 in Tucson. Furthermore, the great Roger Penrose believes that consciousness is created by QM effects in the Brain's microtubules. Interestingly, Pribram's ideas are now gaining attention in the Physics community: Brian Greene's PBS show recently aired an episode where he talked about how some top physicists such as himself, Leonard Susskind, and Gerard T'hooft all believe that the universe may actually be a hologram. i.e. it's an information matrix which is directly created by Quantum Gravity effects, which therefore again takes us back to Berkeley's idealism statement: Esse est percipi ( ~ "existence is tied to perception"). i.e. there is no objective bricks and stones universe out there, perhaps kind of like what was shown in the first Matrix movie. 

BTW, the movie Matrix was based on ideas such as Berkeley's idealism. Like you, Neo thought he was living on an isolated planet, sitting in his office. But in reality, he wasnt. The movie in fact was actually a scary depiction of the "Brain in a vat" experiment (recall the scene where he "wakes up" to reality in the pink goo in the human battery farm). 

Veiled Prophet of Khorasan

Why Einstein

by Veiled Prophet of Khorasan on


How does it matter whether he was religious or not. He made some great contributions. Then like all others ran out of ideas.

Others stood on shoulders of giants and moved on.

Do we want to debate what he thought? Does it matter.  I find discussion of actual implications of QM or relativity more interesting. Not what a particular person may have thought.


Religion not anti-QM

by maghshoosh on


Lets put it this way, how would belief in god in the sense of Abrahamic religions compel someone to dismiss the quantum description of the world?  Even assuming your interpretation of religion that "God created the whole world for our sake, then clearly we should expect
to be able to understand the world and reach the ultimate truth," why would that contradict QM's interpretation of the world?  This "ultimate truth" may be the quantum view, which we do understand in our own way through the use of mathematics and can make precise predictions w/ it.

Veiled Prophet of Khorasan

Dear maghshoosh

by Veiled Prophet of Khorasan on


Thanks, I get things you mean. Instead of writing a long winded response I suffice to say I am a first believer in Quantum Mechanics for now :-)


Traces of religious influence in Einstein thought!

by Disenchanted on


      Dear maghshoosh the following is Einstein statement:

  "Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind."

     Now I am not saying he believed in all the myths propagated by old testament. He certainly was smarter than that to buy that kind of nonsense. But he could never free himself from the traces of those ideas. Why invoke GOD or Religion metaphorically or otherwise?!

       Einstein aside, the point I was trying to make in my blog was that in search for the solution to the mysteries of nature (I intentionally avoid using the word "Truth"), there has to be no bias, religious or else. We cannot extrapolate from our immediate environment of "middle world" when investigating the cosmos at other domains.


Dear VPK, Regarding your

by maghshoosh on

Dear VPK,

Regarding your itemized points ...

  • Yes, analogies only go so far, and I was pointing out the limitations of yours.
  • Yes, scientific theories get augmented, but you were referring to QM being replaced by a deterministic theory, which would be a particular kind of theory.  I was poinitng out that many such deterministic theories have been ruled out by experiments.  But that doesn't close all possible replacements of the theory.
  • Please be fair in your responses by accurately portraying the other's point of view.  It's very clear from what I wrote that I was saying those like Einstein & Schrodinger have been proven wrong in their rejection of QM.  I was only disputing Disenchanted's explanation that in the case of Einstein, it had to do w/ his religious views.  It didn't; Einstein & others like-minded just believed in a deterministic world.  So, your comments about making Einstein infallible are irrelevant.  As far as using technical words like Bell's theorem, I gave a 1-line description of what it's about.  The point of mentioning the name of the theorem is in case anyone wants to check more into it.  (Same with other terms like quantum entanglement, EPR paradox & Schrodinger's cat that I referred to.)


