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Zenith Grant Awardee

Eliahu Cohen

Bar-Ilan University


Yakir Aharonov, Chapman University; Avshalom Elitzur, Chapman University; Avishy Carmi, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

Project Title

The hard problem viewed from a top-down quantum vantage point

Project Summary

Consciousness is an intriguing yet essential property of complex animate beings, the nature and physical origins of which are still largely hidden from us. The proposed framework to unravel this phenomenon is ambitious and multidisciplinary, yet aiming to combine both the rigor and complementarity of the perspectives brought together. We wish to harness the immense explanatory power of quantum mechanics in order to shed light on the appearance and perhaps function of consciousness. Starting from the atomic level and going upwards would probably be fruitless. We therefore employ a top-down approach, examining the system as a whole before trying to differentiate and focus on its components. In this spirit, we characterize the conscious systems as being, first, so complex that they cannot be copied, hence, as unique single entities, lying beyond probabilistic models. Next characterization is of undivided systems capable of measuring and collapsing their own states, without being separated into a measuring and a measured parts. The related issue of free will then naturally emerges, again deriving its physical feasibility from the above quantum formalism. Our diversified team will employ various tools from quantum mechanics, mathematical logic and computer science, philosophy, probability and statistics, classical and quantum information.

Technical Abstract

The hard problem of consciousness and the problem of free-will, are here entrained from the perspective of a quantum top-down approach. Some of the ideas we shall explore emanate from our recent work on quantum phenomena where higher-order correlations determine lower-order ones, but not vice-versa. In those systems local parts tell virtually nothing about the system as a whole, somewhat similarly to the way we envisage the emergence of consciousness. Moreover, we relate consciousness with the ability of an undivided system to consistently perform a self-measurement and "self-collapse" its own state. Self-reference is here understood to be deep and influential within several related disciplines. The next property of conscious systems which we find crucial is termed hereinafter "irreproducibility," referring to the inability to copy the system while preserving all its macroscopic properties. Hence, conscious systems are truly unique, meaning that statistical rules, like the Born rule, do not apply. This is conjectured to support free-will. By embedding these ingredients within concatenated quantum correlation matrices, subject to certain consistency conditions (as previously done in our works), we plan to connect the microscopic and macroscopic realms, thereby possibly tracing back the quantum origins of consciousness and free-will.

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