Problems with Henry Stapp's ideas on quantum mind-matter interaction

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 wrote.

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 from nature.
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 started...

...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 interactions.

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 community.

Related articles

2 articles by J. Acacio de Barros, but they contain ridiculous mistakes :

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.

No-go 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 of Out-of-body experiences , Poltergeist and Automatic writing.

This puts Stapp's ideas at odds with the known experimental results of parapsychology, as reported by the reviews of this data (see references of experimental data, in particular the articles by Williams and Heath).

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 attention".

Related pages

The debate on quantum idealism

Specifications for a Mind Makes Collapse interpretation of quantum physics

Many references on consciousness and quantum physics

Introduction to quantum physics (notions of states and measurements)
Main page of arguments on quantum physics interpretations
List of pages on physics