Can consciousness be explained by quantum physics?

  • Research suggests that consciousness could be only explained by classical physics.
  • Nobel prize-winning physicist Roger Penrose suggested the “quantum consciousness theory”.
  • Scientists have integrated quantum physics and neurobiology to explain consciousness.
    Quantum mechanics is a fundamental theory in physics that describes the physical properties of nature at the scale of atoms and subatomic particles. In simple terms, it is the study of matter and energy at the most fundamental level. It aims to uncover the properties and behaviors of the very building blocks of nature. In doing so the variables used are subatomic particles such as electrons and photons.Now stalwarts of this arena of physics are researching to explain one of the trickiest phenomena in nature. Scientists are going to integrate quantum physics with neurobiology and explain the concept of “consciousness” in terms of photons.
    The neurobiological architecture

    Our brain is one of the complex organs and hence aptly known as the master of the body. This organ is responsible for conducting all major and minor biochemical processes required to sustain “life” in the body.

    The brain coordinates various organ systems to work in harmony just as cogs in machinery and also in doing so, acts as the home to a complex neuro-circuit framework.

    These circuits are a network of neurons or nerve cells that carry information from organs to the brain called afferent neurons and conversely efferent neurons which carry commands from the brain to the target organs.

    These neurons synapse with each other and at these synapses “neurotransmitters” are released. Neurotransmitters are essential chemicals that either excite or inhibit actions in the brain. Excitatory neurotransmitters are epinephrine and norepinephrine. Inhibitory neurotransmitters are GABA and serotonin.

    The biological basis of consciousness

    There are various theories to explain the biological basis of consciousness such as the Dynamic Core and Global Workspace hypotheses.

    The Dynamic Core proposes that neural activity in the thalamocortical system gives rise to conscious experience and accounts for the relation between perception and conscious memory. The thalamus and cerebral cortex are separate parts of the brain that are interconnected and treated as a single system in mammals.

    The Global Workspace theory hypothesizes that several brain components constitute a workspace that causes us to integrate the short-term conscious moments with widespread recruitment of unconscious brain functions, including long-term memory.

    Quantum physics and consciousness

    The very first advances in the field of integrating quantum physics and neurobiology were made by the renowned physicist Roger Penrose who won the Nobel Prize in 2020 for his prediction of black holes. He had teamed up with anesthesiologist Stuart Hameroff to propose his theory.

    They claimed that the brain’s neuronal system forms an intricate network and that the consciousness this produces should obey the rules of quantum mechanics. This theory by Penrose-Hameroff is known as the “Quantum consciousness theory”.

    According to this theory, neurons have structures called microtubules which help in the transport of molecules and are supposedly arranged in a “fractal” pattern. Fractals are patterns that repeat themselves infinitely. If this is true, these tiny particles moving within the brain’s neurons can only be possible at a quantum level.

    Recently scientists attempted to verify this controversial theory. They used a scanning tunneling microscope (STM) and electrons in a fractal pattern, creating a quantum fractal. Using state-of-the-art photonics experiments, they were able to reveal the quantum motion that takes place within fractals.

    Scientists began injecting photons (particles of light) into an artificial chip that was into a tiny Sierpiński triangle which is a shape that’s somewhere between one-dimensional and two-dimensional. When these photons were injected at the tip of the triangle, scientists were able to plot how they spread throughout its fractal structure in a process called quantum transport.

    The observations from these experiments reveal that quantum fractals behave in a different way to classical ones. So far research has suggested consciousness to be explained by classical physics rather than quantum physics, hence this comes as a shock.

    This new knowledge of quantum fractals could provide the foundations for scientists to experimentally test the theory of quantum consciousness. However, scientists are yet to confirm said quantum measurements on the human brain and have only achieved results in simulated conditions in the laboratory.

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