A Quantum Approach to Understanding How We Think

quantumQuantum Models of Cognition and Decision by Jerome R. Busemeyer and Peter D. Bruza

While scientists have assumed that classical probability theory and logic was the best way to comprehend human cognition, research studies have found numerous aspects of cognition and decision to behave differently. The new field of Quantum Cognition presents us with new ways of thinking about cognition that better match observations of actual human behavior, and Quantum Models of Cognition and Decision presents an outstandingly clear and thorough overview of this exciting new field.

Busemeyer and Bruza do an outstanding job of incorporating key concepts and ideas from quantum theory, showing how aspects of quantum phenomena and behavior can provide valuable insights into human cognitive processes. Thanks to their observation that some puzzling results in the field of psychology are similar to aspects of quantum mechanics, Busemeyer and Bruza demonstrate through utilization of mathematical models, how one of the larger contributions of a working theory of quantum cognition is the way it allows for people to experience ‘indefinite’ states, or superposition states. The authors argue that “the wave nature of an indefinite state captures the psychological experience of conflict, ambiguity, confusion, and uncertainty; the particle nature of a definite state captures the psychological experience of conflict resolution, decision, and certainty.”

One of the greatest joys of reading Quantum Models of Cognition and Decision is the way numerous detailed examples are presented that show how well quantum theory and quantum probability theory provide clarity in some of the more intriguing areas of recent research in psychology. One such example is how the quantum approach agrees quite well with the constructionist view of belief, attitude, and intention proposed by social psychologists such as Schwarz, so there is a way to better understand how our beliefs, attitudes and intentions are not simply stored in memory as fixed, never-changing properties, but instead are constructed and re-constructed when needed.

Many chapters of Quantum Models of Cognition and Decision begin with engaging examples to illustrate the concepts being described, which bring the ideas into the realm of daily experience where the subject of quantum cognition springs to life. Suddenly, we find ourselves nodding in agreement that of course, reality viewed from a quantum perspective can be described in something much more complex than a boolean exhaustive description–of course, reality is much better described in various incompatible ways, using descriptions that sometimes can’t be compared or combined. This complexity of the world shows up in many ways, such as where certain combinations and associations can be surprising. When people hear the combination of the words, “pet” and “human,” for example, they often come up with the association “slave”–which is really quite remarkable, since the concept of slave is not commonly associated with either the word “pet” or “human.”

One of the most fascinating sections of Quantum Models of Cognition and Decision has to do with ‘dynamic consistency,’ or the resolution of complex decisions through planning for the future while considering complex sequences of potential events. The authors explain, “Optimal strategies for planning multistage decisions usually rely on backward induction processes that require planning from the last stage and working backwards to the current stage (von Winterfeldt & Edwards, 1986). This requires the current decision to be based on plans for future decisions.” This kind of decision-making is clearly ideal for quantum processing, since in quantum theory and quantum cognition, the future becomes a superposed state.

Quantum Models is highly recommended for anyone interested in consciousness and quantum theory, and is highly accessible for readers of all levels of expertise in these areas, from beginners to experts. There is necessarily a good deal of math, balanced by wonderfully descriptive narratives–so readers can either pore through the mathematics or skip over it, and gain a great deal from this book either way. This book is highly recommended as being one of the very best books available that provides insights and clarity as to how quantum models of cognition can model changing, ephemeral, mixed qualities of human thought.

csl2010Reviewed by Cynthia Sue Larson

Cynthia Sue Larson, “The Quantum Optimist,” is a best-selling author, inspirational speaker and life coach. Her website is www.realityshifters.com

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