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Brain Cogn. 2014 Feb;84(1):109-17. doi: 10.1016/j.bandc.2013.11.008. Epub 2013 Dec 18.

Neuroscience, quantum indeterminism and the Cartesian soul.

Author information

  • 1University of Lausanne, Department of Fundamental Neuroscience, Rue du Bugnon 9, 1005 Lausanne, Switzerland. Electronic address: Peter.Clarke@unil.ch.

Erratum in

  • Brain Cogn. 2014 Jul;88:91.


Quantum indeterminism is frequently invoked as a solution to the problem of how a disembodied soul might interact with the brain (as Descartes proposed), and is sometimes invoked in theories of libertarian free will even when they do not involve dualistic assumptions. Taking as example the Eccles-Beck model of interaction between self (or soul) and brain at the level of synaptic exocytosis, I here evaluate the plausibility of these approaches. I conclude that Heisenbergian uncertainty is too small to affect synaptic function, and that amplification by chaos or by other means does not provide a solution to this problem. Furthermore, even if Heisenbergian effects did modify brain functioning, the changes would be swamped by those due to thermal noise. Cells and neural circuits have powerful noise-resistance mechanisms, that are adequate protection against thermal noise and must therefore be more than sufficient to buffer against Heisenbergian effects. Other forms of quantum indeterminism must be considered, because these can be much greater than Heisenbergian uncertainty, but these have not so far been shown to play a role in the brain.

Copyright © 2013 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


Cartesian interactionism; Determinism; Dualism; Heisenbergian uncertainty; Quantum theory; Soul

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