Science and Platonism

Physicist Roger Penrose, and anaesthesiologist Stuart Hameroff, particularly in their controversial ORCH-OR hypothesis, frequently make explicitly Platonic claims. E.g.:

In this approach, whenever superpositions reach threshold, OR events select particular classical states, accompanied by moments of (proto) conscious experienced qualia, basic units of feeling and awareness. The choice of classical states in OR events are influenced by (resonate with) what Penrose termed Platonic values embedded in the fine scale structure of the universe. The qualitative feeling of each quale, ie, good, bad, or otherwise, would depend on resonance and geometry of specific spacetime separations with deeper, Platonic levels of the universe. Most significantly, unlike the Copenhagen interpretation in which consciousness causes collapse, Penrose OR proposes that collapse causes consciousness (or that collapse is consciousness).

– ‘The Quantum Origin of Life: How the Brain Evolved to Feel Good’, S. Hameroff, in On Human Nature Biology, Psychology, Ethics, Politics, and Religion

Like so many other mathematical ideas, especially the more profoundly beautiful and fundamental ones, the idea of computability seems to have a kind of Platonic reality of its own. It is this mysterious question of the Platonic reality of mathematical concepts generally that we must turn to in the next two chapters.

The Emperor’s New Mind, Roger Penrose

I (and I suspect others), have been dismissing this Platonic Idealism as a mere “metaphysical belief”, and therefore the claims, [involving Quantum phenomena and consciousness], based on it as merely “Quantum Woo”, on the prima facie basis that (i) Platonic Idealism seems to have virtually no acceptance within science, and (ii) there appears to be no scientific evidence supporting the existence of platonic forms.

So my question is:

Can anybody present scientific evidence for the existence of platonic forms?

Lacking such scientific evidence, I will feel to be perfectly justified in rejecting out of hand any claims based on their existence.

[Clarified, per discussion below.]

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As a mathematician, I reject Platonism. However, I don’t call it “quantum woo”, because many mathematicians are Platonists. However, when used for consciousness theories, it does look like quantum woo.

As a mathematician, I consider myself a fictionalist. I see mathematical entities as useful fictions. For most of mathematics, I find very little disagreement with Platonists, perhaps because the question doesn’t usually come up. However, there are some places where fictionalists and Platonists will disagree. The Platonist believes that there is a definite answer to the question of whether the continuum hypothesis is true. The fictionalist doubts this, and takes it to all depend on the axioms that are assumed.

I’m inclined to see the work of Gödel and Cohen on the undecidability of the continuum hypothesis as at least being consistent with fictionalism.


Yes. I was sloppy in stating:

the claims based on it as merely “Quantum Woo

… when I should have stated:

the claims based on it, involving Quantum phenomena and consciousness, as merely “Quantum Woo

I apologise, and will correct my original statement.

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Short answer: no (and if anyone tells you otherwise, from my perspective it seems like don’t know what they’re talking about).

Platonism isn’t the kind of proposition that can be proved or disproved by science; it’s more fundamental than that, being concerned with the structure of reality at a very general level. Pretty much any argument for Platonism that I’m aware of starts from things that science presupposes or takes for granted, and similarly for arguments against it (or for alternative positions).

Of course, in my view the lack of scientific evidence for Platonism in no way justifies dismissing it (again, it isn’t the kind of question that can be settled that way). In the issue at hand, though, the Orch-OR hypothesis in no way follows from Platonism, nor does it even require it. (Penrose describes Orch-OR in Platonism terms, but I see no reason it could not be spelled out in other terms instead.) And there’s plenty of justification to dismiss Orch-OR independently of Platonism.


I would agree that Platonism appears, at least at first glance, to be extrinsic to ORCH-OR.

We do however have have a participant (@Meerkat_SK5) who is (currently on this thread, but also on prior threads) arguing for using their (purported) shared platonism to unify ORCH-OR and Richard Owen’s views on Archetypes into their 'Universal Common Designer Theory" which they are purporting is ‘scientific’.

