This particular article is packed with information and can be hard to read. Again I’ve done my best to summarize the key points if you’re interested.
Schwartz, Stapp, and Beauregard start by talking about “self-directed neuroplasticity” or the conscious effort to change the way one thinks. This is one of the phenomena of consciousness that continues to befuddle scientists and seems to be closely linked to meditation.
The subject makes an active response aimed at systematically alteringthe nature of the emotional reaction —- for example, by actively performing a cognitive reattribution —- then the demand that the data be understood solely from the perspective of brain-based causal mechanism is a severe and counter-intuitive constraint.
“Bare Attention is the clear and single-minded awareness of what actually happens to us and in us at the successive moments of perception. It is called ‘Bare’ because it attends just to the bare facts of a perception as presented either through the five physical senses or through the mind … without reacting to them.” (Nyanaponika 1973, p.30)
To sustain this attentional perspective over time, especially during stressful events, invariably requires the conscious application of effort.
Clinical success is jeopardized by a belief on the part of either therapists or patients that their mental effort is an illusion or a misconception.
When people practice self-directed activities for the purpose of systematically altering patterns of cerebral activation they are attending to their mental and emotional experiences, not merely their limbic or hypothalamic brain mechanisms.
It is in fact the basic thesis of self-directed neuroplasticity research that the way in which a person directs his attention, e.g., mindfully or unmindfully, will affect both the experiential state of the person and the state of his/her brain.
It’s therefore pertinent to study what and how exactly is directing the attention of the brain, which is of course what this blog is about. I’ve noticed that many papers on the topic discuss extensively whether classical or contemporary (particularly quantum) physics should be used to describe consciousness. I personally think this is a silly waste of time but you’re welcome to read those sections yourself.
Too understand the next part it’s helpful to understand what it means to say consciousness is an emergent property of the brain. The common example for emergence is that the ‘wheel’ part of being a wheel does not come from the individual components, but the interaction of those components. This is called synergy, where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
This theory and a rebuttal were covered nicely:
The core ideas of the arguments in favor of an identity-emergent theory of mind and consciousness are illustrated by Roger Sperry’s example of a “wheel.” (Sperry 1992)
Emergent property: there is no mention of “wheelness” in the formulation of the laws of physics, and “wheelness” did not exist in the early universe; “wheelness” emerges only under certain special conditions.
The reason that mind and consciousness are not analogous to “wheelness”, within the context of classical physics, is that the properties that characterize “wheelness” are properties that are entailed,within the conceptual framework of classical physics, by properties specified in classical physics, whereas the properties that characterize conscious mental processes, namely the way it feels, are not entailed,within the conceptual structure provided by classical physics, by the properties specified by classical physics.
Moving on to quantum mechanics.
…the core idea of quantum mechanics is to describe both our activities as knowledge-seeking and knowledge-acquiring agents, and also the knowledge that we thereby acquire. Thus quantum theory involves, basically, what is “in here,” not just what is “out there.”
Quantum mechanics must take the observer into account because the act of observing changes the outcome of the experiment. This point is important and explained nicely which is the reason for such an extensive summary:
The participation of the agent continues to be important even when the only features of the physically described world being observed are large-scale properties of measuring devices. The sensitivity of the behavior of the devices to the behavior of some tiny atomic-scale particles propagates first to the devices and then to the observers in such a way that the choice made by an observer about what sort of knowledge to seek can profoundly affect the knowledge that can ever be received either by that observer himself or by any other observer with whom he can communicate. Thus the choice made by the observer about how he or she will act at a macroscopic level has, at the practical level, a profound effect on the physical system being acting upon.
Quantum theory thereby converts science’s conception of you from that of a mechanical automaton, whose conscious choices are mere cogs in a gigantic mechanical machine, to that of an agent whose conscious free choices affect the physically described world in a way specified by the theory.
The great mathematician and logician John von Neumann formulated quantum theory in a rigorous way that allows the bodies and brains of the agents, along with their measuring devices, to be shifted into the physically described world. This shift is carried out in a series of steps each of which moves more of what the Copenhagen approach took to be the psychologically described “observing system” into the physically described “observed system.” At each step the crucial act of choosing or deciding between possible optional observing actions remains undetermined by the physical observed system. This act of choosing is always ascribed to the observing agent. In the end all that is left of this agent is what von Neumann calls his “abstract ego.” It is described in psychological terms, and is, in practice, the stream of consciousness of the agent.
Neumann wrote out a two-process system to describe this phenomenon. Process 2 is the biological process of filtering through the flow of sensorial information, and process 1 is the ‘chooser’.
… according to the Copenhagen philosophy, there are no presently known laws that govern the choices made by the agent/experimenter/observer about how the observed system is to be probed.
Because of the uncertainties introduced at the ionic, molecular, atomic, and electronic levels, the brain state will develop not into one single classically describable macroscopic state, as it does in classical physics, but into a continuous distribution of parallel virtual states of this kind. Process 1 must then be invoked to allow definite empirical predictions to be extracted from this continuous smear of parallel overlapping almost-classical possibilities generated by Process 2.
Some process beyond the local deterministic Process 2 is required to pick out one experienced course of physical events from the smeared out mass of possibilities generated by all of the alternative possible combinations of vesicle releases at all of the trillions of nerve terminals. As already emphasized, this other process is Process 1. This process brings in a choice that is not determined by any currently known law of nature, yet has a definite effect upon the brain of the chooser.
To go into detail further, I’ve included a more mathematics savvy way of showing exactly how it is this choice is made.
This equation represents, within the quantum mathematics, the effect of the Process 1 action upon the quantum state S of the system being acted upon. The equation is:
S—>S’ = PSP + (I-P)S(I-P)
This formula exhibits the important fact that this Process 1 action changes the state S of the system being acted upon into a new state S’, which is a sum of two parts.
The first part, PSP, represents, in physical terms, the possibility in which the experiential feedback called “Yes” appears, and the second part, (I-P)S(I-P), represents the alternative possibility “No”, this “Yes” feedback does not appear. Thus an effect of the probing action is injected into the mathematical description of the physical system being acted upon.
…In quantum physics the “free choices” made by human subjects are regarded as subjectively controllable input variable.
An important concept for the conclusion is:
Quantum Zeno Effect:
…repeated and closely-spaced observational acts can effectively hold the “Yes” feedback in place for an extended time interval that depends upon the rapidity at which the Process I actions are happening. According to our model, this rapidity is controlled by the amount of effort being applied. In our notation the effect is to keep the “Yes” condition associated with states of the form PSP in place longer than would be the case if no effort were being made. This “holding” effect can override very strong mechanical forces arising from Process 2. It’s a case of mind over brain matter!
The “Yes” states PSP are assumed to be conditioned by training and learning to contain the template for action which if held in place for an extended period will tend to produce the intended experiential feedback. Thus the model allows intentional mental efforts to tend to bring intended experiences into being.
Conscious effort can, by activation of the Quantum Zeno Effect, override strong mechanical forces arising from Process 2, and cause the template for action to be held in place longer than it would be if the rapid sequence of Process 1 events were not occurring. This sustained existence of the template for action can increase the probability that the intended action will occur.
This effort can cause to be held in place for an extended period a pattern of neural activity that constitutes a template for action. This delay can tend to cause the specified action to occur.
I realize this is a lot but if there are any questions please ask so I can improve this post.