You are on page 1of 3

Response to Nauenbergs Critique of Quantum Enigma: Physics Encounters

(accepted 11/01/07 by Foundations of Physics, DOI: 10.1007/s10701-007-9195-8)
Fred Kuttner
Department of Physics
University of California, Santa Cruz, CA 95064
Nauenbergs extended critique of Quantum Enigma rests
on fundamental misunderstandings.
In his brief abstract, as a summary of his extensive paper1, Michael Nauenberg
incorrectly states that the central claim of our book, Quantum Enigma2, is that
understanding quantum mechanics requires a conscious observer. In fact, we are
explicit that understanding quantum mechanics, for all practical purposes, need not
address the issue of consciousness. We rather note that physics has encountered
consciousness. The major theme of Nauenbergs critique is that we are wrong, even
doing something improper, by raising the issue of consciousness in connection with
quantum mechanics. We must reply to this charge.
A dictionarys first definition of encounter is: to meet, usually unexpectedly. It fits
our use of the word. One such meeting early on was von Neumanns demonstration that,
while for all practical purposes a wavefunction can be considered collapsed at any
macroscopic point in the measurement chain, nevertheless, in principle no physical
system described by quantum mechanics can collapse a wavefunction. The final collapse
must take place at the level of consciousness3. We might also cite Wigners famous
comment that it was not possible to formulate the laws of quantum mechanics in a
fully consistent way without reference to the consciousness.4
More recently a foremost exponent of decoherence in the measurement process, Zurek,
has written: An exhaustive answer to this question [the perception of a unique reality,
i.e., a measurement] would undoubtedly have to involve a model of consciousness5
And in their discussion of the quantum potential interpretation of quantum mechanics,
Bohm and Hiley write: However, the intuition that consciousness and quantum theory
are in some sense related seems to be a good one6 Many examples where quantum
mechanics has led physicists to speculate about a connection with consciousness could be
And, of course, the connection has influenced philosophers. For example, Chalmers
landmark book7 introducing the now much-discussed hard problem of consciousness
has a final chapter titled The Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics. With quantum
mechanics, physics has at the very least encountered consciousness.

The tack we take in our book is to present the undisputed experimental facts with a
quantum-theory-neutral demonstration. We have presented a technical version of such a
quantum-theory-neutral demonstration some years ago.8 Our book presents this to the
general reader with the invitation to readers to decide on the extent of the encounter with
consciousness for themselves. We present the quantum theory explanation of these
demonstrations. But we leave the issue an unresolved mystery, an enigma, one that
should stimulate meaningful and disciplined speculation.
In our book we are explicit that the encounter of physics with consciousness likely has no
practical consequences for physics. It is metaphysics. Nauenberg criticizes us for talking
of metaphysics, as if metaphysics were pseudoscience. A major point of our book is
that quantum mechanics brings us to an encounter with something beyond what
physicists usually think of as physics. Something beyond physics is essentially the
definition of metaphysics. We are clear in our book, that physicists, as physicists, need
not concern themselves with consciousness. But we, and our readers, are more than just
physicists. There is more to life than physics. Quantum mechanics tells of something
mysterious that seems beyond physics.
Exploring beyond testable physics, several interpretations of the meaning of quantum
mechanics currently contend with the Copenhagen interpretation--which we all use in our
teaching and research. In our book we treat nine of these (and in the paperback version
planned by Oxford University Press, we treat ten). Many of these interpretations
explicitly treat consciousness. For example, the most famous alternative to the
Copenhagen interpretation, the many worlds interpretation, has also been seen as the
many minds interpretation. Even when consciousness is not explicitly addressed, every
interpretation has speculative implications for the nature of consciousness.
We are acutely aware that the strange implications of consciousness have increasingly
been exploited to promote quantum nonsense. We not only consider this a serious societal
problem, but we feel it to be the responsibility of physicists to address it. In fact, evading
the enigma, or worse, denying it, cedes the field to the field to the purveyors of
pseudoscience. We have urged our colleagues to teach the quantum mysteries honestly
as an antidote to their misuse.9
Nauenberg refers to our misunderstanding of the physics and does so with very
extensive quotations. We will not reply in detail to his many incorrect claims that we
have the physics wrong. We just note that our book has been extensively reviewed and
praised by physicists, and, other than Nauenbergs misinterpretations, no errors were
noted. See our books website,, for many reviews.
Some physicists can be unsettled by having our hard discipline of physics connected
with the mysterious, soft, and emotional subject of consciousness. Historian of science
Jed Buchwald has noted that: Physicistshave long had a special loathing for admitting
questions with the slightest emotional content into their professional work.10 At times

we can, to an extent, share this reaction of our fellow physicists, but we are trying, along
with many experts in the fundamentals of quantum theory, to move beyond it.
Early on John Bell wrote that it is likely that the new way of seeing things will involve
an imaginative leap that will astonish us.11 Bell expressed similar views in what was
probably the last article he ever published.12 By us Bell did not just mean physicists.
The astonishment Bell refers to might well involve consciousness.

1. Nauenberg, M. : Found. Phys. (in press). DOI 10.1007/s10701-007-9179-8 (2007)

2. Rosenblum, B., Kuttner, F. : Quantum Enigma: Physics Encounters Consciousness.
Oxford University Press, New York (2006)
3. von Neumann, J.: Mathematical Foundations of Quantum Mechanics. Princeton
University Press, Princeton (1955)
4. Wigner, E.: Remarks on the mind-body problem. In: Wheeler, J.A., Zurek, W.H. (eds.)
Quantum Theory and Measurement, pp. 168-181. Princeton University Press, Princeton
5. W. H. Zurek,: Preferred states, predictability, classicality, and the environmentinduced decoherence. Prog. Theor. Phys. 89(2), 281 (1993)
6. Bohm, D., Hiley, B. J.: The Undivided Universe. Routledge, London (1993)
7. Chalmers, D.J.: The Conscious Mind. Oxford University Press, New York (1996)
8. Rosenblum, B., Kuttner, F.: The observer in the quantum experiment. Found. Phys. 32,
1273-1293 (2002)
9. Kuttner, F., Rosenblum, B.: Teaching physics mysteries versus pseudoscience. Physics
Today 59(11), 14 (2006)
10. Glanz, J.: ESSAY; A Physicist Considers the Cosmos, Through the Prism of 9/11.
New York Times, 21 May 2002, p. F4.
11. Bell, J.S., Nauenberg, M.: The moral aspects of quantum mechanics. In: De Shalit,
A., Feschbach, H., van Hove, L. (eds.) Preludes in Theoretical Physics, pp. 279286.
North Holland, Amsterdam (1966). Reprinted in J.S. Bell Speakable and Unspeakable in
Quantum Mechanics, p. 22. Cambridge Univ. Press (1987)
12. Bell, J.S.: Against Measurement'. Physics World 8, 3340 (1990)