Border between mind and matter could be defined using a new twist on a well-known experiment in quantum physics.
A type of experiment known as a Bell test over the past twenty years has confirmed the weirdness of quantum mechanics – specifically the “spooky action at a distance” that so bothered Einstein.
Morbid action at a distance was Einstein’s phrase for a quantum effect called entanglement.
This quantum theory was incomplete, according to Einstein and that there was another empiric theory that could explain the particles’ behaviour without resorting to weird instantaneous influence.
Demonstrating Rene Descartes
Scientist John Bell in 1964 paved the way for testing whether the particles do in fact influence each other.
Whether to measure the particle’s spin is chosen using random number generators, and in such a way that it’s impossible for A to know of B’s setting and vice-versa at the time of the measurement.
The measurements are done for numerous entangled pairs. If quantum physics is correct and there is indeed spooky action at a distance, then the results of these measurements would be correlated to a far greater extent than if Einstein was correct.
Some experts have argued that even the random number generators may not be truly random. They could be ruled by underlying physics that we don’t yet understand, and this so-called “super-determinism” could explain the observed correlations.
Measurements at A and B can be controlled by something that could potentially be separate from the material world: the human mind.
“[French philosopher Rene] Descartes put forth this mind-matter duality, [where] the mind is outside of regular physics and intervenes on the physical world,” says Hardy.
Question of free will
The expert, Hardy to test this idea proposed an experiment in which A and B are set 100 kilometres apart. At each end, about 100 humans are hooked up to EEG headsets that can read their brain activity. The signals are used to switch the settings on the measuring device at each location.
If the amount of correlation between these measurements doesn’t tally with previous Bell tests, it implies a violation of quantum theory, hinting that the measurements at A and B are being controlled by processes outside the purview of standard physics.
“[If] you only saw a violation of quantum theory when you had systems that might be regarded as conscious, humans or other animals, that would certainly be exciting. ” Hardy says. “We’d want to debate as to what that meant.”
Such a finding would stir up debate about the existence of free will. It could be that even if physics dictated the material world, the human mind not being made of that same matter would mean that we could overcome physics with free will. “It wouldn’t settle the question, but it would certainly have a strong bearing on the issue of free will,” says Hardy.
Nicolas Gisin at the University of Geneva in Switzerland thinks Hardy’s proposal makes “plenty of sense”, but he’s sceptical of using unstructured EEG signals to switch settings on devices. That’s akin to using the brain as a random number generator, says Gisin. He would rather see an experiment where the conscious intent of humans is used to perform the switching – but that would be experimentally more challenging.
Either way, he wants to see the experiment done. “There is an enormous probability that nothing special will happen, and that quantum physics will not change,” says Gisin. “But if someone does the experiment and gets a surprising result, the reward is enormous. It would be the first time we as scientists can put our hands on this mind-body or problem of consciousness.”
Via New Scientist
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