I will not repeat here a description of what Non-Locality is, nor of the experiments which have permitted its existence to be proven, thereby giving reason to Niels Bohr in the debate that opposed him to Albert Einstein. Indeed, it has been presented in details in this book by Nicolas Gisin. I will attempt instead to show the philosophical implications that we can draw from these experimental results, results which belong to the most important ones of the XXth century.
There are however two ways of approaching the phenomenon. Either, as Bell puts it, there is an influence which is not subject to matter or energy (because otherwise it could not travel faster than the speed of light) and which goes from one particle to the other, in which case we speak about “Non-Locality” as it violates the Locality Principle as conceived by Einstein, or, as the majority of today’s physicists think, the two particles form one and the same object even if they are measured by instruments in theory thousands of miles apart. In this case we would be talking more of “Non-Separability” because the two particles cannot be separated (when they have not been measured). After the “before-before” experiment realized by the team of Gisin, this second interpretation seems the most probable.
As Bernard d’Espagnat says “as far as Non-Separability is concerned the two descriptions are equivalent. In either cases, a violation of Einsteinian separability necessitates an instantaneous interaction at a distance, either between two distinct systems or within a single and same system spread out over space” (d’Espagnat, 1980, p.86) .
We can see in both cases that there is no possible escape route: we are led to radically revise our beliefs about the very foundations of reality.
This is why this result is of such importance: it represents a major shift in our knowledge. This experiment jettisons a great number of different views of the world, which can be thrown out like used bus tickets.
- What does Non-locality imply about the nature of reality?
The standard interpretation of Quantum Mechanics is named the “Copenhagen interpretation” attributed to Niels Bohr’s influence. The majority of today’s physicists have adopted this view because it allows them to avoid asking any philosophical questions. Bohr tells us, “Quantum Mechanics deals not with reality but with what we know about it”. Quantum Mechanics simply allows those observers with measuring apparatus to predict their observations correctly. There is no point in seeking to explain why it works. It is enough to see that it works and to apply its formalism.” (quoted by Ortoli and Pharabod, 2001, p. 83).
In other words Quantum Physics predicts experimental results, but there is no point in trying to represent the reality which might exist (or which might not exist) behind the phenomena observed. This certainly avoids a lot of headache but for those who wish to understand the nature of the world, the Copenhagen interpretation is, in Etienne Klein’s words, “designed to frustrate people”.
Some devotees of the interpretation such as Pascual Jordan are quite idealistic. He actually goes as far as removing any meaning to the question of the existence of any sort of reality. “A common error, from a positivist view, is to deny the existence of the exterior world. The negation of a proposition devoid of meaning is a proposition devoid of sense. The idea of the non-existence of a real exterior world has no more meaning than its existence. Neither one nor the other is true or false, they are completely meaningless”. (Jordan, 1936, p. 309).
It is not necessary however to adopt such an extreme position to have difficulties with the notion of reality. The Copenhagen interpretation does not allow us to speak about the existence of the electron (let alone of its properties) when it is not under observation, which is close to idealism. As Bernard d’Espagnat says, there is a certain ambiguity to the position of many physicists who claim to support it: “The majority of physicists are happy to use Quantum Mechanics without bothering to question its basic rules. How can they justify this? According to them, these fundamentals have long since been elucidated by the Copenhagen school. Even those physicists who regard themselves as realists are quite prepared to take this stance. Do they actually realize to what extent they are distancing themselves from all realism – or materialism – in the accepted sense of these terms? Heisenberg tends to agree with Kant. This means that the realism of those physicists, who rely on their elders’ views without questioning the fundamentals, is akin to that of the philosophy known as Kantian idealism. Are my esteemed colleagues fully aware of the slant this gives to their ideas, and if they are, are they prepared to admit this to their students or to their public?”( d’Espagnat, 1982, p. 59).
This stance (which could be crudely called “shut-up and calculate!”) was illustrated by Richard Feynman, Nobel Prize recipient for Physics, in his allegory concerning the Mayas. The Mayas knew how to predict eclipses but did not have the slightest idea of the real nature of the sun or the moon. Let’s suppose, Feynman says, that a Mayan student tells his tutor to imagine that the earth, the moon and the sun are three balls floating in space thereby explaining the eclipses.
