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What great physicists have said about immateriality and consciousness

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John Archibald Wheeler: “it from bit” Every “it”— every particle, every field of force, even the space-time continuum itself derives its function, its meaning, its very existence entirely—even if in some contexts indirectly—from the apparatus-elicited answers to yes-or-no questions, binary choices, bits. “It from bit” symbolizes the idea that every item of the physical world has a bottom—a very deep bottom, in most instances, an immaterial source and explanation, that which we call reality arises in the last analysis from the posing of yes-no questions and the registering of equipment—evoked responses, in short all matter and all things physical are information-theoretic in origin and this is a participatory universe.

– Princeton University physicist John Wheeler (1911–2008) (Wheeler, John A. (1990), “Information, physics, quantum: The search for links”, in W. Zurek, Complexity, Entropy, and the Physics of Information (Redwood City, California: Addison-Wesley))


Max Planck, 1933

I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as a derivative of consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing postulates consciousness.


As a man who has devoted his whole life to the most clear headed science, to the study of matter, I can tell you as a result of my research about atoms this much: There is no matter as such. All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particle of an atom to vibration and holds this most minute solar system of the atom together. We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent mind. This mind is the matrix of all matter. – Das Wesen der Materie [The Nature of Matter], speech at Florence, Italy (1944) (from Archiv zur Geschichte der Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, Abt. Va, Rep. 11 Planck, Nr. 1797)

– Max Planck (1858–1947), the originator of quantum theory, The Observer, London, January 25, 1931


Eugene Wigner, 1963

The miracle of the appropriateness of the language of mathematics for the formulation of the laws of physics is a wonderful gift which we neither understand nor deserve. – “The Unreasonable Effectiveness “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences,” in Communications in Pure and Applied Mathematics, vol. 13, No. I (February 1960). New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Copyright © 1960 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

– Nobel Laureate physicist Eugene Wigner (1902–1995)


Curious that, for real, hardtack physical materialism, you have to find a philosopher or psychologist who is into neuro-nut moments or evo psych, not a great physicist.

Hat tip: Matthew Cochrane

13 Replies to “What great physicists have said about immateriality and consciousness

  1. 1
    bornagain77 says:

    Wigner also stated this:

    “It was not possible to formulate the laws (of quantum theory) in a fully consistent way without reference to consciousness.” Eugene Wigner (1902 -1995) from his collection of essays “Symmetries and Reflections – Scientific Essays”
    Eugene Wigner laid the foundation for the theory of symmetries in quantum mechanics, for which he received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1963.

    “It will remain remarkable, in whatever way our future concepts may develop, that the very study of the external world led to the scientific conclusion that the content of the consciousness is the ultimate universal reality” –
    Eugene Wigner – (Remarks on the Mind-Body Question, Eugene Wigner, in Wheeler and Zurek, p.169) 1961 –

    As well, Schroedinger stated:

    “Consciousness cannot be accounted for in physical terms. For consciousness is absolutely fundamental. It cannot be accounted for in terms of anything else.”
    (Schroedinger, Erwin. 1984. “General Scientific and Popular Papers,” in Collected Papers, Vol. 4. Vienna: Austrian Academy of Sciences. Friedr. Vieweg & Sohn, Braunschweig/Wiesbaden. p. 334.)

    at the 8:30 minute mark of the following video, Schrodinger’s cat and Wigner’s Friend are highlighted:

    Divinely Planted Quantum States – video

    I found this neat quote yesterday:

    “I have a much easier time imagining how we would understand the big bang, even though we can’t do it yet, than I can imagine understanding consciousness.”
    – Edward Witten – professor of mathematical physics at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey.
    Edward Witten on consciousness – video

    Hmmm perhaps consciousness preceded the Big Bang?

    Four intersecting lines of experimental evidence from quantum mechanics that shows that consciousness precedes material reality (Wigner’s Quantum Symmetries, Wheeler’s Delayed Choice, Leggett’s Inequalities, Quantum Zeno effect):

    Besides empirical evidence, what I find very convincing for the Theistic position is that we have eyewitness testimony to back up what our best science is telling us. This following excellent interview of a Harvard Neurosurgeon, who had a Near Death Experience (NDE), is very interesting. His NDE was rather unique from typical NDEs in that he had lost brain function for 7 days while the rest of his body was on life support. As such he had what can be termed a ‘pure consciousness’ NDE that was dramatically different from the ‘typical’ Judeo-Christian NDEs of going through a tunnel to a higher heavenly dimension, seeing departed relatives, and having a life review. His NDE featured his ‘consciousness’ going outside the confines of space/time, matter/energy altogether to experience ‘non-locally’ what he termed ‘the Core’, i.e to experience God. It is also interesting to note that he retained a ‘finite sense of self-identity’, as Theism would hold, and did not blend into the infinite consciousness/omniscience of God, as pantheism would hold.

