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Does Quantum Theory Explain Consciousness?

timothy posted more than 3 years ago | from the when-will-jesus-bring-the-pork-chops-and-antimatter dept.

Science 729

astroengine writes "Quantum theory is often seen as the root cause of unrelated, mysterious phenomena. Take consciousness for example. British physicist Roger Penrose recently argued 'that we will need to invoke 'new physics and exotic biological structures': rewriting quantum theory to make sense of consciousness.' But why do this, especially as there is no apparent causal link between quantum mechanics and the conscious mind? There appears to be a very basic logical fallacy here that even the most prominent physicists seem to be making."

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729 comments

What fallacy? (4, Insightful)

Threni (635302) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257022)

Care to state it?

This Place Is Full Of Quantum (5, Interesting)

Nefarious Wheel (628136) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257128)

This place is full of Quantum; it's everywhere you look

It's in the halls of Physicists, and pages of a book.

"There has to be a fallacy!" the comment summarised,

And if we care to challenge that, we aren't very wise?

Q: Does Quantum Theory Explain Consciousness? (3, Funny)

Jeremiah Cornelius (137) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257318)

A: No.

Signed, God.

Re:What fallacy? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36257212)

I'm not sure that there is a fallacy. I think that the appeal of quantum theory as an explanation of consciousness is that the randomness of quantum theory provides a mechanism within which free will can act. Scientists and philosophers can argue that although quantum effects should affect all matter, the brain may have particular structures which can amplify individual or small scale quantum effects, whereas a block of granite tends to average out the small scale effects. Thus it could provide a platform wherein microscopic quantum effects have macroscopic consequences.

That said, while I don't think there is a fallacy, I don't think the argument is particularly persuasive either.

Re:What fallacy? (1)

somersault (912633) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257326)

Random decisions are no more "free" than rational ones. I'd say they're even less so, as they don't take your personal experience into account. People want to believe that we're made of magic, but we're not.

Re:What fallacy? (1)

biryokumaru (822262) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257366)

Exactly, like the elephants that control the New York Stock Exchange. Everyone knows that we use ultra low frequency for covert communications. It only makes sense that there's a sophisticated interaction between elephant stomping passing through the core of the earth and the computers controlling the stocks. I mean, the science is all there, there's no logical fallacy.

Or like a giant bearded old white dude in the sky who planted all the dinosaur bones to test the unbelievers. That's a totally consistent theory, too. It's gotta be just as valid a hypothesis, right?

Or maybe, just maybe, there should be a limit where people listen to these stupid ideas and say "that's retarded, and so are you." I mean, seriously, brain power amplifying quantum mechanical effects? Like the randomness of quantum is some magical radio signal from our souls in another dimension? Next you'll tell me that the sun is the real consciousness, controlling us all through neutrinos. I mean, there's no fallacy there either, right?

Re:What fallacy? (1)

MaskedSlacker (911878) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257456)

To be fair, there are cases where quantum effects have surprising macro-level effects. Superfluidity of liquid Helium, and Hawking radiation are good examples. Not that I disagree with you in principle (the fallacy being the presupposition of consciousness as being anything other than a low-entropy state that requires constant energy input to maintain itself), but it is perfectly reasonable to think it's possible that quantum chemistry could cause unexpected physiological phenomena (olfaction is one known example of this).

Re:What fallacy? (1)

screamphilling (1173499) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257280)

the fallacy is the assumption that the human nervous system is a separate entity observing a universe that is completely outside of it. i.e. assumption that you are not a product of the universe. an outside system observing a completely separate system. and consciousness (as we are now becoming conscious of) is a very integral part of "physics" and the universe in general. it's not a machine that functions on random fluctuations and coincidences

Re:What fallacy? (1)

Black Parrot (19622) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257294)

Care to state it?

Conflating the unfounded conjecture (AKA WAG) that QM has something to do with consciousness with a claim that QM "explains" consciousness.

Explanations have to actually explain something.

