No one understands what consciousness is and how it works. Nobody understands quantum mechanics. Could this be more than just a coincidence? “I can’t identify the real problem, therefore I suspect that the real problem there, but I’m not sure that there is no real problem”. American physicist Richard Feynman said this about the mysterious paradoxes of quantum mechanics. Today, the theory physicists use to describe the smallest objects in the Universe. But just as he could say about the knotty problem of consciousness.
Some scientists think that we already understand consciousness, or that it’s just an illusion. But many others think that we are generally not even close to getting to the essence of consciousness.
Long puzzle called “consciousness” has even led to what some scientists have tried to explain it with quantum physics. But their zeal was met with considerable skepticism, and this is not surprising: it seems unreasonable to explain one mystery with another.
But such ideas are never absurd and not even came from the ceiling.
On the one hand, to the great displeasure of physicists, at first the mind refuses to comprehend early quantum theory. Moreover, quantum computers are projected to be capable of such things, what is not capable. It reminds us that our brain is still capable of feats that are unavailable for artificial intelligence. “Quantum consciousness” is widely ridiculed as mystical nonsense, but no one was able finally to dispel.
Quantum mechanics is the best theory we have to describe the world at the level of atoms and subatomic particles. Perhaps the most famous of her riddles is the fact that the result of a quantum experiment can vary depending on, we decide to measure the properties of the participating particles or not.
When the pioneers of quantum theory first discovered this “the observer effect”, they worried. He seemed to undermine the assumption that underlies all science: that somewhere there exists an objective world independent of us. If the world really behaves, regardless of how — or if — we look at it, that would mean “reality” really is?
Some scientists were forced to conclude that objectivity is an illusion, and that consciousness must play an active role in the quantum theory. Others just do not see any common sense. For example, albert Einstein was annoyed: does the Moon exist only when you look at her?
Today some physicists suspect that it is not that consciousness affects quantum mechanics… and that it all came with it. They believe that quantum theory may require us to generally understand how the brain works. Could it be that a quantum object can be in two places at the same time, and the quantum brain can simultaneously keep in mind two mutually exclusive things?
These ideas are controversial. It may be that quantum physics has nothing to do with the consciousness. But at least they demonstrate that weird quantum theory forces us to think about weird things.
Best quantum mechanics breaks in human consciousness through the double slit experiment. Imagine a beam of light that falls on the screen with two closely spaced parallel slits. Part of the light passes through the slit and falls on the other screen.
You can imagine light as a wave. When the waves pass through two slits in the experiment, they face — interfere — with each other. If their peaks coincide, they reinforce each other, resulting in a series of black-and-white strips of light on the second black screen.
This experiment was used to show the wave nature of light, more than 200 years, until quantum theory. Then the double slit experiment conducted with quantum particles — electrons. It is a tiny charged particles components of the atom. Inexplicably, but these particles can behave as waves. That is, they undergo diffraction when the stream of particles passes through two slits, producing an interference pattern.
Now suppose that the quantum particles pass through the slits one after another and their arrival on the screen is also to be observed step by step. Now there is nothing obvious that would force the particle to interfere in her way. But the picture of the falling particle will still show interference fringes.
Everything points to the fact that each particle simultaneously passes through both slits and interferes with itself. It is a combination of the two ways is known as a state of superposition.
But it’s strange.
If you place a detector in one slit or behind it, we could figure out, passes through the particles or not. But in this case, the interference disappears. The simple fact of observing the way the particles — even if this observation should not interfere with the movement of particles changes the result.
Physicist Pascual Jordan, who worked with guru quantum Niels Bohr in Copenhagen in the 1920-ies, put it this way: “Observations not only disturb what has to be measured, they define it… We force a quantum particle to choose a definite position.” In other words, Jordan says that “we ourselves produce the results of measurements”.
If so, the objective reality goes right out the window.
But the oddities don’t end there.
If nature changes its behavior depending on whether we look or not, we could try to circle around her finger. To do this, we could measure which path chosen by the particle passing through a double slit, but only after will pass through it. By the time she should “decide” to go through one way or through both.
To conduct such an experiment in the 1970-ies was suggested by American physicist John Wheeler, in the next ten years, the experiment with the “deferred choice” held. It uses smart methods of measuring paths of quantum particles (usually particles of light — photons) after they choose one way or the superposition of the two.
It turned out that, as predicted by Bohr, there is no difference, detainees we measure or not. As long as we measure the photon before it can reach and register in the detector, interference is present. The impression that nature “knows” not only when we’re watching, but when we plan to watch.
Whenever in these experiments, we open the path of a quantum particle, its cloud of possible routes “compressed” into a single well-defined state. Moreover, experiment with the delay suggests that the act of observation, without any physical interference caused by the measurement, could cause collapse. Does this mean that the true collapse happens only when the measurement result reaches our consciousness?
This possibility is suggested in the 1930-ies the Hungarian physicist Eugene Wigner. “From this it follows that the quantum description of objects is influenced by impressions entering my consciousness”, he wrote. “Solipsism may be logically consistent with quantum mechanics”.
Wheeler even amused by the idea that living creatures are able to “observe”, has transformed what was previously a set of possible quantum of the past, in one particular story. In this sense, says Wheeler, we become participants in the evolution of the Universe from its very beginning. According to him, we live in a “socialnoy of the universe.”
Physicists are still not able to choose the best interpretation of these quantum experiments, and to some extent the right of this is available to you. But, anyway, the subtext is clear: consciousness and quantum mechanics are somehow connected.
Since the 1980-ies, the English physicist Roger Penrose has suggested that this relationship may work in the other direction. He said that no matter affects consciousness in quantum mechanics or no, probably, quantum mechanics is involved in consciousness.
Physicist and mathematician Roger Penrose
And Penrose asked: what if in our brain are molecular structures that can change their state in response to one quantum event? Could these structures make the state of superposition, like the particles in the double slit experiment? Can these quantum superposition then reflected in the way the neurons communicate through electrical signals?
Maybe, Penrose said, our ability to maintain the seemingly incompatible mental state is not a quirk of perception, but real quantum effect?
In the end, the human brain seems able to handle cognitive processes, which are still the capabilities are far superior to a digital computer. Perhaps we are even capable of performing computational tasks that cannot be executed on conventional computers using the classic digital logic.
Penrose first suggested that quantum effects are present in the human mind, in the 1989 book ‘The Emperor’s New Mind’. His main idea was “orchestrated objective reduction”. Objective reduction according to Penrose, it means that the collapse of quantum interference and superposition is a real physical process, like a bursting bubble.
Orchestrated objective reduction is based on the assumption of Penrose that gravity, which affects everyday objects, chairs or the planet, does not show quantum effects. Penrose opines that quantum superposition is impossible for objects with more atoms, because their gravitational influence in this case would lead to the existence of two incompatible versions of space-time.
Further, Penrose developed this idea with the American doctor Stuart Hameroff. In his book “Shadows of mind” (1994) he suggested that structures involved in this quantum cognition, can be a protein strands — microtubules. They are available in most of our cells, including the neurons of the brain. Penrose and Hameroff have argued that in the process of vibrations of a microtubule can take a state of quantum superposition.
But there is nothing to support the fact that this is even possible.
Was suggested that the idea of quantum superpositions in microtubules support the experiments proposed in 2013, but in fact these studies did not mention quantum effects. In addition, most researchers believe that the idea of orchestrated objective reductions was debunked by a study published in 2000. Physicist Max Tegmark calculated that the quantum superposition of molecules involved in neural signals will not be able to survive even the moments of time required for signal transmission.
Quantum effects including superposition, are very fragile and are destroyed in the process of the so-called decoherence. This process is due to interaction of the quantum object with its environment, since it “kvantovoi” leaked.
Decoherence was believed, must proceed extremely rapidly in warm and moist environments such as living cells.
Nerve signals are electrical impulses caused by the passage of electrically charged atoms through the walls of nerve cells. If one of these atoms were in a superposition, and then collided with a neuron, Tegmark showed that the superposition should decay in less than one billionth of a billionth of a second. So that the neuron produced a signal that he needs ten thousand trillion times longer.
That is why ideas about quantum effects in the brain is not tested by skeptics.
But Penrose insists inexorably on the hypothesis oor. And despite the prediction of ultrafast decoherence Tegmark in the cells, other scientists found the existence of the quantum effects in living beings. Some argue that quantum mechanics is used by migratory birds that use magnetic navigation, and green plants when they use sunlight to manufacture sugar during photosynthesis.
With all this, the idea that the brain can use quantum tricks, refuses to go. Because in her favour found another argument.
Can phosphorus to maintain a quantum state?
In a study of 2015, physicist Matthew Fisher, University of California at Santa Barbara argued that the brain may contain a molecule that is able to withstand more powerful quantum superposition. In particular, he believes that the nuclei of phosphorus atoms may have the ability. Phosphorus atoms are present in living cells everywhere. They often take the form of phosphate ions, in which one phosphorus atom is connected with four oxygen atoms.
These ions are the basic unit of energy in cells. Most of the energy cells stored in the ATP molecules that contain a sequence of three phosphate groups linked to organic molecule. When one of the phosphates is cut, it releases energy that is used by the cell.
The cells have molecular machines for the Assembly of phosphate ions in the group and for their cleavage. Fisher proposed a scheme in which two phosphate ion can be placed in a superposition of a particular kind: in a confused state.
