Quantum Brain: Can We Explain Human Consciousness?

Scientific understanding of the brain/mind at the quantum level shows how conscious experience arises from the brain.

Is brain a mere computational machine? What separates man and his consciousness from machines is that machines are only  computational and human consciousness has the capacity for insight or creative thought.

Is there a physical element to mind that controls the way consciousness acts upon the brain? Is there a physical basis for intuition or insight? Yes, say Roger Penrose, renowned mathematician, and Dr. Stuart Hameroff, an anesthesiologist at the University of Arizona. 

All biological organisms must obey the laws of physics, both classical and quantum. Quantum mechanics explains many phenomena that cannot be understood within a classical context: the fact that light or any small particle can behave like a wave or particle depending on the experimental setup (wave-particle duality); the inability to simultaneously determine with perfect accuracy both the position and the momentum of an object (Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle); and the fact that the quantum states of multiple objects, such as two coupled (’entangled’) electrons, may be highly correlated even though the objects are separated by long distances.

Many hurdles surround the process of making deterministic measurements in quantum mechanics, which postulates that particles or quantum bits are allowed to exist in a superposition of states. Refer SchroŐądinger’s  thought experiment which results in quantum superposition of both a dead and a live cat, and the wave function which describes the probability that the system will be found in any one particular state “collapses” into one or the other state only when an observer peers inside the box.

Penrose and Hameroff believe they have found that the answer to the questions in the beginning paras lie in the Microtubules which provide the rigid structural support defining the shape of all animal cells and form the cytoskeleton – the cell’s framework – within which all components of the cell are held in position or allowed to move within certain constraints. These superfine lattice-like proteins form a network of interconnected fibres and act not only as bone-like support, but also as intelligence system inside cells.

Understanding Sensory Perception

When a perception of any kind takes place, an electrical impulse is sent from the senses to appropriate neurons in the brain. Neurons have specialized projections called dendrites which are treelike extensions at the beginning of a neuron that help increase the surface area of the cell body and are covered with synapses. Between each of the billions of dendrite connections within our brains there are little gaps. These gaps, called synapses, are microscopic in size. Communication takes place between these synapses through the use of neurotransmitters. The richness of the synaptic connectivity improves the brain’s processing power.

Quantum physics has determined that wave patterns are the essential building blocks of the brain’s electrochemical neurotransmitters. It is at the synapse that quantum wave patterns are transformed into neurotransmitters. Through this neuronal synaptic firing the translated wave frequencies are made coherent. These coherent frequencies are then transferred from dendrite to dendrite to the appropriate areas of the brain.

In his book Shadows of the Mind, Penrose says that the microtubulin cytoskeleton of neuronal cells provide quantum coherence which is essential to transform consciousness into the electro-chemical process exhibited in the brain.

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The most important aspects of Penrose’s argument is that non-locality (direct influence of one object on another, distant object) is made possible by the microtubules. The non-locality of thought is the basis of intuition and insight.

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Penrose refutes the argument that with the adoption of neural networking programs, as opposed to the binary programming of conventional computers, artificial intelligence will someday rival human intelligence. He believes that the very act of intuition itself is beyond the scope of any machine and will always remain so. Machines run on programs, and no matter how complex or sophisticated the program, or electronic and mechanical circuitry, a program cannot experience insight. It is the microtubules that allow insight to be translated into the electrochemical basis of neurotransmitters, that interact at the synaptic level and allow for spontaneous creative thought.

Consciousness As A Superconductor

One of the pioneering ideas about the brain is that it is a coherent quantum system. A superconductor acts as a totally coherent medium which offers no resistance to whatever passes through it. The individual activities of nerve cells are coordinated similar to the electrons in a superconductor which move in a way where each individual movement is guided by the whole.

Read Also

The Quirky Quantum Phenomena: Part 1

Quantum Entanglement and Observer-Affected Universe: Quirky Quantum Phenomena, Part 2

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