Problems with Henry Stapp's ideas on quantum
There is a number of pending ideas about how some concepts of
physics and metaphysics can be seen as naturally fitting together,
but, as a matter of sociological accident, we are facing a lack of
(true or fake) physicists to care standing up to publicly utter
these natural clues on the plausible physics/metaphysics
connections. That Stapp happens to be one of the very few to point
out such things, does not mean anything about his competence or
incompetence. It only means that the rest of physicists just
accidentally happened to be busy with other stuff, or would not see
what interest would there be of writing articles on this particular
topic, or where such articles could be published (since it is not
the usual hard mathematical kind of stuff, and publications in
philosophy journals are not so good in scientists CV), or just
cannot see how to write such obvious things down and still make them
look like long enough pieces of text that it can be called an
article, and at the same time, to avoid the risk of seeing such a
publication rejected... as a plagiarism of what Henry Stapp already
And precisely because an article plagiarizing Stapp's ideas would
feel all the worse as Stapp's ideas suffer that not-so-good
reputation, since they are a mixture of good and bad ideas.
Let's specify the point.
The basic idea of Stapp, is to recall what appears in the axioms of
quantum physics: the measurement process involves 2 choices
seemingly coming from nowhere : the Heisenberg choice (of
measurable, that is the question asked), and the Dirac choice (of
answer). He looks at the axioms and just reads what they seem to say
when taking them on word: that they are both coming from nowhere,
that the Heisenberg choice seems to be the one from the free will of
the experimenter, while the Dirac choice is a random result given
The problem is, that is only what they directly seem to say when
passively taken on word without trying to insert them in context
; but just reading some axioms on word, is not necessarily the right
way to understand the role really played by this stuff in its
natural context. The context I mean, is that of all the stuff we can
mathematically deduce from that same theory, but in which the axioms
that we formally started with, find themselves somewhere in the
story, and their role may turn out there to differ from what they
could seem at first. In particular, I consider that the measurement
axioms should not be taken on word, because, despite all the many
experiments that could be done with quantum physics, we could still
never find such a thing as an effective way to instantaneously
measure a system like by magic (as the axioms taken on word seemed
to say), without the intermediate means of a measurement device...
whose description could not be explicitly included in the
mathematical expression of the basic axioms, for the good reason
that a measurement device is a very complex object, logically
impossible to basically include in the axioms of the theory whose
very complex consequences will be needed to conceive what such a
device could consist in.
So, to be able to actually figure out what the measurement
axioms may really mean in context, requires to study and understand
the phenomenon of decoherence.
And in the context of how things look like after decoherence, we get
a different situation, but we should still distinguish there between
what usually happens in usually accessible measurements (that is,
for physical experiments taking place outside a human brain, and
whose results are observed by the natural senses of a normally
incarnated individual), and what we may speculate to happen in the
brain (for which we need to seriously take account of the expectable
speed of decoherence) : the Heisenberg choice on a particular system
outside the brain cannot be considered a place of free will anymore
because it is essentially governed by the shape of the physical
environment. The only free will over the Heisenberg choice on a
given system already took place outside this system, namely in the
brain of the experimenter, before the measurement process even
...but I'm already bored of writing down these things which seem so
obvious to me.
So, to conclude: as opposed to Stapp, I propose that the real
place of free will in measurement, does not reside in the
Heisenberg choice (reduced to a mere passive act of
observation when happening after decoherence) but in the Dirac
choice, which only appears as usually random for processes taking
place outside brains but can more widely depart from that
randomness in the case of brain processes. I thus reject his idea
of involvement of the quantum Zeno effect for the intervention of
free will, as a wrong idea.
See my detailed arguments, both physical and metaphysical, to prefer
seeing free will as taking place on the Dirac choice (selection of a
world after decoherence) in the section "Perception and
decoherence" of the mind makes collapse interpretation.
To this can be added the experimental argument, that deviations from
the Born's rule have actually been observed in mind-matter
Unfortunately, I tried to write him to express some of my points
of disagreement, but the discussion turned out to be impossible,
as he has his own very stubborn opinion about "what is the
standard interpretation" which he pretends to be exactly the same
as his (no matter that the rest of the physics community disagrees
!) and cannot tolerate to consider any different opinion about it.
