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A Bohmian approach to psychopathology

Posted by a.marlow on December 16, 2012 at 1:00 AM

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

Categories: quantum, therapy

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