Dear Disenchanted,

Einstein was not religious in the sense you suggest and his physics views were not influenced by religion.  He invokes "god" in many of his aphorisms, but he rejected the concept of a personal god, as suggested by religions such as Judaism, and in his personal writings referred to biblical stories as childhood fairytales.  He considered god to be manifested in the laws of nature, as discovered by science.  In fact, when formulating the general theory of relativity, he modified it so as to lead to an eternal static universe that's infinitely old, in contrast to the biblical narrative of creation in the Genesis.  It was later proved that in fact the universe has a "beginning," namely the big bang, and Einstein had to retract his modification of his own theory.



by Disenchanted on


         Thanks for enhancing the discussion with your informed comments. I don't want to get into biography of Einstein but there are numerous statements attributed to him that clearly indicate he never could get beyond the misgivings of his religious upbringing. Compare him with Feynman or Weinberg etc.

As for his uneasiness with QM because of his religious/theistic dispositions again the best indication is his own statement: "GOD does not play dice"! Why did he invoke GOD? He had residues from childhood he couldn't get over. It may not be religion as in Judaism but he had traces there.

          As for evolution and the brain. My main point was the brain is a product of evolution as opposed to a god given beacon for truth search. So we should not be surprised if some domain of nature seems bizarre to us.

 Of course experts in evolutionary theory agree that evolution could have endowed brain with characteristics that are side effects of the traits that are required for survival. The human ingenuity and many other aspects of the human mind may be  side effects of those traits.

        These issues are very delicate and take much more space and precision than a blog and more so a comment can offer. but it is a good start.

Veiled Prophet of Khorasan


by Veiled Prophet of Khorasan on


I am not going to try to prove anything because al these are theories. But I will respond to a few things you said

  • Analogy with computers is just that. It is not a 100% reflection of reality it is just an analogy. I want to put things in terms average person understands. Not to be 100% accurate. That is for graduate school and scientific papers.
  • Regarding QM being replaced: the history of science is littered with "proven" theories that get replaced. I am just warning people not to get too sure. When people think they have it solved the next thing happens.
  • Regarding Einstein:he was a great physicist but also a man. Just as any other man he was fallible. You may work really hard to get him out of it. Or just admit he was a man and made mistakes like the rest of us :-)

Also please refrain from using "big words" we are discussing this for normal people. Telling an average person about "Bell's Theorem" means nothing. Hence you end up losing people. The real challenge is to show beauty of physics so anyone gets most of it.


Comments on comments on QM

by maghshoosh on


Taking issue w/ some of your and others' points, which will make this a long post.  Einstein's rejection of QM as a fundamental description of nature was not based on his religious views or the scriptures, as you claim. In fact, he rejected the concept of a personal god and did not believe in the traditional religions that you're referring to.  (He had a more philosophically abstact god in mind.)  Furthermore, Einstein made one of the pioneering contributions to the development of QM with his work on the photoelectric effect.  That work, and not relativity, was specifically mentioned in awarding him the 1921 Nobel prize. Later, he introduced, along w/ Bose, the so-called Einstein-Bose statistics in describing the quantum behavior of certain kind of subatomic particles.  Einstein's rejection of QM as fundamentally valid was based on the same kind of arguments that Feynman in the video you link to mentions; QM was just too counter-intuitive for him.

And Einstein wasn't alone.  Erwin Schrodinger, one of the main developers of QM through his wave mechanics formulation, for which he shared the 1933 Nobel prize, also rejected the probabilistic description of QM as fundamentally valid.  The famous Schrodinger cat thought experiment was meant to make that point.

Regarding your comments about the evolution of the human brain, it does raise a mystery.  Being able to develop deep and counter-intuitive theories of nature does not seem to bestow any survival benefits to the organism, as other thriving organisms apparently have no such capability.  So why are we capable of things like advanced mathematics and theorizing about the world?  Some suggest it's b/c evolution of life on earth is not just driven by Darwinian natural selection (although natural selection is definitely a driver of evolution).  Rather, there are also biophysical laws, not yet understood, that also govern how organisms and complex biological systems acquire certain characteristics.


