Whiteheadian Quantum Ontology

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Whiteheadian Quantum Ontology

Henry P. Stapp


Quote:The core issue for both Whiteheadian Process and Quantum Process is the emergence of the discrete from the continuous. This problem is illustrated by the decay of a radioactive isotope located at the center of a spherical array of a finite set of detectors, arranged so that they cover the entire spherical surface. The quantum state of the positron emitted from the radioactive decay will be a continuous spherical wave, which will spread out continuously from the center and eventually reach the spherical array of detectors. But only one of these detectors will fire. The total space of possibilities (the entire sphere) has been partitioned into a discrete set of subsets (defined by the parts of the sphere covered by the various individual detectors) and the prior continuum of potentialities is suddenly reduced to some one particular part of the whole specified by the prescribed partition. But what fixes, or determines, this particular partitioning of the continuous whole into these particular discrete parts?

The orthodox answer is that “the experimenter decides”.

Yet if the experimenter himself is made wholly out of physical particles and fields then his quantum representation by a wave function must also be a continuous function. But how can a smeared out continuum of classically conceivable possibilities be partitioned into a set of discrete components by an agent who is himself a continuous smear of possibilities...

...This “discreteness” problem is resolved in orthodox quantum theory, andin actual scientific practice, by what Heisenberg and Bohr call “a choice on the part of the experimenter”...

What seems clear is that this partitioning cannot arise from the physically described aspects of the world acting alone: continuous smears acting in accord with the smoothing Schroedinger equation cannot create a discrete partitioning in a finite time. However, the experimenter feels that his consciousness is playing a role. So if the physically described aspects alone cannot do the job, and it feels like our conscious efforts are helping, then why not try that idea out?

Consciousness is, after all, the only other thing initially in our ontological arsenal. But how can we understand, coherently and rationally, how consciousness can act on the physically described world?
'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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