Does 'the quantum mind' solve the hard problem of consciousness and how popular is it among philosophers of science?

The hard problem of consciousness is the problem of explaining how and why we have qualia or phenomenal experiences

Further, does Penrose, or any quantum mind theorist, have anything to say specifically on language?

  • 4
    Searle's third law: "Anything philosophers say about quantum mechanics is BS and quantum physicists aren't much better."
    – MmmHmm
    Mar 14, 2017 at 19:34
  • @Mr.Kennedy but do scientists talk about "the hard problem of consciousness"?
    – anon
    Mar 14, 2017 at 19:41
  • Isn't that kind of like asking if particle physicists talk about "the god particle" (as contrasted to "the Higgs boson")? And of course scientists talk about even the "god particle" (e.g. Higgs discusses how the term came from the difficulty of finding "that god damn particle") Do yo mean "the hard problem of consciousness" as conceived by Chalmers? Unlikely. Do you mean "do neuroscientists discuss how the causal mechanisms of the brain achieve consciousness? Sure. Here's a link to the timecode where Searle states his third law: youtu.be/vCyKNtocdZE?t=25m47s
    – MmmHmm
    Mar 14, 2017 at 19:58
  • No, because quantum mind explains little specifically as to how consciousness emerges, beyond that QM (or QG in Penrose's case) has something to do with it. Despite the popularity with the general public the original quantum mind motto, "consciousness causes collapse", makes most physicists cringe, and so does Penrose's version. Kauffman recently championed a version which is less out there than Penrose's, but he is also very vague.
    – Conifold
    Mar 14, 2017 at 20:42
  • @Conifold so i'll assume it's unpopular because it's bad physics, and there's no philosophical benefit in accepting any such theory
    – anon
    Mar 14, 2017 at 22:23

2 Answers 2


Does 'the quantum mind' solve the hard problem of consciousness ?

Short answer:

No it doesn't.

Long answer:

Penrose's quantum mind model is an answer to the question of how can a human mind perform computations that a computer (more specifically a Turing machine) can't. This is known as the Lucas' argument against mechanism. There are several criticism's of Penrose's theory, especially since it is not established that the human can do anything that a computer can't. See this reply for details.

More generally, quantum theories of mind all share a common feature: That the mind has features that can't be explained by classical physical models, but can be explained by quantum physical models, presumably in the same way that electron interference patterns or the tunnel effect cannot be explained by classical models, but can be explained by quantum models.

Such models still fall in the domain of physics, they just require quantum physics.

On the other hand, the hard problem of consciousness centers around the fact that consciousness (qualia, subjective first person expereince, etc..) for the time being can't be explained by any physics, not classical, not quantum, not relativistic or anything.

David Chalmers, who formulated the modern version of the problem, states "In Facing Up to the Problem of Consciousness (1995)":

It is undeniable that some organisms are subjects of experience. But the question of how it is that these systems are subjects of experience is perplexing. Why is it that when our cognitive systems engage in visual and auditory information-processing, we have visual or auditory experience: the quality of deep blue, the sensation of middle C? How can we explain why there is something it is like to entertain a mental image, or to experience an emotion? It is widely agreed that experience arises from a physical basis, but we have no good explanation of why and how it so arises. Why should physical processing give rise to a rich inner life at all? It seems objectively unreasonable that it should, and yet it does.

Hence the idea of philosophical zombies: A purely physical description of the mind fails to distinguish between a conscious person and a zombie who only seems conscious but has no qualia or inner experience.

Another way of illustrating this is Frank Jackson's knowledge argument: Mary is a brilliant neuroscientist who knows all the physical facts (inclduing classical, quantum, relativistic, and any other possible theories) about the color red, as well as all of the related biological and neurological facts. But she herself has been color blind since birth. Because of this, there is something missing from her knowledge of the color red, namely the qualia of red, even though she knows all the physical aspects of it.

and how popular is it?

Quantum theories of mind seem to get a lot of mention in popular literature, but don't really get that much traction among academic philosophers of mind. Penrose himself is a mathematician and physicist, not a philosopher, and his take on Lucas's Godelian argument is not agreed on by most theoretical computer scientists either. In particular the consensus is that quantum Turing machines are equivalent to in power to classical Turing machines, so adding quantum effects to the mind won't make it in any way more powerful than a computer.

Other quantum theories of mind, similarly don't seem to get much attention.

That being said, here's an interesting dissenting view.


The hard problem of consciousness is a metaphysical problem which can have metaphysical solutions, such as dualism, dual aspect theories, panpsychism etc. There are many different quantum mind hypothesis. Some are dualist, others are panpsychism... https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/qt-consciousness/ These hypotheses do not solve the metaphysical problem itself, they are rather different ways to implement metaphysical solutions. Their proponents think that some features of quantum mechanics can help make these solutions more consistent. For example, a dualist such as Eccles will speculate that the way matter and mind interact can be understood in quantum physical terms. But in any case, when it comes to the hard problem, it's metaphysics that does the job, and a quantum mind hypothesis is just a way to implement some or the other metaphysics in relation to physics.

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