“Can you predict anything else other than what has already been predicted?” the tutor asks the student.
“Then your theory is useless because only experiments count. Being interested in the nature of things goes beyond the realms of science and borders on metaphysics!” (Feynman, 1979, p. 202)
- Non-physical realism
So what is left for those who want to go beyond idealism? There is of course a realist type of stand, but it corresponds to a “non-physical realism”, the antithesis of classical realist thinking which has become associated with materialism.
Let’s take the example of a rainbow (d’Espagnat, 2002, p. 398-402.). You might think on seeing it for the first time that it is a solid object whose two extremities touch the ground. Then you notice that when you move, it moves with you. Does this mean that the rainbow is an illusion and a figment of your imagination? No, of course not. Its existence is dependent on the presence of water droplets in the atmosphere and the refraction of the light’s rays. Nonetheless, certain important characteristics of the rainbow, such as its position and speed, are dependent on you and where you stand. The situation is identical for all elementary particles and even for atoms, in the conception of non-physical realism. These are not figments of our imagination, but some of their essential characteristics depend on the way we observe them. This introduces a radical difference with science’s normal goal, as summarized here by Albert Messiah, “There is a fundamental premise at the outset of any scientific enterprise, that nature possesses an objective reality, independent of our sensory perceptions or our investigative means. The point of physical theory is to give an intelligible account of this objective reality.” (quoted by d’Espagnat, 1979, p. 59).
For example, if we are told that “gravitation only depends on mass and the square of distance”, we are talking about “a very objective statement”, because mass and the positions of macroscopic objects do not vary when measured. In this field, this type of statement is referred to as having “strong objectivity”. The statements made in Quantum theory however refer to our perceptions or to our instruments. They are objective only in as much as they hold true for any observer. We cannot therefore say that they are absolutely true because their truth needs to relate to the community of human observers. They are statements of “weak objectivity”. (d’Espagnat, 1979, p. 60).
Quantum Mechanics cannot therefore describe what is real in terms of strong objectivity. This is why even if physical realism or classical realism abandons the materialist claim of describing the foundation of what is, as being constituted of objects, it cannot be compatible with this type of physics.
Another characteristic of this new form of realism is its “distant” nature. Not distant in a geographic sense, but “conceptually distant” because concepts that we are familiar with, those which are close to our way of understanding things, are no longer applicable. We could refer to a “strange realism”.
To see to what extent it is strange, let us analyze the de Broglie paradox. One electron is placed in a vacuum box (this is a “thought” experiment, but technology today enables us to keep an electron inside a magnetic field without it interfering with other bodies). The box is cut in two, one half is sent to Tokyo and the other to Paris. On opening the Paris box, the electron is revealed. Franco Selleri, one of the few physicists who does not accept the case today for Quantum Mechanics tells us, “if we open the Paris box and find the electron in it, the natural reaction of most physicists will be to say that the electron observed in Paris at the time of opening the box was also there before the box was opened” (Selleri, 1986) and that therefore the half-box in Tokyo was empty right from the beginning. Perhaps that is the “natural reaction”, but it is not the right reaction if the matter is given some thought! If we follow Quantum Physics the electron might be spread throughout the box. When the box is cut in two (putting aside the fact that this action will have perturbed the wave function) the electron will have spread into both halves of the boxes. When the electron is observed in Paris, there is a reduction in the wave packet and the probability of observing the electron in Tokyo is only eliminated at this point.
Thus with Quantum Mechanics – contrary to common sense – we can say that the fact that the electron has been observed in Paris does in no way imply that it was already present in the half-box in Paris before observation and therefore that the box in Tokyo was empty. Before opening the boxes, the electron was in a state of superposition, as in: “the electron is in Paris” and “the electron is in Tokyo”.
In this new conception of a “strange” and “distant” realism, compared to the principles which rule our daily lives, this paradox should not surprise us! However I can perfectly well see how troubling the following statement is: “when the electron is found in the box we cannot claim that it was already in Paris before the box was opened”.
As Albert Messiah has said, realism supposes the existence of a reality independent of our perceptions and our means of observation. What Quantum Physics does, is to show that if such an independent reality exists, it is not the physical reality that we can see, touch, feel or measure! Indeed, this reality - like the rainbow - is not independent of our perceptions and our means of observation. Nonetheless the experiments that we have just described do show us that something escapes not only time and space but equally matter and even energy. This "something" is a good candidate for independent realism but should however be considered as non-physical or distant. This independent reality cannot be described by science. It can at best be very imperfectly approached by a science of weak objectivity – but not strong objectivity.