    A Conversation with Near Death Experiencer Neurosurgeon Eben Alexander III, M.D. with Steve Paulson (Interviewer) – video

    A neurosurgeon confronts the non-material nature of consciousness – December 2011
    Excerpted quote: To me one thing that has emerged from my experience and from very rigorous analysis of that experience over several years, talking it over with others that I respect in neuroscience, and really trying to come up with an answer, is that consciousness outside of the brain is a fact. It’s an established fact. And of course, that was a hard place for me to get, coming from being a card-toting reductive materialist over decades. It was very difficult to get to knowing that consciousness, that there’s a soul of us that is not dependent on the brain.

    The Easter Question – Eben Alexander, M.D. – March 2013
    Excerpt: More than ever since my near death experience, I consider myself a Christian -,,,
    Now, I can tell you that if someone had asked me, in the days before my NDE, what I thought of this (Easter) story, I would have said that it was lovely. But it remained just that — a story. To say that the physical body of a man who had been brutally tortured and killed could simply get up and return to the world a few days later is to contradict every fact we know about the universe. It wasn’t simply an unscientific idea. It was a downright anti-scientific one.
    But it is an idea that I now believe. Not in a lip-service way. Not in a dress-up-it’s-Easter kind of way. I believe it with all my heart, and all my soul.,,
    We are, really and truly, made in God’s image. But most of the time we are sadly unaware of this fact. We are unconscious both of our intimate kinship with God, and of His constant presence with us. On the level of our everyday consciousness, this is a world of separation — one where people and objects move about, occasionally interacting with each other, but where essentially we are always alone.
    But this cold dead world of separate objects is an illusion. It’s not the world we actually live in.,,,
    ,,He (God) is right here with each of us right now, seeing what we see, suffering what we suffer… and hoping desperately that we will keep our hope and faith in Him. Because that hope and faith will be triumphant.

    Also of note, Dr. Torley wrote an article that has a several more quotes about consciousness from leading thinkers:

    Twenty-one more famous Nobel Prize winners who rejected Darwinism as an account of consciousness – Dr. VJ Torley – April 2012

    Quote, Verse and Music:

    “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
    William Shakespeare – Hamlet

    Romans 11:34
    “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?”

    Where I Belong – Building 429

  2. 2
    Querius says:

    These quotes from great physicists are indeed impressive!

    It seems then that more than ever, people who use their brains to think deeply tend toward a group that observes and a group that rationalizes.

    The former are astonished by existence, amazed at complexity, and take delight in asking many penetrating questions. The latter deprecate existence, are annoyed by complexity, and rush to fabricate acceptable answers.

    A true scientist approaches Science with humility, as a child ready to be taught and eager to learn.

    There’s a parallel in the spiritual realm:

    Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them. Mark 10:15,16 (NIV)

    – Q

  3. 3
    vjtorley says:

    Hi News,

    You can find many, many more quotations from great physicists on immateriality and consciousness here:

    and here:

  4. 4
    Robert Byers says:

    What physicists say about consciousness is immaterial. What do they know anymore then anyone else.
    They deal with basic particles in the universe and figuring out how they are already working. This is unrelated to the spiritual world or anything.
    For or against their opinion is no more informed.
    There is no evidence for conscious behind matter. Its a guess even though its true as cHristianity teaches.
    Creationists don’t need to invoke smart people, I don’t think they are, to back up our ideas. its a trap if they disagree with us.
    A man only knows well his own subject.
    physicists in realuty deal with just the basement foundation of the universe and not the glory of living life.
    They only discover and do not create and therefore not the type to be imaginative when imagination is behind biology etc
    Physics is overrated as a intellectual subjecet ever since newton.
    most of them never invented or added anything but mere discovery of things few people ever put their minds too.

  5. 5
    cantor says:

    Physics is overrated as a intellectual subjecet ever since newton.

    Wow. You need to read a book or something. Faraday, Maxwell, Boltzmann, Gibbs, Einstein, Bohr, Heisenberg,…


    most of them never invented or added anything

    electric motors, radio, television, computers, lasers, GPS, cell phones… all based on post-Newtonian physics


  6. 6
    Seversky says:

    How about a few quotes from scientists and philosophers who actually study the brain and mind for a living?

  7. 7
    Timaeus says:

    If Seversky (6 above) is genuinely interested in learning about the question, and not just in scoring debating points (which is usually all he seems to be interested in), he will read some writings of brain specialists such as Mario Beauregard and Michael Egnor, who have a great deal of knowledge about the relationship between brain and mind.

  8. 8
    boru says:

    ‘Curious that, for real, hardtack physical materialism, you have to find a philosopher or psychologist who is into neuro-nut moments or evo psych, not a great physicist.’

    It’s curious that you should think your claim is true – because it isn’t. Monistic materialism in the modern world is almost entirely a consequence of the rise of modern physics. The doctrine begins with Galileo’s insistence that because the properties of perception cannot be physical, for example, redness cannot itself occupy space, therefore they cannot be real.

    Insofar as modern philosophy rejects the classical dualism of Plato and Aristotle, it does so in deference to its newfound positivistic devotion to science. You would have us believe that it is the intrusive and degrading influence of philosophy that makes science materialistic, when rather, it is the other way round. It is philosophy that is in thrall to science that tends to a doctrinal materialism.

