Free Will and the Inverse Quantum Zeno Effect

The big question is: How can experimental validations of telepathy, telekinesis, and remote viewing be reconciled with the physical theories that work so well that they have given us GPS systems and microchips? The journey of 10,000 miles starts with a single step. In that spirit, I offer this story of the inverse quantum Zeno effect as a first step.

The paradox of Zeno (334-262BC) was described thus: For an arrow to fly from here to there, it first has to fly halfway there. And once it gets there, it has to fly half the remaining distance. And accomplishing this, it still has to fly half of the half of the distance. You can go on forever this way. Therefore, the arrow must do an infinite number of things to get from here to there. Continuing in this way, you can imagine how Zeno proved that motion is impossible.

(The resolution of this paradox comes from a fact of which Zeno was unaware: it is possible for an infinite number of terms to be added together and the sum remains finite.

½ + ¼ + ⅛ + … = 1, where the … indicates that the sum goes on forever.)

Watched water never boils

Begin with the idea that every quantum system can occupy only discrete states. That’s where the “quantum” in quantum mechanics comes from. For example, an electron is a tiny magnet that can be in only two states. We can choose to measure whether the magnet is pointing North or South, and when we are done, we lose all information about whether it points East or West. The fact that the magnet points North is a complete description, and nothing more can be known.

Let’s say we measure the N/S alignment of the magnet and by chance, the measurement comes out North. If the electron is in a field, the North won’t stay North for long. LIke a spinning top, it “precesses”.

The quantum mechanical equivalent of precession tells us that as time goes on, the North-pointing electron has a probability of becoming South, a probability that grows and returns again and grows again periodically.

Now we come to the quantum Zeno effect. If you measure the electron’s magnetic field again very quickly after the first measurement, asking “North or South?”, then the electron will very probably answer “North” (if the time interval wasn’t long enough for significant precession to occur). And your measurement resets the precession clock, so it starts anew.

Now if you repeat this process, asking “North or Soiuth?” over and over and over again at very short time intervals, then the precession can be prevented. The electron continues to point North as long as you continue to make measurements. The measurement never comes up South if you continuously repeat measurements at short time intervals, whereas if you had waited before making the next measurement, the same measurement might have come out South.

The original Zeno paradox says that nothing can move, and that’s wrong. But in QM, things can move only while you’re not checking on their position, and you can prevent them from moving by “keeping an eye on them” almost continuously. (I say “almost continuously” because it takes time to make each measurement, so you can’t actually watch the electron continuously.)


The Inverse Quantum Zeno Effect

Just as the Quantum Zeno Effect (QZE) is about keeping the electron from changing its orientation, the Inverse QZE or (IQEZ) is a way to force the electron to change from North to South

What if you rotate your measuring tool through 90 degrees and measure the East-West magnetic field? Answer: Half the time, it will come out East and half the time West. That presents an idea for moving the orientation from North to South. It starts off North. Then immediately force it to choose “East or West?” and half the time it will choose one or the other. Next repeat the measurement “North or South?” and half of the time it will choose South. This happens without waiting for precession to happen. The two successive measurements can in fact be almost immediately after the first, but still you find that half the time the North orientation has switched to South.

(If you’re not familiar with this property of quantum measurement, you might want to reread the last paragraph and realize how strange it is. What you choose to measure forces a choice on the system, and that forced choice actually moves the system to a new state.)

You can do better. Instead of rotating 90 degrees all at once, rotate your measuring apparatus just 1 degree to the East, so the measurement is asking “almost North or almost South?” If the apparatus is just 1 degree from North, then almost all the time it chooses “almost North” and almost never “almost South”. You can continue this process with 180 measurements spaced 1 degree apart, moving the apparatus 1 degree at a time from North 90 degrees to East and continuing 90 more degrees to South. When you’re done making these 180 measurements, the electron’s magnetic field will now be pointing South (with very high probability).