This conception of realism has been studied in depth by Bernard d’Espagnat (d’Espagnat, 1981, 2001, 2004). Different views which also lead to the rejection of all classical materialist conception of reality and which underline the non-ontological nature of the world we live in, have also been expressed by several other physicists: Raymond Chiao, Olivier Costa de Beauregard, Paul Davies, Amit Goswami, Andreï Grib, Menas Kafatos, Stanley Klein, Thierry Magnin, Alexis Nesteruk, Basarab Nicolescu, Lothar Schäfer and Henry Stapp amongst others.
To best understand how this new conception of reality differs from the old one, it is worth thinking about Bernard d’Espagnat’s message, “one of the teachings of modern science of so called “matter” is the following: the “thing”, if there is one, which remains preserved is not concrete but abstract. It is not something which is close to the senses but which, on the contrary, is a pure mathematically abstract number such as theoretical physics has revealed to us. In other terms, compared to our senses and the concepts that are familiar to us, reality is undeniably distant. In order to do justice to this very important discovery, when we speak about it, I think that it is crucial to know that the word “matter” is the wrong one and that the more appropriate word “Being” should be reintroduced". (d’Espagnat,1982, p.55).
What an extraordinary conceptual change, when what is considered as real is in fact abstract, not concrete and closer to mathematical formulae than to a grain of sand! Quite the opposite of all the scientific and materialist conceptions of the previous centuries!
Can we escape the conclusion that ultimate reality (if it exists, as it is of course impossible to refute idealism) is not imbedded in space, time, matter and energy? I think that it is impossible; actually, all the different models that attempt to establish a strong realism are non-local, as shown by the principal among them, developed by Louis de Broglie, David Bohm and John Bell (sometimes called the BBB model). Indeed, the Quantum potential existing in this model is, by definition, non-local. So it is a model where the very structure of things escapes time and space. The model of parallel universes, invoked by materialists in numerous circumstances to dispose of embarrassing concepts such as the Anthropic Principle, is, here, of no help. This model certainly doesn’t enable to reduce Non-Locality to a phenomenon that would happen in time and space, regardless of which given universe. Thereby these models - also not credible at the experimental level- if they can, in theory, restore strong objectivity and make the notion of weak objectivity disappear, cannot, by nature, be such as to restore classical realism; any new theory will be non local, such as very well concluded by Nicolas Gisin: “physics offers no story in space and time to explain or describe how these correlations happen. Hence, somehow, non-local correlations emerge from outside space-time” (Gisin, 2012)
It is important to note that this point is supported by one of the principal representative of the most extreme materialistic trend in the field of Physics, Jean Bricmont: he compares indeed Non Locality to a magician’s act (he does at least stipulate that this is just an analogy!) capable of acting from a distance on a person by manipulating his effigy whatever the distance separating them. He says rightly that information cannot be transmitted using Non Locality, “but other disconcerting aspects are there, such as instantaneousness, individuality, effects which do not decrease with distance”.
Bricmont wastes no time however in qualifying this action (“aspects which do not decrease with the distance, contrary to all known physical forces, which propagate more rapidly than the speed of light”) by speaking of the “magical” properties of Non Locality” (Bricmont, 1995, p. 150-151).
And he concludes: “Non Locality is a property of nature established by means of experiments and elementary reasoning, independent of the interpretation of formalised Quantum Physics. As a result any other theory which might replace Quantum Mechanics will also be non-local”. (Bricmont, 1995, p.131-179).
But numerous professional meetings that I’ve had over the last 20 years with physicists, as well as the conferences I’ve organized in the field of Quantum Physics, have shown me that many physicists were simply not aware of the conceptual leap that was involved in these experimental results. In some extreme cases, some were aware of it but refused to believe in it (in the mid-1990s, I even met a UCLA professor of Physics who told me: “if these results are confirmed, I will abandon my position and do pottery”). As Thomas Kuhn showed, the changes of paradigms never happen easily and it is often most difficult for a community to accept a new paradigm taking place in their field.
