Eating Disorders Information (EDI)

Click here to edit subtitle


A Quantum Psychopathological Account of Anorexia Nervosa

Posted by a.marlow on May 1, 2013 at 7:25 PM Comments comments (0)

To those regular readers who have noticed a sizeable reduction in output recently, I apologise. However, there is good reason: I have spent the last few months working on a research paper recently published in the academic journal Neuroquantology entitled "A Quantum Pyschopathological Account of Anorexia Nervosa", which is free to read online or download as a pdf if you click on the link.he basic thesis takes recent theoretical work on the potential link between quantum physics and the brain, and applies it to the specific case of anorexia nervosa. I invite you to give it a critical read-through and share your thoughts with me. I hope you find it interesting and helpful.

This last weekend, I was in Palermo, Sicily, delivering a talk based on this article to an assembled multidisciplinary crowd of psychologists, physicists and others who had assembled for a two day conference on the topic of "Quantum Paradigms of Psychopathology". I shan't bore you with details, except to say that current research into the role of neuronal microtubules as a possible site of quantum computation within the brain is flying ahead apace, with particularly interesting evidence submitted regarding the way in which certain microtubular structures closely resemble certain plant structures used in photosynthesis that are now known to exhibit effects best explicable by quantum mechanics. If these developments bear fruit, then the account of the unconscious quantum logic that I present in the Neuroquantology article linked above might represent a valid and crucial step forward in understanding the neuronal basis of anorexia nervosa.

Henry Stapp's plausible theory of the quantum mind

Posted by a.marlow on January 20, 2013 at 12:00 AM Comments comments (0)

Classical physics paints the picture of a reality that is deterministic and mechanistic, with no causal influence of mind at all. However, experiments in the 20th century showed this approach to be increasingly insufficient, giving rise to quantum mechanics, a theory that potentially gives mind a much greater influence on reality than previously thought.

In a recent article in the academic journal Neuroquantology, Henry Stapp describes precisely how this might work. He discusses three subtly different interpretations of quantum mechanics: the Copenhagen formulation and the approach taken by von Neumann.

Even according to the Copenhagen formulation, the influenceof an observer is crucial. The key equation in quantum mechanics is the Schrödinger equation, which describes a reality made up of a continuous and simultaneous mixture of possibilities. This is illustrated by the famous example of ‘Schrödinger’s cat’, where the cat is supposed to be both alive and dead at the same time, as these two possibilities are described by the Schrödinger equation to both exist simultaneously. Only when an observer intervenes and measures or observes the situation does one of these possibilities become a reality, nullifying theother and making the cat either alive or dead. In quantum physics terms, we say that the ‘wavefunction’ has ‘collapsed’.

Such a finding requires us to perform a Heisenberg cut, where we divide the world into the observed, which exists as simultaneous possibilities until is it observed, and the observer, whose observation causes the collapse of the wavefunction. According to the Copenhagen formulation, that which causes the collapse of the wavefunction is ‘a free choice on the part of the experimenter’.

This idea works well pragmatically in the context of an actual experiment, where it largely doesn’t matter where one makes the cut. Perhaps one would make it between the researchers and the thing being experimented upon, so that the substance being examined is seen as existing as a continuum of simultaneous possibilities until the observers- here being the experimenters- make their ‘free choice’. However, in the words of Stapp, this formulation cannot become “a rationally coherent theory of reality”, as the decision about where to make this ‘cut’ is arbitrary every time.

Enter the von Neumann formulation which, according to Stapp, does achieve the status of being rationally coherent. For von Neumann, we should place in the “observed” category all things that are physical, including the bodies and brains of the observers: for if the particular substance being measured is no longer existing in a state of continuous and simultaneous possibilities because of the observation of the scientists, then whose observation has caused the wavefunction of the scientist’s body and brain to collapse? Even if we extrapolate the problem back to the retina or the particular part of the brain that deals with vision, whose observation has caused this part of the brain to have its wavefunction collapsed?

