Recent paper from Basil Hiley and others investigating consciousness from a quantum mechanics perspective

Hey everyone! I’m new to the forum and am making my first post. I would like to share this paper which is making some initial quantum mechanical treatments of the question of consciousness from major physicist Basil Hiley.

One of the leading ideas of the paper is that a basic property of the universe is to make meaning out of information. This information is contained in this variable called the quantum potential, which pops out of the basic equations of QM with some manipulation. Every particle in the universe abides by this potential and ‘makes sense ‘ of it through its behavior.

A property of this quantum potential is that it ‘enfolds’ the state of everything in the universe such that all particles have information about the entire universe. The behavior of the universe is then thought of as the ‘unfolding’ of this enfolding. This accounts for strange behavior like entanglement.

The consciousnesses we experience are thought of as expressions of structures which make the basic operation of meaning coherent.

Still a lot of research to be done but it’s such an interesting paper and lots of food for thought for how this could relate to EBT. Particularly of note is section 8 which offers some perspectives reminiscent of the six sets of six.

Link to the paper here

Glad to be here!


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Thanks so much for the paper, and for taking the time to summarize it well.

The history of science shows that explanations in terms of physical laws and mechanisms have been very successful in physics and biology.

It’s also shown that such explanations have been very unsuccessful in almost every other field. I think this has profound consequences for understanding our moment in history.

information is carried in the chip and all of this information is passive until the appropriate software activates some of the information. Thus when the computer is working, some of this ‘passive’ information becomes ‘active’, modifying the input by giving it new form.

The discussion of “active information” sounds a lot like the Sarvastivada theory, which posits that all dhammas “exist” but only the present dhamma is “active”.

The essay starts out saying that materialism must be assumed if we are to speak of consciousness as emergent, and as it went on I was think, okay, but this does not sound like grandpa’s materialism; it requires a very different understanding of matter. Sure enough, it goes on to propose, or follow Bohm’s proposal, of reality being one process with both material and meaningful sides. Bohm’s term is soma-significance.

Seems to me this is literally nāmarūpa.

I’m not sure how far these analogues can be pushed, but if that is the case, it suggests that even this formulation is still overlooking viññāṇa. The discussion throughout focuses on the way that high-energy matter is “informed” by low-energy significance, as say a house is built from a blueprint. But it is still not seeing the seer. It uses “consciousness” in the sense of “self-awareness”, which to a Buddhist is merely a property or function associated with certain states of viññāṇa.

It introduces a useful concept I haven’t heard before:

To say that a rudimentary consciousness is present even at the level of particle physics is to endorse panpsychism. To say that particles of physics have certain primitive mind-like qualities but that they do not have consciousness is compatible with a weaker doctrine, panprotopsychism.

I would say that Jainism is panpsychism, while Buddhism is panprotopsychism. These are reductionist view in the sense that they begin with the elements of existence and build up. But later they invoke the opposite, which explains the part in terms of the decomposition of the whole. This is cosmopsychism, which sounds like the Upanishadic view.

Everything comes around, I guess.

If Buddhism has something in common with panprotopsychism, in the sense that the elements of existence share properties or potentials of consciousness, might it also relate to cosmoprotopsychism? I am thinking of the nature of samsara itself, which seems to be bound up with the existence of consciousness. So consciousness can be seen as both built up from conscious-potentials such as sense input and and the like, but also is fragmented out from samsara. Both are intrinsic to the nature of consciousness.

The core thesis is this:

We can now make the following speculative hypothesis: conscious experience only arises in the context of a hierarchy of levels of information which involves the activity of quantum fields. This does not mean that all information in the brain would be carried by quantum fields. On the contrary, it is likely that a great deal of information in the brain is carried by more stable structures (e.g. neural activity patterns) that for all practical purposes can be described by classical physics. But, we are proposing, the conscious apprehension of the meaning of such “classical” information involves the operation of quantum fields. We are assuming that conscious experience is not possible in a situation where non-trivial quantum effects are negligible.

