CPNS Principal Investigator and Philosophy Department professor Michael Epperson has organized a major research initiative exploring the philosophical implications of quantum mechanics. In January 2008, Epperson secured a $20,000 startup grant for the project from the CTNS/Templeton Foundation's 'Science and Transcendence Research Series' (STARS). With these funds, he and Project Manager Timothy Eastman, a plasma physicist at NASA-Goddard and CPNS Research Fellow, were able to assemble a research team of highly esteemed physicists and philosophers including David Ritz Finkelstein, Georgia Institute of Technology, and Henry P. Stapp, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
In addition to several forthcoming publications, including journal articles and an edited volume, this research initiative will include a major international conference on quantum theory and neuroscience to be held at California State University.
Epperson's has termed his speculative philosophical program 'Relational Realism,' which introduces a novel 'praxiological' interpretation of quantum mechanics developed by the team's senior physicists. By this approach to the quantum theory, the causal-logical, subject-object, and epistemic-ontological dualisms emblematic of conventional substance-based interpretations of the quantum theory are recast as mutually implicative features of fundamental quantum praxes or interaction events. By this interpretation, the mechanics of physical causal relation given in the orthodox quantum theory is explicitly characterized as 'logically governed' by virtue of the logial presuppositions inherent within the formalism. At the conceptual level, for example, one could point to the presupposition of the laws of Boolean logic within probability theory--at least in the particular way the latter is employed in quantum theory. At the level of the physics, this is especially well-reflected in the concept of quantum decoherence, such that the latter can be understood as evincing a physically significant effect of this logical governance--a logical 'conditioning' of physical causality. Beyond its pertinence to familiar problems in physics, such as temporal asymmetry in thermodynamics, the thesis of logical causality explored by this research program has special relevance to philosophy as well, in that it might shed new light on the ages-old problem of correlating the order of causal relation and the order of logical implication. In this regard, the program's study of logical causality in quantum physics entails a modern re-exploration of the relationship between 'conceptual' and 'physical' first introduced by Plato and revisited continuously over the centuries since.
The team's investigation will be unique in that it will proceed both from the ‘bottom up’ science of fundamental physics and from the ‘top down’ sciences of more complex systems. From the bottom up, their investigations of the fundamental physics will be grounded in the work of co-investigator David Finkelstein, who has proposed new insights such as characterizing classical logic as merely a singular limit of quantum kinematics, and an emphasis of ‘actions’ (praxes) versus ‘objects’ in quantum physics.
From the top down, the research initiative will include the work of co-investigator Henry Stapp, who has studied the ways in which large, complex systems such as the human mind exemplify these mutually implicative concepts—subject/object, logical/causal, epistemic/ontological—and their underlying quantum physical formalism. Dr. Stapp’s theoretical work on ‘quantum neuroscience’ applies an effect of well-tested standard quantum theory (the quantum Zeno effect) to obtain testable predictions about how the body can act in accord with the conscious intent of a human observer.
Epperson's goal with respect to this aspect of the research will be to identify ways in which the metaphysical principles undergirding a non-materialistic, non-dualistic, ‘event-ontological’ (‘praxiological’) interpretation of quantum physics might be exemplified in modern neuroscience and other important applications. "It is important to note here," writes Epperson, "that a neuroscientific exemplification of the quantum theoretical framework in no way implies a reduction of mind or consciousness to quantum mechanics. Rather, as a metaphysical desideratum, it is expected that logical causality as the a priori foundation of a ‘reasonable,' quantum mechanically describable universe will have its reflection in the functioning of the ‘reasoning’ human brain to the extent that it, too, is quantum mechanically describable."
More broadly, Epperson writes, "our research is intended to exemplify a novel two-way-rapprochement of physics and philosophy that could advance an understanding of nature in ways that transcend the conventional separation of these two disciplines."