For von Neumann, and according to the orthodox view of quantum mechanics, we can divide the world into three processes. Process 1 refers to subjective experience and observation by an “abstract ego”. Process 2 refers to the Schrödinger equation, which governs the behaviour of the quantum world until it is observed by process 1. Process 3 refers to “a choice on the part of nature”.

This, then, is what happens in von Neumann’s view: while the “observed” part of nature is not interacting with the “observing” part, it is governed solely by process 2- theSchrödinger equation- according to which reality is not made up of discrete, atomised particles, but rather an infinite number of possibilities about how those particles will fit together and, even, where they will be found. When the“observed” part of nature does come into contact with the “observing” part, however, process 1 occurs, and this “observing” part, put crudely, asks aquestion, which we can put simply as: yes or no? Now, Schrödinger’s cat can no longer exist as both simultaneously possibly alive and possibly dead- it must choose whether to be alive or dead. If the “observing” part of nature asks this question, the answer comes through process 3, when “a choice on the part of nature” answers us: yes, the cat is alive; or: no, the cat is dead. This, Stapp asserts, achieves the goal of reaching “a rationally coherent theory of a fully quantum mechanical psychophysical reality”.


What does this tell us about the mind, then? It certainly raises doubt around the idea that the brain creates the mind; rather, according to this hypothesis, the brain would constitute part of the “observed” world governed by process 2 and existing as many simultaneous possibilities until it is observed through process 1 by the “observing” subjective mind or ‘abstract ego’. We could therefore conjecture that, instead, mind creates brain and, indeed, all of the reality around it, at least in the sense that it forces nature to settle on one particular reality rather than continue to exist in multiple simultaneous states of possibility.


This, then, constitutes Henry Stapp’s attempt at formulating a quantum theory of mind- an attempt that is preferable to that of Penrose and Hameroff, whose approach has been found wanting due to the fact that it would require evidence that the brain can and does sustain states of quantum coherence- evidence that has not been forthcoming. By placing the mind outside the “observed” world, which is where one would find the brain in Stapp’s estimation, the absence of such states does not invalidate Stapp’s approach at all. For Stapp, we need not show quantum coherence in the brain- we need only acknowledge that, before process 1 observation, the brain constitutes a mixture of possibilities, one of which is settled upon by the combined action of process 1 and process 3.


Stapp, H., 2012. Reply to a Critic: “Mind Efforts, Quantum Zeno Effect and Environmental Decoherence”, Neuroquantology, 10(4), pp. 601-605

Please note that I am not a physicist, so this account of Stapp's theory is necessarily simplified and perhaps, in parts, inaccurate. Although I am not a physicist, as a therapist I am interested in understanding the mind, and this includes all cutting edge approaches to it, including those based on such complex areas as quantum physics.


A Bohmian approach to psychopathology

Posted by a.marlow on December 16, 2012 at 1:00 AM Comments comments (0)

Despite the reservations of Lane in the previous blog post, the question of if, and how, quantum physics relates to the workings of the brain remains a poignant one- so poignant, in fact, that it has spawned a whole academic journal devoted to its answer, Neuroquantology. It is an article from this journal that forms the basis of today's blog.

David Bohm was a quantum physicist who uniquely decided to see what the implications of his discipline would be for deeper philosophical questions of reality and of mind. It is against this backdrop that Pylkkänen seeks to find what implications these, in turn, may have for how we treat psychopathology, or mental illness.