Your analogy of the uncertainty described by QM with the imprecision of a numerical calculation doesn't paint an accurate picture.  Quantum uncertainty describes how certain variables that are in some sense "grouped together" and describe the state of a system, cannot be simultaneously measured to infinite accuracy, although individually they may.  An example would be the position and speed of a particle.  In principle, QM allows you to determine the position of a particle to infinite accuracy but then you lose all accuracy in knowing its velocity, and vice versa if you meansure the velocity very accurately.  Another example is the spin of a subatomic particle.  An electron, for example, has an intrinsic spin, which for our purposes may be imagined as a basketball that is spinning about some axis (although this basketball analogy is not exact).  You can project the spin of a basketball with infinite accuracy onto the 3 spatial coordinate axes (x, y & z) that you've set up, and know with infinite accuracy at what rate it's spinning about each axis.  But with the electron as soon as you determine the projection of its spin onto one of the axes, say x, with arbitrary accuracy, you've lost accuracy about the projection of the spin onto the other axes.

As far as your skepticism that QM may some day be replaced by a deterministic theory, there is a theorem known as Bell's theorem, which explores the implications of such deterministic theories.  Bell's theorem has been extensively tested, and so far QM has decisively won.

And for infotainment purposes, here are a couple of videos on the strange quantum world.

1) Here's a "middle-world" demonstration of a purely quantum effect; quantum levitation of superconductors:

2) The so-called quantum entanglement deeply troubled both Einstein & Schrodinger.  Einstein & colleagues suggested the EPR paradox, and Schrodinger proposed his infamous cat experiment, as examples of quantum entanglement, which they found disturbing.  But as Anton Zeilinger describes in this hour-long lecture, quantum entanglement has since been verified by many experiments, including successful quantum teleportation:


VPK comments:

by Disenchanted on


     VPK, very thoughtful comments. Much more substansive than political discussions! :-)

    Your statement: "I am sorry Einstein did not accept it. Proof religion wrecks the greatest minds." is very ture.

      As for QM, I don't think it grants anyone free will! It is antithetical to it! 

       Your statements on computer simulation and possible revisions to QM are certainly very interesting and need more thinking!


Fesenjoon2 comments:

by Disenchanted on


      Fesenjoon2, thanks for your interesting and thought provoking comments. That is, up until the last paragraph when you added some "fesenjoon" to it! :-)

    Your statement: "The weirdness of QM all boils down to who or what exactly "the observer" is." is not quite true. QM is weird beyond the question of the observer. We just cannot seem to have  a valid "image" of what's going on down there! Feynmen video at the bottom of my blog elegantly describes that issue.

     Also I disagree with your statement: "QM not only guarantees free will". QM and randomness won't grant free will. If I randomly and w/o my own choice move around how can it be free will?

     I also don't quite go as far as "bio centrism" or Berkeley's "idealism"! Each has their own flaws that takes ample space to discuss. To claim life to be center of the cosmos while we are sitting on this small planet, with meager resources and in isolation sounds like pipe dream. Plus if life is the essence it still  leaves the issue of consciousness unresolved. How you go from life to consciousness is a total mystery!



Ari comments:

by Disenchanted on


    Thanks for your thoughtful comments. Some believe there are issues that are cognitively closed to us. Consciousness is certainly the prime candidate for something we may never understand. Basically human brain may be too complex to figure itself out! :-)

      As for God, I know some religious statements that put his/its nature beyond human grasp. However as for his/its existence, there are claims as for it anywhere from being evident to logically essential.

     Your statement on  our anthropocentric bias is quite true.


On comments!

by Disenchanted on


       Thanks everyone for the enthusiasm and very thoughtful and informed comments. Some of the issues raised here deserve a blog of their own if not a book! I'll make a statement or two with regard to some in separate comments above!

I should use these comments as a reference for future blogs. Not that I have all the answers (or anyone else for that matter) but I believe it is the questions that has to presented to every mind. A healthy curiosity is better than being "always wrong but never in doubt"! :-)


Veiled Prophet of Khorasan

QM facsinating

by Veiled Prophet of Khorasan on


When I first learned it I was really impressed  more so than by relativity. It is probably the most amazing discovery of human kind to this day. I am sorry Einstein did not accept it. Proof religion wrecks the greatest minds.

