Making an Appearance


Mind the Details
Bernard d’Espagnat delves into finer and finer distinctions between his veiled reality position and similar (though not identical) views.

The eighteenth chapter of his On Physics and Philosophy is entitled “Objects and Philosophy,” and there’s only one chapter to go after this.

Philosophers vs Consciousness Researchers
D’Espagnat says he takes mostly a philosophical approach in this book.

Philosophers question the basis of our reality while consciousness researchers (such as neurologists) take physical realism as a given (whether they’re conscious of this or not).

Mind vs Reality
Radical idealists, who think mind is “primeval,” may wonder about the relationship between mind and “basic reality.”

Supporters of d’Espagnat’s “veiled reality” or “open realism” approach are even more motivated to investigate.

Truth vs Reality
A physical realist can say that a true statement is “adequate to what reality really is.”

This is the “similitude theory” of truth.

Reality vs Representations
But if we don’t have access to reality as it “really is” then we might say we have access only to “human representations” of “the Real.”

Instead of worrying about whether statements are true to reality you might worry more about the verifiability of statements.

Knowable vs Unknowable Reality
Another problem with the “similitude” approach is that quantum mechanics, the best model of the world we have, fundamentally deals with observational probabilities not plain and simple facts.

Even resorting to a Broglie-Bohm approach doesn’t help as “hidden variables” will be inaccessible to the observer even in principle.

Idealism vs Veiled Reality
A radical idealist or Kantian rejects the similitude approach anyway.

A supporter of the veiled reality approach has to take a somewhat nuanced tact.

Very broad statements about physical constants or “existences prior to knowledge” may hint at “the Real” without claiming to say anything directly about “the Real” as it “really is.”

Appearances vs Veiled Reality
If we’re not supposed to trust in “appearances” then what is reality really like?

We might think that “the Real” is just an updated version of “appearances.”

Or maybe mind-independent reality is so independent that it’s entirely inaccessible.

D’Espagnat says both approaches are too extreme.

Causal Links vs Predictive Laws
We like our ordinary, everyday version of “realism” because it lets us imagine particular cause-and-effect relationships.

It’s easier to explain things when we can point to particular causes rather than just patterns of observational predictions.

D’Espagnat says some causal links are genuine and independent of us, but our interpretation of these links is very much our own.

For instance, causality is closely related in our minds to the notion of “will,” which entails a very anthropomorphic (human-centred) view of reality.

Intersubjective Agreement vs Appearances
But what if a group of humans (and maybe even non-humans!) agree on certain observations?

D’Espagnat says that this agreement combined with rules of observational prediction mean this is our “reality.”

Saying they’re just “appearances” is misleading. It’s a kind of “reality.”

However, modern physics reminds us that humans tend to “reify” (think of the world as a set of objects).

So we still have to keep in mind that empirical reality is not the same as “the Real.”

Empirical Reality vs Mind-Independent Reality
Although d’Espagnat is comfortable with the term “reality” to describe our empirical reality, he says we have to remember these are two “orders” or “levels” of reality.

Empirical reality isn’t just a mere variant on “the Real.”

Identity Theory vs Efflorescence Theory
In some of the more nuanced sections of the chapter d’Espagnat makes a distinction between identity theory and efflorescence theory.

Identity theory states that a genuine sensation or awareness (perhaps even thought in general) is traceable to neurons or their components.

The material aspect of these neurons is the ultimate cause of our sensations.

Efflorescence theory attributes sensations and awareness to “neuronal activity” rather than the material aspects of neurons or their components.

Strong vs Weak Completeness
D’Espagnat’s main line of attack against identity theory is the completeness principle.

In its strong version, quantum mechanics is assumed to be able to describe anything at all.

In its weak version, if any theory can describe something then quantum mechanics can do so as well. This leaves open the concept of hidden variables.

Since quantum mechanics is antirealist it’s hard to imagine how the strong completeness principle is compatible with identity theory.

Even if you take the weak version of the completeness principle all you can conclude is that the identity theory may be true—but we can never show it to be so.

But what if you reject the completeness principle entirely?

If you used the Broglie-Bohm model you’d still have to deal with an entangled wave function, so sensations can’t be attributed just to some limited coordinates of a particular neuron.

Or you can take the Roger Penrose approach by adding nonlinear terms to the Schrödinger equation.

D’Espagnat says that approach may work, but he finds it too ad hoc. It’s also work still at an early stage, yet to face the scrutiny a full theory would need to endure.

Brain vs Neuron States
Now, efflorescence theory relies on neuronal activity not the material aspects of neurons to explain sensation, awareness, and (perhaps) thought itself.

But neurologists believe brain states not neuronal states are what drives awareness. You can’t pinpoint a particular neuron or group of neurons that are responsible.

It’s the collective action spread across the brain that is associated with awareness.

D’Espagnat notes the parallel to quantum entanglement.

Protomentality vs Mentality
Alfred North Whitehead and other thinkers in the past have wondered if simple organisms or even inorganic entities can have awareness?

Abner Shimony’s “potentiality” might satisfy some objections to this concept of protomentality.

Various entities have the potentiality of consciousness, but this potentiality isn’t actualized unless a nervous system is present.

Consciousness vs Components of Consciousness
As a final objection to the efflorescence theory, d’Espagnat says that any component we cite will be part of our empirical reality.

Empirical reality depends on our consciousness.

