We have stopped adding to this page because we are developing our ” For Instructors” page, and FAQ would be somewhat redundant, even though that page is addressed to readers with substantial background.

The page numbers cited are from the revised paperback edition Oxford released in June 2008.

If you email us questions at brucero@ucsc.edu, we will almost surely respond.

What is quantum mechanics?

It’s the theory basic to all of physics, from atoms to black holes. String theory starts with quantum mechanics. One-third of our economy depends on devices based on quantum mechanics. Quantum mechanics also tells weird things about our world–and maybe about us.

Your books subtitle says, Physics Encounters Consciousness. How?

With the advent of quantum mechanics, physics found that observation created a physical reality. By freely choosing a different observation, you could have created a physical reality inconsistent with the one you actually chose to create. (And therefore a different history!) Though, because of randomness and the complexity of big things, you cant bring about just the future you want–as purveyors of pseudo-science imply. Quantum mechanics reveals a mysterious encounter of “free choice,” conscious free will, with the physical world. Does this impact your world-view? It sure does impact mine. (Pages 1 and 87ff)

You quote famous physicists implying that our observation creates the physical world–even the Big Bang! Can you really believe such things?

Our simple answer is no. Richard Feynman, who understood quantum theory as well as anyone ever did, said: Nobody understands quantum mechanics. What he could have said is that nobody believes quantum mechanics. The trouble is that quantum theory, the most battle-tested theory in all of science, says crazy things.

Might a better understanding of quantum theory, resolve the quantum enigma?

No. The quantum enigma does not arise from the quantum theory; it arises directly from demonstrated (and readily understandable) physical facts. This means that no “interpretation” of quantum mechanics, no string theory, no theory of everything can ever resolve the quantum enigma without discovering new, testable, physical facts. We suspect, with John Bell, that the nature of this new physics will astonish us.

What is your definition of “consciousness”?

It’s similar to “awareness.” We use the term “consciousness” in the way it has been used for eight decades in discussing the “quantum measurement problem.” Free will involves this “consciousness.” Consciousness is a mysterious concept. We try to define our use more carefully in the book. (Page 172.)

According to quantum mechanics, observation affects the thing observed. But does the observation have to be a “conscious” observation?

That’s been a hot question since the inception of quantum mechanics. According to the quantum theory, observations of particular outcomes arise through what is called the “collapse of the wavefunction.” Collapse is mysterious. So is consciousness. And they seem connected. Experts disagree with each other. If you read the UNDISPUTED demonstrations displayed on pages 87 through 98, you can decide for yourself.

Can’t a not-conscious robot be programmed to do the observation?

That’s a common argument. But if you’re interested in what’s going on beyond merely practical purposes, introducing the robot cannot evade the encounter with consciousness. Trying to evade the consciousness mystery this way introduces an even harder-to-deal-with problem. (Page 186)

Doesn’t the “decoherence” argument show that quantum mechanics has nothing to do with consciousness?

Even some physicists mistakenly think so. Decoherence theory explains how the physics discipline can, for all practical purposes, ignore its encounter with consciousness. But Zurek, probably the leading developer of decoherence theory, admits that the ultimate explanation of the mystery of observation must involve a model of consciousness. (Page 160)

Why do many physicists deny (sometimes with considerable emotion) the encounter with consciousness?

For physicists, the implied association of their work with today’s pseudo-scientific nonsense triggers embarrassment. In over-reaction, some deny all mystery. Actually many physicists are unaware of quantum mechanics’ problem continuing with observation. When we teach quantum mechanics to physics students, we focus on the practical aspects students will have to use in their jobs, and avoid the deeper questions. (Page 99)

Also, for academic physicists–especially those who consider their work important because it’s so fundamental–the existence of a quantum enigma, something yet more fundamental, yet something understandable to a lay person, can be “unsettling.”

Isn’t string theory likely the fundamental idea that will eventually resolve the quantum enigma?

String theory, around for decades now, might eventually mathematically unite quantum mechanics with gravity (general relativity) to produce the so called “theory of everything,” the ToE. We know what the ToE will look like. It will be a set of equations. That’s what string theorists are looking for. But the quantum enigma arises from theory-neutral experiments. Without new experimental findings, findings, the enigma can’t be resolved. String theorists start out assuming quantum mechanics, that there are no such new experimental results. That approach might produce a ToE, but it can’t resolve the quantum enigma.

Do the spooky actions in quantum mechanics give credence to ESP?

Nothing in quantum theory leads to ESP, the claims of the pseudo-scientists notwithstanding. But we now know that what Einstein derided as “spooky actions” do indeed exist. Arguably, at least, this does make ESP less unlikely. If ESP were shown to be real, it would revolutionize our thinking about the world. That’s a reason we can’t accept it without very strong evidence. At present, the experimental evidence for ESP is controversial. But can we dismiss it out of hand? (Page 197)

Does consciousness “reach out” and do something physical?

Consciousness is a mystery. And what does “do something physical” mean? All we can say is: Look at the undisputed demonstrations of the quantum enigma, and speculate for yourself (but stay open minded). (Pages 1, 87ff, 139ff, 197)