Mental illness, he observes, is often characterised by a breakdown of unity or wholeness. It is therefore pertinent to note that Bohm's quantum ontology underlines the primacy of wholeness, in comparison to biological, social and psychological explanations, which seem to take the whole to be the sum of its parts. From a quantum perspective, we should not view apparantly separate events and objects as being truly individual, but rather as being parts of a greater whole, like vortices in a stream of water; and from this perspective, it is possible to view the mind, as a whole, as a stream of consciousness, out of which emerges the relatively autonomous entities of thoughts, beliefs, desires and perceptions. If we take this view of the fundamental nature of mind, then "mental disorder results in part when this wholeness is lost", perhaps by giving too much emphasis to various natural divisions within the stream of consciousness. Moreover, if each part of the mind is a manifestation of the whole stream of consciousness, then each individual mind is a manfiestation of the whole social environment in which it is found, and we can say that mental disorders are not simply the private affair of a disordered individual, but rather the manifestation of a more widespread social phenomenon.

Pylkkänen also observes that many mental disorders are characterised by a lack of information, mistakes about information and failure to respond adequately and accurately to information. From this perspective, Bohm's concept of "active information" might be helpful.

For Bohm, a particle whose behaviour is governed by the laws of Quanum Mechanics can be viewed as simultaneously possessing the characteristics of a particle and of a wave. A typical experiment that shows the wave and particle nature of, say, an electron is the double slit experiment, where a series of electrons are fired through two slits and exhibit both particle properties (in that they arrive at the detector in the form of a single spot) and wave properties (in that the place where they land is determined by the mathematics of wave behaviour, so that when many electrons have been fired, their pattern forms that of a wave). For Bohm, this is explained by saying that the electron travels through one of the two slits and appears at a point on the photographic plane, while its accompanying field goes through both slits and interferes with its tragectory so that the collective pattern of the particles exhibits a wave formation. This accompanying quantum field is said to contain "active information" about the environment around the electron, giving rise to a "quantum potential" that influences the individual electron's movement. Crucially, this active information should not be seen as something imposed from without, but rather as a core part of what the electron, as a union of field and particle, actually is. Bohm came up with the concept of "soma-significance", where a process in which information and meaning have a tangible effect on matter is called a "signa-somatic". Based on this general idea, Pylkkänen goes on to suggest that:


"it is possible that the information that is experienced in consciousness is carried by some much more subtle medium, analogous to the quantum field, but capable of much more complex properties, including qualia, subjectivity and conscious experience"

This 'very subtle' field might act as an influence on the bain's neocortex by means of the quantum field. Moreover, Bohm went on to suggest that, if the quanum potential constitutes active information that can give form to the behaviour of physical particles, so might there be a superquantum potential that gives form to the quantum potential and that does not obey current laws of Quantum Mechanics; there might also be a super-superquantum potential that performs the same function, and a super-super-superquantum potential, and so on. In this way we could include mind as a subtle principle of organisation into Quantum Theory.

Pylkkänen suggests that a Bohmian understanding of information as an active organising principle could hold beneits for our understanding of mental illness. For example, depression could be conceived of as a state where negative information is overactive while positive information is underactive,  and anxiety could be a failure to deal with the active nature of information, with sufferers relying too much on their own self-agency, their own ability to control their thoughts, rather than acknowledging the autonomous influence their thoughts have qua information and dealing with it calmly.

In general, it is asserted that, from a Bohmian point of view, mind can be said to subtly influence the movement of particles such as electrons, and these electrons can in turn be said to control the more classical brain functions observed by neuroscience. Empirically, previous work by Pylkkänen has found that the quantum potential can increase the probability of synaptic exocytosis, leading him to conclude that "we could regard the “mind-field” as initiating a subsequent neural process which finally activates the motor neurons to produce the outward behaviour", active information being the trigger for classical neurological processes. It is also suggested that similar processes might be at work in the behaviour of dendritic fields or in microtubules. Moreover, to account for perception of the external world, it has also been suggested that the influence goes both ways: nerve matter communicating with the mental wavefunction about what is being perceived in the same way that mental wavefunction communicates with the nerves in order to express its will, creating a "new kind of feedback-control loop that is absent in dead matter" (Jack Sarfatti).


