Can Quantum Mechanics Solve the Hard Problem of Consciousness?

In Shan Gao (ed.), Consciousness and Quantum Mechanics. Oxford, UK: (2022)
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The hard problem of consciousness is the problem of explaining how and why physical processes give rise to consciousness (Chalmers 1995). Regardless of many attempts to solve the problem, there is still no commonly agreed solution. It is thus very likely that some radically new ideas are required if we are to make any progress. In this paper we turn to quantum theory to find out whether it has anything to offer in our attempts to understand the place of mind and conscious experience in nature. In particular we will be focusing on the ontological interpretation of quantum theory proposed by Bohm and Hiley (1987, 1993), its further development by Hiley (Hiley and Callaghan 2012; Hiley, Dennis and de Gosson 2021), and its philosophical interpretation by Pylkkänen (2007, 2020). The ontological interpretation makes the radical proposal that quantum reality includes a new type of potential energy which contains active information. This proposal, if correct, constitutes a major change in our notion of matter. We are used to having in physics only mechanical concepts, such as position, momentum and force. Our intuition that it is not possible to understand how and why physical processes can give rise to consciousness is partly the result of our assuming that physical processes (including neurophysiological processes) are always mechanical. If, however, we are willing to change our view of physical reality by allowing non-mechanical, organic and holistic concepts such as active information to play a fundamental role, this, we argue, makes it possible to understand the relationship between physical and mental processes in a new way. It might even be a step toward solving the hard problem.

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Paavo Pylkkänen
University of Helsinki


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