Of course, the fallacy may be on the part of the writer rather than the physicists; I wouldn't know.

Re:What fallacy? (1)

Jeremiah Cornelius (137) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257388)

Kurt Godel. Incompleteness. Go to town.

Inverse is true (0)

cheeks5965 (1682996) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257512)

Considering quantum theory is a twisted figment of somebody's imagination, I dare say that conciousness causes quantum mechanics.

As the saying goes... (3, Insightful)

camperdave (969942) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257024)

Quantum Mechanics: The dreams stuff is made from...

Electrons cause consciousness. (0)

elucido (870205) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257030)

All consciousness relies on electrons. You cannot have consciousness without electrons. So this would be one place to look.

But basically, if you don't have quantum consciousness you can't have consciousness on higher scales. So on some level these particles have self recognition even if it's through us. This doesn't answer whether or not there is free will, but the math is clear that if there is consciousness on the large scale it will also have to exist on the quantum scale. It's also proven mathematically that if free will exists on the large scale that it also has to exist somewhere somehow on the quantum scale.

For this reason, the fact that the math supports it, it's worth doing research and experimenting on. The problem or fear I have is if we did discover what particle or wave function is responsible for consciousness, or how, we'd have governments around the world using these discoveries to enslave and oppress people. It's the kind of question that I'd personally want to know the answer to, but I also recognize that as soon as we find the answer, it will open pandora's box which governments and corporations intend to completely exploit.

If we found a way to for example give consciousness to inanimate objects, or a way to have complete control over life in some way, or if we discovered that quantum computers could be made conscious, it would change everything probably for the worst because governments would then use this technology to enslave rather than use it in a transhumanist fashion. It would be used to make the perfect cyborg slaves, who have the mix of human consciousness, with the absolute obedience of a programmable robot. In essence this discover could lead to the end of "free will" as we know it, and lead to the beginning of technological slavery.

And unfortunately no political party is truly anti slavery. So we'd be collectively fucked.

Sources
Quantum Entanglement Can be a Measure of Free Will [technologyreview.com]
The same experiments that reveal the nature of entanglement can also be interpreted as a measure of free will, say researchers.

Do subatomic particles have free will? [sciencenews.org]

This means that the particle cannot have a definite spin in every direction before it’s measured, Kochen and Specker concluded. If it did, physicists would be able to occasionally observe it breaking the 1-0-1 rule, which never happens. Instead, it must “decide” which spin to have on the fly.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_mind [wikipedia.org]

When he wrote his first book on consciousness, The Emperor's New Mind in 1989, Penrose lacked a detailed proposal for how quantum processing could be implemented in the brain. Subsequently, Hameroff read Penrose's book, and suggested that microtubules could be suitable candidates for quantum processing. The Orch-OR theory arose from the collaboration of Penrose and Hameroff in the early 1990s.
Microtubules are the main component of a supportive structure within neurons known as the cytoskeleton. In addition to providing a supportive structure, the known functions of microtubules include transport of molecules including neurotransmitters bound for synapses and control of the development of the cell.
Microtubules are composed of tubulin protein dimer subunits. The tubulin dimers each have hydrophobic pockets that are 8 nm apart, and which may contain delocalised pi electrons. Tubulins have other smaller non-polar regions that contain pi electron-rich indole rings separated by only about 2 nm, and Hameroff claims that these electrons are close enough to become quantum entangled.[11]
Hameroff further proposed that these electrons could become locked in phase, forming a state known as a Bose-Einstein condensate.[12][13] Furthermore, he thought that condensates in one neuron could extend to many others via gap junctions between neurons, thus forming a macroscopic quantum feature across an extended area of the brain. When the wave function of this extended condensate collapsed, it was suggested that this could give access to non-computational influences related to mathematical understanding and ultimately conscious experience that are embedded in the geometry of spacetime.

Re:Electrons cause consciousness. (1)

j00r0m4nc3r (959816) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257116)

You cannot have consciousness without electrons

Well that goes without saying. You can't have anything in our universe without electrons...

