Are physical laws only a creation of our mind?

Are physical laws only a creation of our mind?


In his book, Bouty [1] declares: “Science is a product of the human mind, produced according to the laws of our thought and adapted to the external world. It therefore offers two aspects, one subjective, the other objective, both equally necessary, because it is as impossible for us to change anything in the laws of our mind as in those of the world.

 Bachelard in his book [2] cites this statement and comments on it as follows:

 “This is a strange metaphysical declaration which can just as well lead to a kind of strong rationalism which would find, in the laws of the world, the laws of our mind, as to a universal realism imposing absolute invariability “on the laws of our mind” conceived as part of the laws of the world! »

Indeed, in these remarks, two interpretations are posed.

  • Either, as part of the world, our mind incorporates its laws, this is what Bachelard calls realism: it is the physical world that dictates its laws and those of our mind. This is the hypothesis which seems the most natural and which is widely adopted. •
  • Or, the physical world has no laws, it is our mind that creates them, because it needs them to give meaning to its existence, as part of this world, and to get rules that create order in this nature, allowing it to behave efficiently in a reproducible way in this world without laws. This is what Bachelard calls rationalism in his commentary. •

 To illustrate this, imagine that nature is represented by a collection of seemingly disparate objects (and phenomena) (perhaps this is the caveman’s image of the world). Our mind will endeavor to attribute characters to them (size, shape, colors, consistencies, symmetries, repetitiveness, periodicity, and all qualities accessible to our senses) and operate classifications and links and try to deduce rules (laws). All this could vary according to individuals and consciences.

 This second “iconoclastic” hypothesis is generally ruled out, at least exclusively.

 Indeed, if Bachelard recognizes that it is impossible to completely separate rationalism and realism which seem to have an at least partial entanglement, he recognizes from experience the “last word” when these two approaches are in conflict. He declares among other things: “Physics is an impure metaphysics, because it must be accountable to experience. »

 The first hypothesis having been widely commented on, in particular on this site, let’s look at the second hypothesis. Are physical laws only a creation of our mind?

In his article [3] Majid, recalls that the knowledge of the physicist is limited by his mind. The subject is a little ambiguous, because it can refer to realism with its limits, but it also opens a window on rationalism.

The case of quantum mechanics

Wigner, on the other hand, goes much further. He clearly states (about quantum mechanics) that there are no physical laws without human consciousness and that, as such, laws are a creation. of our mind.

Indeed, in the presentation that we make of quantum mechanics, the state of a system is defined by a wave function which represents a superposition, in general infinite, of possible states and it is by an act of an awareness (that of the  experimenter) that a measurement is going to be achieved (formally we apply a mathematical operator depending on the type of measurement we want to perform), on the wave function, breaking this superposition, and giving a pure state according to probability laws defined by the theory.

There is indeed an act of consciousness which makes it possible to acquire information of a type imposed by consciousness, on the system. This operation is not passive but “destroys” the state of superposition of the system (collapse of the wave function).

The measurement has therefore a “destructive” character, which can also be used to verify that a quantum message has not been “intercepted”.

Faced with the strangeness of the situation, Wigner offers an interpretation that may seem radical.

 It is the taking cognizance of a measurement by a consciousness which is the fundamental act of the measurement, not the apparatus which makes it.

In other words, what is called the collapse of the wave function during a measurement, the fact that the measurement returns a determined value among those in superposition, does not occur when the device makes the measurement but when it enters the consciousness of the observer.

 This hypothesis, which may seem « extravagant » to our minds, is very deep, because it brings humans into the theory they are constructing. This human is an integral part of the process.

Thus, in his paradox of his « friend », (indirect measurement), he will consider the system « consciousness of the observing friend + measuring device of the system” as the quantum system.

 Indeed, his belief is that consciousness is necessary for the measurement process of quantum mechanics and therefore that consciousness, in general, must be an « ultimate reality » according to Descartes’ philosophy “Cogico ergo sum: « 

All that mechanics quantum claims to provide are probability connections between subsequent impressions (also called “apperceptions”) of consciousness”.[4]

 If Wigner’s thought is complex, and we may not agree with his analysis, his proposal deserves to be meditated on, because on the one hand, the traditional rationalist approach is far from giving total satisfaction, on the other hand, on the other hand, the thought of the physicist (his consciousness) cannot be excluded from the theory describing the Nature.

It is undoubtedly by doing this that we will improve knowledge because we cannot ignore the fact that science is a human activity and, as such, it is an integral part of it!

Cosmology for example

 If Wigner was interested in quantum mechanics and its « particularly paradoxical » aspects, we can also consider other scientific fields.

A widespread idea, in particular in the study of cosmology, for example by its chronological description (Big Bang), an “anthropomorphic” model, is that the universe would exist, even without humans.

 In this chronological model, appearance of humanity came lately, therefore, we deduce that during a very long part of this historical story there is no consciousness to account for it.

This comes to mind as something obvious This is a very curious argument, because it is produced by humans who consider their presence unnecessary in the description of the universe, whereas they must exist to say that, at least at the moment when they say it!

If there were no humans, they wouldn’t be able to say anything, and for good reason!

The “argument “contains an internal contradiction, which spoils its validity!

 Moreover, to add to the confusion, an anthropomorphic character is attributed to the universe: A birth-a life-a death! The universe, without humans, would still have human characters!

Moreover, since the chronological story (Big Bang) is only a way of describing the universe which, if it is operationally convenient, blurs its deep nature which is that of a spacetime, as defined by Einstein’s equation, something that has no beginning or end but simply has existence.

It is therefore appropriate to resume its analysis and its description in this context of spacetime which get rid of time and space as fundamental entities.

To be continued …. .

 [1] Bouty E. (1908). La verité scientifique, Paris, Ernest Flammarion, coll. « Library of Scientific Philosophy 27 », 1908, 398 p., 19 cm

 [2] -Bachelard G.: (1966). The new scientific spirit 9th edition 1966; UFP

 [3] -Majid S. (1991), “Principle of Representation-Theoretic Self-Duality”, Physics Essays, 4 (3): 395–405, Bibcode:1991PhyEs…4..395M, doi:10.4006/1.3028923; Free translation in:

 [4] See the excellent Wikipedia article: