Quantum theory, measurement and God's action

Keith B Miller (kbmill@ksu.edu)
Thu, 13 Aug 1998 10:21:53 -0600

The following is forwarded from the Templeton META listserve. I thought it
might be of interest to some in ASA, and it includes a post from Paul


>Meta 143. 8/12/98. Approximately 121 lines.
>Below are two messages, which continue the thread on entangled quantum
>states. The first message is from Paul Arveson in Rockville, MD in
>response to John Dale's earlier queries about the role of human
>consciousness in QM. Arveson notes in this regard that: " We are still
>stuck in a subject-object dualism that makes it impossible to offer a
>final, 'unified' theory of physical existence. Maybe such a situation is
>intrinsic to human language. Maybe a 'holistic' description is beyond us,
>at least as far as propositional language and theoretical scientific
>descriptions are concerned." He cites numerous authorities in exploring
>this metaphysical and epistemological quandary.
>The second posting is from Nick Saunders at the University of Cambridge in
>England. Saunders responds to Mark Richardson's earlier posting and notes
>theological and scientific difficulties in examining quantum events.
>Saunders concludes "if God acts in a way consonant with quantum theory he
>does so by some 'measurement' interaction... However, God has some fairly
>limited options if he wants to interact with creation using measurements...."
>Finally, Nelson Rivera-Garcia from the Lutheran Seminary in Philadelphia,
>PA writes to alert Meta readers to a short article on the SSQ conference in
>Berkeley by W. Wayt Gibbs in the current issue of "Scientific American."
>It can be found online at
>-- Billy Grassie
>From: bridges@his.com (Paul Arveson)
>Subject: Entangled Quantum States
>In the last round, John Dale wrote:
>> (5) Does QM, in a loopy logical way, somehow *require* or predict
>>necessary or highly probable existence of "measurements" and/or of
>>"experience" in the universe? Or is "measurement" something totally
>>extrinsic to the theory?
>> I know these are difficult questions verging on the brain-mind
>>problem, and I am not trying to be difficult on purpose; I am simply
>>trying to get a grasp on what physical theory, including QM, conceives the
>> experience of qualia to *be*.
>John's questions here, it seems to me, are pertinent and deserving of more
>serious scrutiny that they have received in the traditional literature of
>quantum physics. In fact they remind me of the case of Descartes' "Cogito
>ergo sum". Neitzsche, Bertrand Russell and others have pointed out that it
>is either circular or fallacious. Descartes, starting from a position of
>radical doubt, is not entitled to assume the existence of a personal self,
>an 'I' with all the baggage that word entails in ordinary language. This
>little word smuggles in all that baggage in such a way that the syllogism
>becomes merely a disguised truism or tautology. Perhaps the word
>'measurement' does the same kind of thing. We are still stuck in a
>subject-object dualism that makes it impossible to offer a final, 'unified'
>theory of physical existence. Maybe such a situation is intrinsic to human
>language. Maybe a 'holistic' description is beyond us, at least as far as
>propositional language and theoretical scientific descriptions are concerned.
>In other words, quantum descriptions are not like traditional 'classical'
>descriptions of experience at all. All of the language about observing,
>measuring, perceiving, etc. is inherently subject-oriented just as much as
>words like 'believing' and 'choosing'. The latter were attacked by
>positivism as unscientific, until it was eventually realized that the same
>cricitisms apply to all scientific thought. Michael Polanyi had a lot to
>say about this in his book, Personal Knowledge, which has stood the test of
>time (since 1959).
>Kafatos and Nadeau, in The Conscious Universe, take this situation
>seriously and therefore propose a 'new epistemology' and a 'new ontology'
>to comprehend the situation in the wake of the Aspect experiments and their
>validation of non-locality. They emphasize the unity-diversity
>complementarity relationship of things, derived ultimately from Bohr's
>viewpoint. I don't know if they succeeded, but they took the situation
>more seriously that many authors, even sometimes the physicists themselves.
> Feynman, for example, was satisfied to say that quantumechanics is
>'absurd', and leave it at that. He figured that if HE didn't understand it,
>how could anyone else? I think there are reasons (religious, maybe) why we
>are not all satisfied with that conclusion.
>Paul Arveson bridges@his.com http://www.his.com/bridges
>6902 Breezewood Terrace, Rockville, MD 20852
>H: (301) 816-9459 W: (301) 227-3831 FAX: (301) 227-4511
>From: "Nick Saunders" <nts1001@cam.ac.uk>
>Subject: Meta Listserv
>I was attempting to keep clear from the ensuing debates over quantum
>entanglement in the latest meta postings. However, I would like to respond
>to Mark Richardson's comment in Meta 131 concerning quantum divine action
>(even though this is not stictly an entanglement issue).
>He wrote:
>"And if we are truly taking the relationship seriously, wouldn't it be
>worth exploring, at least tentatively, ways of conceiving the mode of
>divine action that would be consonant with quantum theory? (Actually, the
>problems with some proposals at the interface of theology and qm may be
>more theological than anything else.)"
>I agree with him entirely that it certainly makes sense to examine quantum
>mechanics in this context, but I disagree that the problems with quantum
>divine action are more theological than anything else. Whilst there are
>theological problems with many of the current theories of quantum divine
>action (and especially those which assert that God is active in every
>quantum event), I would argue that there are also significant scientific
>difficulties as well. Indeterminacy enters into quantum mechanics in quite
>specific ways - it is incorrect to simply claim that 'quantum mechanics is
>indeterminate', rather we should be a bit more more precise and assert that
>quantum mechanics is indeterminate upon measurement. The Schrodinger
>equation which governs the time evolution of a quantum mechanical system is
>every bit as deterministic as classical mechanics (and may be even more so
>as it preserves the norm of states unlike classical mechanics in which
>small changes in initial conditions can result in imprecise prediction ie.
>chaos theory). Thus if God acts in a way consonant with quantum theory he
>does so by some 'measurement' interaction - this is what many of the
>protagonists of quantum divine action mean when they talk about an 'event'
>in q.m. However, God has some fairly limited options if he wants to
>interact with creation using measurements and I think that it is because of
>this that the primary scientific problems with this thesis arise.
>As a small plug I have a paper which will be appearing in Zygon next year
>on this subject...
>Nick Saunders
>Faculty of Divinity and Cavendish Laboratory
>University of Cambridge, England
>Tel/Fax: +44 1223 332171
>Nick Saunders, Magdalene College, Cambridge University,
> Cambridge, CB3 0AG, England
>+44(0)1223 332171 (direct) or University Network extn. 32171
> +44(0)1223 363637 (fax). Email: nts1001@cam.ac.uk
> WWW: http://www.cus.cam.ac.uk/~nts1001/
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Keith B. Miller
Department of Geology
Kansas State University
Manhattan, KS 66506