Jungian concepts in the light
of quantum physics

Lennart Rohde: Triangles' eye
“Triangles’ eye”. Lennart Rohde (1948).

Abstract: The article discusses developments in modern science that are relevant to Platonic philosophy as well as Jungian concepts of ‘unus mundus’, the psychoid archetype, and synchronicity.

Keywords: Orch OR, quantum brain, archetype, insect intelligence, Plato, Hameroff, Penrose, Jung.

Mathematical physicist Roger Penrose has in “The Emperor’s New Mind – Concerning Computers, Minds and The Laws of Physics” (1989) sketched a model of mind as intrinsic to nature. According to the Platonic viewpoint, mathematical ideas have an existence of their own. They inhabit an ideal Platonic world, accessible via the intellect. Penrose believes that consciousness, via a non-algorithmic procedure, is “closely associated with the sensing of necessary truths — and thereby [achieves] a direct contact with Plato’s world of mathematical concepts.” (p.556).

Penrose suggests that the human brain has access to the Platonic stratum through a quantum process of ‘superposition’, similar to the workings of a quantum computer (cf. p.568). Quantum superposition means that a physical system (such as an electron) may remain in all its theoretically possible states simultaneously. Yet, when observed, it collapses and gives a result corresponding to only one of the possible configurations. In a quantum computer, a qubit (quantum bit) can exist in its two possible states — one or zero — simultaneously. This allows for a very powerful parallel computation capacity, even if the processor has recourse only to few qubits.

It is at the very moment of superpositional collapse that conscious awareness is momentarily created, in the sense of a realization of a solution. Since quantum phenomena of superposition and ‘entanglement’ (when particle states are interdependent over distance) occur spontaneously in nature, the phenomenon of mind is independent of a neural network. From an evolutionary perspective, both ‘mind’ and primitive calculative ability have existed prior to the emergence of biological neurons.

Note that the choices resulting from the quantum state reduction are not random, but are influenced by Platonic information embedded at the Planck scale of space-time, which is today viewed as foundational to the fabric of the universe. Thus, the evolution of the material universe and the biological systems, including consciousness, is informed by Platonic rules that reside at the most fundamental space-time level of ‘quantum foam’ (‘space-time foam’). At the Planck scale, according to the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, energy may momentarily decay into any kind of particles and antiparticles and then annihilate without violating physical conservation laws. Thus, ‘creatio ex nihilo’ occurs uninterruptedly at the smallest scale, following the embedded Platonic rules.

According to the Copenhagen theory, what causes the reduction of the quantum state (that is, the collapse of the wave function), is the intervention of a conscious observer. However, this gives rise to serious logical difficulties, such as the “Schrödinger’s cat” paradox. Penrose instead postulates an ‘objective reduction’ (OR), which means that the quantum state may spontaneously collapse without any form of interaction or conscious measurement activity. Reduction, as a non-random and non-algorithmic process, instead depends on a certain factor of space-time geometry. It functions very much like the half-life principle in radioactive decay. Since the reduction of the quantum state can give rise to a moment of ‘proto-conscious experience’ (yet is not caused by a mind-event), the Copenhagen interpretation is stood on its head, in a sense.

The question is whether the brain can harbour superpositional states at biological temperatures. Stuart Hameroff has suggested that the ‘microtubules’, inbuilt in each neuron in great numbers, could serve the function of supporting and protecting the quantum phenomenon, thus turning the brain neuron into a quantum computer, in a sense. Microtubules, which are microscopic nanotubes made of the protein tubulin, contain sectors where electrons move at close proximity to each other. Theoretically, these electrons could become quantum entangled. Recent research at the National Institute for Materials Science in Japan has revealed that quantum vibrations occur in microtubules, a fact which seems to strengthen the quantum computation hypothesis (cf. Hameroff & Penrose, 2014).

Microtubule quantum states can extend by entanglement between adjacent neurons, whereas the quantum computation is “orchestrated” by a feedback process. Thus, the process has been termed “Orchestrated Objective Reduction” (Orch OR). Since the particular type of non-random and non-computable selection, pertaining to objective quantum reduction, is characteristic of choices made in consciousness, it serves to explain our capacity of free will. Accordingly, the two choices of sushi and pasta exist in a superpositioned quantum state, which will result in a collapse not determined beforehand.

