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Consciousness and Non-Locality

For general reflections on consciousness see also the pages on Language and Art.

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From its inception the notion of non-locality was implicit in quantum theory, but it was only with the publication of Bell's Theorem, and its subsequent experimental verification, that physicists had to face the fact that quantum theory can never be reduced to any local theory.

Quantum theory is non-local precisely because its wave functions cannot be exactly factorized into components representing systems isolated in well defined regions of space. Einstein had always believed in such "independent elements of reality" while Bohr, clearly anticipating non-locality although not naming it as such, pointed out that even well separated systems, not interacting by normal physical means, cannot be treated as objectively independent.

In this sense quantum theory transcends, or lies outside, the usual categories of space (and time). Or, as David Bohm put it, the cartesian description (point coordinates defined in a continuous space) is not appropriate to quantum theory. And here it should be added that even if quantum theory should eventually prove to be a passing theory, non-locality has been experimentally demonstrated as an essential aspect of the universe and must remain an essential part of any future theory.

It should also be emphasized that the instantaneous correlations of Bell's Theorem and quantum non-locality cannot be used to justify telepathy or aspects of science-fiction (although a form of teleportation does appear to be possible, but still limited by the speed of light.) It is clear that any attempt to modulate the Bell Correlations, ie to send an instantaneous signal or other information, will destroy these correlations. On the other hand, it could be the case that quantum non-locality is a special case of something more general. Or perhaps, more accurately, locality is a special, limited case (classical mechanics) of something more general. This more general situation would take the form of a cosmos based on global, non-local, forms and patterns. In particular, consciousness may be of this nature. (In a certain sense the collective unconscious, synchronicity and the strong link between lovers, partners and patient-therapist are all examples of something that lies outside the normal confines of causality operating within a local space-time.

In particular it suggests the following model:-

Electrical activity propagates in the brain meeting other signals. (Karl Pribram's model of "the holographic brain" suggests that the interference of signals involves Gabor functions.) But generally in nature when waves arrive from different sources they interfere in non-coherent ways. The result is chaotic with small effects being rapidly damped out - wavelets around the edge of a pond do not propagate very far without dissipating though random interference.

However, suppose that the phases of these wavelets are correlated - though, for example, the some sort of non-local coordination. As they expand and meet they are now able to engage in constructive interference. In this way very tiny non-local effects move inward to a focus as a large effect. One could imagine systems in which waves flow into a centre of focus from all over the brain, then scatter outwards again, only to reconverge at some new centre. In this way information from all over the brain is constantly being gathered, correlated, compared, transferred and redistributed. Remote regions of the brain are always active, communicating, informing and comparing.

(Of course one need not invoke strict non-locality at this juncture. In general, self-organized many body systems partition themselves into slow and fast variables. Extremely fast signals within the brain could, in fact, be used to correlate distant parts and ensure that slower information-carrying signals always stand in the same phase relationship to each other.)

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