Series of Experiments Shed Light on the Role of Consciousness

Oct 16, 2014 by


Is consciousness generated by the activity of the brain or is it a fundamental property of the universe? The IONS research team has been studying this question for several years using various kinds of optical systems. Our latest experiments, published recently in the journal Physics Essays, confirm our earlier findings. This line of research suggests that consciousness may play a key role in how the physical world manifests. This does not mean human consciousness literally “creates” reality, but it does suggest that there is more to consciousness than is implied in today’s neuroscience textbooks.

Double-slit experiment

For these studies, which focus on the possibility of mind-matter interactions, we are using double-slit optical systems because, as the Nobel Laureate physicist Richard Feynman famously said, “[The double-slit experiment] has in it the heart of quantum mechanics. In reality, it contains the only mystery.”

Feynman’s mystery involves what it means to “observe” or to measure a physical object. When we observe an everyday object, meaning an object that can be adequately described using classical physics, the act of observation does not influence the object’s properties. This is not the case when observing a quantum system. Quantum objects are exquisitely reactive to the act of observation; this sensitivity can easily be seen whenever a quantum object is measured. The measurement causes the quantum wave-like behavior to change into particle-like behavior. A controversial interpretation of this effect—that consciousness itself is responsible for “collapsing” the quantum wavefunction—was proposed by mathematician John von Neumann and supported by other prominent physicists. Much has been debated about this “quantum measurement problem” from philosophical and theoretical perspectives; we are taking a more pragmatic approach by explicitly testing von Neumann’s idea.

In our latest paper, we report the results of three experiments: two involving double-slit optical systems that people attempted to mentally influence in our lab, and one involving a similar test conducted online. All three experiments showed results consistent with von Neumann’s proposal and with our earlier work. We are continuing to explore this mind-matter interaction phenomenon, and we will report the results of those studies in future publications.

Download the full paper »
Try the double-slit experiment online »
Dr. Quantum animated overview of double-slit experiment »
The Quantum Measurement Problem »

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