Therefore how can something that depends on our consciousness be the cause of our consciousness?

D’Espagnat vs The “Received” View
The “received” view that thought is produced by matter is, according to d’Espagnat, “slightly useful” as a model but must be rejected as a plausible philosophical stance.

Relative Quantum States vs Relative Consciousness
Because the observer decides what to measure and how, quantum states are “relative” to these procedures.

However, some quantum rules may be considered “in isolation.” They’re not predictive observational rules and hence don’t involve probability.

They’re more like descriptions.

However, to understand the quantum world you have to consider all quantum rules not just pick and choose the non-probabilistic ones.

D’Espagnat says states of consciousness are somewhat similar.

Definite vs Indefinite States of Consciousness
Imagine a sealed-off laboratory. Paul makes a measurement. His state of consciousness is definite but Peter doesn’t know that until Paul, say, phones him with the measurement.

This is a version of Wigner’s friend, and can be extended over and over again, with an observer outside a sealed room, which contains an observer outside a sealed room, etc.

Peter thinks Paul’s state of consciousness is not just unknown (before the phone call) but also undefined. It’s a superposition of possible results (pointer values, for instance).

Yet once Paul makes the measurement, Paul’s state of consciousness is definite from Paul’s point of view.

Consciousness vs The Absolute
This apparent conflict doesn’t change the fact that physics is all about predicting observations, says d’Espagnat.

However, there’s a related issue.

We shouldn’t think that “predictive states of consciousness” are like some Absolute or can even be a substitute for the Absolute.

Quantum states are relative, and so are states of consciousness.

More precisely, states of consciousness that are predictive are relative.

Physical vs Mental
So we see some sort of “solidarity” between the physical and the mental, but that doesn’t mean the mental can be reduced to the physical.

Wigner’s Friends vs Ultimate Reality
The series of “Wigner’s friends” who occupy increasingly large rooms is suggestive of an ultimate reality that we cannot gain access to. Wigner’s friends don’t have access to the overall wave function.

Predictive vs Non-Predictive Consciousness
However, nothing prevents us from pondering non-predictive states of consciousness.

When Paul makes the observation, his state of consciousness becomes well-defined. It’s no longer predictive.

Veiled Reality vs Co-Emergence
Michel Bitbol, Hervé Zwirn, and other authors speak of thought and empirical reality “co-emerging” at the same time.

It’s a “self-qualifying” process by which structure emerges from an initial and total lack of structure.

D’Espagnat says his veiled reality viewpoint has an “ultimate ground” endowed with general structures even if they are “far from being knowable.”

This ultimate ground may form the basis for not just scientific laws but also creative and mystical endeavours.

Emergence vs Non-Emergence
So, according to d’Espagnat, structures emerge but don’t co-emerge. They pre-exist.

Co-emergence serves merely to connect consciousness and empirical (not ultimate) reality.

D’Espagnat acknowledges that in the past he has talked of consciousness and empirical reality existing “in virtue of one another.”

This does not mean that empirical reality emerged from consciousness.

Furthermore, these words are meant to be evocative rather than a precise philosophical statement.

He reiterates the impossibility of appearances, which depend on consciousness, somehow creating consciousness.

Indexed vs Non-Indexed States of Consciousness
Adopting Bitbol’s terminology, d’Espagnat says some beings may possess non-indexed states of consciousness.

That means these states of consciousness are not relative to any particular experimental setup.

However, these states of consciousness must therefore be non-predictive.

Microscopic vs Macroscopic
An idealized miniature version of a being would be too small to interact with the environment to become predictive.

In the intermediate state between microscopic and macroscopic, such beings could accurately predict one class of observations but would wrongly predict another class of observations.

For macroscopic beings that first class of observations would still be correctly predictable but the second class of observations would be essentially impossible.

These practical observations are conveniently describable in realist language, while the practically impossible observations are not.

So if we want to talk about co-emergence then we should imagine the co-emergence of “public and predictive” states of consciousness and empirical, physical reality.

This co-emergence is constrained by the class of observations that macroscopic beings can perform.

Co-emergence draws from a mind-independent reality that presumably, according to d’Espagnat, is beyond intersubjective description.

And returning to the idea of potentiality, d’Espagnat says that in moving from the microscopic to the macroscopic the “ontological potentiality” of consciousness becomes empirical actuality.

“The Real” is not in itself thought, but can give rise to thought.

One World vs Many Egos
There appears to be one universe but many minds.

Radical idealists have trouble reconciling this situation.

Schrödinger calls this the “arithmetical paradox” and proposed two solutions.

There’s “Leibniz’ fearful doctrine of monads,” and there’s the belief the multiplicity is only apparent.

Schrödinger preferred the second approach, akin to the Upanishads, which states there is unity behind the illusion.

Veiled Reality vs Radical Idealism
The multiple-room experimental setup showed that predictive states of consciousness are relative.

It’s hard to see how all those observers could be part of just one mind.

However, perhaps various observers are making mutually compatible observations, calculable using the general Born rule.

This is the same as one observer making simultaneous measurements.

This sounds compatible with Schrödinger’s viewpoint.

However, that doesn’t solve the problem of the observer in that sealed-off inner room.

It also doesn’t take decoherence into account.

On the other hand, this decoherence also hides any theoretical possibility of discovering contradictions between multiple minds and the quantum structure of physical laws.

D’Espagnat thinks more work needs to be done on this issue.


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