Re:Electrons cause consciousness. (1)

TeethWhitener (1625259) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257160)

The solipsists would say that you can't have electrons without consciousness.

Re:Electrons cause consciousness. (0)

elucido (870205) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257182)

You cannot have consciousness without electrons

Well that goes without saying. You can't have anything in our universe without electrons...

But can you have a universe without consciousness?
No. So you answered the question.

Re:Electrons cause consciousness. (1)

Holi (250190) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257306)

But can you have a universe without consciousness?
No. So you answered the question.

Says who?

Re:Electrons cause consciousness. (3, Funny)

Jeremiah Cornelius (137) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257356)

If a a man disagrees in the forest, where his wife cannot hear him, is he still wrong?

Re:Electrons cause consciousness. (1)

elucido (870205) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257422)

What is a forest without thoughts?

That question you ask is bogus and a fallacy. You have thoughts so you have forests. You don't have thoughts and so you don't have forests. As far as consciousness goes it all brains down to free will on the quantum scale.

If life is free, then it had to start at the quantum level. It's not like humans started out this complex, it took evolution. The same process would have to be found if we study brains and life to determine exactly what quantum processes take place in the brain when life begins.

Re:Electrons cause consciousness. (1)

BuildingSnowmen (2203054) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257414)

But can you have a universe without consciousness? No. So you answered the question.

Really? And how would one confirm or deny the existence of a "universe without consciousness" without observing it? If one can conceive of multiple universes existing, why couldn't one or more of those universes exist where there is no consciousness? "Ahh," you say, "it requires a consciousness to conceive of these multiple universes." However, even if you can't conceive of multiple universes, that doesn't mean they don't exist (and possibly without consciousness). Citation: Tree falling in forest.

Re:Electrons cause consciousness. (1)

elucido (870205) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257466)

But can you have a universe without consciousness?
No. So you answered the question.

Really? And how would one confirm or deny the existence of a "universe without consciousness" without observing it? If one can conceive of multiple universes existing, why couldn't one or more of those universes exist where there is no consciousness? "Ahh," you say, "it requires a consciousness to conceive of these multiple universes." However, even if you can't conceive of multiple universes, that doesn't mean they don't exist (and possibly without consciousness). Citation: Tree falling in forest.

That is the point. Only the observable universe exists. No observers would mean no universe because there wouldn't be a thing in it to perceive of itself. This means either our current universe is conscious, or our current universe is an illusion. And I don't think both these theories can be right.

So if it's an illusion, then consciousness is not real, when you look into the mirror thats not real, and nothing you observe or experience can ever be said to be with 100% certainty the real universe. Because in the universe typically you are going to see yourself as the most real thing in it, and if your consciousness is fake or illusion, then how would you jump to conclude that all these particles and other stuff you observe is anything more than information at best?

It's all about free will (3, Insightful)

spun (1352) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257122)

People want to be an uncaused cause. That's what the concept of free will boils down to. The will can cause things, but itself is not caused by anything. If it were caused, it wouldn't be free. Of course, this would make any learning impossible. Either the will is a part of the chain of cause and effect, and therefore not free, or the soul (or whatever you believe to be the seat of consciousness) can never learn.

Nobody said anything about soul. (1)

elucido (870205) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257238)

While I do agree with you it all comes down to free will, I don't think you have to believe in a soul to believe in free will.

Free will could be quantum. If it is then it could very well be caused by a particle just as the Higgs particle could cause matter. It would be a matter of finding the quantum mechanism that causes free will, or if it's not a particle it could be anything else on the quantum level that we have not been able to fully understand such as entanglement or wave function collapse.

That being said, we have to consider the political implications of answering this question. If we find out there is free will, this has a specific political implication on the side of advancing liberty. If we find out there is no free will, then how do you make the case against slavery if you're just a robot?