When modern ideas started to emerge, the Inquisition tried to stop them from spreading. The resulting religious obscurantism has been widely chronicled. Today we are living through the same situation. This time, those who find themselves in a dominant position and who see their position weakened in the face of scientific progress are the materialists and those in favor of scientism. Today, in most Western countries, obscurantism no longer has religious connotations (the Petit Robert dictionary definition for Obscurantism is: preventing the spread of knowledge or culture amongst a population), but materialist connotations (it does not concern the materialists as a whole, far from it, the same way that religious obscurantism at its height did not affect all clerics).
Obscurantism comes in three guises:
- Omission: writing a book on the nature of reality as a physicist and not talking about the EPR paradox.
- Reassurance for the wrong reasons: talking about these issues by saying that indeed peculiar things happened but that everything has settled down and that “common sense”, i.e. our classical concepts, are no longer threatened.
- Misinformation, pure and simple: to say something that is inexact about a subject that the author is expected to know about.
A particularly enlightening example in this field is the one of Nobel Prize in Physics, Murray Gell-Mann in his famous book “The Quark and the Jaguar”. In a chapter dedicated to the Einstein–Podolsky–Rosen paradox and to the experiences stemming from it, he doesn’t hesitate to write that “ the principal distortion (concerning these experiences) spread in the medias and in various books, is the affirmation, implicitly or explicitly accepted, that to measure the polarization of one of the photons affects, in one way or the other, the second photon. In fact, the measurement causes no propagation of any physical effect, from one photon to the other… On each branch, the situation resembles Bertlemann’s socks described by John Bell in one of his papers. Bertlemann is a mathematician who always wears a sock of pink color and the other of green color. If you only see one of his feet with a green sock, you will know that his other foot wears a pink sock. And yet no signal has been propagated from one foot to the other. In the same way, in the experiment confirming Quantum Mechanics, no signal passes from one photon to the other; there is no action taking place from a distance. This wrong allegation, according to which the measurement of one photon immediately affects the other, leads to all kind of unfortunate conclusions” (Gell-Mann, 1985, p.196-197). What is especially unfortunate is to see a Nobel Prize in Physics say something so seriously inaccurate. In fact this is inaccurate in two respects: first, it is clear that the measurement made on one element of the system affects the entire system, it is the very essence of Non Locality; then, Gell-Mann makes reference to a famous chapter by John Bell as support to his thesis, while Bell states, in this very chapter, in three different places, exactly the contrary of what Murray Gell-Mann implies: “We cannot avoid the fact that intervention on one side has a causal effect on the other” (Bell, 1987, p.150), “Some correlations are locally inexplicable. They cannot be explained without action at a distance” (Bell, 1987, p.152), “For the experiment described, that would not only be a mysterious long distance influence (a non-locality, or an action at a distance in the weakest sense) but an influence propagating more rapidly than the speed of light, a non-locality in the strictest and most difficult to accept form” (Bell, 1987, p.153).
We are here in a quite extraordinary situation at the epistemological level. Let’s analyze it:
- Murray Gell-Mann has by far the scientific level to understand John Bell’s paper “Bertlemann’s Socks and the Nature of Reality”, as well as to understand what experiences such as Aspect’s prove or disprove;
- Murray Gell-Mann is of good faith; I support here the postulate according to which he is not looking to deliberately misguide his readers;
- Murray Gell-Mann makes the analogy developed by John Bell say exactly the contrary of what it says in three different passages; even worse, Gell-Mann claims that the experiments prove the model that they precisely refute; indeed, what the experiments refute is that before the entrance of Mr Bertlemann in the room, meaning before the measurement, the color of the socks is already determined, pink for one and green for the other (meaning that the polarization of the photons is determined before the measurement, the very point which is refuted by Alain Aspect’s experiments!). The experiments oblige us to accept a model where the color of the socks would be randomly fixed when we see them (meaning when they enter in the room) and where, when the first sock is green, we know in advance that the other will be pink. I have decided to call this quite extraordinary phenomenon the “Gell-Mann effect”. As we will see, the Gell-Mann effect can play an ever more important role in the field of neurosciences and the question of Free Will. For now, we must simply retain that it is difficult for a new paradigm to make its way through, even among specialists of this question.