Thus, indeed, cutting himself off from the rest of the physics
2 articles by J. Acacio de Barros, but they contain ridiculous
- An attempt to test the idea of mind makes collapse, but it is
Mechanics & the Brain, and some of its Consequences
(with Gary Oas, Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, 2015).
This article is entirely based on a big mistake on page 6: "This
superposition could in principle be used to generate another
superposed state, which could be tested experimentally".
No it can't, because of decoherence. The point is that here, the
phrase "in principle" does not make any sense, because it cannot
fit in the same realm as the issue of measurability that it was
supposed to qualify. Anyone who seriously studied decoherence should
know this. It is partially admitted in the conclusion of the
article : "We point out that the proposed experiment has some
serious challenges that need to be addressed before it can be
considered successful. The most relevant difficulty is the
probable effects of decoherence in such systems. This issue
will be discussed more carefully in a future paper.
" We are impatiently waiting for such a future paper, just like
we are impatiently waiting for methods to square the circle, or
for machines producing energy from heat in the style of Maxwell's
demon. How strange to see that she seems to have forgotten
here the good lessons she visibly knew when writing page 4 of
the other article:
- On a Model of Quantum
Mechanics and the Mind (2014). This article has 4 ideas, 3
bad and 1 good. Let us present the good one first (section 3)
- She is right on the lack of justification of Stapp's
idea that the mind would be able to measure a system and
thus operate the quantum Zeno effect without a measurement
device: "In von Neumann’s formulation, [the measurement]
process is done by the presence of a physical system, i.e.,
by some hardware (...); it cannot be produced by the
mind (...) A physical measurement has to be made to affect
the system.(...) there must be a way for the
mind to affect matter by selecting a specific apparatus and
its corresponding pointer basis (instead of another), and we
get into a circular argument: to solve the problem of how
the mind affects matter, we need to postulate that the mind
- But what goes next is wrong : "The solution to the
circularity, (...) Imagine that the coherent state
|α> is constantly being measured by an apparatus..."
then the mind plays no role either, as the Zeno effect would
then anyway apply just by the presence of this apparatus,
without need of a conscious observer.
- The logic of the argument in section 2 is absurd : her only
argument against the von Neumann interpretation is that it is
"creating a new system, not subject to the laws of quantum
mechanics, that had its own dynamics as well: the mind. So,
it simply replaces a mystery by another mystery, without adding
any explanatory power". I see no beginning of a defect
here, it only displeases the metaphysical prejudices of those
who are confident that a solution to the hard problem of
consciousness should of course exist, though one should
specify then whether a mind is just a mathematical object (see
the essays on
mathematical monism in my table) or anything else (but
how might physical existence differ from mathematical
existence ? see my comments
on naturalism). So the idea is that it is not needed
because the many-worlds interpretation is more natural.
However, as she then explained to me by email, of course she
does not like the many-world interpretation either but prefers
more realist interpretations such as Bohmian mechanics, as if it
was without problems.
- Section 4 is nonsense, as it pretends to resolve the problem
(Stapp's good motivation which is also mine : the hard problem
of consciousness and related free will issues) by reducing it
to a bullshit metaphor of what it was.
Remember Chalmers remark in Consciousness and its
Place in Nature' (2002).
"There is some irony in the fact that philosophers
reject interactionism on largely physical grounds (it is
incompatible with physical theory), while physicists reject an
interactionist interpretation of quantum mechanics on largely
philosophical grounds (it is dualistic)."
Here is another
criticism : "3
errors" but I am not sure about its quality (I did not spend
time on it yet), and to which Stapp already replied.
In this reply
to another correspondent, Stapp writes a claim that is not
quite orthodox: "The evolving quantum state of the photon is an
aspect of the evolving quantum state of the universe. That state is
wave-like! The particle-like aspect is associated with an
observation, and the associated collapse.(...) This
reduction/collapse of the quantum state constitutes the
particle-like property of the photon.
A serious criticism
This article seems to be a very serious criticism of Stapp's idea of
quantum Zeno effect.
