What secrets are hidden by human consciousness

The question of what represents consciousness occupied the person from time immemorial. The famous physicist-theorist, professor of the Oxford university Roger Penrose and the anesthesiologist, the neurobiologist, professor of the Center of studying of consciousness of the Arizonian university in the city of Tucson Stewart Hameroff from 80th years develop the theory of the quantum nature of consciousness. “Лента.ру” has had a talk with professor Hameroff during his visit to Moscow organized by the Moscow center of a research of consciousness.

Quantum nature of consciousness

In the book which has appeared 1989, Roger Penrose assumed that consciousness is something bigger, than work of a numeral system. For example, the phenomenon of understanding demands something else. The computer can well play chess, but it doesn’t understand a game. The mental experiment of John Serl about the Chinese room meaning is devoted to the same problem that a certain person can be trained to collect words from hieroglyphs without understanding of language.

That is the understanding can’t be exclusive notation function and therefore, by process of elimination, Penrose has come to a conclusion that it is all about a collapse of wave function. As it was already told, the moments of consciousness resulting from such events are separated and senseless as the adjusted orchestra, and it is necessary to organize him…

By the beginning of the 1980th I within 20 years studied microtubules of a brain and assumed that in them there is an information processing (only in classical understanding — I didn’t consider a role of quantum mechanics). However one person has suggested me an idea that this approach doesn’t shed light on a consciousness problem: “Yes, you speak about notation, you are a reductionist, but how all this explains experiences, love, joy, emotions?”. And I had to recognize that I have no answer to this question. This person has advised me to read Roger’s book.

I have made it and have understood that he describes the consciousness mechanism consisting in a self-collapse of wave function. To the majority then this theory seemed strange and exotic (and me too), but I have thought over it and have understood that she — the only logical explanation of this phenomenon.

Penrose didn’t describe structure which could perform functions of the biological quantum computer organizing full-fledged consciousness. And the microtubules which are presumably controlled by quantum effects could be such structure. I told about it to Penrose.

In the mid-nineties we together came to the theory of an organized objective reduction. This theory was met by sneers and scepticism. It strikingly differed from any other explanation of consciousness though it was perfectly compounded with the processes happening in a brain (other theories describing architecture of knowledge needed something else, existing at lower level).

But most of all we criticized for quantum coherence. Then considered that it is impossible at body temperature. Attempts to frame the quantum computer (and are still undertaken) were made, and everything rested against dekogerention problems. Heat breaks a quantum state and therefore prototypes of such cars work only at absolute zero. And here someone assumes that it occurs in a brain at a temperature of 36,6 degrees!


But we said that for billions of years of development of biological systems the nature found a method of the solution of this problem. It was established about ten years ago that plants use quantum coherence in the course of photosynthesis. The absorbed photons turn into energy which extends through the whole group chromophore at the same time. That is energy one-timely goes on several ways, being in a superposition condition to reach a part of protein where it will be transformed to nutrients. So plants survive and give us food which we eat. It is extremely effective process, and without it us could not be here.

If plants do it, the same can occur also in our brain. Really, proteins of microtubules possess similar set chromophore except that these proteins are connected with each other. Thus, here quantum conditions remain at long distances for a long time. It favors to emergence of quantum superpositions and quantum notation, memory and information transfer that leads to forming of full conscious experience which we possess.

Most of neurobiologists will tell that memory consists in synoptic plasticity, sensitivity of each separate synapse in neural network which transfers information on certain routes. Perhaps, it and so, but the synoptic squirrels who are responsible for sensitivity of each synapse exist from several hours to several days, and in memory a lot of things remain for the rest of life.

We know that synapses are controlled the processes happening in microtubules. Most likely, memory is kept in them at the certain low level. I and my colleagues, Travis Craddock and Jack Tuzhinski, found out that the hexagonal goloferment of CaMKII can code six bits of information in a proteinaceous lattice of a microtubule that will be conformed with preserving memory in microtubules.

Sometimes (for example, in east philosophy) assume that memory contains in structure of the Universe, and our brain works like the television receiver which is adjusted on it. That is in a brain there is no memory. I don’t agree with it. In the Universe there can be something on what we are capable to be adjusted, but memory, most likely, is coded in microtubules.

Subjective experience

Consciousness, subjective experience, phenomenal consciousness — all this words. There is an apokrifichny baize how at a conference on consciousness studying its participants wanted to explain this phenomenon, but decided to give it definition first of all. Hoped to cope in a day, but there passed week, and all of them still argued over the formulation. I don’t know whether it is pertinent, but, I will quote the well-known phrase of the member of the U.S. Supreme Court Potter Stewart whom asked to tell what is a pornography: “I will never manage to give it distinct definition, however I recognize her when I see”.

It seems to me, we know what represents a conscious comprehension, all of us have it. Of course, you can be the zombie who is pretending to be the journalist. I can be a zombie too, an unconscious being whom just trained to speak about him. But we take presence of consciousness at us for granted — we have experiences, emotions, subjective experience …

Not any consciousness needs in defined “I”. A self-consciousness — only one of its forms. We can have pains, the simple experiences which aren’t tied to ours “I”. So the self-consciousness is a more developed and complex phenomenon which enter memory, feeling of unity and identity. But, as I consider, low-level flashes of consciousness can happen out of defined “I”.

Unconscious body and consciousness without body

The body and consciousness can be parted. There are patients who are unconscious — because of injuries of a brain or being under anesthesia. Spores are about it conducted, but I am an anesthesiologist with a 40-year experience, I take away consciousness and I return back it. The body lives, heart fights, the brain works — it observes a little slowed down electric activity which can be measured. The spinal cord exchanges signals with head (we measure activity of a spinal cord during operations on it), but consciousness is absent. It is disconnected by means of anesthesia and comes back.