To understand the extent to which such phenomena are widespread among physicists, let’s get back to Jean Bricmont, whose extremely materialistic sentiments don’t impede him to be clear sighted in regards to the extraordinary implications of the experiments which brought to light Non Locality. It so happens that Jean Bricmont is the co- author, with Alain Sokal, also Quantum physicist, of a book that follows a hoax on the part of Alain Sokal, aiming to denounce the absurdities of some philosophers and sociologist supporters of relativism, who succeeded in publishing a completely absurd article in a referee journal.
In this parody he states that “an observation made here and now can not only affect the observed object but can also affect another object as far away as one wishes from the first. This phenomenon, which Einstein called “phantomatic”, incurs a radical re-evaluation of traditional mechanist concepts of space, object, causality and suggests an alternative view in which the universe is characterised by interconnection and holism”. ( quoted by Sokal and Bricmont, 1997, p. 217).
Realising this was a parody, the reader could well believe it to be exaggerated or false, but not only is it rigorously exact but the words are rather less daring than those of Jean Bricmont when he writes about the same phenomenon in all seriousness!
As a conclusion to this first part, we can state that:
- Either the present tendency concerning the impossibility to establish a Quantum theory of strong objectivity is confirmed, and in this case we must admit the existence of another level of reality.
- Either we’ll be able one day to establish a theory of a Quantum Potential type, but even in this case, reality will have to integrate a dimension that is beyond time and space, as well shown by David Bohm’s development of reflections on his own model (he compared both particles in a situation similar to EPR to two fishes situated on two television screens, whose movements were perfectly coordinated since it was in fact two images of a same fish, filmed by two cameras – model which could not introduce more clearly another dimension in our reality).
- All this constitutes, as we have seen, a true new Copernican revolution, susceptible to change many dogmas in the Mind-Body problem. The immense majority of neurologists consider that the brain produces consciousness, meaning that it contains in itself all necessary elements in order to fabricate it. But let’s imagine that the brain is not an IPod that contains the music it can play, but a radio retransmitting what it receives.
- Is the brain an IPod or a radio?
Imagine that extraterrestrials have been observing our behaviour for years and not wishing to disturb us, they make sure that we are not aware of them. They take advantage of our holidays to enter our homes and study objects which they find there. Just imagine them in a teenager’s bedroom. Looking at the CDs and the stereo equipment makes them soon realise that sounds are encoded in digital form which the player decodes to reconstitute the sound. Looking at an IPod will lead to the same conclusion. If the storage system is technologically more advanced and it can stock a greater quantity of sounds, the techniques for storage and reading won’t be any more difficult to understand because of this. Looking at the radio will however cause great confusion. Where are the sounds stocked in the radio and how are they read? To try to understand it, they will perform several experiments by altering or removing parts of the radio. They will notice that the sound emitted is either modified or non-existent. They will logically conclude that even if the radio is a very technically advanced object, its overall principle is not very different from that of an IPod or the CD player in that it emits sounds which are stocked within it. They will be so convinced of this conclusion that if one day they take these objects back to space and see that the radio does not work, whereas the IPod carries on working, they will probably assume that the radio is more sophisticated and therefore more sensitive to the magnetic field of their spaceship or to the effects of gravity.
Finally they will castigate any theory suggesting that the sounds are not stocked in the radio but are emitted by some mysterious source and treat such suggestions as “prehistoric”, “magical” or “mystical”.
The point is that today there is no proof that the brain is the equivalent of an IPod or a CD and nothing prevents it from being a radio.
Consciousness is modified when certain areas of the brain are modified but this does no more prove that the brain produces consciousness than the fact that music is different when the components of the radio are modified proves that the radio produces the music. A minority of neurologists have no hesitation in going further and considering the brain to be a condition and not the ultimate cause of consciousness. But they are confronted with the famous question: how can the mind influence the brain without violating physical laws, the first of which would be the law of energy conservation?
Thanks to Frederick Beck, a Quantum physicist and director of the Department of Theoretical Physics of the University of Darmstadt, the famous neurologist John Eccles found the solution.
