The QZE is related to the established observer effect of quantum physics: The behavior and position of any atom-sized entity, such as an atom, an electron, or an ion, appears to change when that entity is observed. This in turn is linked to the probabilistic nature of such entities. The quantum laws that govern the observed behaviors of subatomic particles, and also the observed behaviors of all larger systems built out of them, are expressed in terms of probability waves, which are affected in specific ways by observations made upon the system. In the Quantum Zeno Effect, when any system is observed in a sufficiently rapid, repetitive fashion, the rate at which that system changes is reduced. One classic experiment involved observing beryllium atoms that could decay from a high-energy to a low-energy state. As the number of measurements per unit time increased, the probability of the energy transition fell off: The beryllium atom stayed longer in its excited state, because the scientists, in effect, repeatedly asked, “Have you decayed yet?” In quantum physics, as in the rest of life, a watched pot never boils.
In a 2005 paper published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society (U.K.), physicist Henry Stapp and one of the authors of this article, Jeffrey Schwartz, linked the QZE with what happens when close attention is paid to a mental experience. Applied to neuroscience, the QZE states that the mental act of focusing attention stabilizes the associated brain circuits. Concentrating attention on your mental experience, whether a thought, an insight, a picture in your mind’s eye, or a fear, maintains the brain state arising in association with that experience. Over time, paying enough attention to any specific brain connection keeps the relevant circuitry open and dynamically alive. These circuits can then eventually become not just chemical links but stable, physical changes in the brain’s structure.
Cognitive scientists have known for 20 years that the brain is capable of significant internal change in response to environmental changes, a dramatic finding when it was first made. We now also know that the brain changes as a function of where an individual puts his or her attention. The power is in the focus.
Attention continually reshapes the patterns of the brain. Among the implications: People who practice a specialty every day literally think differently, through different sets of connections, than do people who don’t practice the specialty. In business, professionals in different functions — finance, operations, legal, research and development, marketing, design, and human resources — have physiological differences that prevent them from seeing the world the same way.
Expectation Shapes Reality
Cognitive scientists are finding that people’s mental maps, their theories, expectations, and attitudes, play a more central role in human perception than was previously understood. This can be well demonstrated by the placebo effect. Tell people they have been administered a pain-reducing agent and they experience a marked and systematic reduction in pain, despite the fact that they have received a completely inert substance, a sugar pill. One study in 2005 by Robert C. Coghill and others found that “expectations for decreased pain produce a reduction in perceived pain (28.4%) that rivals the effects of a clearly analgesic dose of morphine.” Donald Price of the University of Florida has shown that the mental expectation of pain relief accounts for the change in pain perception. The brain’s deepest pain centers show systematic changes consistent with changes in experienced pain.
Dr. Price and Dr. Schwartz are currently working to demonstrate that the Quantum Zeno Effect explains these findings. The mental expectation of pain relief causes the person to repeatedly focus his or her attention on the experience of pain relief, so that the brain’s pain-relief circuits are activated, causing a decrease in the sensation of pain. People experience what they expect to experience.