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Interview with Nobel Prize winner physicist Brian Josephson

Posted on 07 March 2011, 22:37

This is an interview with Nobel Prize winner and professional physicist Brian Josephson. I thank professor Josephson for kindly accepting the interview.

1) Dr.Josephson, tell us a little bit about your background?

I have BA’s in Maths and Physics, and PhD in physics at Cambridge Univ.

2) You’re a professional physicist. Why did a physicist like you get interested in paranormal phenomena?

Via another fellow of my college, Dr. George Owen.

3) There are controversies about the proper philosophical interpretation of quantum mechanics. In your opinion, what’s the best of all of these proposed interpretations?

It is just a theory describing observable phenomena coming from a level of reality that we cannot observe directly. This description is viewpoint-dependent rather than referring to an ‘objective reality’

4) A common technical objection against the idea that Quantum Mechanics is indeterministic is that the concept of indeterminism, properly understood in a philosophical sense, denies the existence of laws. However, QM is based on laws, both deterministic and probabilistic laws. (As examples of the former are: 1) The principle of energy conservation and angular moment; 2) The rules forbidding some transitions between atomic levels; or 3) The principle of exclusion, which denies the possibility of two quantum particles (e.g. electrons) of a system occupying the same space). And regarding the existence of probabilistic laws, it is not the same than the absence of laws. Thus, QM is based on laws, both probabilistic and deterministic, which rules out indeterminism. What do you think of this objection?

There’s no problem in principle with the probabilities being (close to) unity in certain cases, and not in others.

5) Another common objection to the observer-dependent reality interpretation of quantum mechanics is that it doesn’t explain the existence of quantum effects previous to the existence of human observers (e.g. in the beginning of the universe), or at places where no human observers exist (e.g. in remote galaxies). What do you think of it?

It is the descriptions that are observer-dependent, not the reality.

6) Another objection is that the Copenhagen interpretation of QM is phenomenalist (based on appearances), not realist (based on the existence of an external and observer-independent reality); and this is contrary to any other field of science what assumes the reality of an external world not dependent on human beings.

Again, the difference between description and reality explains this.

7) Scientists like Dean Radin (in his book Entangled Minds) and philosophers like Chris Carter (in his book Parapsychology and the Skeptics) have argued that quantum mechanics (or a worldview based on it) offers room to understand psi or Para psychological phenomena. Do you think quantum mechanics implies or, at least is compatible with, the existence of some psi phenomena?

If space and time are givens, it may be difficult to account for them. But space may just be a phenomenon in a wider reality. QM changes in detail as knowledge advances.

8) A more controversial field of research is the field of afterlife studies (that researches phenomena suggesting survival of consciousness, like cases of mediumship, reincarnation and near-death experiences). Materialists, fully convinced that mind is the brain or part of it, consider such studies as false, spurious and irrelevant. However, a large body of serious scholarly empirical research exists supporting this theoretical possibility (as documented in psychologist David Fontana’s book Is There an Afterlife?). Do you think a dualistic interpretation of QM provides room or, at least a conceptual framework, for the possibility of personal survival of consciousness?

Again, we need to distinguish between the framework (QM) and the detailed physics. String theorists acknowledge that they don’t have an explicit theory but just a set of recipes.

9) Do you think quantum mechanics, or some more advanced physical theory, could in principle to explain the origin of consciousness?

I think consciousness just has to be taken as ‘given’.

10) Some neuroscientists, like Jeffrey Schwartz and Mario Beauregard, have argue that the causal efficacy of consciousness (as seen in placebo effect, biofeedback, self-directed neuroplasticity or brain changes induced by intentional mental efforts) is consistent with QM (and inconsistent with classical physics and materialism). What do you think about this?

Schwartz seems to exclude explanations in terms of the brain a bit too readily, as far as I can see.

11) Some emergent materialists argue that consciousness and mental states are “emergent properties” of neural systems in the brain. Is QM consistent with the existence of emergent properties, in any level of reality?

Rather slippery concept. I’ll pass!

12) Do you think the scientific study of the paranormal will be accepted in mainstream science as a legitimate field of scientific research? Are mainstream scientists being more open-minded about it?

Any changes are pretty slow.

13) What’s your opinion of the so-called “organized skepticism” and “professional skeptics”?

Unprintable! More seriously, I’ve discussed this in my ‘pathological disbelief’ video. We’re dealing with irrational factors here.

14) Something else you would like to add to end the interview?

I believe scepticism will ultimately by undermined by the advent of deeper theories of the role of mind in the natural world.

Interview with Nobel Prize winner physicist Brian Josephson courtesy of Jime @

Links of interest:

Professor Josephson’s website. Brian Josephson

-Professor Josephson’s article “Pathological disbelief”


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