Eccles received the Nobel Prize for his work on the functioning of the synapse. The synapse is the essential element for the transfer of the nerve impulse from one neurone to another. This transfer depends on exocytosis i.e. the bursting of a small number of vesicles each containing 5 to 10,000 molecules of neuron transmitters. The opening of each vesicle works in an either “all or nothing” way and depends on the displacement of a miniscule part of the membrane of the vesicle (weighing 10-18 grams). When the nerve impulse arrives in the synaptic button at the end of the axon, the exocytosis allowing the transmission of the “message” to the following neurone has usually only a one in three or four possibility of happening.
By doing a quantum treatment of exocytosis, Beck has shown that the probability of this event happening could be increased or diminished without it constituting a violation of the law of energy conservation, because the masses involved in the phenomenon of exocytosis are small enough to be part of the uncertainties existing on a quantum level.
Beck’s and Eccles’ work was published by the American Academy of Science (Beck and Eccles, 1992, p. 11357-11361) and is a very important piece of work. It does not prove that the mind acts on the brain; it shows that it is theoretically possible. Since 1992 therefore the main obstacle to the acceptance of a dualist view no longer exists and has resurfaced as a possibility on a scientific level.
Thereby Quantum Mechanics allows at a scientific level the conception of a dualist vision of the relationship between the body and the mind. First by showing that there exists another level of reality or another dimension, susceptible to house a non-material entity such as the mind. Secondly, by showing that it is theoretically possible that a non-material entity can influence the behavior of a material entity such as the brain. Antoine Suarez proposes in this book a very interesting hypothesis which, it will be fascinating to see if, as he pretends, can be tested at the biological level, at least in an indirect manner. But are there other evidences in favor of such a dualist conception?
Contrary to Alfred Mele's view (Mele, 2012), I think that the experiments on the Readiness Potential give us an interesting lead, while being relevant to the heart of this meeting’s subject matter, Free Will. Although Mele mentions this experiment in his paper, please allow me here to review it briefly.
One second before a subject has made a gesture, a potential called the Readiness Potential appears in the supplementary motor area. However you do not have the impression that a second has passed between the moment you decide to press the button and the moment you perform the gesture. Libet sheds light on the situation with the following experiment. (Libet, 2004, p. 123-156)
The subject is seated in front of a disc on which a black point rotates at a speed of two rotation per seconds. The subject can decide to press on the button from time to time as he wishes. He must say “When I decided to press on the button the black spot was on X”.
During this time the potentials which are produced in the supplementary motor area are registered. It is noted that the Readiness Potential begins 0.55 before the act is effected but that the subject reports that he decided to press on the button at the moment of the readiness potential was at its maximum, that is, 0.2 seconds before the act of pressing the button. The act takes place, a discharge of potential takes place, signalling that the gesture has been performed. This is an important detail.
Materialists were thrilled at the result, stating “this is the proof that Free Will does not exist. When we think that we have made the decision to press on the button, our brain has in fact already decided 0.35 seconds beforehand without us even being aware of it!
Libet did not stop there. He has identified aborted readiness potentials for which the traces begin in the same way but where the act has not yet taken place .
When the subject is asked what happened at this moment, he says that he was about to hit the button but changed his mind. The moment of his change of decision corresponds to the peak of the readiness potential, the moment being 0.2 seconds before the act (or some time a little later around 0.1), in the case where the subject hits the button and when the subject says he decides to. Moreover, the readiness potential develops initially in the two hemispheres despite the fact that in the end only one hand moves. It “lateralises” around 0.2 seconds before the act, that is, it disappears from the hemisphere corresponding to the hand that will not move but develops in the other hemisphere.
Something fundamental happens 0.2 seconds before the act. This is the moment where the “I” or the “self” has a chance to stop or to continue the processes which have been started without it. As Libet said : “Subjects can in fact “veto” motor performance during a 100–200-ms period before a prearranged time to act.” ( Libet, 1985)
This corresponds to our everyday experience. We make a lot of movements without really being aware of them. It is the case of hand movements during lively discussions. We can however “take control” at any moment of our bodies by crossing our arms and keeping our hands still.
Free Will is no illusion then. But it is more limited than we thought. It can veto potential acts which we have not initiated ourselves.
An apposite metaphor is that of the football referee. A whole match can be filmed by filming the ball in close up. What is a football match?
A reductionist like Changeux might say, “It is nothing more than twenty two pairs of feet and four hands hitting a ball”.
“But there is an extra ingredient, namely the referee.