Theorem for Stapp’s Quantum Zeno Model of Mind-Brain Interaction
by Danko Georgiev.
I could not verify the technical details concerning neurobiology
which is not my field.
There is a reply
from Stapp on the technical aspects. Sorry I did not examine
these details to tell who would be right.
But section 4 of Georgiev's article has very interesting remarks
showing the philosophical incoherence of Stapp's views, that are not
addressed in Stapp's reply. Namely, the odd fact that Stapp tries to
deny the link with parapsychology. This begs the question:
"what prevents one’s ‘abstract ego’ from
‘floating around’ and acting with projection operators
on other brains?"
That is, why try to deny the link with parapsychology ? As for
me, I shamelessly endorse the possibility of such links : such
limits on the scope of mind-matter interaction are only fuzzy
ones, and only occurring in the most frequent circumstances.
Exceptional experiences may occur, for instance, under the names
experiences , Poltergeist
This puts Stapp's ideas at odds with the known experimental
results of parapsychology, as reported by the reviews of this data
of experimental data, in particular the articles by Williams
Where his error comes from
I found an explanation of the origin of his belief, which I
regard as odd, according to which, even during the perceptions in
the brain by which the mind exerts free will, the mind would only
have the option to choose the observable, not the option of
selecting the measurement result in deviation from the Born's
probability law, but that this latter choice remains "given by
nature" at random. This explanation is presented in his reply
to Casey Blood:
"I had a day-long discussion with Euan Squires in
which I tried to convince him that it made rational good sense
to say that the 'Yes' outcome occurred in "my" stream of
consciousness in, say, 10% of the trials within an ontology in
which both of the two alternative possible outcomes---'Yes' and
'No'--- occur in Henry Stapp's brain in each trial, and in which
both a 'Yes' and a 'No' experience occurs to a Henry Stapp in
each trial. His refusal to budge led me to adopt the attitude
that, in order to avoid this controversy about probability in
situations where both alternatives occur in each trial I would
go along with the simple (Dirac) idea that "nature chooses"
between 'Yes' and 'No' in concordance with the quantum
probability rule. Then the logical origin and meaning of the
all-important probability rule seems intuitively very clear: one
choice actually happens in (say) 10% of the trial and the other
alternative actually happens the rest of the trials."
The error here is based on a false dilemma.
Assuming a physical separation between the conscious choice and
the choice of "nature", leaves open the question of what is this
"nature" that randomly chooses its answers, and for what reason
would the laws of physics display that coexistence of 2
non-physical sources of "freedom" (minds and "nature") which come
up in physical laws exclusively in the form of this strange
combination of contributions from both on physically different
sides of the same observation process. And what the heck could be
this source of mysterious randomness from "nature", and the reason
for its presence, if it had fundamentally nothing to do with
conscious free will. On this topic he wrote this strange
disclaimer below in the same page:
"No! I do not think that the quantum probability law
is "intrinsic". I think that it comes from the fact that the
determination of the outcome is controlled by some aspect of
nature that is so complex and far removed from the variables
that we measure that it "appears" to be random, and that,
because of the invariance of the size of a unit (h-bar) of
phase-space under the dynamical evolution, any "effectively
random" choice has an a priori probability proportional to the
size of phase space, and that this a priori weighting
corresponds in quantum mechanics to the trace operation."
That still leaves things quite unclear.
In these issues I agree with Casey Blood, that the operation of
free choice is more like a selection of worlds after decoherence
than a collapse, as he writes:
a simpler scheme in which there is a "mind" that
concentrates on (or perceives; or is aware of) just one version
of the brain wave function "without causing collapse" with the
selected version being the one we "are aware of".
This "mind", which is not subject to the laws of QM,
would also be the aspect that "freely chooses" (where "free"
means not determined by mathematical or mechanical means, and
free choice does not apply to the selection of outcome of outer
events). It is the aspect of us that exerts "effort of
The debate on
for a Mind Makes Collapse interpretation of quantum physics
references on consciousness and quantum physics
quantum physics (notions of states and measurements)
Main page of
arguments on quantum physics interpretations
List of pages on physics