Quantum Consciousness: Chopra and Hameroff

Recently I've posted stories about religious concepts via quantum mechanics and also Deepak Chopra's championing of spirituality via new science. So here's a worthy link to complete the set (the Trinity, if you will...): Deepak Chopra interviewing Stuart Hameroff on theories of quantum consciousness. It's another mind-bending excursion into the building blocks of 'reality' (whatever that even means these days) and the mysteries of consciousness. Hameroff:

I don't necessarily ascribe to any particular religion, but I think through quantum physics, three essential components of spirituality can have a plausible scientific explanation. Namely, these are first, interconnectedness among living beings via quantum entanglement. Second is guidance by Platonic wisdom. Penrose also embedded Platonic values in spacetime geometry which can guide our actions, and be viewed as following the way of the Tao, or divine guidance, or whatever you want to call it. And finally, even conceivably the possibility of afterlife or consciousness outside of the body. Because if consciousness is happening in the spacetime geometry, normally in the brain, then when the blood, oxygen and metabolic energy stop driving the classical auto-pilot activity, the quantum information extending to spacetime isn't destroyed, but can perhaps leak out or dissipate in a more holographic distribution, but remained entangled. So it's possible that a soul could exist afterwards in Planck scale geometry. There could be reincarnation. I don't have any proof, and I'm not saying this necessarily happens, but if it does, here is a plausible scientific explanation.

The interview is a long and detailed one, though it's easy enough to read (especially given the concepts, and Stu Hameroff's predilection for conducting conversations at a very high level). Not so easy is the contemplation that comes with it - some strange (and it must be said, not necessarily correct) concepts to digest. Nevertheless, it's well worth checking out for the numerous ideas covered, from the 'consciousness' of paramecium through to Penrose's Platonic ideals. No doubt plenty of subsequent Googling to do though...

Previously on TDG:

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gbv23's picture
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5 June 2006
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Yes! This is exactly the kinda stuff we all need to be versed in. It doesn't matter if the self-appointed guardians want to poo-poo it as non-science, all the really smart and cool thinkers are heading in this general direction. Yes, there is an afterlife or 'between-life' just trust me on this.

red pill junkie's picture
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12 April 2007
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6 min 24 sec

Yes, there is an afterlife or 'between-life' just trust me on this.

And if you're wrong, do I get a refund? :-P

It's not the depth of the rabbit hole that bugs me...
It's all the rabbit SH*T you stumble over on your way down!!!

Red Pill Junkie
_______________
@red_pill_junkie

daydreamer's picture
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21 February 2009
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1 year 42 weeks

Come on RPJ just trust him on this. All the really cool people are doing it these days. Just try one... one won't hurt you ;)

daydreamer's picture
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21 February 2009
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An excellent conversation. I was hoping to have more fun with this and be able to be a little more critical, but in all it seems pretty robust. I would have loved it if Deepak had asked a little more about the evidence for and against it and ways of testing it rather than from the angle of his own beliefs, but Dr Hameroff did a great job of not getting too technical in the bits where he did talk about evidence for it.

I noted a few points as I read it though:

In this second question Deepak refers to Hameroff as an ‘expert in consciousness’. This struck me as I thought that one of the things that made consciousness so interesting and such a possible universal explanation for so many different beliefs is that no-one understands what it is or how it works; it is the great ‘hard-problem’. The notion of an expert in something no-one understands is fascinating, though I guess just knowing what is known about the problem and possible solutions would qualify someone. Still funny though, like being an expert in McDonalds if no-one knew what the food was made of, how it was cooked, or where it came from.

Deepak also says that ‘Our brain inside our skull has no experience of the external world’, yet if we touch a rock the atoms in our hand share an interaction with the atoms in the rock repelling each other as the electric forces ‘touch’. The area of effect of the atoms in our hand and the atoms in the rock occupy the same space combining and creating a system that results in electrical activity which is amplified travelling across a vast network of atoms and up our arms to touch and be amplified across our brains where it is further amplified and results in activation of networks of neurons (and maybe their microtubules). This is direct action across atom to atom to and charge to charge, quantum event to quantum event. To say our brain has no experience of the outside world is to deny that the ‘physical’ system involving the combination of your brain and the rock did not occur. Perhaps this cannot be explained without reference to quantum mechanics, or perhaps like many things that amount of detail is not necessary and the less detailed hypothesis is enough to fully explain the event, either way a physical system that combined the brain and the rock was formed allowing the brain to sense the rock in a directly physical way.

The whole section on qualia is very interesting. That the material aspect of qualia are non-conscious neural processing is interesting as it accepts the existence of neuron processing in the first place, but makes it responsible for the subconscious? I would have liked to have seen Hameroff talk a little more about the difference between the sub-conscious and conscious, especially if he thinks the subconscious is more akin to normal materialist arguments about neuron processing. I would also like to understand better why he makes this claim especially as he claims later that simple lifeforms that lack neurons still learn as if they have them, which he says is an evidence against neuron facilitated processing and for his microtubule hypothesis. I would also have liked to have seen a little more questioning on the philosophical appearance of some of these claims – that the sweet smell of a rose could be material and be processed by the sub-conscious and at the same time the rose has an essence or quality called a ‘rose scent’ that is stored in ‘quantum information’ to be handled by the quantum consciousness. The acceptance that the colour red is a wavelength and that the smell of a rose is due to the chemistry of the molecules received by receptors in the nose, but at the same time applying a special invisible quantity called essence/quality to be perceived only by consciousness sounds much more like philosophy to me.

Hameroff makes a few references to holographic universe ideas, but does not seem willing to commit to them instead saying ‘spacetime geometry is kind of holographic’ and ‘spacetime is sort of holographic’. Again this bit sounds very profound, but unexplained. In what ways is it holographic and in what ways is it not, and how does this help or hinder the idea?

