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A Tribute to John von Neumann

November 15, 2015

John von Neumann published a book in the early 30s which was a mathematical treatment for calculating the QM wave function.

“He was a pioneer of the application of operator theory to quantum mechanics, in the development of functional analysis, a principal member of the Manhattan Project and the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton (as one of the few originally appointed), and a key figure in the development of game theory and the concepts of cellular automata, the universal constructor, and the digital computer.”

“Von Neumann’s mathematical analysis of the structure of self-replication preceded the discovery of the structure of DNA.”

“he stated “The part of my work I consider most essential is that on quantum mechanics, which developed in Göttingen in 1926, and subsequently in Berlin in 1927–1929.”

“Von Neumann was the first to rigorously establish a mathematical framework for quantum mechanics, known as the Dirac–von Neumann axioms, with his 1932 work Mathematical Foundations of Quantum Mechanics.”

“Von Neumann’s abstract treatment permitted him also to confront the foundational issue of determinism vs. non-determinism, and in the book he presented a proof that the statistical results of quantum mechanics could not possibly be averages of an underlying set of determined “hidden variables,” as in classical statistical mechanics.”

“In a chapter of The Mathematical Foundations of Quantum Mechanics, von Neumann deeply analyzed the so-called measurement problem. He concluded that the entire physical universe could be made subject to the universal wave function. Since something “outside the calculation” was needed to collapse the wave function, von Neumann concluded that the collapse was caused by the consciousness of the experimenter (although this view was accepted by Eugene Wigner, it never gained acceptance amongst the majority of physicists).”

Neumann perceived a logical quandary as to what collapses the wave function. An observation is the point when a system described by a QM wave function can be said to collapse into observed outcomes. The “observer” could not be entrained in the system being observed (i.e., the wave function would inevitably have to encompass all that was involved and all that is said to be constituent of the universe). There had to be a point where the line could be drawn. Neumann concluded, a person of considerable intellect (that really seems like a meager understatement when reviewing his bio), that consciousness is that which is external to the universe and is that which observes and collapse the QM wave function into rendered (perceived) outcomes.

Writing this in 1932 it appears Neumann was 60 to a 100 years ahead of the mentality of his peers.

This is the direction – vindication of this view of Neumann’s – as spirituality and science are converging.

“Von Neumann’s ability to instantaneously perform complex operations in his head stunned other mathematicians. Eugene Wigner wrote that, seeing von Neumann’s mind at work, ‘one had the impression of a perfect instrument whose gears were machined to mesh accurately to a thousandth of an inch.’ Paul Halmos states that ‘von Neumann’s speed was awe-inspiring.’ Israel Halperin said: ‘Keeping up with him was … impossible. The feeling was you were on a tricycle chasing a racing car.'”

I regard John von Neumann as a founding father of what will emerge as true and actual spirituality. He and Carl Jung are two of the most important people that lived in the 20th century in respect to their advancements of human thought and understanding.

John von Neumann

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4 Comments
  1. What a remarkable man gifted with an incredible mind.
    Professor Penrose believes computers can never be conscious since he thinks consciousness is linked to quantum mechanics.
    Many experts in the field disagree, as for me I’m just a humble observing layman astounded at the wrestling of intelligent minds.

    • Due to personal experiences of consciousness phenomena that are regarded as so-called paranormal I’m very much in the camp that holds consciousness is external to the physical brain (that consciousness attaches at beginning of life and detaches at death.

      The problem is then a matter of how that attachment is achieved.

      Otherwise no one has the foggiest idea of how to make circuits or an artificial neural net self-aware and able to experiences sensations such as color. Making these assemblies merely more and more complex has not yielded any break through eureka moments where it can be said that consciousness is emergent from assemblies of physical complexity.

      Here is research that is probing the kind of interface of brain to consciousness that is the ballpark of Prof. Penrose’s ideas:

      “Could anesthesia block consciousness by preventing quantum coherence in brain proteins? Which proteins?”

      Anesthesia Points to Deeper Level ‘Quantum Channels’ as Origins of Consciousness
      http://www.newswise.com/articles/anesthesia-points-to-deeper-level-quantum-channels-as-brain-sites-for-consciousness

      • Thanks for pointing out these new possibilities they are complicated but I have been trying to follow some conversations on utube.
        It does seem to me that human self awareness is more than animal consciousness. Julian Jaynes believed we were not aware until about three thousand years ago. Before that time we had bicameral minds.

      • John von Neumann’s consciousness collapses wave function is rather different as it is implying that consciousness itself (whatever it is) is something that is a more fundamental substrate that the matter/energy of the universe which we and our instruments are able to perceive.

        Thus consciousness in this model didn’t arise at some point in the evolution of life but actually precedes and is likely responsible for the existence of the universe. That we, when we make observations that collapse the QM wave function, we are THE conscious observer of the experiment – not via the biology of our brain but via a consciousness “substance” that utilizes our brain and body as an avatar mechanism within the reality context of the cosmos. Effectively our sense of self identity is disassociation from the greater consciousness substrate. Near Death Experience accounts indicate that the nature of this disassociation is temporary and relaxes upon the event of death and a return to native form.

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