This is a strategy for changing the electron’s quantum state, changing it drastically to its opposite. It depends only on choosing what to measure, without the need for a classical force on the electron. As long as the change is done gradually, the state can be changed from North to South (with high probability),

This is a purely quantum phenomenon. In classical physics, measuring something is very different from changing it. Measurement does not disturb the system but only gathers information, and “pushing” the system doesn’t give you information but only changes the system. In QM, there is no way to separate measurement from “pushing”. Measurement in QM cannot be done without changing what is measured. And by choosing the questions you ask with a measurement, you can change the system in a desired direction just by a clever choice of what to measure.


Do living things use the Inverse Quantum Zeno Effect?

Because measurement in QM has this strange capacity to instantly change the thing that is measured, physicists have been asking for nearly 100 years, “what constitutes a measurement?” It’s a curious thing about quantum mechanics that there are two very different ways in which a physical system can change. The “ordinary” change is governed by an equation that tells how the probability distribution for the system evolves over time. (This is the Schrödinger Equation for low velocities or the Dirac Equation when velocities get close to the speed of light.) The “exceptional” change happens whenever a measurement is made, and the probability distribution no longer applies because you know something about the system with certainty. The act of measurement forces the system to make a choice, and after a measurement, the system is in a new state, possibly different from before, though nothing was “done” to it.

What is it that constitutes a “measurement”, and why does it play by different rules from the rest of physical reality? Usually, in a physics lab, a measurement is made by some large instrument like a spectrograph or a photon counter or a voltmeter. But isn’t that instrument also a physical system? Isn’t it governed by its own Schrödinger Equation?

It’s reasoning like this that led some physicists to say that “measurement” must be something outside of physical reality. They make a connection to Cartesian dualism, which is the idea of a world of consciousness that exists in parallel to a world of objects. I hold with this school of physics that says a “measurement” occurs when a living being becomes aware of something.

The beauty of this idea is that it holds promise of resolution for the thorniest problem in metaphysics, called the “mind/body problem” or, more recently, “the hard problem.” This problem may be stated, “what is the relationship between your conscious awareness and your physical body?” The hypothesis is that your awareness of the state of your body’s nervous system is a quantum measurement, and that when your will controls the direction of your thoughts or even the motion of your body, this is also accomplished through quantum measurement events. Remember that in QM, a measurement changes the thing that is being measured. The Inverse QZE tells us that measurements can be arranged in clever ways to change a quantum system deliberately from one state to another.

In this hypothesis, the relationship between mind and body is that your mind watches your body from the inside, and that makes all the difference, enabling not just perception but also active intention.

Twenty years ago, a British biologist named Johnjoe McFadden wrote a book proposing that evolution works via the IQZE. It was a highly original idea, and as Niels Bohr would say, crazy enough that it just might be true. McFadden’s idea depends on the hypothesis that it is conscious recognition that constitutes a quantum measurement.

Maybe it is not just in evolution but in the intentional movement of our bodies, and in our direction of the activity of our minds that the IQZE mediates between consciousness and biology. When we are infants in the crib, maybe the way that we learn to direct our own thoughts and control the motion of our hands is a kind of biofeedback process, as we try out different modes of internal conscious observation and note the effects of the IQZE.

Can we really control a thought or intention by flipping a single quantum?

This is an important question. Most human designed machines are robust to quantum fluctuations. A computer chip depends on quantum effects, but it is designed in such a way that it responds reliably and quantum fluctuations are extremely unlikely to flip a 1 to a 0. But that is by design. It would be equally easy to design a machine that amplifies quantum fluctuations so that it behaves randomly. A Geiger counter does just this.

We don’t yet know whether a brain is like a computer chip or like a Geiger counter. We need the brain to be like a Geiger counter, amplifying single-quantum effects, if our hypothesis about mind controlling body through the IQZE is to be viable. There are some preliminary hints that indeed the brain amplifies single quantum events into thoughts or movements. The evidence is presented by Stuart Kauffman.


What about parapsychology?

I would never claim that this perspective explains how people can transmit thoughts to one another or know the future or receive messages from the dead — though I have read enough to convince me that all these things are real. However, I think that a this framework is promising because consciousness is observation and exists outside of physical matter and energy. We can begin to use this framework to make conjectures about how consciousness behaves, apart from the brain to which it is attached — or even if consciousness exists independent of the brain.

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