What I'm saying is governments and in some cases corporations seek to create the perfect robot, perfect machine, perfect android, and this question of free will is at the center of that. Do we want to answer the question? If we do it could very well create an arms race to gain control of the free will particle or of the human species on a level far more complete and thorough than currently imagined. Control of your ability to think, control of what you think about, control of your dreams, and of your brain in a way that a programmer controls the brain of a computer or a robot is what this could lead to.

Re:It's all about free will (1)

Nefarious Wheel (628136) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257264)

Brrr. A guy could catch his death of philosophy here.

Re:It's all about free will (1)

John Allsup (987) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257518)

I disagree -- you presume that the free will and the rest of the mind is an indivisible lump. If the free will part observes and influences, and another part learns, there is no problem. If the free will part is structured, so that some part of it is free and the rest constrained in some way, it too can learn.

Re:Electrons cause consciousness. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36257164)

Seldom have I read such gibberish. You're worse than Penrose.

Re:Electrons cause consciousness. (3, Interesting)

DeadDecoy (877617) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257206)

Ok, can someone explain to me how consciousness is represented mathematically? I'm not aware of any theorem that proves you can't have consciousness on higher scales unless it occurs at the quantum level. Mostly because consciousness is usually dealt with as an abstract topic.

Re:Electrons cause consciousness. (1)

elucido (870205) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257310)

It has been proven that free will would have to exist on the quantum scale if it exists at all. The math shows this.

http://www.princeton.edu/main/news/archive/S23/69/84A24/index.xml?section=announcements [princeton.edu]

Re:Electrons cause consciousness. (1)

biryokumaru (822262) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257426)

Sometimes when you chase a ghost you find out that there's no such thing.

Re:Electrons cause consciousness. (1)

DeadDecoy (877617) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257454)

There's no math in that link you posted. It's just a puff piece of well-known mathematicians trying to show that electron "free will" is equivalent to human "free will". And, it does nothing to define what consciousness actually is. I think you might have gotten too excited about the announcement before attempting to understand their material.

Re:Electrons cause consciousness. (1)

RuiFerreira (791654) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257218)

Free will is not the most important here. If my decisions depend just on my current state (up to the atomic level) and, given that state, I would act the same way, there are no problems with that. Since my 'current state' depends on the lives of my ancestors (passed through their genes) and everything I experienced throughout my life, my current state is what I really am. Me. I don't know of any evidence that points to consciousness being linked with quantum mechanics and I don't see why it would need to be.

Re:Electrons cause consciousness. (1)

elucido (870205) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257332)

Because if it's not linked with quantum mechanics then you are a robot and your consciousness or free will which you might want to believe you have doesn't really exist.

Re:Electrons cause consciousness. (1)

RuiFerreira (791654) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257452)

I agree with that. I'm just OK with a "fake" free will that depends on all my experiences and all those of my ancestors.

Re:Electrons cause consciousness. (1)

elucido (870205) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257532)

I agree with that. I'm just OK with a "fake" free will that depends on all my experiences and all those of my ancestors.

If you are a robot do you mind being treated like one? Do you care if you get treated as fake?

There are political implications.

Re:Electrons cause consciousness. (1)

TheCouchPotatoFamine (628797) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257226)

Yeah, i'm going to have to also pipe up and say this is from the pipe (dreams or otherwise). There is nothing in this post substantiative, indeed, there is nothing here but self-referential hogwash. Sorry dude.

Re:Electrons cause consciousness. (1)

John Allsup (987) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257488)

All consciousness relies on electrons. You cannot have consciousness without electrons. So this would be one place to look.

But you cannot say that you can understand consciousness given only an understanding of electrons -- they are only a link in the chain.

But basically, if you don't have quantum consciousness you can't have consciousness on higher scales. So on some level these particles have self recognition even if it's through us. This doesn't answer whether or not there is free will, but the math is clear that if there is consciousness on the large scale it will also have to exist on the quantum scale. It's also proven mathematically that if free will exists on the large scale that it also has to exist somewhere somehow on the quantum scale.