Does QM mean free will? I don't know but was telling my kids about it. It definitely leaves the door open for non predictable behavior. One way to look at it is assume the Universe is a computer simulation. The simulation is only accurate to N digits. With N being finite and beyond which it gets fuzzy. That is a neat way to look at it and should make sense to people. One thing I learned is to keep "scripture" and reality separate. Because they do not mix and if you try the result is a big mess.

An important point is  that QM is just a theory and may be surpassed. Maybe one day we discover a deterministic theory to which it is an approximation.


Fascinating subject....

by Bavafa on

I will be following this thread for more and I hope there wil be more :)

'Hambastegi' is the main key to victory 



اين قصه سر دراز دارد


The weirdness of QM all boils down to who or what exactly "the observer" is. In that regard, QM is actually a manifestation of Berkeley's Idealism, which itself is a restatement of Plato's forms. "Esse est percipi".  Even today, people like Robert Lanza are still recycling the same old concept again with different clothing.(see his "Biocentrism" theory).

QM not only guarantees free will, but is what Abu Reihan Biruni et al used to call "esoteric": Mankind is not supposed to know eveything. Why else would the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle exist! 

The bizarreness of the Double Slit Experiment you mention pales in comparison to that of Wheeler's Delayed Choice Experiment: Not only does the observer change whether the electron or photon acts as a wave or particle, but it can also change its history (AFTER it has occurred). Google the following article to grasp just how bizarre QM really is:

"Does the Universe Exist if We're Not Looking?" by Tim Folger, Discover Magazine, 2002.


And it even goes waaaay deeper than that. I can even show you how QM is involved in drawing 10 million annual visitors to Haram Imam Reza, or even why are Iranians themselves responsible for creating a monsterous regime called IRI, or how the very idea of "Imam Mahdi" flows so well with Einstein's objectivity and his deterministic world view. But I digress. Best if I kept that shit to myself. All I can say for certain is that: We have no fucking clue where we are or what our existence even means. 

Ari Siletz

Cool topic!

by Ari Siletz on

Still human brains, networked across the planet and through history, proceed to make better and better models of the quantum world and the cosmos. So far we have done this using "middle world" logic (classical), kluged to accomodate these extremes in a contraption we call mathematics. This is an amazing stretch and perhaps a lucky coincidence because the quantum world is not built on classical logic. For example, if you asked Nature "is the [unobserved] electron here or is it there?" She would look at you as though you had asked an illogical question. Your good example of the electron's paradoxical behavior makes this clear. I wonder, though, if there are aspects of the Universe which don't lend themselves to human comprehension through classical logic or any of its kluges (the mathematical constructs that allow us to model the quantum world and the cosmos). If we are not to be anthropocentric about it, there is no reason to believe that the world ends at the edge of the most advanced mathematics we could possibly construct with our "middle world" brain algorithms. 

Perhaps our scriptures should put God in this outer realm where we don't know and can't know whether or not it exists. That way, we don't have to worry about trying to understand Him. The greatest spiritual minds seem to do just that. Rumi, for example, likely fathomed this before the language of science could make the idea explicit.




Interesting article

by iamfine on

I truly enjoyed reading your article. Regarding the evolution theory and life, scientist already trying to put atoms together to form molecules and from there to create a single cell. The problem there is how to expand a single cell to two or three and more importantly the ability to establish communication among cells. As you already pointed out Richard Fryman from CalTech was the father of nanotechnology. Trying to explain physical phenomenon from the bottom up approach and multiscale modeling. It is a very difficult task. Both medical scientists from computational biology and material scientist from aerospace are trying very hard to explain material behavior through the multiscale modeling and yet not being successful. Their failure is due to lack of computational tool and the interaction of atoms and many body problems which make the analysis complex.