I really wish he had gone into more detail as to the patterns and information that occur at the Planck scale. I have only read about the quantum foam or quantum soup so the idea that it has been shown that information is stored down there is quite new to me. What patterns have been found and what information? Is the information relevant or are the patterns representative of emergence from natural laws?

Later Hameroff claims that with regard to memory retrieval: ‘How that happens is that the memory is stored in the cytoskeleton, in the microtubules for example. Through the hippocampus and gamma synchrony association you access the information and that causes it to go into a superposition and become part of the quantum state which then collapses giving a conscious memory’. This claim stands out as it reads like he has proven this, yet the rest of the piece is much more speculative. I guess he must be talking in terms of how he thinks it happens, but that is not what he said so it is confusing. Has he demonstrated this or not? If so a reference would have been good.

With regard to the black holes at the end of the section; these begin to sound even scarier now. Could they be used as execution chambers by those in the afterlife, forcing evil floating quantum consciousnesses out of our spacetime and into a quantum prison from which they will never escape? Is this the first hint at how the physical structure of this universe might be used by those in the afterlife? Hameroff states that there is no getting away from this spacetime, no afterlife in other dimensions, he thinks we exist as floating quantum consciousnesses at the Planck scale. Black holes represent isolated regions, even to quantum entities like light (photons). Energy is returned, but as Hawking radiation, which in this case would be recycled souls. Don’t take a wrong turn in the quantum afterlife now!

Salamandra's picture
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You bring up some interesting points. Regarding the idea of a rose having a certain 'essence' it seemed to me as well that they were meandering from the point. Perhaps it is my ignorance on the subject that makes it seem so but I got the impression that they were arguing a semantic point; I did not understand the distinction. Though I have wondered how healers in tribal cultures determine the uses and combinations of so many plants. Is it purely trial and error over generations, as in "Ok, looks like Steve is dead, scratch that plant off," is it genetic memory, or could this idea of receiving quantum information from the plant allow one to directly intuit its medicinal or poisonous properties? Just a thought.

As for black holes as execution chambers in the afterlife... that sounds like a wellspring of science fiction possibility, daydreamer. Maybe they are just giant cosmic vacuum cleaners keeping all the aimless, wandering souls from trashing up the place.

dustincole's picture
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A while ago, Greg posted a question regarding God and where we see religion heading. I think that the popularity of these types of discussions(as between Chopra and Hameroff)is proof that at least some of us out here is looking for alternative views of spirituality. If you take a "God of the gaps" approach to the science vs religion debate, it should be pretty clear that science will eventually be able to fill in all of the gaps...leaving no room for the antiquated view of the Hebrew God. Add to that the growing popularity of skills such as astral projection and remote viewing, and I think the statement, "it's time for a new religion" doesn't sound too far fetched.

A lot of us WANT to believe in something, it may even be inherent to human nature to posit something 'greater' than ourselves. Sociologically and statistically, speaking there are more 'believers' than 'non-believers', but our current choices leave little to be desired. Out with the old and in with the new, I say!

Dustin

daydreamer's picture
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Hi Dustin,

I think you’re right. I don’t know what the future of organised religion is, but I think the model of the oil companies is not a bad parallel. In a green economy, or when the oil has run out, the oil companies will still be with us. Not trading oil anymore (though probably still behind synthetic’ish oils for plastics/lubricants etc), but you can already see them positioning themselves to be leaders in green technology. No behemoth ever plans for its own demise, it just changes shape to survive. Looking back at Christianity it is pretty clear that this has been done by theologians many times as new ideas are introduced, changed, removed etc. A good recent example is the removal of Limbo as a church teaching, but the church has also had to keep pace with astronomy and geology as well and now books like Genesis are taught as metaphor. If we had lived a thousand years ago it would be pretty hard to imagine that current knowledge would not kill Christianity. A thousand years ago the idea of a universe billions of years old, billions of light years across, filled with billions of galaxies, with natural explanations for mostly everything from after its birth to now, including a natural explanation for the development of life and the generation of new species, and the completely natural development of the solar system and the Earth would have seemed so likely to shatter religious ideas of theistic control – however this has not really happened. Instead we see theology shifting its base to create new ways of justifying specific beliefs aside the new modern concepts – as it has always done.

If all of Hameroff’s ideas were proven true tomorrow then we would see Christianity plus the other major religions first claim it as proof they are correct, that would be day one. On the second day they would try and explain why. On the 500th day they would have generated some pretty sophisticated theology as to how they were always right in the first place, then with the parts that they cannot easily accommodate we would be asked to use faith and walls of separation would have been erected to protect the vulnerable parts of the theology. This is my prediction anyway.

As for the reaction of sceptics and atheists to that sort of news I would expect it to be a little better. It would be interesting to see how the idea of an explanation for much paranormal activity was accepted by many beliefs. What would be left to explain after we had cracked unification between the paranormal (through quantum mechanics) and the natural sciences? How would people handle what is in effect a materialistic explanation of the afterlife? My own atheism is really only a stance against the theology of the big boys and how they manage their responsibility in the modern world. It doesn’t extend to non-belief in quantum superposition at the Planck scale resulting in wavefunction collapse and moments of conscious experience in microtubules. Perhaps it is mainly a philosophical position against the ‘I believe in X so X is true’ argument and all the types of sub-argument that must be used to uphold that type of argument. Testing and verification of quantum consciousness as well as demonstration through mathematics of entanglement through time etc would be scientific so I think it would win over many people who either currently sit on the fence/don’t care or call themselves atheists in opposition to the current state of the belief based institutions, the power they wield and how they derive it, and their political ambitions