- How come? I have watched dozens of football matches (in close-up) and I have never seen a referee? Does your referee kick the ball too?
- No but …..
- Then do not go telling outrageously non-scientific stories, your referee has no role to play in a football match, in fact he probably doesn’t exist at all”.
At the end of the match however, it is usually the referee and not the players who is hit with cans by the supporters, proof indeed that he plays an essential part in the match. His role is to let the players play except for the rare moments when he whistles.
Replace “referee” by "mind" and reread the text again and you will understand why this experiment of Libet’s is crucial. We cannot “objectivise that which is not an object”. We cannot see the mind but we can indirectly deduce the existence of something which affects the neuronal process because some readiness potential is aborted, just as one can deduce the existence of a referee by observing that the players all stop at the same time at certain moments during the match.
As shown by Alfred Mele’s paper, this interpretation of Libet has been questioned; nonetheless, and until proven contrary, I think that the interpretation given by Libet is the correct one and that it constitutes the most fascinating scientific support in favor of the existence of Free Will. First, the lateralization of the readiness potential shows us that something crucial happens 0.2 seconds before the action. Second, the model of Libet corresponds well to our intuitive apprehension: we are sometimes capable to do elaborated gestures, such as driving a car, without being conscious about it. And we have all experimented this famous veto, a day for example where we were about to do a gesture but kept our arm from moving at the last second.
Does this veto phenomenon correspond to the realization of another readiness potential, that would be symmetrical to the first one (which means that it will reach its term when there is veto, and which would abort as the movement reaches its term)? Libet mentions that: “There is no experimental evidence against the possibility that the control process may appear without specific development by prior unconscious processes”. (Libet, 2004, p. 45-46)
If this not prove in any ways the existence of Free Will it gives support to it as Libet said “My conclusion about Free Will, one genuinely free in the non determined sense, is then that its existence is at least as good, if not a better scientific option than is its denial by determinist theory.” ( Libet, 1999)
The movements done by the subjects are movements that are totally insignificant. Let’s imagine now to couple this experiment with Milgram’s experiment and test the moment when the subject will push a button thinking that he could provoke the death of a tested subject. Can we not think that in such a case the EEG would be completely different?
In all cases, I think fundamental to retain that Libet’s experiment causes many less problems if we are in a dualist framework; it is maybe the reason why this sort of work has been criticized, instead of being explored, despite the fascinating opportunities offered for a better knowledge of Free-Will.
- The great scientific return of a dualist conception of the Mind-Body problem
Dualism has a bad reputation.
It is “fundamentally anti-scientific”, “It must be avoided at all cost”, and “accepting dualism is renunciation”. (Dennett, 1993, p 54-55.)
Practically every neurological book starts with a criticism or two about dualism, but why not have a closer look?
- We have seen that phenomena such as Non-Separability can have a causal effect on our world and yet is neither composed of matter nor energy.
- At the very least, our journey across Quantum Physics leads us to the conclusion that what exists is not limited to those things that are included in time and space nor are comprised of matter and energy.
- Doesn’t this constitute an argument for the possible existence of a non-localised mind not comprised of matter nor energy?
- Since the publication of the Beck and Eccles article in 1992 (which to my knowledge has never been criticised by any publication in a referee journal) the main theoretical obstacle to a dualist conception of the mind has disappeared.
- Even Descartes could not have dreamt that science could one day provide a framework for such beliefs.
- Isn’t the dualist model the most logical solution to Libet’s other extraordinary experiments, demonstrating that consciousness can go backwards in time and therefore is not totally situated in time? Libet is not a dualist but he does take care to mention that nothing forbids the existence of a Cartesian type of dualism. (Libet, 2004, p.221)
- Remember that many famous scientists share the view that the brain and the mind are two identical things, a view that is undeniably refuted by Libet’s experiments whilst they still explaining that dualism is anti-scientific. This is a nice illustration of the parable of the straw and the beam.
- Isn’t the dualist model the best explanation of the fact that split-brain subjects retain a unique identity?
- Isn’t the dualist model the best explanation when one sees that an instance can, at the crucial moment, stop the processes that have been initiated unconsciously in the brain, thus demonstrating the existence of Free Will?
- Isn’t the dualist model the best explanation when one sees that the intention to do something can have some physical consequences on the brain and even on the immune system?