Pylkkänen, P., 2010. "Implications of Bohmian quantum ontology for psychopathology", Neuroquantology, 8(1): 37-48

'Medical Constraints on the Quantum Mind'

Posted by a.marlow on December 15, 2012 at 11:10 AM Comments comments (0)

In recent years, the old philosophical problem of the nature of mind has become a subject of interest to physicists. Thinkers like Roger Penrose (author of 'The Emperor's New Mind' and 'Shadows of the Mind') and Stuart Hameroff have begun to suggest that the human brain works according to the same mechanisms as a quantum computer. Others have gone further, taking their thoughts to more esoteric levels and proffering that the human brain acts merely as a conduit, a transmitter, for an underlying and pre-existing quantum field of mind.

All of these ideas are fascinating- but there comes a time to move beyond the theory and the textbook, and to ask instead whether and how we may use these ideas in diagnosis, treatment and therapy; and, when this question arises, so too does the question of whether these theories even present an accurate picture of the human mind in the first place.

Into this quandary steps Nick Lane PhD, whose article in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine is the inspiration for this blog post. Writing from the perspective of a biologist, he pits the quantum view of consciousness and the biological view of consciousness against each other by viewing the fundamental requirements underlying each. A biological theory of consciousness simply demands an "extraordinary organisation of rather ordinary matter", while a quantum account would have to be based on "some very special properties of matter" in the form of "macroquantum effects". This is due to the fact that, while quantum physics almost perfectly describes the behaviour of matter at a subatomic level, Einstein's theories of relativity and Newton's laws of motion generally still hold water at the macro level; indeed, it is very rare to view the kind of effects generated by quantum mechanics at a micro level replicated at a macro level.

Lane admits that a complete and coherent view of consciousness based on the biological view is currently unavailable. He writes that:

"...all we must do is show that an enormously complex parallel processing system, comprising a hundred billion neuron-equivalents, coupled to a multifaceted and profoundly integrated sensory system, and an ability to remember and learn, is capable of giving rise to consciousness... That might take a while."

Yet if the biological account still fails to provide us with answers, Lane's view is that it is more likely to do so in the future than any nascent quantum theories currently on offer. What are these theories? Evan Walker proposes that consciousness is produced by delocalised electrons using cytoplasmic RNA as stepping stones and tunneling through synapses; Roger Penrose and Stuart Hameroff present a similar theory, except where microtubules take the place of Walker's RNA as the required intracellular structure. Yet Lane dismisses these theories, arguing that the probabilities of post-synaptic firing offered as evidence for Walker's viewpoint could just as easily be explained by conventional neurotransmission, and that the argument of Penrose and Hameroff (who claim that the key role of microtubules is shown by the way in which anaesthetic agents accumulate in them, implying that the ensuing loss of consciousness is related to an ensuing change in microtubule functioning)  is discredited by the fact that anaesthetic agents also have effects on ion channel function and calcium influx, that there is no expert consensus on how anaestetics work (or even that they all work in the same way), and that certain chemicals, such as colchicine, are known to explicitly affect microtubules without having any effect on consciousness at all. Another theory, suggested by Ian Marshall, proposes that consciousness is generated by a coherent, non-local order of protein vibrations- "the melody of proteins singing together". Yet, as Lane points out, this particular theory also lacks any confirming evidence.

Each of these theories share another weakness: they all require specific molecular stepping-stones in order to be viable. For Walker, this stepping stone is a particular set-up of RNA; for Penrose and Hameroff, it is the presence of intact microtubules; and for Marshall, it is the existence of tiny gaps between vibrating proteins. Lane points out that the evolution of such specific systems is less likely than the evolution of a system whose only requirement for generating consciousness is a generally increasing complexity, as described by the biological account. He writes:

"...from a quantum broadcasting point of view, the machinery required to sustain consciousness must have evolved without compromising the computing function of the nervous system. Cells as highly specialized as neurons, which have evolved to a high degree of complexity even in organisms with little recognizable consciousness, cannot have much remaining flexibility to support the evolution of a new infrastructure for consciousness."

