Quantum cognition: An epistemological challenge for naïve and local realism

Oral presentation – 10th School of Psychology conference – University of Plymouth – June 2018

Quantum cognition is an innovative and interdisciplinary emerging field within the cognitive sciences as, inter alia, evidenced by a recent theme issue published by the Royal Society. It is independent from the widely debated Orch-OR (Orchestrated Objective Reduction) theory formulated by Sir Roger Penrose and Stuart Hameroff which postulates that quantum processes at the microtubular neuronal level are causative for the emergence of consciousness (cf. Hameroff & Penrose, 2014). Quantum cognition, on the other hand, applies the abstract formalism of quantum mechanics to cognitive processes, e.g., decision-making, perception, memory, conceptual reasoning, language, etc. (e.g., Aerts, Broekaert, & Gabora, 2011; Atmanspacher, 2016; Atmanspacher & Filk, 2013; Pothos & Busemeyer, 2013; Wang, Busemeyer, Atmanspacher, & Pothos, 2013; Yearsley & Pothos, 2014). The vast majority of contemporary models (e.g., those utilising Boolean logic or Bayes’ theorem) are grounded on Kolmogorovian probability axioms which stipulate that operators obey commutativity, i.e., P(A∩B)=P(B∩A). By contrast, quantum probability theory is not limited by these aprioristic structural constraints and is able to parsimoniously account for numerous empirical results which appear, prima facie, irrational and paradoxical in the orthodox framework. Recent empirical evidence from experimental quantum physics (e.g., Giustina et al., 2015; Handsteiner et al., 2017; Hensen et al., 2015) is highly pertinent for psychology, neuroscience, and computer science, because it challenges some of the unquestioned assumptions which underlie most of current theorising, viz., naïve and local realism (see Wiseman, 2015). This presentation will briefly review these paradigm-shifting findings and their epistemological and ontological implications. Moreover, I will discuss conceptually related psychophysics experiments conducted in India and the UK during my PhD. Finally, neurochemical processes (specifically 5-HT2A receptor agonism) which underpin open-mindedness and intellectual curiosity will be addressed, as these personality traits are indispensable to appreciate the extensive ramifications of the novel and epistemically challenging results.

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Science and nonduality conference in California, San Jose, 2016