The notion of hierarchies, which is given mathematical expression in ways I don’t understand, is invoked to explain how, if all matter is protopsychic, what distinguishes consciousness? What we call consciousness (which again means self-awareness) arises in brains due to their organizing of a higher-level hierarchy of information.

consciousness in biological organisms has to do with the non-negligible, non-trivial operation of quantum active information in the brain. It is only when there exists such quantum information in a suitable biological environment that there can be conscious experience. This immediately restricts consciousness to biological organisms, at least as far as the present moment is concerned.

Sorry to all the AI maximalists!

Then it goes on to discuss Bohm’s idea of the implicate order:

The basic idea of the implicate order is that each region of space and time contains a total structure or total order enfolded within it.

Again, I can’t help but see the analogue with the notion of dhamma or dhammatā. Each moment of conscious experience is in some sense an unfolding of the principles of the dhamma, or to look at it the other way, it contains within itself an expression of the implicate order of the dhamma.


Thank you for your thoughts @sujato, I very much enjoyed reading your take.

I really liked this point above and it got me thinking. The paper describes how consciousness appears below:

We do not merely think about objects in the external world, but we can also become aware of our thinking. Bohm suggested that such meta-level awareness typically gives rise to a new,
higher level of information. This higher level gathers information about the
lower level. But because its essential nature is active information, it does not
merely make a passive representation of the lower level. Rather, the higher
level also acts to organize the lower level, a bit analogously to the way the
active information in the quantum potential acts to organize the movement
of the particle.

And of course, we can become aware of this higher level of
information from a yet higher level, and so on. So we have a hierarchy of
levels of information in the mind. At some point in this hierarchy conscious
experience appears

This seems readily apparent, at least to me, from my daily experience. I go through a huge variety of levels of an awareness-of-what’s-happening throughout my day, and it feels intuitive that these levels are characterized by the levels information that they are organizing. When I wake up and I’m still sleepy and grumpy about going to work this feels like a lower level of awareness-of-what’s-happening then when I start meditating and apply my mind to watching grumpiness, my mind somehow can cognize it and can intuitively work through that feeling, ‘organizing the lower levels’.

Correct me if I misunderstand viññāṇa but my understanding is that this corresponds to the experience of knowing. From my experience a moment of knowing does not have different levels, it doesn’t seem to have any breadth. I know the chip is salty, I know the ice-cream is sweet, that I have a painful sensation in my knees. My understanding is that it is just the ever present subjectivity of existence. Does this correspond to anything in the Buddhist understanding? I.e. that the knowing is an immutable subjectivity and that this awareness-of-what’s-happening organizes these flashes of knowing into more and more robust and clear structures.

Yes, that’s how I understand it too.

I’m puzzled at why the importance of subjectivity is not well appreciated. It is the thing that matters.

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May I ask , if consciousness is conditional how it is also immutable?

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By immutable I mean its basic characteristic is unchanging. I.e there cant be a more complex form or less complex form of knowing. There is either knowing or not knowing. The characteristic of our awareness is mutable in the sense that it can change. We can have refined levels of awareness like those found in meditation and limited ones like when we’re sleepy, intoxicated etc. But what we call this experience of awareness is a constellation of moments of knowing.

But from my view knowing is still conditioned by a sense object. Knowing is conditioned by its content. I.e. you cant take the experience of knowing out of what is being known.


I understand immutable to be unchanging too. And since we agree that consciousness is changing and mutable the question arose. :slightly_smiling_face:

All best

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There is something like ‘dead’ matter in Jainism. Metaphysically, it’s an early example of good ol’ Indian dualism: matter and soul, sometimes apart, sometimes intertwined in the form of beings. You may guess where liberation lies.


Oh interesting. The first three make sense, I don’t really understand how pudgala (= “matter”?) is ajiva though.

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Yes, in Buddhist traditions it tends to refer to a person, but its meaning as ‘matter’ or ‘body’ is also attested (sparely, I believe) in Brahmanical literature. It seems that the term was originally Buddhist and underwent several semantic shifts in Jainism, until it no longer meant the individual person but the atoms of matter.

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