Can Humans Directly Observe the Quantum World? Part V

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New human multisensory integration model for its exploration.

This periodic series has been addressing a potentially revolutionary and historic movement in physics and cosmology–and not only a potentially revolutionary and historic movement in these particular subjects–but also in the general, wider range of the history and ultimate nature of humanity overall: what it means to be human, on the most fundamental of levels.

The movement as of yet has no unification, no internal cohesion, no formal name or profile, no leaders or spokespersons, and, in its essential form, it is just now emerging–without a formal public definition or announcement–within the last few months dramatically, and within the last few years less dramatically and less clearly (and one could even say that it has been percolating for much longer, but in a domain even more obscure in terms of global awareness).

As we’ve been saying in different ways for these past months, what has been emerging from a wide range of often non-communicating researchers in multiple independent (also often non-communicating) but related disciplines, as well as from pan-global, cross-cultural sources and institutions, is an extraordinary, unprecedented body of new knowledge concerning human potential–in a strict, rigorous, formal, and profound scientific sense. Perhaps with great irony, this freshly assembling body of knowledge is simultaneously emerging along with the new field of transhumanism and its component subfields of advanced artificial intelligence, robotics, neuroengineering, and virtual reality, among others; and perhaps in stark contrast to these latter fields (and also because of them, as will be seen below), this new body of knowledge is revealing a hitherto unprecedented, unimagined, and profound nature of the potential human ability to directly sense, to directly perceive, the world, the universe. The magnitude and scale of this potential human sensory perceptual capacity was not imagined in the West nor in most of the world–with some exceptions–apparently for most of history, and has emerged quite unexpectedly, as we have said, only recently, coming as it has from multiple unconnected sources, until someone decided to see the unity and begin to consider it as indeed constituting some kind of unified or unification-seeking body of knowledge–with said exceptions also to be addressed below–and to actively interrogate it and find its significance.

The list of these recent discoveries, the subject of this series within the context of the sensorium, bears repeating, and we also direct the reader to consult the previous four installments. Here we offer a brief but we think necessary review of our previous installments for those readers who have been following our series, and a kind of editorial emphasizing of the profound importance of this news, as well as a restating of it for the benefit of readers who are new to this series.

Only as of recently, and many findings just emerging from rigorous scientific research by leading researchers at leading scientific institutions within the last few weeks and months, we can now say that human beings have the proven potential to:

  • see light on the level of the single photon, essentially the most irreducible unit of light that exists
  • hear at the level of vibrations with amplitudes on the atomic scale, and discriminate auditory time intervals within the range of millionths of a second
  • experience acute tactile discrimination on the nanoscale – ie, billionths of a meter – even down to the level of being able to discriminate matter on the level of individual molecules
  • detect, through quantum mechanically-based mechanisms of olfactory sensitivity, over a trillion different smells, through the human olfactory system, only recently recognized as a part of a larger, sophisticated, organism-wide chemoreception system

And equally striking, even startling, is the fact that within the last year, leading physicists from top institutions around the world,  including at least one Nobel Prize-winning physicist, have called for a new revolutionary protocol to be pursued in physics, the actual recruitment of human subjects to use their own newly discovered sensory-perceptual capacities in order to attempt to directly perceive key, quantum phenomena which have proven elusive to modern technologies and methodologies! Summarizing a number of these statements of the leading physicists, the leading scientific publication, Scientific American–especially known for its commitment to scientific rigor and even conservatism–announced this intention “to use human vision to probe the very foundations of quantum mechanics,” and to “point toward a possible resolution of…central concerns of quantum mechanics…!” (exclamation point ours).

After offering our new and original review and synthesis of the above information, we then pointed out several very important, key points. First, we reported that our survey of the studies which have been investigating the human capacity for visually detecting single photons (SPD)–which would be necessary for any further attempts to observe quantum mechanical phenomena such as entanglement–all clearly indicate that there is a range of human variation in performance on such tests, and that a higher level of performance is critical for success in the tasks.

Next we reported on the research that we have been involved with for over a decade which has shown conclusively that there are long-established traditions in which individuals train intensively and extensively to enhance their sensory perceptual functioning, including their capacities for sustained, focused attention, and these individuals have been experimentally studied in an expanding body of research, and found to demonstrate significantly, and even radically, enhanced sensory-perceptual performance on standardized testing protocols (see Bushell 2009; Seaberg 2011, Bushell Foreword; Bushell 2016, 2018, for reviews and extensive references). And then we also briefly explained that some of these long-established traditions–of so-called observational meditation, originally largely in Asia, but now found worldwide–also focus on an approach to enhanced observation that explicitly and specifically incorporates an ideology and pedagogy based on multisensory integration and synesthesia-like modalities (Seaberg 2011, Bushell Foreword; Bushell 2018). As will be seen below, and in future installments, this latter multisensory approach is of profound importance for the potential integration of all of these hyperacute sensory perceptual capacities, and their potential to lead to mutual enhancement, in a holistic sense.

We can see this mutual enhancement when considering the overall context or framework of the observational meditation sessions. In the first place, external sources of distraction are removed by the practitioner’s selecting a place of isolation and quiet, often within a retreat context, including the so-called dark retreat, in which light sources are progressively reduced to a minimum of “least light” (see Zajonc 1993). Over time and practice, practitioners learn to further ‘harmonize” this reduction of external noise with a reduction of inner noise, in which cognitive, affective, and somatic distractions are profoundly minimized. With the achievement of this stillness and quietude, there is a commensurate reduction of the noise-to-signal ratio in terms of this key scientific concept from signal detection theory (SDT), or inversely, a potentially profound increase of the signal-to-noise ratio. Because there is the concept in these traditions that advanced practitioners are potentially capable of achieving perception of the fundamental “units” (or “atoms”) of nature or the universe, this knowledge acts as a kind of directing or pedagogical basis for seeking to function on such levels.

Now it is known from these extraordinary new developments in “Western”–better labeled as “cosmopolitan”–science, that such sensory perceptual levels, or scales, or magnitudes, are actually potentially within reach of the human practitioner, that s/he may achieve performance on the level of a “hyperperceiver,” who possesses access to these realms of phenomena. According to this new scientific model of adept perception deriving from these new scientific findings (see Bushell 2009, and Bushell et al, in progress), with this increase in stillness and quietude, there is a commensurate increase in the signal-to-noise ratio, and these nanoscale, molecular, atomic, and photonic levels of sensory-perceptual functioning capacity emerge. Because of the above pedagogical, and in turn philosophical and analytical training, as well as in the specific training of sensory perceptual and intimately connected attentional training, the “soft-tissue high-tech” capacities of the practitioner emerge and can then be deployed to detect, observe, investigate, and explore phenomena existing at such scales. In keeping with the signal detection theory model mentioned above, the setpoints of the senses are all “recalibrated” during the observation meditation setting, and each sensory modality shifts to its most acute scale, the level of each modality, in turn, influencing the others (Bushell et al, in progress). These unified psychophysiological processes, guided by the practitioner according to her/his training and levels of achieved perceptual learning, a “set and setting” which is conducive to this endeavor is established, and it is well-known that the “set and setting” can produce further powerful neuropsychophysiological effects.

Moreover, as we briefly discussed in earlier installments, these practitioners seek to engage sensory perceptual “mechanisms” which would be referred to in contemporary neuroscience and psychophysics as based on principles of multisensory integration, cross-modal perception and transfer of sensory information, and supramodal perceptual learning.

In particular, recent research has demonstrated potentially strong positive crossmodal influences of audio stimulation on visual performance and visual perceptual learning. We would consider the possibility that this specific, audio-visual crossmodal connection, might be relevant to visual observation of other kinds of complementary variables, perhaps those involving photons, with relevance to one of the main focuses of this series, which is on the now proven human capacity to perceive single photons. Until recently it was held that the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle (HUP) did not apply to photons because of “the nonexistence of strictly localized photon states,” but recent research has demonstrated that a new rigorous reinterpretation of key variables in this formulation does, in fact, fit the basic framework of the HUP. The significance for the present context, although of course speculative, is the fact that the new movement in physics which has inspired our series seeks to determine and explore specific possible opportunities for a human subject to directly observe fundamental quantum mechanical properties, and the HUP is one of the most fundamental of these properties, and is now also thought to be connected to the “measurement problem” in general.