Before continuing to further dismiss this out of hand, I thought I’d check I was correct in thinking that platonism is philosophy-not-science.

To the extent that one can draw a line between science and philosophy - Platonism definitely falls on the philosophy side of that line.

I’d agree with this.

Yes, and it’s good to point that out.

Tim, I have already done this many times in our encounters. I advise you to read all the articles below so you can accept the platonic reality of the wave-function. Some articles are studies and others are reviews that are not peer-reviewed but are still informative and helpful for laypeople.

So there is no excuse going forward and you don’t need to be an expert to understand the articles I provided.

On the reality of the quantum state | Nature Physics
Phys. Rev. Lett. 113, 020409 (2014) - How Undefined control sequence \ensuremath-Epistemic Models Fail at Explaining the Indistinguishability of Quantum States (
Are the Quantum World and The Real World the Same Thing? | NOVA | PBS
(Measuring the reality of the wavefunction - Mapping Ignorance
(Measurements on the reality of the wavefunction | Nature Physics )

On the Reality of the Wavefunction | SpringerLink

Makes no mention of Platonism.

Makes no mention of Platonism (and link to the same article).

Makes no mention of Platonism (and is a pop-science article).

Makes no mention of Platonism.

Makes no mention of Platonism.

Makes no mention of Platonism.

Makes no mention of Platonism.

No you have not, and I would suggest that you cannot.

That you make this claim is further evidence that:

  1. @Meerkat_SK5 does not understand the difference between science and philosophy.

  2. @Meerkat_SK5 does not understand the difference between quantum phenomena and platonic forms.

The second point clearly demonstrates that you do not “know the basics of quantum physics and [have] read enough about it online to make [your] case”.

The first point demonstrates that you are not qualified to make scientific claims at all.

Yet you have failed to grasp this basic point of the articles you yourself cite.


Ptatonic forms involve abstract mathematical objects that exists independently, which the wave-function would represent. This is from a very prominent physicist named Sean Carroll:

We human beings, even those who have been studying quantum mechanics for a long time, still think in terms of a classical concepts. Positions, momenta, particles, fields, space itself. Quantum mechanics tells a different story. The quantum state of the universe is not a collection of things distributed through space, but something called a wave function. The wave function gives us a way of calculating the outcomes of measurements: whenever we measure an observable quantity like the position or momentum or spin of a particle, the wave function has a value for every possible outcome, and the probability of obtaining that outcome is given by the wave function squared. Indeed, that’s typically how we construct wave functions in practice.

Mathematically, wave functions are elements of a mathematical structure called Hilbert spaceThe word “space” in “Hilbert space” doesn’t mean the good old three-dimensional space we walk through every day, or even the four-dimensional spacetime of relativity. It’s just math-speak for “a collection of things,” in this case “possible quantum states of the universe.”
**> **
> Hilbert space is quite an abstract thing, which can seem at times pretty removed from the tangible phenomena of our everyday lives.
Space Emerging from Quantum Mechanics – Sean Carroll (

I have no difficulty reading your quote from Carroll. But I’m a fictionalist. I reject Platonism. I see the wave function as a useful fiction.

For the curious onlooker: the articles cited by Meerkat here are referring to the PBR theorem, which (given some reasonable-sounding assumptions) shows that the quantum wavefunction represents some objective physical state of an individual quantum system (like an electron) and isn’t merely a representation of someone’s knowledge about the system. (It does this, essentially, by showing that the wavefunction that can be assigned to a given system, while still giving the correct predictions, is unique, so can’t vary from observer to observer.)

The PBR theorem does not show that the wavefunction as a mathematical object exists in the Platonic sense, only that it represents something physically real.

As a bonus, here’s a very incomplete list of interpretations of QM that are completely compatible with the PBR theorem (and so are in no way disconfirmed relative to “Orch-OR” by the cited articles):

-many worlds interpretation
-some forms of Copenhagen interpretation
-spontaneous collapse theories
-pilot wave theories

All of which are more widely accepted in the physics community than Orch-OR, though that isn’t saying much.


