Bernard D'Espagnat in this article in Scientific American writes:

Of the three premises realism is the most fundamental. Realism can be stated formally as the belief that a mere description of data is not all that should be required of a theory. Even an empirical rule for predicting the patterns of future measurements is not enough. The mind demands something more: not necessarily determinism-there is nothing intrinsically irrational about randomness-but at least objective explanations of observed regularities, or in other words causes. Underlying this demand is the intuitive notion that the world outside the self is real and has at least some properties that exist independently of human consciousness.

The last sentence appears uncontentious: There was a time when there were no human beings and yet the universe existed. Thus the universe is independent of human consciousness. However this objection seems such an easy one to make that there must be other good reasons why some are prepared to countenance a mind-dependent universe even on physical grounds and why they forego the previous objection. It seems plausible that a distinction has to be made between mind-indepedent and human-mind-independent, and its the latter that the forgoing objection disposes of. Is this it, or am I missing something else more fundamental here? If so, what are they?

  • There's another line of argument one could hold, perhaps, which is not to deny that there's a mind independent reality, but (in a Kantian spirit) to deny that it is knowable by human minds. Feb 12, 2018 at 16:24
  • @QuentinRuyant: sure, D'Espagnat does go into Kant in the book and I think he personally is sympathtic towards that view. Feb 12, 2018 at 17:05
  • Are we starting from assumptions, such as "there was a time when there were no human beings and yet the universe existed?" These assumptions seem trivial. They're even baked into religious documents long before the dawn of science. Yet they are frustratingly hard to prove, unless you weaken the meaning of the verb "prove."
    – Cort Ammon
    Feb 12, 2018 at 18:53
  • I think the last statement is a better expression of realism than "the belief that a mere description of data is not all that should be required of a theory", which any pragmatic empiricist would agree with. "There was a time when... universe existed" already presupposes that categories like "time" and "universe" are objective, which is highly doubtful given their human roots. Many, like Wittgenstein, object to such "God's eye view" that traditional realism is forced to adopt. The question is not so much mind-independence, everything we conceive is mind-dependent, as independence of our whims.
    – Conifold
    Feb 12, 2018 at 20:44
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    Maybe relevant is Rovelli's relational interpretation of QM where physical states are relative to "observers", and observers are any physical system (not necessarily human). However he doesn't mean to say that this is mind dependence. Feb 13, 2018 at 7:54

3 Answers 3


Quantum mechanics doesn't just give probabilistic futures, it does the same to the past. The anthropic principle takes that to a futhest extent, did the presence in this universes timeline of minds, collapse the wave function into just this set of fine-tuned fundamental constants?

We can't truly escape our observations being through minds, being subjective, even when we balance that by network and comparing notes with other subjective instances of mind.

Cause & effect, time, materiality, all open to question.

  • The past is fixed, even in QM... May 5, 2019 at 9:10
  • @MoziburUllah Ah yes - it seems conservation of information was proved in 2007 en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/No-hiding_theorem I was referring to reading that is clearly out of date, based on the idea the past can only be known with limited accuracy
    – CriglCragl
    Jun 2, 2019 at 17:10

And speaking of quantum mechanics, it's fairly widely known (without going into detail) that many quantum-mechanical measurements depend on the observation itself being carried out. The so-called double-slit experiment, for example, or Einstein's "spooky action at a distance" referring to the quantum-state entanglement of distant particles, both of which "collapse" into the measured state when only one is measured, etc. This well-known "observer effect" in QM seems to me, in fact, to support a least some version of idealism. Additionally, if you happen to credit the (it seems to me related) experimental results of parapsychology, these also seem to me to support some version of idealism. See Griffin's book (passim) listed below.


Kastrup, Bernardo. The Idea of the World (2018)

Griffin, David Ray Parapsychology, Philosophy, and Spirituality: A Postmodern Exploration (1997)


This is a problem of interpretation of quantum mechanics, more precisely the measurement problem in quantum mechanics. Far from settled. Quantum mechanics is a nice, linear theory (in terms of PDE's, for example Schrodinger's equation), but when a measurement is performed hell breaks loose (the collapse of the wave function in the standard Copenhagen interpretation, for example). It might be a problem related to a threshold of the capability of information processing of the observer (the entity performing the measurement, or even the apparatus), or it might be something completely unrelated , nobody actually knows. Or it might just be a misinterpretation/misunderstanding of the mathematical framework governing quantum mechanics, or quantum field theory. In any case , as you noted the universe existed long before human consciousnesses existed, so objectively it must be independent of it. But if you define reality through our perception (of it), then surely human (but not necessarily) consciousness plays an important role. It depends on the definitions. Ultimately , what we mean by reality is mind dependent, isn't it ?

  • Sure, but that isn't what I was asking. I was asking how can an objective notion of the real world be mind dependent. What 'we mean by reality' doesn't really help then. May 5, 2019 at 9:06
  • Comments can be edited for 5 min. I must hurry, otherwise I might leave some typos there. Anyway, I am not defending a mind dependent reality, actually I am convinced that this is caused by a misunderstanding of chaos theory , but I am not going into that. What is your definition of "objective reality ", if it's independent of mind? May 5, 2019 at 9:36
  • Translation of "mind independent reality " - unknowable. So any arguments following this point are irrelevant. We must define, :"the rules of the game", otherwise what are we talking about? May 5, 2019 at 10:10
  • Think about it. We "construct the world from the world" and then experience our construction as the world. That is, the world as we experience it is entirely a construction of our minds based on a synthesis of sensory input. This view in and of itself is not solipsism as it doesn't deny that there's a world "out there". Just that that's not what we actually experience. (Basically Kant via Husserl.) And this process is not essentially different from the process by which we construct our dreamworld(s). We just use a different set of materials, which is why some dreams can, in fact, seem as real. May 6, 2019 at 1:22

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