For this reason, the fact that the math supports it, it's worth doing research and experimenting on. The problem or fear I have is if we did discover what particle or wave function is responsible for consciousness, or how, we'd have governments around the world using these discoveries to enslave and oppress people. It's the kind of question that I'd personally want to know the answer to, but I also recognize that as soon as we find the answer, it will open pandora's box which governments and corporations intend to completely exploit.

I share that fear

If we found a way to for example give consciousness to inanimate objects, or a way to have complete control over life in some way, or if we discovered that quantum computers could be made conscious, it would change everything probably for the worst because governments would then use this technology to enslave rather than use it in a transhumanist fashion. It would be used to make the perfect cyborg slaves, who have the mix of human consciousness, with the absolute obedience of a programmable robot. In essence this discover could lead to the end of "free will" as we know it, and lead to the beginning of technological slavery.

I suspect, but cannot prove, that consciousness requires, in order to be able to affect physical reality, as a foundation, something with a non-discrete complexity like what we see in the brain.

And unfortunately no political party is truly anti slavery. So we'd be collectively fucked.

Sources Quantum Entanglement Can be a Measure of Free Will [technologyreview.com] The same experiments that reveal the nature of entanglement can also be interpreted as a measure of free will, say researchers.

Do subatomic particles have free will? [sciencenews.org]

This means that the particle cannot have a definite spin in every direction before it’s measured, Kochen and Specker concluded. If it did, physicists would be able to occasionally observe it breaking the 1-0-1 rule, which never happens. Instead, it must “decide” which spin to have on the fly.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_mind [wikipedia.org]

When he wrote his first book on consciousness, The Emperor's New Mind in 1989, Penrose lacked a detailed proposal for how quantum processing could be implemented in the brain. Subsequently, Hameroff read Penrose's book, and suggested that microtubules could be suitable candidates for quantum processing. The Orch-OR theory arose from the collaboration of Penrose and Hameroff in the early 1990s. Microtubules are the main component of a supportive structure within neurons known as the cytoskeleton. In addition to providing a supportive structure, the known functions of microtubules include transport of molecules including neurotransmitters bound for synapses and control of the development of the cell. Microtubules are composed of tubulin protein dimer subunits. The tubulin dimers each have hydrophobic pockets that are 8 nm apart, and which may contain delocalised pi electrons. Tubulins have other smaller non-polar regions that contain pi electron-rich indole rings separated by only about 2 nm, and Hameroff claims that these electrons are close enough to become quantum entangled.[11] Hameroff further proposed that these electrons could become locked in phase, forming a state known as a Bose-Einstein condensate.[12][13] Furthermore, he thought that condensates in one neuron could extend to many others via gap junctions between neurons, thus forming a macroscopic quantum feature across an extended area of the brain. When the wave function of this extended condensate collapsed, it was suggested that this could give access to non-computational influences related to mathematical understanding and ultimately conscious experience that are embedded in the geometry of spacetime.

All consciousness relies on electrons. You cannot have consciousness without electrons. So this would be one place to look.

Recently? (3, Informative)

roguegramma (982660) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257040)

By "recently" you mean "in the previous century"? He's been arguing this since his book "The Emperor's New Mind" in 1989. Maybe he has some new ideas, but your summary doesn't tell..

Re:Recently? (5, Interesting)

Angostura (703910) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257100)

Indeed, I waded though The Emperors New Mind when it was first published and was very disappointed. As far as I could tell, the argument was something along the lines of "consciousness is mysterious and complex and hopefully non-deterministic. Quantum effects are mysterious and complex and non deterministic. Consciousness is probably a quantum-based phenomenon then".

So I went back to reading Dennett and Hoftstadter.

Re:Recently? (1)

RuiFerreira (791654) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257314)

The rest of the book is pretty good, tho.

Re:Recently? (2)

djl4570 (801529) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257436)

I read both The Emperor's New Mind and Gödel Escher Bach, An Eternal Golden Braid when they first came out and thought the GEB offered a lot more insight into consciousness, thought, self awareness, and self referential structures. At the physical level quantum mechanics explains the chemical reactions and electrical potentials in the wetware. Going beyond the physical layer and looking for quantum mechanics in consciousness sounds a lot like Sheldrake's morphogenetic field.

