Published on January 24, 2024, 8:08 pm
Recently, there has been growing interest in testing Stuart Hameroff and Roger Penrose’s quantum theory of consciousness, known as the Orch OR theory. Many people are still unsure about the relationship between quantum theory and consciousness, but some evidence suggests that certain phenomena can be best explained using this approach.
To help shed light on quantum theories of consciousness, experimental physicist Rob Sheldon offers some background information. According to Sheldon, an essential text on the subject is Roger Penrose’s book, “The Emperor’s New Mind.” In this book, Penrose argues that human consciousness cannot be modeled by a conventional Turing machine because it is non-algorithmic. He hypothesizes that quantum mechanics plays a crucial role in understanding consciousness, with the collapse of the quantum wavefunction being particularly significant for brain function.
Determinism and materialism are closely intertwined concepts. However, consciousness is non-algorithmic and non-deterministic. To argue that “the mind is more than the brain” without resorting to dualism (the belief in an immaterial mind), Penrose turns to quantum mechanics as a material yet non-deterministic framework. This suggests that consciousness may be more powerful than computers.
Penrose’s challenge lies in the fact that quantum mechanics primarily applies to microscopic entities, whereas brains and people are macroscopic. He proposes that 1-D structures, specifically microtubules within neurons, possess elongated wavefunctions suitable for macroscopic dimensions. When these microtubules overlap, their wavefunctions also overlap. Since every cell contains microtubules, there exists a single entangled wavefunction extending from one ear to another. As a result of its non-local and distributed nature, this wavefunction can respond to inputs physically located beyond the brain. The collapse of this wavefunction during decision-making leads to discrete digital effects despite its distributed analog input.
The concept of “Penrose consciousness” provides an alternative perspective compared to the non-computable problems associated with the Universal Turing Machine model of the brain. While it remains to be seen whether this theory is correct, it presents more possibilities than the simplistic idea that humans are nothing more than a collection of neurons.
In conclusion, the study of consciousness and its relationship with quantum mechanics offers intriguing avenues for exploration. The Orch OR theory proposed by Hameroff and Penrose challenges traditional views on consciousness and opens up new possibilities for understanding the mind. While many questions remain unanswered, delving into these exciting topics can expand our perception of human and artificial intelligence.