Thus, according to the Orch OR theory, consciousness is a process that cannot be described algorithmically since the quantum wave function collapse is non-computable as a fundamental physical process. The conclusion is that consciousness does not arise from neural computational activity as an epiphenomenon. In fact, consciousness is an intrinsic feature of the action of the universe. The elementary acts of human consciousness ought to be realized as an objective wave function collapse, which implies the reduction of coherent superposition states in microtubules. These occur throughout the biological kingdom, but are especially prevalent in the human brain.

Penrose’s suggestion of a non-computable ingredient required for human consciousness and understanding, belongs to the archetypal or Platonic conception. Since the quantum phenomenon is relevant to the scales that are pertinent to the operation of our brains, there is a connection between the unconscious psyche and the Platonic stratum. This connection is postulated by Jung.

Physicist Shan Gao has augmented the superposition concept with a notion of quantum superpositions of definite conscious perceptions (cf. Gao, 2011). He says that it leads to a stronger unified quantum theory of matter and consciousness, akin to panpsychism. A conscious process that involves quantum computation would invoke parapsychological phenomena, such as telepathy, in the way of a non-local quantum process of information transference between two entangled brain systems (cf. Gao, 2006, pp.167ff). Yet, it is problematic that the notion of ‘consciousness’ is used in a context where psychologists would prefer ‘psyche’ or ‘mind’. To a psychologist, ‘consciousness’ denotes merely a minor part of the psyche, since the unconscious harbours most of the mental activity. Confusion sometimes occurs, because we do not know if the authors mean ego consciousness or the psyche as a whole.

Carl Jung has formulated a theory of similar Platonic hue in his concept of the ‘unus mundus’ — a ‘psychoid’ layer of ‘objective knowledge’ that underlies both matter and psyche. It means that the psychic element is equally fundamental to the universe as the material element. He has, however, confounded the theory by recourse to Kantian notions of absolute transcendence. It neither makes sense nor accords with the Platonic conception. However, mathematical truths are of central importance, especially the natural numbers. M-L von Franz (1974) analyzes the mathematical Platonic forms in terms of their qualities and not their logical properties. Thus, the qualities of the whole numbers are believed to be the most fundamental archetypes — a notion that we also find in Proclus (412-485 C.E.). Neoplatonic thought, it seems, favoured a more ‘psychic’ interpretation of the Platonic forms. For instance, in Diogenes Laërtius, book 6, Plato engages Diogenes the Cynic:

When Plato was discoursing about his “ideas,” and using the nouns “tableness” and “cupness;” “I, O Plato!” interrupted Diogenes, “see a table and a cup, but I see no tableness or cupness.” Plato made answer, “That is natural enough, for you have eyes, by which a cup and a table are contemplated; but you have not intellect, by which tableness and cupness are seen.”

Perhaps mathematical truths could also be viewed as qualitative. It implies that the dynamical collapse theories (such as Orch OR) would be able to account for qualitative mental experience (such as colour), since the foundational qualities (but not their combinations) are determined by quantum interaction with the very fabric of the universe. Thus, it is not only the collective source of truth and ‘meaning’ — it is the collective source of perceptive qualities, too. After all, it is mysterious that insects have the same exquisite taste for colour and perfume as humans. They like Lily of the valley and roses, too.

It is remarkable what insects can do with their minuscule brains. In some ways their perceptive capacity even exceeds ours. Insects can, in fact, change their behaviour depending on the circumstances. “According to a growing number of studies, some insects can count, categorize objects, even recognize human faces — all with brains the size of pinheads” (Sohn, 2009, here).

Thrips are extremely small wasps. Megaphragma mymaripenne has one of the smallest nervous systems of any insect, consisting of just 7,400 neurons, 4,600 of which are located in the brain. 95 percent of the wasp’s neurons don’t even have a nucleus, which is the command centre of the cell. They shouldn’t work, but they do. These wasps are perfectly able to orientate themselves in space while flying. They have fine sense organs with which they locate insect eggs of other species, in which to lay their own eggs. It is very hard to explain how their brains are able to build a representation of the outer world in real time and to make computations as to how to cope with it. Yet, the calculative capacity of the insect brain could be accounted for by microtubule quantum calculation.