    When the leading American philosopher Thomas Nagel denied the materialist theory of consciousness he was roundly denounced by many leading scientists. His diagnosis of the origins of such Reductionism, that is founded in the tendency of modern science to promote physics improperly to the status of a metaphysics, is correct.

    Writing in the New York Times, Nagel said

    ‘The scientific revolution of the 17th century, which has given rise to such extraordinary progress in the understanding of nature, depended on a crucial limiting step at the start: It depended on subtracting from the physical world as an object of study everything mental – consciousness,
    meaning, intention or purpose. The physical sciences as they have developed since then describe, with the aid of mathematics, the elements of which the material universe is composed,and the laws governing their behavior in space and time.

    We ourselves, as physical organisms, are part of that universe, composed of the same basic elements as everything else, and recent advances in molecular biology have greatly increased our understanding of the physical and chemical basis of life.

    Since our mental lives evidently depend on our existence as physical organisms, especially on the functioning of our central nervous systems, it seems natural to think that the physical sciences can in principle provide the basis for an explanation of the mental aspects of reality as well — that physics can aspire finally to be a theory of everything.

    However, I believe this possibility is ruled out by the conditions that have defined the physical sciences from the beginning. The physical sciences can describe organisms like ourselves as parts of the objective spatio-temporal order – our structure and behavior in space and time – but they cannot describe the subjective experiences of such organisms or how the world appears to their different particular points of view. There can be a purely physical description of the neurophysiological processes that give rise to an experience, and also of the physical behavior that is typically associated with it, but such a description, however complete, will leave out the subjective essence of the experience – how it is from the point of view of its subject — without which it would not be a conscious experience at all.

    So the physical sciences, in spite of their extraordinary success in their own domain, necessarily leave an important aspect of nature unexplained.’

    Contrary to your claim, Nagel’s here demonstrates why in order to be informed of the structural reasons why hardtack physical materialism is false, and is bound to fail in its physicalist theories of mentality, you have to find a philosopher who is opposed to materialism – and not a scientist, as you pretend.

  9. 9
    Axel says:

    It does seem that the findings of QM, consistently indicate that we each live in a little world of our own, integrated and coordinated by God, (implicit in the observation of a Jewish mystic, centuries ago, that when a person dies, a whole world disappears with him), is the inescapable conclusion ; God’s thoughts, moreover, rather than a ‘material’ creation.

  10. 10
    Axel says:

    I was to late with my editing of this post, so hope it will be all right to re-post the emended and extended version ; particularly since the first version was only intended as a place holder.
    It does seem that the findings of QM, consistently indicate that we each live in a little world of our own, integrated and coordinated by God, (implicit in the observation of a Jewish mystic, centuries ago, that when a person dies, a whole world disappears with him), and that it is an inescapable conclusion. Max Planck put it very succinctly whe he remarked :

    ‘I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as a derivative of consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing postulates consciousness.’

    That the universe consists of God’s thoughts, rather than being the subject of a ‘material’ creation, which former was posited by Bohr, doubtless among others, also seems not irrelevant in the context. I know I can dream in two dimensions far more expertly that I could ever build a Meccano crane, for example. Not that God’s manifest powers give the impression of being in any way straitened.

  11. 11
    Axel says:

    You should be rejoicing, Robert, that quantum physics has unerringly led mankind to the ultimate primacy of the human mind over the ‘physical’ world. And that word, ‘unerringly’, could scarcely be more intensely significant.

  12. 12
    Axel says:

    I love the canticle of the Three Children and 148, in which essentially all things in heaven and erth are repectively enjoined to bless and praise God ;but best of all, the verse in Psalm 95(96) and othr similar psalms, describing the jubilation of the whole of creation, at God’s rule :

    ‘Let the heavens rejoice and the earth be glad,
    let the sea and all within it thunder praise,
    let the land and all it bears rejoice,
    all the trees of the wood shout for joy

    at the preence of the Lord for he comes,
    he comes to rule the arth.
    With justice he will rule the world,
    he will judge the peoples with his truth.’

    Then in Isaiah 15:12, we read :
    ‘For you shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall sing praise before you, and all the trees of the country shall clap their hands.’
    (Love the idea of the trees clapping their hands!)

    Oddly enough in some extraordinarily-compelling NDEs, the person visiting Paradise, seemingly, for Catholics, the beatific end of purgatory and ‘ante-room’ of heaven, saw grass and flowers thas seemed to be endowed with a kind of life of their own – at least a musical ear !

  13. 13
    Axel says:

    ‘How about a few quotes from scientists and philosophers who actually study the brain and mind for a living?’

    That is precisely the cause of the atheists’ catastrophic stiflng of scientific progress. They are completly without shame; quite happy to earn their ‘crust’ by recourse to proper science. Darwinism has indeed shown them up to be monkeys – albeit in a metaphorical sense, since we cannot be equal to the dumb beasts, only higher than them or lower. They make their living in modern science and technology, most of which is dependent in some significant measure upon quantum mechanics, a paradigm that consummately represents the very antithesis of their scientific reductionism ‘ad absurdum’.

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