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somersault's Journal: Mindful Universe (book review and forum for discussion)

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I've been reading Mindful Universe by Henry P Stapp, I think after someone mentioned it here on /.

Here's the review I just posted on Amazon (my first ever review):

While I found the sections of the book relating the development/history of quantum theory useful and interesting, I can't really say that the conclusions that Stapp tries to draw are particularly worthwhile or justified. He admits at the start of the book that he dislikes the idea that we are "automatons" without "free" will and that the universe is on a set path which can be predicted by what we now refer to as "classical" physics equations. He then tries to show that since quantum theory involves probability, and that our brain operates on a quantum level in some cases, that perhaps our consciousness can directly affect the quantum probabilities involved in the working of our brain moving from one moment to the next. Of course that conveniently sidesteps the issue of what consciousness is, whether it itself is purely emergent from the classical physical aspects of our brain or whether as he seems to be want to believe, it is due to quantum states that can never be truly predicted and therefore have some mystical spiritual element. Personally I don't see that it makes any difference either way - because there is definitely some physical aspect to consciousness, and whether it can be predicted or not does not change the fact that we can make decisions and have to take responsibility for our actions, whether we are physically predictable creatures or not. Besides, whether quantum effects come into play in the workings of our brain matters not a jot, because we don't really even understand the working of the brain on a macro scale yet let alone a micro scale.

Basically it feels like Stapp is trying to push a personal agenda by tugging on emotions and appealing to intuition (which can be a good guide, but initially can lead to wrong conceptions such as thinking the sun revolves around the earth rather than the other way around) rather than providing any solid arguments to support his position.

Have to agree with the other review that complains about the language too. Stapp himself says that the book is intended for the lay person, but had I had no previous knowledge of quantum mechanics I would have had no idea what he meant at certain points.

I'm tempted to write more, but I wonder has anyone else read the book, and what do they think on these matter whether they have read it or not? I read a couple of other reviews and comments online and at least some people agree that Stapp is trying to push something that there is no scientific basis for.

It is strange that the book has enlightened me more on quantum theory in the first few chapters, but in doing so has let me see for myself that the rest of the book seems to be a load of bunk.. quantum theory has lost some of its mystical 'magic' to me because now I see that it doesn't actually say that "this is the way nature is". All the cool ideas I've read in the past (like the multiple universe theory) seem to have missed the point that quantum theory doesn't describe the nature of reality, it only describes what we can know about our reality. So while it is unknown to us exactly what path the universe could take at a quantum level, there is no reason to believe that there is any more than one path being followed - when you measure you find one state (and of course destroy it at the same time). There may be several probable states in our model, but only one actual state, whether you measure it or not? I think I have seen it explained otherwise in the past when reading about quantum computers, but I can't remember the details. I have enjoy the magic of all the crazy ideas that are apparently grounded in quantum theory, but some of them seem much more like religious or philosophical standpoints rather than saying anything about the actual nature of reality. Of course perhaps that is kind of the point in the end, there are some things we just can't know.

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Mindful Universe (book review and forum for discussion)

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