Because of this, Cairns-Smith has argued that neurons are bad candidates for ever being used to explain human consciousness, and that we should instead be looking to the less specialised glial cells of the brain, such as oligodendrocytes in the white matter or astrocytes in their support network throughout the brain. 

Yet examining certain neurodegenerative conditions, even this hypothesis seems doubtful. In Multiple Sclerosis (MS), we see an attack on these very same oligodendrocytes- but no loss of consciousness. In Alzheimer's disease, we see early correlations between symptoms and neurofibrillary tangles in the neocortical association areas of the temporal lobe, such tangles being "but the ghosts of microtubules"- but again, no loss of self-awareness, with even advanced sufferers continuing to speak in first person and to respond to changes in their conversations and their environment.

In acute ischaemic stroke, however, there may be tentative evidence for some of Cairns-Smith's ideas. This kind of stroke sometimes brings about widespread depolarisation of astrocytes. A 1995 study of 24 patients who showed dramatic recovery from their stroke during a thrombolysis trial by Grotta & Bratina found that "most patients seemed peculiarly unaware or blasé about their deficit and improvement", perhaps implying that a sluggish recovery of the astrocyte network led to a sluggish recovery of their self-aware consciousness.

While Lane's article is certainly informative, but my major critique would be his working definition of 'consciousness', even if it is a somewhat orthodox one. He writes:

"For consciousness... I mean awareness or sentience, both of our own self and of our relationship to the world around us."

Yet this strikes me as a rather reductive definition. We tend to think of something that is not 'conscious' as being 'unconscious'. Yet there are many altered states of consciousness where one might not satisfy Lane's working definition above, but still be far more 'conscious' than 'unconscious'. Altered states of consciousness may be reached in many ways, whether through certain types of meditation, through use of illicit drugs or through experiential therapies such as Holotropic Breathwork. In these altered states, one may experience a loss of identity and individuality, often coupled with a sense of oneness and unity with the universe. One might also 'hallucinate' in such a way that an outsider would say you were 'seeing things that weren't there' when, in actual fact, a proper understanding of the experience would acknowledge the deep psychological meaning and healing potential of the visions. Crucially, these experiences, in which one ostensibly loses awareness of one's self and one's physical surroundings, are often experienced as being far more real than ordinary wakeful consciousness. The person going through them is not in a dream and could not be said in any sense of the word to be 'unconscious'. Therefore, while much of what Lane says in his article is fascinating and illuminating, a proper study of human consciousness cannot be undertaken while the background definition of the subject excludes states where one is quite clearly conscious in some sense of the term. 

So, what of the question that started off this blog post? Despite his definitional deficit, Nick Lane provides an evidential background to the theory of the Quantum mind and shows it to be lacking. In this context, while the truth and mechanisms of this particular theory have yet to be established, there seems to be little we can take from it into the therapeutic situation.


Lane, N., 2000. "Medical constraints on the quantum mind", Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 93:571-575

The New Physics: Quantum Skills for the 21st Century Therapist

Posted by a.marlow on December 2, 2012 at 3:20 PM Comments comments (0)

I was trawling through the internet on a lazy Sunday afternoon, as you do, when I came across and interesting article from 2010 called "Spirituality, Mental Health and the New Physics" (reference below). Intigued, I read it, and what follows is a summary of the ideas contained therein.

The premise of the article is that, with the new understanding of physics engendered by quantum theory and chaos theory should come a new understanding of psychology and, thus, new approaches to psychotherapy- or, at least, a rethinking of old approaches.

The article pits old-school Newtonian physics, based on the idea that the universe can be conceived of as a 'Great Machine' with fixed, predictable rules of behaviour, against the new insights of Quantum Mechanics, which might imply that the universe should rather be conceived of as a 'Great Mind', where randomness and chance rules the day and where the more mystical and maligned ideas of Jung, Janet, James, Assagioli and the modern school of Transpersonal Psychology would come to prevail over the accepted orthodoxies of Freudianism and behaviourism. The author of the article, one Charlotte Shelton, uses these ideas to suggest seven 'Quantum Skills' that therapists should use and clients should develop to further their mental health goals.