Re:Recently? (1)

Unequivocal (155957) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257444)

Exactly the same thing happened to me - and I went back to H&D as well! Funny.

I think he makes this argument on the bet that it'll be proven true later by someone smarter, but b/c he staked his (totally unsupported) claim now, he'll get all the credit for being the "true father" of the theory of consciousness.

Seems like a reasonable guess to say that consciousness depends on quantum behaviors, but only at the level of rigor of two guys in a bar over a beer.. But b/c this guy has a big reputation in other areas, he can leverage it for a big win later maybe.

Penrose is a mystic (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36257058)

He wants the brain to be non-computable, non-simulatable. In short, he wants it to be magic. He has no real justification for his position.

Re:Penrose is a mystic (2)

Hatta (162192) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257094)

This is surprisingly common among physicists. Schrodinger for instance believed in vitalism. Which is essentially the same thing, but about 'life' instead of 'consciousness'.

Re:Penrose is a mystic (2)

Suiggy (1544213) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257234)

Agreed. Penrose is getting long in the tooth, and his last few theories to be debunked are evident of this. He's seeing things that aren't there. However, in a sense, he's right, but there's no magic or new physics behind it. After all, everything in this universe is, to some degree, emergent from quantum phenomena--everything in our macroscopic world, from dogs and cats, your car, your house, the tax man, and your brain is nothing more than the result of quantum amplitude flows and configuration states on the microscopic scale. But I don't think higher-level cognition will be directly explainable through quantum mechanics.

Consciousness is weird (5, Interesting)

Hatta (162192) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257062)

Consciousness is weird. Quantum theory is weird. Therefore quantum theory must explain consciousness.

That's essentially the argument here, and it's pretty easily seen as fallacious. There's no actual evidence that consciousness requires quantum mechanics, besides the trivial fact that our brains are chemical computers and chemistry requires quantum mechanics.

Consciousness is mysterious not weird. (1)

elucido (870205) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257096)

But it cannot both exist and not exist at the same time.

This means either you believe you exist, and if that is the case then you have to solve the mystery of your own existence. Or you don't believe you exist, and consciousness and free will are fake illusions. This is the stance of eliminativists and apparently Greenspan.

Re:Consciousness is mysterious not weird. (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36257180)

You're playing pointless, autofellating wordgames.

So, uh, keep up the good job with your philosophy courses!

Re:Consciousness is mysterious not weird. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36257192)

But it cannot both exist and not exist at the same time.

You're not doing the right drugs, then.

Re:Consciousness is mysterious not weird. (2)

biryokumaru (822262) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257476)

Sarah said she was locked up in the madhouse and we were all a delusion. When they came to lock her up, she said "Oh not this again. Now I'm in five deep."

Re:Consciousness is weird (1)

screamphilling (1173499) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257468)

quantum mechanics is a product of consciousness.. i.e. it is a completely human-made construct made of language and quantified values as observed by humans. they are not "laws" so much as "observations".

Empathy (1)

xded (1046894) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257474)

But I have to admit that this would give interesting explanations to, e.g., empathy.

Meh (2)

Pharmboy (216950) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257066)

Not that interesting of an article, by someone I've not heard of, explaining why Penrose is wrong yet again, as well as others. No real substance. The concept that physics might explain consciousness is much more interesting than this short (in length and in content) article.

It simply debunks the idea but offers no alternative or reason why. It was like reading a movie review from a small town movie reviewer....who didn't really see the movie but a friend told them about it.

It's about the question not Penrose. (1)

elucido (870205) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257150)

Penrose is the only one brave enough to ask the question; "Is consciousness real?" and try to answer it using physics and science.

But it's the same question that would be asked by a solipsist, do other minds exist? Do I exist? Why not try to answer that?

