Monday, July 18, 2005


Quantum Weirdness Seizes the ID Mind

Over at Panda's Thumb, Ian Musgrave, a neuropharmacologist, has a knockout post about William Dembski's recent embrace of quantum mechanics and neuroscience (see RSR's post on this issue below).

Musgrave, despite his modesty, is much more qualified that Red State Rabble to comment on such matters. Readers who are interested in issues of the relationship between mind and brain will learn much from Musgrave's post.

Still, we think Dembski -- and this paper “Quantum physics in neuroscience and psychology: a neurophysical model of mind-brain interaction” by Jeffrey M. Schwartz, Henry P. Stapp, Mario Beauregard in Philosophical Transactions: Biological Sciences, 2005 -- is more quackery than science.

Musgrave takes them seriously -- or at least answers them seriously -- but finds it odd that they resort to quantum mechanics because. "[i]t is not clear if Schwartz et al’s model [quantum mechanics -- RSR] is really needed to explain the phenomena they need to explain." In other words, there are simpler explanations for how the brain works that don't require resorting to quantum mechanics.

If that is the case, then what is the attraction of quantum mechanics?

Well, RSR thinks that is fairly obvious. Dembski himself says it fairly high up in his post:
"it [the Schwartz et al paper -- RSR] argues for the irreducibility of mind (and therefore intelligence) to material mechanisms"

For Dembski and the others, the quantum weirdness of wave-particle duality and non-locality is where God comes in. Scientists such as Musgrave can explain -- and there is much to learn from these explanations -- what we know about the brain, about consciousness, and mind.

But the fact is, for the ID movement, quantum weirdness is nothing more than a gap in which they can operate. It is a micro-universe where cause and effect seem not to operate as in our macroworld. A space where God can be said to act in the world.

For readers who would like to learn more about the abuse of quantum mechanics by various quacks -- believe me, Dembski and his friends in the ID movement aren't the first to go there -- start at this article "Quantum Quackery" by Victor J. Stenger, a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Hawaii and the author of Not By Design: The Origin of the Universe on the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal website.

In this article, Stenger takes a look at claims that quantum physics supports the mystical notion that the mind creates reality, while noting that "objective reality, with no special role for consciousness, human or cosmic, is consistent with all observations."

He also gives an introductory course in quantum mechanics for those who are intimidated by the subject.


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