@Tim points out that none of your quotes mention Platonism, and you respond with yet another quote which does not mention Platonism.

If Carroll was arguing for wave-functions as Platonic forms, he is capable of using the phrase himself.


Scientists, even “prominent” ones, quite frequently use informal language that conflate abstractions (including descriptions or models) of phenomena with the phenomena themselves.

This informality should not be taken as endorsement of Platonism.

I would be surprised if you can find any explicit endorsement of Platonism by Carroll.

But even if you could find such an endorsement, that would be merely opinion not evidence.

In order to make your case you need “scientific evidence” that “wave functions”, as opposed to the wave forms that the wave functions are merely the abstract descriptions of, “exist independently”. (Quoting informal comments that conflate the two will not serve.)

That is what my OP was asking for.

And that was what your replies have failed to provide.

Copying and pasting ill-understood quotes will not serve you.

THIS is a large part of why you have repeatedly demonstrated that …

you DO NOT understand quantum physics “enough to make [your] case”!


Looking at this more closely, I think the crucial word is “independently”. This would mean that to support Platonism the wave function would need to exist independently of the wave form it is an abstract description of. There is no indication that Carroll is suggesting this, nor that there is any scientific evidence suggesting this.

(Parenthetically, I would note that as Hilbert space is itself a mathematical abstraction, claiming that a wave function exists in Hilbert space is not a claim of the function’s independent existence.)

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This in turn raises the question:

What does it even mean for a quantum wave function to exist independently of the quantum wave form it describes?

Take a small piece of raw meat as an example. It has a quantum wave form. Alter the piece, e.g. by cooking it, and you change the wave form. This would mean that the wave function that describes it would also have to change – how is this “independent existence” when any change to the wave form changes the wave function?

Take another thought experiment. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that quantum wave forms do have quantum wave functions that exist sufficiently independently that you can interact with the wave function without interacting directly with the wave form. If you alter the wave function, would this alter the associated wave form? If not, then what is the relation between the wave form and its wave function? If so, then we appear to have wandered remarkably close to the belief that knowing something’s True Name gives you power over it.

It is not clear that the claim that a wave function exists independently of the wave form it describes is even coherent.

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Yes, that is technically true, but let’s not forget that @Tim asked for evidence not proof for platonic forms. If the wave function is physically real, this would be considered evidence for it:

If the wave function is physically real, would this provide some evidence for a platonic reality rather than conclusive proof.


The question of whether the wave function is physically real is a topic of debate in the interpretation of quantum mechanics. Different interpretations offer different perspectives on the nature of the wave function and its ontological status.

If one were to argue that the wave function is physically real, it could be seen as suggestive of a Platonic reality, where mathematical entities have an independent existence. Plato’s philosophy posits the existence of abstract, timeless forms that underlie the physical world. In this view, if the wave function is considered a real entity, it could be seen as a mathematical form that describes the probabilities and behavior of quantum systems.

For the avoidance of doubt:

  1. I asked for “scientific evidence for the existence of platonic forms”.

  2. A philosophical “argument” is not any evidence at all, let alone scientific evidence. This is particularly true when the argument is merely “suggestive”.

  3. For a quantum wave function to count as evidence of the existence of Platonic forms, there would need to be evidence that it exists independently of the quantum wave form that it is the abstract description of.

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You didn’t provide any.

No, it would not.


I decided to ask ChatGPT to check my logic on this:

Is it possible for a quantum wave function to exist independently of the quantum wave form it describes?

Does the fact that, under the standard interpretation of quantum mechanics, “the wave function is not considered to exist independently of the quantum system it describes”, mean that, again under the standard interpretation of quantum mechanics, that quantum wave functions cannot be considered to be an extant example of a Platonic Form?

Can anybody present scientific evidence for the existence of platonic forms?

The ocean is filled with trillions of them. Don’t some whales eat them?

Oh, you wrote platonic forms, not planktonic…

Never mind.