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Ed Lantz
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Thoughts on Quantum Consciousness and its Implications

Ed Lantz

 

There are an increasing number of serious theories from biologists and physicists alike postulating that quantum information processes are fundamental to consciousness. Now in all fairness, quantum theories of consciousness are still somewhat speculative. There is limited research happening in this space and it is still considered “fringe” by some scientists, however that is changing. So with that qualification, here is my take on “quantum consciousness” and why it could revolutionize neuroscience.

 

Of main importance is the utter weirdness of information on a quantum scale. Information contained within Hilbert Space – the “superposition of possible states within every atomic particle” – is vast. It can move about instantaneously (“teleport”) across any space to other entangled particles. Matter can also be entangled with “virtual particles” in the vacuum (“decoherence”).

 

Until recently we did not know of many macroscopic consequences to these microscopic informational properties of the universe. It was just thought to be an atomic-scale phenomenon and completely invisible on our macroscopic scale.

 

Experiments have now shown that macroscopic objects, gasses and light beams can be entangled:

http://www.quantumfoundations.org/macroscopic-entanglement-witnesses.html

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/03/150327091012.htm

http://www.quantumlah.org/highlight/111202_diamonds

http://www.nbi.ku.dk/english/news/news13/quantum-teleportation-between-atomic-systems-over-long-distances/

 

Even mechanical vibrating systems can informationally entangle:

http://www.nature.com/news/2009/090603/full/news.2009.540.html

 

Images can be coherently transmitted through entanglement;

http://www.nature.com/news/entangled-photons-make-a-picture-from-a-paradox-1.15781

 

And particles in the future can be entangled with particles in the past:

http://www.livescience.com/19975-spooky-quantum-entanglement.html

http://arxiv.org/abs/1209.4191

 

It has also been shown that entanglement allows the preparation and transfer of quantum states to perform quantum computing:

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2011/05/02/dream-machine

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/04/150410165318.htm

 

It has recently been found that some biological systems do, in fact, exploit quantum information effects;

http://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/oct/26/youre-powered-by-quantum-mechanics-biology

 

These quantum informational properties of the universe are very real. But, the above cases notwithstanding, most consequences of these quantum informational properties do not come into play in the universe as we perceive it. Who cares if we can prove that a rock is entangled with another rock if there is no visible outcome that we can see?

 

Here’s the thing. We know that biological systems are rampant exploiters of chemistry and physics across all scales from the microscopic atomic and molecular scales to the macroscopic human form. And we also know that the human brain is the most powerful informational processor on the planet. If biological systems have found a way to exploit quantum information, the human brain would be the first logical place to look for it.

 

An increasing number of researchers – from medical doctors to physicists – are theorizing that consciousness may depend, in some fundamental way, on quantum information processes. That is to say that consciousness may not just be an emergent property of neural networks that process information according to known electro-chemical processes, but that consciousness, or some portion thereof, might rely on the very strange properties of quantum (or sub-quantum) information. 

For instance, Stuart Hameroff and Roger Penrose have developed the “Orch OR” theory of consciousness that hypothesizes quantum processes are at work in collections of microtubules within brain neurons:

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1571064513001188 



 

Researchers theorize that consciousness is in fact a fundamental property of the universe – a kind of panpsychism:
https://medium.com/the-physics-arxiv-blog/why-physicists-are-saying-consciousness-is-a-state-of-matter-like-a-solid-a-liquid-or-a-gas-5e7ed624986dhttp://www.biolbull.org/content/215/3/216.full?view=long&pmid=19098144 



 

And because of this, it is thought possible that computers could achieve self-awareness:
http://spectrum.ieee.org/biomedical/imaging/can-machines-be-conscioushttp://www.wired.com/2013/11/christof-koch-panpsychism-consciousness/all/



 

Why is this important?

As David Deutsch, the father of quantum computing puts it:

“At the quantum level we have access not only to actual worlds but to other universes as well. What is happening in a quantum computation is that the algorithm runs over not only the states of the actual world but also over states from an infinite number of universes…”



 

He makes this statement based on the demonstrated ability of quantum computers, composed of a small number of individual atoms, to factorize very large numbers using Shor’s algorithm. 



 

Deutsch explains:


 

“To those who still cling to a single universe world-view, I issue this challenge: explain how Shor’s algorithm works. I do not merely mean predict that it will work…I mean provide an explanation. When Shor’s algorithm has factorized a number using 10 to the 500th power or so times the computational resources that can be seen to be present [in the 250-atom/qubit computer], where was the number factorized? There are only about 10 to the 80th power number of atoms in the entire visible universe, an utterly minuscule number compared with 10 to the 500th power. So if the visible universe were the extent of physical reality, physical reality would not even remotely contain the resources required to factorize such a large number. Who did factorize it, then? How, and where, was the computation performed?” 
https://www.academia.edu/2461377/THE_ONTOLOGICAL_STATUS_OF_QUANTUM_INFORMATION

 

So, what if the brain could filter coherent (useful) information from the sea of seemingly random information that pervades the very fabric of the universe? And what if the computational capacity of the universe could be exploited by biological systems? Here are some possible consequences of these “what if” scenarios:

 

10 Oddball Things To Make You Believe In An Afterlife

 

Should these QC theories pan out, it’s not that consciousness would be “non-physical.” It’s more like consciousness could be “informational” in nature. Just as a computer (hardware/firmware) hosts computer applications (software), the human brain (hardware/firmware) might host consciousness applications (software).

 

The more spooky scenario would be the possibility that consciousness (bounded computational applications) might also operate on the quantum computational substrate of the universe itself (but without sensory/motor capacity to operate in the physical domain). Such a scenario would be akin to “transcendental consciousness.”