Sunday, 27 February 2011

The Quantum Mind?

I can't say that I hold much sympathy for theories of either consciousness and/or cognition that invoke quantum mechanics, and I'm well aware that it's hardly a majority view, but after reading that Searle has apparently recently endorsed the view I became curious as to how many proponents there actually are.

Penrose and Hammeroff are, of course, the most famous quantum mind theorists; Penrose's two books The Emperor's New Mind (1989) and The Shadows of the Mind (1994) being the main explications of his idea that human thought features some non-algorithmic elements. There are plenty of critical replies to both ENM and SotM; Grush & Churchland (1996), Tegmark (2000) and Chalmers (1995) being some of the more well known names who have published responses.

Speaking of Chalmers, he himself has expressed some sympathy for the possibility that quantum mechanics might be linked to consciousness (Chalmers, 1996; 2002). I can't say that I received the impression whilst reading him that he thinks the possibility is likely, however; he merely thinks that it's an option that shouldn't be ruled out, similar to his views on panpsychism.

Henry Stapp is one name I occasionally hear in relation to quantum theories of mind, but I literally know almost nothing about his work.

Searle's (2007) argument, which caused me to start thinking about this topic, is as follows;

Premise 1. All indeterminism in nature is quantum indeterminism.
Premise 2. Consciousness is a feature of nature that manifests indeterminism.
Conclusion: Consciousness manifests quantum indeterminism.

I'm not sold on the truth of either premise (I'm honestly not knowledgeable enough about physics to either agree or disagree with the first, and the second seems untrue), but it's nonetheless an interesting claim. I've yet to properly read through the book which contains this argument, so perhaps Searle will manage to convince me of its veracity.

Apart from the views listed above, I can't really think of (or find) any other major proponents of quantum mind theories. If anyone stumbling across this blog can give me reading recommendations, I'd appreciate it!


Chalmers, D.J., (1995), "Minds, machines and mathematics", Psyche, 2(9), 11-20
Chalmers, D.J., (1996), The Conscious Mind, Oxford, Oxford University Press.
Chalmers, D.J., (2002), Consciousness and its place in nature, in (S. Stich & F. Warfield, eds) The Blackwell Guide to the Philosophy of Mind, Blackwell
Grush, R. & Churchland, P.S. (1995), "Gap's in Penrose's Toilings", Journal of Consciousness Studies, 21, pp. 10–29
Penrose, R., (1989), The Emperor's New Mind, Oxford, Oxford University Press
Penrose, R., (1994), Shadows of the Mind, New York, Oxford University Press
Searle, J., (2007), Freedom and Neurobiology, Columbia University Press
Tegmark, M., (2000), "The importance of quantum decoherence in brain processes", Physical Review E, vol 61, pp. 4194–4206

Monday, 7 February 2011

Female PhDs in Psychology

There's a curious graph making the rounds, made by Kieran Healy, regarding the percentage of US PhDs awarded to women in 2009. Most of the discussion I've seen regarding said graph is related to the remarkably low levels of female philosophy PhDs (~30%), which is interesting enough, but the findings for psychology seem equally surprising to me; apparently over 70% of psychology PhDs were awarded to women. Why the skew?

I could wax lyrical about psychology possibly being a stereotypically female field and thus naturally attracting more women to it, but that would be mere conjecture. Let's look at the data, which Kieran helpfully provided. My first question is; what exactly is that "psychology" datapoint on the "Selected Disciplines" graph showing? Is it all psychology fields aggregated together, or merely generic psychology PhDs? I remain unsure; in the detailed data, "psychology/general" shows ~68% women, whereas "psychology/aggregated" shows ~66% - neither of which match the ~72% displayed on the "Selected Disciplines" graph.

Regardless of where that >70% figure cames from, the aggregated total for all psychology sub-fields is still very much female-dominated. Breaking that aggregate down into its components, however, yields some fairly interesting results; cognitive psychology and psycholinguistics is the most evenly distributed field, with 48% of PhDs being issued to women. Experimental (62%), physiological (63%) social (64%) and family (65%) psychology all show a slight female bias.

The really female-dominant fields, however, are counselling (76%), clinical (77%), school (77%) and educational (78%) psychology. The most female-heavy subfield is, without a doubt, developmental and child psychology, with apparently 85% of all PhDs issued being awarded to women. It's probably unsurprising that the female-heavy areas of psychology are the ones most associated with stereotypically "feminine" subjects; other educational subjects display an equally high percentage of PhDs issued to women.

So what this data shows us, then, is that generic psychology is not as female-slanted as it appears at first glance; rather, much of the subject seems to be surprisingly well-balanced in terms of gender population, with some certain subfields overwhelmingly populated by women. Not to say that this is a bad or undesirable state of affairs; I just thought that the initial placing of psychology was curious, and wondered what the explanation for it might be.