Alumni Reflections

Having a Body and Doing Quantum Mechanics

By Eric Evans

The Question: What can quantum mechanics tell us about mind-body dualism?

The Text: Henry Stapp’s “S-Matrix Interpretation of Quantum Theory”

Mr. Beall is so suave and mysterious that it’s become a running joke that he’s secretly a spy when not leading seminars at St. John’s. (Maybe the funniest thing of all is that Johnnies are apparently unsure which is cooler—being James Bond or leading seminar.)

Mr. Beall and I have been meeting this fall on Henry Stapp’s quantum mechanics essay “S-Matrix Interpretation of Quantum Theory,” and I want to share a thought from it:

We often think of the chief problem of quantum mechanics as a difficulty in reconciling physical laws at different scales: laws describing the macroscopic human-sized world of our observational instruments, and laws describing the subatomically small world of quantum events. But Stapp quickly implies that we can do better than this conception. How?

What looks like an irreconcilability between scales is really just a symptom of a graver disconnection—a theoretical one between observer and observed. More specifically that in the worldview of classical physics, there’s no account of how our observation is itself an aspect of the world observed.

We’re dealing with a belief that observing the world has no effect on the world, and is really not a part of it. This only makes sense if you believe that perception has nothing to do with one’s body in the physical world, that all observation is essentially from a God’s-eye perspective. And this can only come from a belief that mind and body are immutably distinct from each other. (Cough cough, Descartes.)

For Stapp, the problems of quantum mechanics are a call to reach back and amend Cartesian mind-body dualism. Until we grant that the external ‘physical’ world and the internal ‘psychical’ world are in fact connected and related realms, whose governing rules have at least some relation to each other, we’ll be unable to theoretically account for a scientific observer and what is scientifically observed at the same time. And until we can treat them together, quantum mechanics will remain resolved in its indissoluble paradoxes.

The adventure continues… @its.philosophy.time on Instagram

The student writing staff of the johnnie chair blog

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