Is the Mind Quantum?

July 14, 2021
Dean Radin, IONS Chief Scientist

In an article I co-authored with Stuart Kauffman, “Is the brain-mind quantum? A theoretical proposal with supporting evidence, we proposed a new way to understand the mind-brain relationship and then discussed the implications of it.” The idea was based on a 1958 suggestion by Werner Heisenberg, one of the founders of quantum mechanics. It concerns the difference between possible and actual states of being. The former is a core concept within quantum mechanics, and the latter involves the world of everyday experience.

Heisenberg proposed that a quantum superposition, represented mathematically by the quantum wavefunction, describes “potentia, ghost-like, between an idea and a reality.” We generally do not experience reality as “ghost-like,” but that is nevertheless the nature of naked reality (in this case, meaning before it is observed) as described by quantum theory. We might be inclined to dismiss the implications of such a strange reality because it is so radically different from the way we experience everyday reality. And yet, quantum theory is the most accurate physical theory developed so far, and every experiment conducted to test it, regardless of how bizarre the prediction, has been confirmed. So we may not like it, but we do seem to reside in a ghost-like reality, at least when we’re not looking.

Now, consider that the very concept of a quantum superposition, often illustrated by Schrodinger’s famous thought experiment as a cat that is simultaneously dead and alive, is a logical impossibility in the actual, everyday world. That is, a superposed cat violates a logical assumption about the way the actual world works: a cat cannot be both alive and dead at the same time. This constraint is known as Aristotle’s “law of the excluded middle.” In the real world, a statement can be true or false, but it cannot be both true and false at the same time.

By contrast, after observing a quantum system, it does obey the law of the excluded middle. That is, when we observe Schrodinger’s cat, it can only be dead or alive. The act of observing somehow “causes” a transition to occur from a superposition of possible states to one specific state. From a quantum perspective, then, an unobserved photon, as an example, can be anywhere. But an observed photon can only be here or there. Aristotle would be pleased.

Based on this line of thought, we proposed that the world consists of both ontologically real “possibles” that do not obey the law of the excluded middle and ontologically real “actuals” that do obey the law of the excluded middle. In addition, and this is a critical point, the observer – mind – converts “possibles” into “actuals.”

It turns out that this idea solves outstanding mysteries of quantum mechanics: spatial non-locality, which-way information, why measurement of one of N entangled variables instantaneously alters the amplitudes of the remaining N -1 variables, and why there are “no facts of the matter” between measurements (see references 2, 3, and 4 for details). It also raises the possibility that some aspects of the mind are non-local in the quantum sense and that the mind plays an active role in the physical world.

In particular, if this idea is correct, then one could predict that two types of nonlocal experiences ought to be reported: 1) The mind ought to be able to extend beyond the mind-brain system, and the act of observing a distant physical system would, to some degree, directly influence the characteristics of that system; and 2) The mind would occasionally interact with other minds, where minds perceive hidden or distant objects or events, and where minds directly influence aspects of the physical world. These effects, of course, include the whole range of reported psi experiences, of which there is substantial anecdotal evidence as well as scientific evidence.


Kauffman S, Radin D. 2021. Is the brain-mind quantum? A theoretical proposal with supporting evidence.

Kastner R, Kauffman S, Epperson M. 2017 Taking Heisenberg’s Potentia Seriously. International Journal of Quantum Foundations. 4(2): 158.

Kauffman S. 2020. A New View of Reality: Mind and Actualization of Quantum Potentia. Journal of Cognitive Science. 21(3): 475
Kauffman SA, Roli A. 2021. What Is Consciousness? Artificial Intelligence, Real Intelligence, Quantum Mind, and Qualia. ArXiv210615515 Phys.

Stuart Kauffman MD is a prominent complex systems theorist, author of numerous books on complex systems and theoretical biology, and former professor at the University of Chicago, University of Pennsylvania, and University of Calgary.

About the Author

Dean Radin, MS, PhDDean Radin, PhD, is Chief Scientist at the Institute of Noetic Sciences and Associated Distinguished Professor at the California Institute of Integral Studies. Before joining the research staff at IONS in 2001, he held appointments at AT&T Bell Labs, Princeton University, University of Edinburgh, and SRI International. Dr. Radin is author or coauthor of hundreds of technical articles, some 125 peer-reviewed journal articles, four dozen book chapters, and four best-selling, popular books. He has given over 600 invited presentations and interviews for government, military, business, scientific, and other groups around the world.

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