The first "Quantum Skill" is "Quantum seeing", based on the insights gained from Quantum Mechanics about just how much our own perceptions and intentions shape the world around us. Based on this idea, the skill of 'quantum seeing' would acknowledge that a bad situation is only bad because of our own intentions and perceptions that shape our experience of that situation, and that our first task should be to change those perceptions in order to have a much more pleasant experience of life.

The second skill is "Quantum thinking", based on the insight that, at least at a subatomic level, our reality is much more governed by randomness and chance than it is governed by fixed, binary laws. Despite this, most adults tend to think in a fixed and binary manner, one that limits their creativity and blocks certain nuanced possibilities from emerging in their lives. Challenging this way of thinking, especially by encouraging right-hemisphere thinking, is the route to a more creative life, suggests Shelton.

The thid skill is "Quantum feeling". This builds on the ideas of 'quantum seeing', but focuses on one's feelings and, especially, the relationship one has with one's own heart. Research by the Institute of HeartMath has shown that the heart exerts a strong electromagnetic influence on one's thoughts and emotions; specifically, that when one is experiencing a negative emotion, the heart's electromagnetic waves become less coherent, while a positive emotion makes them more coherent. It is therefore healthier to feel better in oneself. This point, really, reinforces the ideas developed in 'quantum seeing'.

The fourth skill is "Quantum knowing". A growing number of physicists are speculating that there is a single unified quantum field containing Bose-Einstein condensates from which the entire material universe emerges, and Shelton suggests that this field might itself be conscious, or at least the source of human consciousness (as one hypothesis suggests that Bose-Einstein condensates are the prerequisites to the neurological structure in the human brain that underpin consciousness, and if this hypothesis is proven true, then this "will lend support to thehypothesis that the quantum field itself is conscious"). If this is true, it might indicate that the human mind can tap into this quantum field, postulated to be the source of consciousness, as a source of intuitive knowledge; and, on this basis, fostering an attitude of mindfulness and intuitiveness will lead to better decision-making. 

The fifth skill is "Quantum acting". As particles have been shown by quantum theory to maintain an instantaneous connection despite being separated by impossible distances, an awareness of this interconnectivity of the universe will foster an attitude whereby someone acts not just for their own atomistic self, but rather for the whole- whether that whole be their whole self, their whole community, or the whole planet.

The sixth skill is "Quantum trusting". At the subatomic level, Bohm has suggested an 'invisible ordering principle' as a means by which the larger quantum field could influence the behaviour of individual subatomic particles, and at the more macroscopic level of chaos theory, computer simulations have shown a 'strange attractor' that seems to set limits on otherwise random structures, that brings order and structure out of randomness and chaos. Quantum trusting, then, is an acknowledgement of the ever-changing nature of life and the way in which order can arise even when one feels completely in disorder.

The seventh skill is "Quantum being". At the subatomic level, the individual particle is a mere abstraction; each particle exists only in relation to the other, and can merge to become one larger, more whole system. Applying this by analogy to the human level, "[q]uantum Being is the ability to be in healthy relationships –relationships based on unconditional love. This skill requires clients to owntheir feelings rather than project them onto others".

Personally, I am not sure whether each of these 'skills' deserves the label 'quantum', and nor am I sure that one can necessarily abstract from the behaviour of subatomic particles to the level of human relationships and mental health. Nevertheless, some of these ideas are interesting, and the relationship between the insights of quantum theory and human consciousness and mental health remains a fascinating and groundbreaking area of research. I hope some of these ideas will be useful to you in your therapetic practice or personal growth, and if you want to read Shelton's original article, you can find it at the reference below.


Shelton, C., 2010. “Spirituality, Mental Healthand the New Physics”, InternationalJournal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies, 7:161-171.