In those examples which I gave consciousness is optionally separated from a body at all though I think that under certain circumstances extra solid experiences are possible. The people who transferred clinical death tell about such status, and, of course, many speak about a next world and other similar things.

It seems to me that it is possible as I read consciousness quantum property of structure of the Universe. It occurs in a brain and if to be exact — in microtubules, but under certain circumstances is capable to arise in space time geometry on higher frequency, at deeper level of structure of the Universe, remaining at the same time a uniform entity thanks to a quantum complexity. So yes, uniform “I” can exist, at least, some time (and it is possible and infinite) on high frequency without binding to biological structure.


Roger Penrose and I removed definition of protoconsciousness, simple manifestation of consciousness that happens everywhere, to each collapse of wave function. Atoms of any material object, at the local level, or its any components can accept quantum superposition which collapses then, enduring the moments of phenomenal experience. It is unreliable subjective experience as it requires “me”. But protoconsciousness everywhere.

I consider that the brain and its microtubules will organize protoconsciousness in that consciousness which is experienced by us. There is a good metaphor: when you come to conservatory, the orchestra is adjusted before performance, each musician plays the note or motive, but in general it is not music. And then Mozart or Rachmaninov, a rock’n’roll or the jazz sounds. The difference between noise and music can be compared to a difference between protoconsciousness and consciousness…

So-called Copenhagen interpretation removes consciousness for a science framework as doesn’t explain that it represents. Consciousness appears as the certain mysterious essence causing a collapse. The Copenhagen interpretation solves a problem of superposition and measurement — very pragmatic approach.

But I don’t agree with it. I, on the contrary, consider that the collapse generates consciousness. According to Roger Penrose’s idea about an objective reduction of wave functions, superposition when the quantum condition of an object isn’t defined, is a space time curvature in two various directions. If to imagine that it will proceed beyond all bounds, then each outcome requires the Universe, and it will be coordinated with multiworld interpretation of quantum mechanics.

Roger says that superposition is unstable and samokollapsirut after certain time that brings by the time of phenomenal experience. In the Copenhagen interpretation consciousness — the collapse reason, we believe that a collapse — the consciousness reason, more precisely, the collapse and is consciousness. It is the theory of identity.

Fundamental nature of consciousness

Consciousness is fundamental. At least, protoconsciousness. This property of the Universe as quantum superposition happens in subatomic scales (and in бóльших) everywhere — for example, in this table. Usually these superpositions and self-collapses are disconnected, senseless. Perhaps, they bear any experiences or experience, but because of a razjedinennost don’t create memory. It is what is called a dekogerentnost. Therefore the brain and its microtubules is necessary for the organization of protoconsciousness in subjective experience. But the collapse is fundamental, we won’t reduce. He prevents branching of the Universe on a set of the worlds, so, allows to reject multiworld interpretation of quantum mechanics.

The difficult problem of consciousness is a description of the phenomenal experience not always following from the processes of notation happening in a brain or those processes which as some read, in it happen. The philosopher David Chalmers gave it. It marked that we, in principle, can be the zombies behaving like reasonable beings without having consciousness per se. So the difficult problem consists in distinction between the zombie and a conscious being and that represents this distinction — a big question.

As Roger Penrose and I assumes, consciousness consists in the organized self-collapse of wave functions occurring in a brain on very high frequency and therefore we have short moments of conscious experience, rather frequent for creation of impression of the continuous flow of consciousness.

My line item and Roger is closer to the neutral monizm of Bertrán Russell implying one uniform plane of life consisting of space time geometry, permanently coming to superposition therefore there are certain statuses of matter, and, as a result, the consciousness moments.

The majority reads that at first biological life, and then — consciousness as a result of the difficult computation happening thanks to interaction of neurons was originated. But I think that some moments of the protoconsciousness arising in all material objects bear pleasant experiences. They occurred in the Universe before origin of life, and, for example, recently I read the publication where it is said that in primary broth where life was born, there were moments of conscious experiences. They provided the back coupling optimizing experiences for function of fitness, self-organization. The aspiration to pleasant experiences stimulated evolution and, perhaps, led to formation of genes.

So life doesn’t aim at survival of the genes as Dawkins speaks, for example. I read that life was originated and evolves for receiving the maximum pleasure — not only in a hedonistic sense (though it is important too), but also from the point of view of altruism (it is more pleasant to give, than to accept), spiritual pleasure, love and so on. Generally, in my opinion, protoconsciousness preceded life, and life arose and develops to enhance consciousness and conscious experiences in general. In this sense consciousness — the catalytic agent of evolution of life.

It is possible even to claim that consciousness moves development of the Universe. There are about 22 physical variables, ideal for origin of life, stars and consciousness. If they were slightly others, we wouldn’t exist. Why they are such? On this question there are two types of responses: the strong and feeble anthropic principles.


It agrees to feeble, it is all about the selection offset implying existence of a set of the crossed Universe and only in one of them, ours, physical variables are ideal for life. We can ask this question only in it as only there are reasonable creations. But I find the requirement of need of a set of the Universe unsatisfactory, not subject to check. Though this hypothesis is very popular, it seems to me, it is wrong.

The strong anthropic principle states that consciousness somehow serves as the catalytic agent of development of the Universe in the direction of optimization of physical variables. Roger Penrose assumed that the Big Bang was preceded one by one by the eras which are also coming to an end with big explosions. Perhaps, physical parameters of the Universe evolved in each cycle and mutated towards consciousness optimization as it — one of the parameters providing back coupling.

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x