Can a physicist embrace idealism?

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Can a physicist embrace idealism?

Claus Metzner, PhD


Quote:...But instead of this argument, I recommend a little ‘objectivization exercise’. Its goal is to strip away, step by step, all subjectivity from our inner virtual reality, until only that remains which is truly out there. So, you first ask her to please remove all colors from her inner movie, since colors are pure qualia, not part of objective reality. This leaves her with a series of mental black-and-white images. The next step is to remove also all local differences of brightness from those mental images, since the electro-magnetic field distribution in objective reality has no brightness unless a conscious being is observing them. This last step is probably surprising for her, since now there are not even images left: No more objects with boundaries, arranged in three-dimensional space, nothing visual anymore. You continue to take away from her the subjective experiences of hearing, touching, smelling, and so on, until she is left in a complete void. After this procedure, she may finally be willing to admit that reality beyond our personal consciousness is, at best, something like pure information.

As a working model, let us imagine objective reality as a huge array of numbers, an abstract ‘matrix’ that holds the momentary state of the universe. Something like this information matrix has to exist, because otherwise we could not easily account for the fact that the world is so persistent and that other people seem to live in the same environment as we do. All our individual virtual reality shows must be ‘rendered’ from this universal, shared information matrix, even though certain details of the rendering are relative to the observer. Reversely, we can affect the state of the matrix by acting within our private reality shows. Moreover, the matrix is also updating its values independently from us, following the rules of nature (so that the moon will appear at the expected place tomorrow). The task of basic science is to figure out the update rules of this information matrix.

I have been working for more than three decades as a theoretical physicist in the diverse fields of quantum nanostructures, biophysics and brain-inspired neurophysics. The information matrix, conventionally called matter, is important to me, as I am one of those who make a living from investigating its update rules. But at the same time, I am keenly aware that conscious experience is the only phenomenon that I know to exist without any doubt, whereas the information matrix and its rules are merely an inference to explain the regularities of our experience. After all, we will never have any direct contact with the information matrix, as its states can only be read or modified through events within subjective experience: When a scientist is turning the control knob of a light source to set another intensity and then reads up the resulting change of photocurrent from a measurement instrument, these are mental events in her consciousness. In the same way, when she is later sitting in her office, staring at a plot of her measured data and thinking about how to get it published, these are all mental events in consciousness. And over time, as a collective result of many such individual mental events, a shared worldview is emerging, the great narrative of science, which is helping us to thrive in our mental universe...
'Historically, we may regard materialism as a system of dogma set up to combat orthodox dogma...Accordingly we find that, as ancient orthodoxies disintegrate, materialism more and more gives way to scepticism.'

- Bertrand Russell



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