Study Shows Consciousness May Be Product of Quantum Effect
A controversial theory on consciousness has just been tested: Could consciousness be explained by quantum effects in the brain?
A 30-year-old theory on consciousness called, “Orchestrated Objective Reduction,” posits that consciousness could live in tiny microtubules in the brain, or as New Scientist explains, “Brain microtubules are the place where gravitational instabilities in the structure of space-time break the delicate quantum superposition between particles, and this gives rise to consciousness.”
The theory was first introduced in the 1990s by physicist Roger Penrose and anesthesiologist Stuart Hameroff, but was believed to be untestable and was therefore regarded as a fringe theory at best.
But now, New Scientist reports the theory has just passed a key test, writing, “Experiments show that anesthetic drugs reduce how long tiny structures found in brain cells can sustain suspected quantum excitations. As an anesthetic switches consciousness on and off, the results may implicate these structures, called microtubules, as a nexus of our conscious experience.”
In one experiment Jack Tuszynski at the University of Alberta shone blue light on microtubules, the hollow skeletal structure inside plant and animal cells, to see how they react. The light was caught in the microtubules and then re-emitted in a process called “delayed luminescence,” which they say is comparable to how the human brain processes information. and, they argue, could explain the fundamental workings of the brain and consciousness.
The second part of the experiment was to repeat it but in the presence of an anesthetic. The anesthetic suppressed the delayed luminescence in the microtubules, meaning the light was re-emitted faster after the anesthetic shut down the microtubule. So what does it all mean? Tuszynski believes that turning consciousness on and off via microtubules could be the beginning of our consciousness.
However, Fred Alan Wolf, physicist, lecturer, and author of “Taking the Quantum Leap” is skeptical about the role of microtubules.
“Somehow we don’t feel microtubules are the final answer, if at all the answer,” Wolf said. “Maybe it’s the mission of the light that has something to do with consciousness, and maybe we’re knocking out the microtubules by putting anesthesia onto them. So, that was the hypothesis, the guess, the tying together of the timing of the emission of re-emitted light to anesthesia to consciousness. So, eh, how would you prove it? It’s an interesting concept. Who knows whether it’s right or not — I doubt whether it’s right, it’s too simple.”
As someone who has studied consciousness for decades, what do you think is the answer?
“What consciousness is, is very difficult to say,” Wolf said. “A better line of research would be to try to determine what consciousness does. Can we actually point to things that are happening that we can attribute to consciousness itself?”
Much more testing is needed on the microtubule hypothesis, even Tuszynski himself told New Scientist, “We’re not at the level of interpreting this physiologically, saying ‘Yeah, this is where consciousness begins’, but it may.”
Did You Psychically Inherit Society's Learned Behavior?
The scientific community is often very rigid in its process and not always open to radical ideas. Rightfully so, that is the nature of science – strict scrutiny and skepticism. But what if it is limiting itself in this approach, in the sense that it has taken on some of the same parochial propensities of religion? Science is supposedly the antithesis of religion and meant to question everything with the goal of new discovery. While it is necessary to maintain skepticism to prevent charlatans from diluting the scientific process, there should be a certain level of tolerance for new ideas.
Rupert Sheldrake is one of those scientists that his community has largely shunned as a heretic. Despite studying at Harvard and graduating from Cambridge with a Ph.D. in biochemistry, the scientific community has dismissed his radical ideas as nonsensical and blasphemous. Sheldrake admittedly started his career in science as an atheist, but eventually had an epiphany about our consciousness that changed his outlook.
Sheldrake has proposed an idea he calls, morphic resonance. Essentially, the idea is that there is a collective consciousness within species that can impact disparate groups of organisms without them having to come into contact with each other. A sort of telepathic connectedness that can influence behavior and can be passed down through immediate generations.
The idea of learned behavior being inherited, or Lamarckian Inheritance, has been shown to be a pretty promising theory, if not proven. Although unsurprisingly, the scientific community doesn’t all agree on this. Regardless, this idea is fundamental in Sheldrake’s theory.
The evidence comes from a study in the 1920s, where rats were tested by being placed in a water maze they had to escape from. The rats were electrically shocked when they chose one of two exits deemed to be the wrong exit. They eventually learned which exit was the correct one over a trial of several hundred tests. As they got better, their offspring were tested, and immediately showed quicker rates of improvement compared to their parents.
This was evidence of Lamarckian Inheritance, the learned behavior of the parent rat was passed on to their progeny. What was more astonishing, according to Sheldrake, was that when these experiments were conducted in labs in other countries and on the other side of the world, rats that had no contact with the original study, essentially picked up where the improved rats left off.