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Can Quantum Mechanics Solve the Hard Problem of Consciousness?

June 6 @ 6:00 pm - 8:00 pm CEST

€25 – €160


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Can Quantum Mechanics Solve the Hard Problem of Consciousness?

Basil Hiley and Paavo Pylkkänen


Sunday June 6, 2021

9:00 PDT | 12:00 EDT | 17:00 BST  |  18:00 CEST

2-hour session

If you are unable to attend the live session, the recording will be available.

The hard problem of consciousness is the problem of explaining how and why physical processes give rise to consciousness. Regardless of many attempts to solve the problem, there is still no commonly agreed solution. It is thus very likely that some radically new ideas are required if we are to make any progress. In this presentation we turn to quantum theory to find out whether it has anything to offer in our attempts to understand the place of mind and conscious experience in nature. In particular we will be focusing on the ontological interpretation of quantum theory proposed by Bohm and Hiley and its further development by Hiley and its philosophical interpretation by Pylkkanen.

The ontological interpretation makes the radical proposal that quantum reality includes a new type of potential energy which contains active information. This proposal, if correct, constitutes a major change in our notion of matter. We are used to having in physics only mechanical concepts, such as position, momentum and force. Our intuition that it is not possible to understand how and why physical processes can give rise to consciousness is partly the result of our assuming that physical processes (including neurophysiological processes) are always mechanical. If, however, we are willing to change our view of physical reality by allowing non-mechanical, organic and holistic concepts such as active information to play a fundamental role, this, we argue, makes it possible to understand the relationship between physical and mental processes in a new way. It might even be a step toward solving the hard problem.

Professor Basil Hiley, collaborator and colleague of David Bohm for over 30 years

Basil J. Hiley is a British quantum physicist and professor emeritus of the University of London. He received the Majorana Prize ‘Best Person in Physics’ in 2012. A long-time co-worker of David Bohm, Hiley is known for his work with Bohm on the implicate order and for his work on algebraic descriptions of quantum physics in terms of underlying symplectic and orthogonal Clifford algebras. Hiley co-authored the book The Undivided Universe with David Bohm, which is considered the main reference for Bohm’s interpretation of quantum theory.

The work of Bohm and Hiley has been characterized as primarily addressing the question ‘whether we can have an adequate conception of the reality of a quantum system, be this causal or be it stochastic or be it of any other nature’ and meeting the scientific challenge of providing a mathematical description of quantum systems that matches the idea of an implicate order.

In 1961 Hiley was appointed assistant lecturer at Birkbeck College, where Bohm had taken the chair of Theoretical Physics shortly before. Hiley wanted to investigate how physics could be based on a notion of process, and he found that David Bohm held similar ideas. He reports that during the seminars he held together with Roger Penrose he was particularly fascinated by John Wheeler’s ‘sum over three geometries’ ideas that he was using to quantize gravity.

Hiley worked with David Bohm for many years on fundamental problems of theoretical physics. Initially Bohm’s model of 1952 did not feature in their discussions; this changed when Hiley asked himself whether the ‘Einstein-Schrödinger equation,’ as Wheeler called it, might be found by studying the full implications of that model. They worked together closely for three decades. Together they wrote many publications, including the book The Undivided Universe: An Ontological Interpretation of Quantum Theory, published 1993, which is now considered the major reference for Bohm’s interpretation of quantum theory.

 In 1995, Basil Hiley was appointed to the chair in physics at Birkbeck College at the University of London. He was awarded the 2012 Majorana Prize in the category The Best Person in Physics for the algebraic approach to quantum mechanics and furthermore in recognition of ‘his paramount importance as natural philosopher, his critical and open minded attitude towards the role of science in contemporary culture.’

Paavo Pylkkänen, PhD, Philosopher of Mind, Helsinki University, Finland

Paavo is Senior Lecturer in Theoretical Philosophy and Director of the Bachelor’s Program in Philosophy at the University of Helsinki. He is also Associate Professor of Theoretical Philosophy (currently on leave) at the Department of Cognitive Neuroscience and Philosophy, University of Skövde, where he initiated a Consciousness Studies Program.

His main research areas are philosophy of mind, philosophy of physics and their intersection. The central problem in philosophy of mind is how to understand the place of mind—and especially conscious experiencein the physical world. Pylkkänen has explored whether this problem can be approached in a new way in the framework of the new holistic and dynamic worldview that is emerging from quantum theory and relativity. He has in particular been inspired by the physicists David Bohm and Basil Hiley’s interpretation of quantum theory and has collaborated with both of them.

In his 2007 book Mind, Matter and the Implicate Order (Springer) he proposed that Bohmian notions such as active information and implicate order provide new ways of approaching key problems in philosophy of mind, such as mental causation and time consciousness. The overall aim of his research is to develop a scientific metaphysics. Paavo Pylkkänen has been a visiting researcher in Stanford University, Oxford University, London University, Charles University Prague and Gothenburg University and is a member of the Academy of Finland Center of Excellence in the Philosophy of Social Sciences (TINT).


All sessions – Full Price €160, Member’s Discount €144: All 8 live sessions or recording if you miss a session.

4/8 sessions – Full Price €90, Member’s Discount €81: Choose any 4 live sessions or recording if you miss the event. After you have purchased this option, you will receive a form by email to choose the events you wish to attend.

One session – Full Price €25, Member’s Discount €22.50: By purchasing one session, you will have access to any one session and recording. Tickets for individual sessions are available on the event page for that session.

Solidarity All Sessions – €80: All 8 live sessions or recording if you miss a session. Please feel free to use this solidarity rate if you are under financial stress. The membership discount does not apply to this package.

Solidarity  4/8 Sessions – €45: Choose any 4 live sessions, or recording if you miss a session. After you have purchased this option, you will receive a form by email to choose the events you wish to attend. Please feel free to use this solidarity rate if you are under financial stress. The membership discount does not apply to this package.

General Information 

All sessions will last for approximately 2 hours, and will be held over zoom.us. The session structure may vary from speaker to speaker, but in general participants will have the opportunity to ask questions of the presenter and in some cases there will be breakaway discussion groups.

Each session will be hosted by a member of the Pari Center Team, to ensure that the call is running smoothly and assist anyone experiencing technical problems.

During the presentations, we ask participants to turn off their microphone to ensure better quality audio. For this reason, the host may mute a participant’s audio. This is not to silence a participant’s voice, but to ensure an overall good audio quality. If a participant would like to ask a question or make a contribution to the discussion, they can use the ‘raise your hand’ tool in the chat, and then are welcome to turn on their microphone.

We invite all participants to turn on their video camera, as we believe that seeing everyone creates an inclusive educational environment. However, if any participant is uncomfortable, they are free to turn off the camera.

All sessions will be recorded. The recordings will not include the possible breakout-room discussions, but only the speaker’s presentation, follow-up discussions and Q&A. If a participant does not feel comfortable being recorded, we invite that participant to turn off their video and audio throughout the session. These recordings are available to anyone who has purchased a ticket for an attended session, or for a session they have paid for but were unable to attend.

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June 6
6:00 pm - 8:00 pm CEST
€25 – €160