Why a ‘genius’ scientist thinks our consciousness originates at the quantum level

Do our minds have quantum structures that give rise to consciousness? Sir Roger Penrose, one of the world’s most famous scientists, believes this and can explain how he thinks it works.

Human consciousness is one of the grand mysteries of our time on earth. How do you know that you are “you”? Does your sense of being aware of yourself come from your mind or is it your body that is creating it? What really happens when you enter an “altered” state of consciousness with the help of some chemical or plant? Are animals conscious? While you would think this basic enigma of our self-awareness would be at the forefront of scientific inquiry, science does not yet have strong answers to these questions.

One way to think of consciousness is to conceive of it as a byproduct of numerous computations that are happening in your brain.

The integrated information theory, created by neuroscientist Giulio Tononi of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, proposes that conscious experience is an integration of a great of amount of information that comes into our brain, and that this experience is irreducible. Your brain interweaves a sophisticated information web from sensory and cognitive inputs.

The global workspace theory of consciousness, developed by Bernard Baars, a neuroscientist at the Neurosciences Institute in La Jolla, California, says that maybe consciousness is simply the act of broadcasting information around the brain from a memory bank.

But there are some who think our attempts at understanding the nature of consciousness through neuroscience are doomed to fail unless quantum mechanics is involved. World-renowned Oxford University mathematical physicist Sir Roger Penrose, for one, thinks that consciousness has quantum origins.

Together with noted anesthesiologist Stuart Hammeroff, who teaches at the University of Arizona, Penrose came up with the Orchestrated Objective Reduction theory of the mind. The theory is somewhat outlandish, but cannot be easily dismissed considering that Roger Penrose is regarded by many as one of the world’s most brilliant people for his contributions in cosmology and general relativity. He is known also for his prize-winning work with Stephen Hawking on black holes. Physicist Lee Smolin once remarked that Penrose is “one of the very few people I’ve met in my life who, without reservation, I call a genius.”

Sir Roger Penrose in 2011.

Penrose believes that consciousness is not computational. Our awareness is not simply a mechanistic byproduct, like something you can make a machine do. And to understand consciousness, you need to revolutionize our understanding of the physical world. In particular, Penrose thinks the answer to consciousness may lie in a deeper knowledge of quantum mechanics.

In an interview with Nautilus’s Steve Paulson, Penrose uses an example from quantum computing to explain that qubits of information remain in multiple states until coming together into an instantaneous calculation, called “quantum coherence,” making a large number of things act together in one quantum state.

Here’s where Penrose’s theory draws upon the work of Hameroff by saying that this quantum coherence takes place in protein structures called “microtubules”. These microtubules reside inside the neurons in our brains and can store and process information and memory. Penrose and Hameroff think that microtubules are quantum devices that are orchestrating our conscious awareness.

This theory is not appreciated by everyone in the scientific community, with many critics saying the brain is too “warm, wet, and noisy” and cannot sustain a quantum process. Another physicist, Max Tegmark, even calculated that the brain cannot possibly think as fast as this idea requires. Hawking is also not on board, suggesting Penrose should stick with his field of expertise.

Yet, a 2013 study by Japanese scientists added some proof to the theory by Penrose and Hameroff as researchers detected vibrations in the microtubules. Penrose and Hameroff then proposed that by focusing brain stimulation on these vibrations one could conceivably “benefit a host of mental, neurological, and cognitive conditions.”

Still, this theory of consciousness is rather on the outs in a field that hasn’t had much advancement in a while.

In 2017, Sir Roger Penrose launched the Penrose Institute to study human consciousness through physics and to differentiate it from any potential artificial intelligence.

Watch Sir Roger Penrose explain how he came to conceive of quantum structures in the brain:


Source article

All Credits to Big Think 

Related Articles


Your email address will not be published.

  1. Because I, a retired, long served rotating plant operations trouble-shooting engineer, qualified to HNC Electrical Machine Field Theory, as well as two years National Service as an air radar technician, was amazed to find in my retirement years, when reading what physicists have to say about quantum mechanics and string theory, was shocked to find no one appeared to understand gravity. As much of my investigative work in electric powered automatic pumping plant installations, very much gave me an above average awareness of gravity, relative to the delivering of water through miles of undulating pipelines, I chose to put my own theoretical reasoning to print in my book titled GRAVITY published by Troubador Publishers Ltd last year.
    Where it describes the fundamental fabric of the Universe and how it gives us gravity, I now realise that the recognised 95.1% of the true Universe is populated by infinite numbers of electrostatic monopole fundamental energy particles (FEPs), (inappropriately called “dark energy”) can justify the concept of Universal Consciousness. The FEPs, each emanate, through 360 degrees, counter-opposing repulsive energy field lines, twelve of which align with one of its twelve surrounding FEPs to form an instantaneous three-dimensional network of counter-balancing energy field lines. The result is a finite fabric of concentric field lines of non-detectable energy existing throughout, the Universal wherein our universal consciousness must prevail.
    I appreciate there are many article written by academics and other knowledgeable journalists, but in my coining of new terminology like: Field Force Lines (FFLs); Local Force Lines (LFLs) ; Main Force Lines (MFLs), all of which provides an infinite Universal fabric of energy varying radially from near maximum charge to the passivity of the outermost expanding “passive doman FEPs” (pdFEPs), Would it be possible for someone to contact me with a view to my producing an article in the Journal.

    1. See Carlo Rovelli’s “Reality is not what it seems”. He is a theoretical physicist whose explanation of the universe very easy to understand.

    2. There are Quantum fields of Gravitation and Quantum Mechanical fields of electrons and photons with atoms only appearing when they interact with something else.

      Hope that helps.

  2. I have always felt religious and experienced spiritual feelings. I studied Mathematical Physics at university in the late 60s and have tried to follow advances in understanding.