Dr. Kelvin McQueen (Chapman University, Wilkinson College, Philosophy) and Dr. Markus P. Müller (Institute for Quantum Optics and Quantum Information, Vienna, Austria) have individually tried to answer these questions in two quite different and unconventional ways. Through a $31,728 grant, “Mathematical models of idealism and dualism: an adversarial collaboration,” awarded from the Foundational Questions Institute (FQXi), McQueen and Müller will investigate these topics more deeply through an “adversarial collaboration,” an effort by two people with opposing opinions on a topic to collaborate on a summary of the evidence.
The investigators disagree on the mathematical nature of consciousness and on whether it might play a role in quantum mechanics, a branch of physics relating to the very small. McQueen has developed a leading mathematical model of dualism, while Müller has developed a leading mathematical model of idealism. Both approaches have interesting implications for our understanding of the fundamental nature of consciousness and of fundamental reality more generally.
“Markus’ views on these topics could not be further from my own. Yet, we share common ground in the mathematical tools we use – information theory. We aim to build on this common ground and come to a more objective understanding of these topics. We are excited to be hosting a major international conference at Chapman in 2022.” – Kelvin McQueen
In particular, McQueen proposes that we combine dynamical collapse theories (such as GRW, Penrose, or CSL) with mathematical theories of consciousness (such as integrated information theory, IIT). Such a theory can be experimentally tested, e.g., by quantum computers, and could solve the problem of finding a measurable criterion for consciousness. This can be seen as a version of dualism: there are fundamental physical processes (unitary evolution) and fundamental mental processes (collapses).
In Müller’s model, collapse is not a real physical process. Quantum states represent propensities of an agent’s future records, and collapse is a probabilistic update. The model postulates a structural notion of “mind” or “self” as fundamental (which may be conscious or not) and (in contrast, e.g., to Quantum Bayesianism) the external physical world as emergent. This can be seen as a version of idealism.
McQueen and Müller will analyze how well their models can address the fundamental questions. What are the goals, advantages, and challenges of the different models? Which underlying assumptions are reflected by the mathematical modeling? Can their models be improved by using the other one’s tools (algorithmic information theory in Müller’s case, IIT in McQueen’s)? McQueen and Müller aim for an undogmatic and balanced view, informed by mathematics, and aimed at a broad audience.
In this project, McQueen and Müller will organize a one-week workshop at Chapman University, followed by a two-week intense collaboration at Chapman and then at Vienna, to discuss these issues. After that, McQueen and Müller will work on a scientific paper that describes the insights gained via their adversarial collaboration.