"Notes Toward a Theory of Artificial Sentience" 

by Brian J Flanagan

Advances in Intelligent Robotics Systems
SPIE's Cambridge Symposium
Optical & Optoelectronic Engineering.
November 1987



An identification of the hidden variables of quantum mechanics (QM)

is made. A theory embodying a unitary description of mind and matter

is sketched. A novel interpretation of neural network architecture

and function is formulated.



For some years I have been considering the problem of constructing a

theory which would square our immediate experience of perceptual and

cognitive events with data related to neural network activity. I

wanted theory to be mechanically reproducible, and was thus drawn to

the work of Hilbert, Russell & Whitehead, and G�del. I wanted theory

to be faithful to the physics of neural networks, and so consulted

the works of Einstein, von Neumann, Bohm, and others. I was

interested to discover, at the foundations of QM, discussions which

drew upon work in epistemology and ontology, some of which I was

familiar with [from] my researches into the literature of the

mind/body problem. After enduring a number of shocks and surprises

such as this, I stumbled onto the very solution I was looking for,

practically readymade. The solution referred to is, I think, very

simple but very surprising ...



Galileo, following Kepler and, perhaps, Demokritos, enunciated a

doctrine which was later elaborated upon by Newton and Boyle, Locke,

Hobbes, and Descartes; it is an almost unquestioned dogma of physical

science. Galileo wrote:

[...] these tastes, odours, colours, etc., on the side of the object

in which they seem to exist, are nothing else than mere names, but

[I] hold their residence [to be] solely in the sensitive body [that

of the percipient]; so that if the animal were removed, every such

quality would be abolished and annihilated."


The "tastes, odours, colours" of Galileo et al., came to be referred

to as secondary qualities. The qualities of position, mass, shape,

and size were called primary qualities. If we add the traditional

measures to the primary qualities, we then have the traditional

physical quantities of science, which the founding fathers of that

discipline related so well to one the other.



The theory presented here results from my having wondered what would

happen if one changed the axiom put forth in Galileo's remark. It

seemed to me that the distinction between primary and secondary might

have been merely expedient. The theory [I am] about to present is

couched in the language of QM and a "mind/brain identity theory". In

order to move quickly, I must assume some familiarity with the

history of QM as well as with mind-body studies. More particularly, I

must assume an acquaintance with the substance of the famous

Einstein-Bohr debates and with the thesis that, at some level of

analysis, mind and brain are identical. As will be seen, I am arguing

for the proposition that the relevant level of analysis is at the

foundation of or physical science, on the level of the quantum

mechanics of neural networks. By way of a preliminary, then, I would

ask you to imagine neural networks as vast assemblies of interacting

electromagnetic quanta, or photons.


In my investigations into neural network function, I have been guided

by the need to fit theory to the contents of our perceptual fields.

Our visual fields, e.g., disclose to us, roughly speaking, a

succession of colored geometric forms. While it seemed a simple

matter to build up patterns of geometric forms from the wave forms

with which we describe light quanta, as is done in Fourier analysis

[oops!], I was in a quandary as to how to get the colors into the

description. While reading David Bohm's beautiful text [on] Quantum

Theory, I came upon a discussion of what are called "hidden

variables". The discussion of hidden variables grew up in the wake of

the Einstein-Bohr debates. As you will recall, these debates had to

do with the question whether our statistical description of quantum

processes was complete or not. As is well known, Einstein is usually

thought to have lost that debate, though he never gave up his

position. It is less commonly known that others, including

Schr�dinger, were also deeply in doubt about the statistical

interpretation of the wave equation. There has continued a lively

debate regarding hidden variables, fueled by the various paradoxes at

the foundations of QM. These paradoxes are referred to as "the

observer problem" or "the measurement problem" or [... etc.]


Following the lead of David Bohm, there has arisen a school of

thought which postulates the existence of hidden variables which, if

incorporated into the wave equation, would resolve those paradoxes

and provide us with a better-than-statistical description of

elementary processes.


Von Neumann and Bell have offered proofs which have led many to

question or reject the existence of these variables. [Though Bell

believed in HVs.] Others believe the proofs are faulty, and it is

generally agreed that von Neumann's proof is on the circular side.


Those who believe that hidden variables exist have been hampered by

the fact that, thus far, no one has advanced any real world

candidates to supply the values of the missing variables. If these

variables exist, the question goes, why have they not been

discovered? Why do they remain hidden?


