Monday, 14 April 2014

The Quantum Soul


It has long been thought that in order for a belief in the distinction between mind and matter, it necessitates a belief in spirituality or religion as well. How the brain produces consciousness remains unknown, but the quantum soul hypothesis offers a rational and scientific explanation. 


There is yet a multitude that is unknown to us, and quantum physics is probably the best example of this. In the words of Richard Feynman "If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don't understand quantum mechanics".


The Penrose OR model is based on Penrose’s (1989, 1996) account of the basic nature of superposition; “a particle in one state or location would be a specific curvature in space-time geometry, and the same particle in another location would be curvature in the opposite direction, extending downward to the Planck scale. Superposition of both locations can then be seen as simultaneous curvatures in opposite directions” (Hameroff & Chopra, 2012). According to Penrose, this would result in a blister in the fabric of reality. If these space time separations were to endure and develop, the universe would split, producing parallel universes. However, Penrose posits that such superpositions eventually collapse to a particular classical state due to an “objective threshold intrinsic to the fine structure of the universe” (Hameroff & Chopra, 2012). Penrose also suggests that each self-collapse results in a moment of conscious experience. The reason we have consciousness is the same reason we are here, we simply won the cosmic lottery or due to the “objective threshold intrinsic to the fine structure of the universe”. According to Penrose, consciousness occurs as a process on the edge between quantum and classical worlds.

The Penrose-Hameroff Orch OR model states that consciousness is contingent on quantum superpositions in microtubules inside brain neurons and glia, occurring alongside and supporting neuronal-level synaptic computation. The Penrose-Hameroff Orch OR model further proposes tubulins can be quantum bits, or "qubits" in microtubule quantum computers, and that such superpositions connect conscious brain functions to the most basic level of the universe (Hameroff & Penrose, 1996).


Beck and Eccles (2003) posit a similar mechanism behind quantum consciousness. The brain’s nerve cells fire when charged molecules or ions collect at a synapse, prompting it to discharge neurotransmitters. However, the occurrence of a certain number of ions at a synapse does not constantly cause a neuron to fire. According to Beck and Eccles (2003), this is because for at least a moment, the ions exist in a quantum superposition of states.  In some states the neuron discharges, while in another it does not. Where the mind comes in, is that it can exercise power over the brain by “choosing” which neurons will fire. In other words, the collapse of the wavefunction suggests that in some way the mind takes a potentiality for a wave and “chooses” what type of wave it will be. So long as probability is preserved in the brain, the exercise of free will does not violate conservation of energy. Following this logic, it would suggest that consciousness can control the physical, opposed to purely the other way around (this is a very brief and shallow summary of these three models!).


It was once believed that the earth’s continents were stable and did not move, the earth was flat, the centre of the universe and only 20 to 40 million years old. It was also once believed that life regularly arose from spontaneous generation, light emanated from the eye, phrenology explained the function of the brain and the universe was static. More recently, we have been ignorant of the dangers of cigarettes, the importance of DNA, and it was believed that cold fusion would be possible and that the atom was the smallest particle in existence. The Higgs particle was only discovered in 2012, and while we have made huge advances in recent years, there is still so much about our own planet (e.g. oceans) and galaxy (e.g. dark matter and dark energy) we do not know or understand, who knows what will be discovered next. The only thing we can be certain about is our overwhelming ignorance.


The research on quantum consciousness is still in its infancy and numerous non-scientific (and possibly religious) quacks have latched on to it (it’s hard to trust videos on YouTube when the uploader has named them self “Angels2TouchYou2”). It is very possible, that it will be found to be incorrect in the next few years, but if the alliance between mind and matter can be established in the brain it could unlock an entirely new realm of significant philosophical and scientific questions.



 References

Beck F. & Eccles J. (2003). Quantum processes in the brain: A scientific basis of consciousness. Osaka, N. Ed. Neural Basis of Consciousness.
 

Hameroff S., & Chopra D. (2012). The "Quantum Soul": A Scientific Hypothesis. Exploring Frontiers of the Mind-Brain Relationship (Mindfulness in Behavioral Health (ch. 5). New York: Springer.
 

Hameroff S.R., & Penrose R., (1996) Orchestrated reduction of quantum coherence in brain microtubules: A model for consciousness. Mathematics and Computers in Simulation 40:453-480.
 

Penrose R. (1989). The Emperor's New Mind, Oxford Press, Oxford, U.K
 

Penrose R. (1996). On gravity's role in quantum state reduction. General relativity and gravitation. 28(5): 581-600.

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