Can quantum analogies help us to understand the process of thought? [2nd ed.]

Mind and Matter 12 (1):61-91 (2014)
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Abstract

A number of researchers today make an appeal to quantum physics when trying to develop a satisfactory account of the mind, an appeal still felt to be controversial by many. Often these "quantum approaches" try to explain some well-known features of conscious experience (or mental processes more generally), thus using quantum physics to enrich the explanatory framework or explanans used in consciousness studies and cognitive science. This paper considers the less studied question of whether quantum physical intuitions could help us to draw attention to new or neglected aspects of the mind in introspection, and in this way change our view about what needs explanation in the first place. Although prima facie implausible, it is suggested that this could happen, for example, if there were analogies between quantum processes and mental processes (e.g., the process of thinking). The naive idea is that such analogies would help us to see mental processes and conscious experience in a new way. It has indeed been proposed long ago that such analogies exist, and this paper first focuses at some length on David Bohm's formulation of them from 1951. It then briefly considers these analogies in relation to Smolensky's more recent analogies between cognitive science and physics, and Pylkko's aconceptual view of the mind. Finally, Bohm's early analogies will be briefly considered in relation to the analogies between quantum processes and the mind he proposed in his later work. [This article is a modified version of an article that was first published in the anthology Being and Brain: At the Boundary between Science, Philosophy, Language and Arts, ed. by G. Globus, K. Pribram and G. Vitiello, Advances in Consciousness Research 58, John Benjamins, Amsterdam 2004, pp. 165-195.]

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Paavo Pylkkänen
University of Helsinki

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