It seems that perceptual meaning is neither wholly subjective nor transcends the environment, but that all species tap into a collective source of meaning. It’s a great relief for the insects that they did not have to invent a comprehensive representation of the world all by themselves. References to research on insect intelligence can be found on the following links. According to entomologist Lars Chittka, a few thousand neurons could support consciousness.

Jung has suggested that the material and conscious actualization of the unus mundus occurs through the acausal principle of ‘synchronicity’. It implies that absolute ‘meaning’ underlies the event, in the form of a meaningful coincidence, rather than meaningless causation. However, according to Hameroff & Penrose actualization takes place as a result of quantum state reduction. Thus, the Platonic layer can be attained by a process of focusing and thinking, just as Plato said. The non-algorithmic nature of the event means that the future is not computable from the present, even though it might be determined by it (cf. Penrose, 1989, p.558).

Martin et al. (2011) believe that causally inexplicable events really exist and have suggested that the synchronistic phenomenon depends on quantum entanglement. It has two aspects: either it involves the unconscious of two persons having affective links or it occurs between mind and matter. If two friends at a distance simultaneously buy two identical neckties, it could be due to entanglement between the neurons in their respective brains. Although this is less likely to occur than quantum entanglement between neurons in the same brain (as per Orch OR), it is not an implausible hypothesis.

Quantum entanglement, once it has been established, is independent of distance (the current experimental record being 143 kilometers). It leads the authors to postulate non-localized unconscious mental states in space and time. “[Mental] states are not exclusively localized in the human brain. They are correlated to physical states of the brain (possibly via quantum entanglement) but they are not reducible to them” (ibid.).

If these theories are tenable, it amounts to a reinterpretation of Jung’s controversial notion of unus mundus, including the psychoid archetype and synchronicity, thus making the metaphysical edifice compliant with science. The findings of mathematicians and physicists, together with the discoveries of cognitive science (involving ‘unconscious metaphor’ and an unconscious form of cognition that is characteristic of our species), appear to underpin the classic Jungian notions of the collective unconscious and the autonomous archetype. Thus, developments in science seem to contradict many post-Jungian attempts to deflate central concepts of Jungian psychology in concordance with phenomenology, post-structuralism, and Freudian reductionism and operationalism.


© Mats Winther 2014.


Gao, S. (2011). ‘A Quantum Physical Effect of Consciousness’ in Kak, S. (ed.). Quantum Physics of Consciousness. Cosmology Science Publishers.

Gao S. (2006). Quantum Motion – Unveiling the Mysterious Quantum World. Abramis.

Franz, M-L von. (1974). Number and Time. London: Rider & Company.

Hameroff, S. & Penrose, R. (2014). ‘Consciousness in the universe – A review of the ‘Orch OR’ theory’. Physics of Life Reviews 11 (2014) 39-78. (here)

Hance, J. (2010). ‘Uncovering the intelligence of insects, an interview with Lars Chittka’. Mongabay. (here)

LiveScience Staff. (2009). ‘Bigger Brains Not Always Smarter’. LiveScience. (here)

Martin, F., Carminati, F. Galli Carminati, G. (2011). ‘Synchronicity, Quantum Information and the Psyche’ in Kak, S. (ed.). Quantum Physics of Consciousness. Cosmology Science Publishers.

Penrose, R. (1999). The Emperor’s New Mind – Concerning Computers, Minds and The Laws of Physics. Oxford University Press. (1989).

Sohn, E. (2009). ‘Tiny insect brains can solve big problems’. NBCNEWS. (here).

University of Adelaide. (2010). ‘Tiny insect brains capable of huge feats’. ScienceDaily. (here)

See also:

Hameroff, S. Quantum Consciousness. (here)

Hameroff, S. ‘Quantum computation in brain microtubules? The Penrose-Hameroff “Orch OR” model of consciousness’. (here)

Lewton, T. (2021). ‘Can quantum effects in the brain explain consciousness?’. NewScientist. (here)

Penrose, R. & Hameroff, S. (2011). Consciousness and the Universe: Quantum Physics, Evolution, Brain & Mind. Cosmology Science Publishers.