John Horgan

If science writer John Horgan had merely said that agnosticism is the only sensible stance regarding God, there would be little surprise. That view is over-represented in popular science writing. But he says the same thing about quantum mechanics and consciousness too. Some brief snippets from his article (with brief responses):

He’s not happy that quantum mechanics, a well-established branch of science (our computers would not work if it were not real) cannot eliminate the role of the conscious observer:

Quantum mechanics

Introducing consciousness into physics undermines its claim to objectivity. Moreover, as far as we know, consciousness arises only in certain organisms that have existed for a brief period here on Earth. So how can quantum mechanics, if it’s a theory of information rather than matter and energy, apply to the entire cosmos since the big bang? Information-based theories of physics seem like a throwback to geocentrism, which assumed the universe revolves around us. Given the problems with all interpretations of quantum mechanics, agnosticism, again, strikes me as a sensible stance.

John Horgan, “What God, Quantum Mechanics and Consciousness Have in Common” at Scientific American (August 14, 2021)

Well, a scientific approach to anything must hold all known past discoveries in tension with unknown future discoveries. The reason quantum physicists have not been able to eliminate the conscious observer from quantum mechanics (quantum physics) is not that they didn’t want to. It was that they couldn’t. Observation created their measurements. See, for example, “In quantum physics, reality really is what we choose to observe. Physicist Bruce Gordon argues that idealist philosophy is the best way to make sense of the puzzling world of quantum physics.”

Now, we don’t have to be idealists. But we should see that the physicists who report on quantum mechanics are simply recounting their observations. It is not clear what we should be “agnostic” about, apart from the need to respect the fact that we do not know all things, We make reasonable decisions all the time about what to believe, despite not knowing all things.


Philosopher Daniel Dennett, in his cockily titled Consciousness Explained, asserted that consciousness clearly emerges from neural processes, such as electrochemical pulses in the brain. Francis Crick and Christof Koch proposed that consciousness is generated…

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