The nuclei of phosphorus is a quantum property of spin which makes them look like little magnets with the poles pointing in certain directions. Entangled spin of one nucleus of phosphorus depends on the other. In other words, the entangled state is a superposition state involving more than one quantum particle.
Fisher says that the quantum-mechanical behavior of these nuclear spins can resist decoherence. He agreed with Tegmark that quantum vibration, referred to by Penrose and Hameroff, will strongly depend on their environment and “decoherent almost immediately”. But the spins of the nuclei do not so much interact with their surroundings.
And yet quantum behavior of the spins of the nuclei of phosphorus must be ‘protected’ from decoherence.
Quantum particles can be of different spins
This can happen, Fisher says, if the phosphorus atoms are to be included in larger objects called “molecules Posner”. They represent clusters of six phosphate ions in combination with nine calcium ions. There is some indication that such molecules can be in living cells, but they are not very convincing.
In molecules Posner, argues Fisher, the spins of phosphorus can resist decoherence in a day or so, even in living cells. Consequently, can affect the brain.
The idea is that the molecules Posner can be absorbed by neurons. Once inside, the molecules will activate a signal to another neuron, decaying and releasing calcium ions. Because of entanglement in molecules Posner, two such signal can be tangled in turn: in some way, it will be a quantum superposition of “thoughts”. “If quantum processing with nuclear spin is actually present in the brain, it would be extremely common, occurring constantly,” says Fisher.
For the first time this idea came to his mind when he was thinking about mental illness.
Capsule lithium carbonate
“My introduction to the biochemistry of the brain began when I decided three or four years ago to explore how and why lithium ion is having such a radical effect in the treatment of mental disorders,” says Fisher.
Lithium drugs widely used to treat bipolar disorder. They work, but no one actually knows why.
“I wasn’t looking for a quantum explanation, Fisher says. But then he stumbled upon the work, which describes that the lithium drugs had different effects on the behavior of rats, depending on what form — or isotope — lithium was used.
At first this puzzled scientists. From the chemical point of view, the different isotopes behave almost identically, so if lithium was working as a regular drug, the isotopes had to have the same effect.
Nerve cells connected by synapses
But Fisher realized that the nuclei of atoms of different isotopes of lithium can have different spins. This quantum property can affect how medications act on the basis of lithium. For example, if lithium replaces calcium in molecules Posner, back lithium effect on phosphorus atoms and to prevent them from tangling.
If this is true, you will be able to explain why lithium can treat bipolar disorder.
At the moment the assumption of the Fisher is nothing more than an intriguing idea. But there are several ways to check it. For example, that the spins of the phosphorus in the molecules Posner can maintain quantum coherence for a long time. This Fisher and plans to check further.
And yet he is afraid to be associated with earlier notions of “quantum consciousness” that he believes are at best speculative.
Consciousness is a deep mystery
Physicists do not like to be inside of their own theories. Many of them hope that the mind and brain can be learned from quantum theory, and Vice versa. But we don’t know what consciousness is, not to mention the fact that we have no theory that describes it.
Moreover, occasionally heard loud cries that quantum mechanics will allow us to master telepathy and telekinesis (although somewhere in the depths of the concepts that may be so, people understand all too literally). Therefore, the physics in General are afraid to mention the word “quantum” and “consciousness” in the same sentence.
In 2016, Adrian Kent of the University of Cambridge in the UK, one of the most respected “quantum philosophy,” suggested that consciousness can change the behavior of quantum systems is subtle, but quite findable. Kent is very careful in his statements. “There is no compelling reason to believe that quantum theory is an appropriate theory from which to derive a theory of consciousness, or that the problems of quantum theory must somehow intersect with the problem of consciousness,” he admits.
But adds that it is unclear how to display the description of consciousness based solely on domantovo physics how to describe all of its properties and features.
We don’t understand the thoughts
One particularly exciting question — how our conscious mind can experience unique sensations like red or the smell of roasting meat. If you do not consider people with visual impairments, we all know what it’s like red but can’t convey that feeling, and in physics there is nothing that could tell us what it’s like.
Feelings like these are called “qualia”. We perceive them as common properties of the external world, but in fact they are products of our consciousness — and it’s hard to explain. In 1995, philosopher David Chalmers has dubbed this the “hard problem” of consciousness.
“Any mental chain on the connection of consciousness with physics leads to serious problems,” says Kent.
This prompted him to suggest that “we could make some progress in understanding the problem of evolution of consciousness, if allowed (even if just made) that consciousness changes the quantum probability”.
In other words, the brain can really affect the measurement results.
From this point of view, it does not determine “what is real”. But he can affect the probability that each of the possible realities imposed by quantum mechanics, will occur. This can not even predict the quantum theory itself. And Kent believes that we could look for such manifestations experimentally. Even boldly the chances to find them.
“I would assume with a 15-percent certainty that consciousness causes deviations from quantum theory