It is a good question. Perhaps the answer is that they are not hidden

at all, but apparent to us whenever we perceive an object.


When we perceive an object, we may distinguish that object's size,

mass, position, shape, and so forth. If we attach the appropriate

measures to these properties we have, again, the familiar physical

quantities of science.


In perceiving an object, we may also discern that object's color, its

warmth or coolness or aural tone. These are, again, the secondary

qualities or properties [of] Galileo [et al.].


It is suggested that the secondary qualities of objects are the

appropriate entities to supply the values of the hidden variables of



By way of illuminating this suggestion, it is further proposed that a

visual field (or any perceptual field, or any mind) is a quantum

field, a photon [+electron] field, and that the colors of the visual

field supply values of the associated-because-identical quantum



Again, the argument to be made for the foregoing involves an appeal

to a mind/brain identity theory, or a neutral monism.


Bertrand Russell wrote, and was quoted with approval by Einstein,

concerning what we take to be an issue at the foundations of physical



"We think that grass is green, that stones are hard, and that snow is

cold. But physics assures us that the greenness of grass, the

hardness of stones, and the coldness of snow, are not the greenness,

hardness, and coldness that we know in our own experience, but

something very different. The observer, when he seems to himself to

be observing a stone, is really, if physics is to be believed,

observing the effects of the stone upon himself."


Russell assumes that physics is to be believed and that therefore the

sort of realism which ascribes the evident properties of objects to

those objects must somehow be mistaken.


It is herein assumed that physics, and particularly QM, is mistaken

in the sense that it is incomplete, in the sense of



It is not the least problem for these conjectures that since the time

of Galileo, Newton, Boyle, et al., it has been a matter of received

doctrine that the secondary qualities or properties of objects do not

exist in those objects, but are derived somehow by the operation of

the [physical!] brain and then supplied to the mind - this, by those

who suppose there to be a connection between mind and brain.


In deference to tradition, one might reply, what will be generally

admitted, that Russell and Einstein were fairly astute fellows and

that, if the two of them were puzzled by these issues, then we may be

respectably perplexed by them as well. Thus, the consolation of



Partisanship aside, we can agree that our perceptions of secondary

qualities or properties appear to be related in lawful ways to the

(physical) stimuli which excite said perceptions, as we say, in our

minds. Thus, anything that is green and perceived is perceived as

extending in space and enduring in time. [link to Riemann,

Minkowski!] An object, when heated, will reliably yield a given

spectrum of wavelengths; those wavelengths which fall within the

visible spectrum have their predictable, constantly correlated

colors. A psychophysicist might multiply such examples at great

length, given he opportunity.


Having pondered the foregoing, we can proceed to a somewhat higher

level of abstraction.


We can list the perceived properties of objects, primary as well as

secondary, and regard these as the elements of a formal or mechanical

theory T.


We can then construct the theory T along the lines of QM, meaning

that the state of a system will be given as a function of the

variables which range over the values of the elements of T. All

objects of T are these elements or objects constructed from the

elements. [Link to Leibniz, Descartes, Brentano.]


We then posit a mind to be a subset of the electromagnetic fields of

the associated neural networks.


We assume that the mindlike subset is ordered by the CNS and

attendant sensory organs.


If, appealing to G�del's work with formal systems, we assume that the

mindlike subset of fields can be modeled in T, and, further, that

these fields are rich enough to represent the environment of the CNS

or T, we then obtain the following result: It would be necessarily

impossible for the mind or CNS or T to define its elements in simpler

terms without involving a fundamental contradiction.


This is an interesting and desired result, given that we, as sentient

automata, tied to field of photons, are unable to define the elements

of our experience, [viz.] the primary and secondary properties of our

perceptions, in simpler terms than those given by our immediate



If mind and matter are dual or complementary aspects of a single

stuff, then we might expect that changes in one be accompanied by

changes in the other, and we have ample evidence that this is so. The

theory T sketched above recovers this fact very well.


It is accepted that the neurons of the CNS and its peripherals

influence one another by means of electrochemical signals. It is

accepted that all such activity must be mediated by the photon, the

exchange particle of the electromagnetic force. Is mind field

phenomena? It is an interesting question, a testable hypothesis at

least as old as the Gestaltists, who did not have the means for

quantifying fields.


If mind is to be incorporated into the body of science, then it is

necessary that such (mental) properties as colors be represented

within the more complete theory. The postulation of hidden variables

in QM appears to provide an intriguing possibility for locating such

properties among the elements of an augmented and more powerful