- Isn’t the dualist model also as good an explanation as that of theory of emergence that the mental states can be radically different from the associated neuronal states?
It therefore seems difficult to reject the hypothesis that the dualist model would provide the best theoretical framework for developing future research on the nature of human consciousness, when purely scientific facts are taken into consideration.
When non-material entities are mentioned, such as the mind or archetypes, etc, materialists immediately retort that this is a way of ossifying the research since, instead of researching a physical cause, something that cannot be verified is being postulated.
But here, the exact opposite is true!
The following are areas of research most likely to bring real progress in the realm of consciousness science:
- The development of Libet’s approach, involving the possibility that consciousness can extract itself from time (even if just for a little while).
Empirical confirmation of this issue lies perhaps in examples such as road accidents where some witnesses have reported that a moment that has only lasted three seconds (“I saw the lorry and crashed into it”) seemed to last for thirty. It is as if consciousness escaped the bounds of time in order to have more reaction time. This is just one more lead for research amongst many others.
- Research on several cases where we have a hint of the existence of an “operator inside the brain which does not limit itself to the sum of its parts” as Jean François Lambert puts it and which can either stop the processes initiated unconsciously by the brain or stimulate physical processes in the brain uniquely by thought.
- Research on subjects which are currently taboo such as Near Death Experience which shows us that incredible discoveries about human nature are still to come.
I see no foreseeable research that is as promising as that just described within the current paradigm of neurosciences for which “consciousness is a product of the brain”, yet by means which we have no ideas of.
Today the dualist model is the richest hypothesis for explaining facts that are the products of research in neurosciences. In this field however (just as in that of Evolutionary Science where thousands of researchers study the fruit-fly which has not really evolved over fifty million years, in the hope of understanding the mechanisms of Evolution), a paradigm forbids the openness to all non-physical reality, thus blocking the potentially most fruitful research, although this taboo no longer exists in the realms of Physics, Astrophysics and Mathematics where it is demonstrated that several layers of reality coexist, beyond the boundaries of time, space, energy and matter.
It is important to note that the dualist view we speak about here does not totally correspond to the classical conception of “dualism”, according to which matter and consciousness would be two radically separate things.
What we have seen in the part devoted to Physics incites us to think that the belief most in harmony with our knowledge is that consciousness and matter stem from a unique substance which would “ante-date the scission between the subject and the objet”, according to Bernard d’Espagnat and to be found beyond space, time and energy. In other words consciousness and Free Will refer to processes which are not completely in space time.
A convergence seems to draw itself out between, on one hand, concepts provided by Quantum Mechanics, and experiences made in Neurosciences on the other. Quantum Mechanics shows us that ultimate reality isn’t limited to the familiar dimensions of time and space, energy and matter. Experiments such as Benjamin Libet’s on Free Will, but also on the Backward Referral in Time, show that a dualist conception (theoretically allowed by models such as Beck’s and Eccles’) is more probable than a monist conception. Among these convergences, we must note the existing one between the model drawn from Quantum Physics by Antoine Suarez in this book and the one proposed by Benjamin Libet from his experiment on Free Will. Suarez’s model would explain why it is necessary that a large amount of our everyday gestures are unconscious; it is the price to pay in order for conscious and voluntary gestures to be possible. I think that such a model would certainly have interested Benjamin Libet. Of course, the general coherence that comes out of such convergences does in no way constitute a proof for the validity of these approaches; nonetheless it should invite numerous researchers to work in the field of the possible interaction between Quantum Mechanics and the Mind-Body problem, following those who have opened this path such as Roger Penrose, Sir John Eccles, Henry Stapp, Mario Beauregard, and today Antoine Suarez. But we have to be aware that in order to do so, we will have to overcome a very strong and powerful “Gell-Mann” effect, this time in the field of Neurosciences.
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 This idea is the result of a conversation about this subject with Jean-François Lambert
 Some research shows that the « out of body experiences » described by some people who have been close to death might not be an illusion as is generally thought, see Pim Van Lommel et al, 2001, Michael Sabom and Sarah Kreutzinger, 1978, p. 1-6. See also Michael Sabom, 1983. Libet himself has refined a protocol for testing the reality of this phenomenon in a rigorous fashion. See Benjamin Libet, 2004, p. 216-219.