What’s the matter? It’s Schrödinger, Heisenberg and Dirac’s

The reader may be puzzled that I should be writing a book which encompasses both [consciousness and quantum mechanics], since they are not usually thought to have much connection with each other. But it seems to me clear that they do […]. First, in reflecting on the relation of consciousness to the matter of the brain, philosophers have been apt to take matter for granted, assuming that it is mind rather than matter that is philosophically problematic. This has much to do with the fact that they tend to think of matter along essentially Newtonian lines. The Newtonian conception of matter is incorrect, however, and it is high time that philosophers began properly to take on board the conception that has replaced it. Quantum mechanics just is the theory of matter, as currently conceived. So it is with the matter of Schrödinger, Heisenberg and Dirac that mind has to be brought to terms, not the reassuringly solid stuff of Galileo, Descartes and Newton. This matter, the matter of quantum mechanics, is deeply problematic, and philosophically ill-understood.

Most philosophers who have tackled the mind-body problem have, as I say, tended to regard matter as having a conceptual solidity to match its supposed literal solidity; they have regarded it as a constant, so to speak, in the metaphysical equation. So the mind-body problem itself has, by most contemporary philosophers, been seen as a calling for mind to be accommodated to the material world – all the ‘give’ being on the side of mind. Some wonderfully Procrustean devices have been invoked to that end; so-called eliminative materialism and behaviourism […] being extreme examples. This prejudice in favour of the material seems to me devoid of any sound scientific foundation. Quantum mechanics has robbed matter of its conceptual quite as much as its literal solidity. Mind and matter are alike in being profoundly mysterious, philosophically speaking. And what the mind-body problem calls for, almost certainly, is a mutual accommodation: one which involves conceptual adjustments on both sides of the mind-body divide.

– Extract from: Mind, Brain & the Quantum: The Compound ‘I’, by Michael Lockwood

On David Pearce‘s advice I started reading this book. So far it is *extremely* good. Lockwood is the most sober consciousness philosopher I have ever read (other than Pearce).

Why? Michael is acutely aware of the deficiencies of a variety of philosophies of mind, ranging from the fashionable “no nonsense materialism” all the way to popular theories among computer scientists such as functionalism and epiphenomenalism.

Unlike almost every other researcher I have read, Lockwood *truly* understands the philosophical problems that arise when you try to reconcile physicalism and the properties of consciousness. Among them, four properties stand out:

  1. The existence of qualia
  2. The [ontological] unity of consciousness
  3. Intentionality (the aboutness of thought), and
  4. The phenomenology of time

I would add to that list (5) the phenomenology of space. 1-4, combined with plausible philosophical assumptions such as mereological nihilism, already rule out entire landscapes of possible explanations to the mind-body problem. 5 will probably be the final straw.

In summary: I definitely recommend this book if you are serious about grasping the problems posed by the properties of your very mind.


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  3. Christian Lains · March 25, 2016

    Awesome quote, inspired me to get the book. On Amazon blurb of the the book I found the following: “Michael Lockwood demonstrates the need for a conception that is rooted both in the latest thinking about the foundations of quantum mechanics and in some previously neglected ideas of Bertrand Russell.” I got me wondering, what previously neglected ideas of Russell?

    • algekalipso · March 26, 2016

      Great to hear, Christian. Russell proposed a particular kind of monism that Lockwood plays with and ultimately transcends. This monism is the idea that matter, or whatever ontological ground physics is based on, is in itself made of consciousness. Strangely, this solution to the hard problem has been largely left out of accounts of Russell’s philosophical work for some reason. Perhaps it reminds people of mysterianism, and having Russell say such things is particularly disconcerting 😉

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