It should also be kept in mind that at this stage of the development of this new field or subfield of science – and we do emphasize that this new area of exploration does constitute a scientific field or subfield involving physics, psychophysics, biophysics, neuroscience, and phenomenological psychology among others – speculation is, in fact, a major scientific tool. This is the point, in the beginning, where speculation is allowed and should even be encouraged in science, speculation of course which is based on potentially promising “leads” and apparent connections. In fact, the physicists whom we have been citing throughout this series have been very creatively speculative, perhaps uncharacteristically so – and especially because of the fact that little is known at this point outside of the fact that humans can, in fact, perceive single photons, and the ability to perceive single photons can theoretically lead to the ability to perceive photon entanglement. And in fact, many new and important technological detector-based studies of entanglement have used pairs of photons and their polarizations, and recent research has demonstrated that human observers can directly perceive the polarization of light. And because of the need for high-level performing observers for the desired studies on potential human perception of the quantum realm, we have advocated the utilization of what we refer to as “adept perceivers” – whose superior sensory perceptual and attentional capacities have been verified – and these adept perceivers also claim to make use of multisensory, cross-modal training to enhance their capacities in general.

In the next installment, we will specifically consider whether training in audio time-frequency performance, which, according to recent research previously cited, led to subjects exceeding the Fourier Uncertainty Principle limit, may have any relevance to considering a human sensory perceptual approach to the Heisenberg-von Neumann cut, or the point at which the quantum and classical worlds are believed by many physicists to diverge. We will be considering this possibility in a more explicit and detailed framework involving the potential for crossmodal, or supramodal sensory perceptual capacities as well.


Bialynicki-Birula I & Bialynicka-Birula Z. Heisenberg uncertainty relations for photons. Physical Review A 86, 022118 2012.

Budinger E, Heil P, Hess A, Scheich H. Multisensory processing via early cortical stages: Connections of the primary auditory cortical field with other sensory systems. Neuroscience. 2006;143(4):1065-83.

Bushell WC. New beginnings: evidence that the meditational regimen can lead to optimization of perception, attention, cognition, and other functions. Annals of the NY Academy of Science. 2009; 1172: 348-61.

Bushell WC, 2016. Can Long-Term Training in Highly Focused Forms of Observation Potentially Influence Performance in Terms of the Observer Model In Physics? Consideration of Adepts of Observational Meditation Practice, Cosmos and History 12, 2.

Bushell WC, 2018. Yogic Perception: An Integrative Scientific Model of Vajrayana Meditational Practices, Vajrayāna Buddhism in the Modern World: Proceedings of the Second International Conference on Vajrayāna Buddhism, 28-30 March 2018, Thimphu, Bhutan, 130-155.

WC Bushell & G Thurman, Neuroscientific and quantum physical approach to advanced Buddhist mindfulness meditation: Perceptual learning, neuroplasticity, complexity, texture, fractals, and synesthesia. A model in-progress, Towards a Science of Consciousness, Aula Magna Hall, Stockholm, Sweden/Center for Consciousness Studies (University of Arizona), 2011.

Hidaka S, Teramoto W, Sugita Y. Spatiotemporal Processing in Crossmodal Interactions for Perception of the External World: A Review. Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience. 2015 22;9: 62.

Oppenheim JN & Magnasco MO. Human Time-Frequency Acuity Beats the Fourier Uncertainty Principle, Physical Review Letters 110, 044301: 2013.

Rodríguez ER & Aguilar LMR. Disturbance-Disturbance uncertainty relation: The statistical distinguishability of quantum states determines disturbance Scientific Reports 8: 4010, 2018

Ropars G, Le Floch A, Enoch J, Lakshminarayanan V. Direct Naked-Eye Detection of Chiral and Faraday Effects in White LightEurophysics Letters 97 (6), 2011.

Seaberg M (Author), Bushell WC (Foreword). Tasting the Universe: People Who See Colors in Words and Rainbows in Symphonies Paperback, 2011, New Page.

Temple SE et al. Perceiving Polarization With the Naked Eye: Characterization of Human Polarization Sensitivity. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 282(1811): 20150338, 2015.

Zajonc A. Catching the Light: The Entwined History of Light and Mind. Oxford University Press, 1995.

Zeng J, Lei Y, Pei SY, Zeng XC, CSCO Criterion for Entanglement and Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, 2013, arXiv:1306.3325

Zilber N, Ciuciu P, Gramfort A, Azizi L, van Wassenhove V. Supramodal processing optimizes visual perceptual learning and plasticity. Neuroimage. 2014;93 Pt 1:32-46.

William C. Bushell, Ph.D. is a biophysical anthropologist affiliated with MIT and co-director of ISHAR (Integrative Studies Historical Archive & Repository), a Chopra Foundation Initiative, the largest free and open access database/information center for the new field of integrative sciences, including physics and neuroscience.

Maureen Seaberg is a synesthete and the co-author of Struck By Genius: How a Brain Injury Made Me a Mathematical Marvel.

This article was originally published in Psychology Today


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