Well there are political reasons why we shouldn't. If we find out one way or another governments will seek to use it to enslave and torture. If we find out consciousness is a matter of physics and can be controlled, it opens up all new ways to threaten people, to torture people, to enslave people. But it also allows for the creation of robot-slaves who would be superior to humans in every way imaginable.

There are political problems, and social problems, and relgious problems involving these questions that overshadow the science. The science is about the only part that doesn't have major problems. Science eventually should be able to show one way or another, it's just a matter of what happens after we prove one way or another?

No free will exists? So who is the master of the universe?

Re:It's about the question not Penrose. (1)

Black Parrot (19622) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257408)

If we find out consciousness is a matter of physics and can be controlled, it opens up all new ways to threaten people, to torture people, to enslave people.

Well, we already know that consciousness can be affected by chemicals, magnetic fields, and IIRC a few other things. Sounds like physics may just have something to do with it.

And though AIUI not a matter of consciousness per se, it has long been known that a simple squirt of cold water onto the eardrum will cause the two halves of your brain to dissociate.

Well, Mr Smartypants (1)

gatkinso (15975) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257068)

How about filling us in?

Re:Well, Mr Smartypants (1)

Leperous (773048) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257220)

In a nutshell: Penrose (and others) believe (or used to believe) that gravity can cause spontaneous wavefunction collapse, basically something simpler than decoherence. The "speed" at which this collapse occurs should be dependent on the mass of said object; the "characteristic speed" of consciousness, on the order of 0.1 seconds, would be generated by sub-cellular sized structures and which he links to structures called microtubules within neurons. You'd have to read his books if you want any of those details filling in.

Huh? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36257074)

This is the most vague, hand-wavy summary I have ever read (didn't read the article...maybe just as vague?). I am a physicist, but even for the non-physicist, this is vague.

I doubt they have anything to do with each other. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36257108)

Just because there are two things that we don't understand, doesn't mean those two things are related. That seems to be a common error that mankind makes, and it was more pronounced when we didn't understand much at all; we assumed birth, death, the sun, the weather, all had the same (mystical) causes.

Sure, there may be a relation between quantum physics and consciousness; but I don't see any evidence of it, and I think that consciousness will be a far harder problem to solve, since we aren't close to resolving some basic philosophical questions about its nature, or even settling on definitions of concepts like 'free will'.

Re:I doubt they have anything to do with each othe (1)

stanlyb (1839382) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257184)

You just explained what quantum physics is. Or translated, if you don't know something, we name it "quantum physics", and voila, Nobel prize. We don;t know why the quantum pair relation is not limited to the distance between them? Here we go another quantum law.

Consciousness is not Logical, get over it (0)

crowlogic (940856) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257120)

Logic only gets you so far.

Re:Consciousness is not Logical, get over it (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257242)

Logic gets you as far as you can take it. Sadly most people can't get past there stupid little emotional hang ups to take it far.

Re:Consciousness is not Logical, get over it (1)

Suiggy (1544213) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257256)

I know you're trolling. I'm on to you.

Penrose... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36257124)

Has had a HYPOTHESIS that consciousness is tied to microtubules in neurons. His idea requires quantum physics to properly handle the mechanism he proposes (it has been a while but I believe it involves wave propagation via microtubules. I also seem to remember reading something not too long ago that SEEMED to provide some indication that microtubules were possibly involved in neural signalling and information transmission in some way...).

Interesting idea BUT it is premature in that it is still not really clear what consciousness is, let alone how it emerges from the brain (of humans AND non-humans...it isn't just a Homo sapiens thing). It may not really require any quantum magic at all, likely being merely an emergent property of complex neural connections and interactions. Hell, there's some indications that consciousness is less than meets the eye: based on fMRI experiments, it appears that "conscious" decisions are often decided PRE-consciously, that is, that one seems to make the decision to act or do this or that BEFORE you are actually consciously aware of the decision. Kinda kicks the idea of free will and conscious action in the nuts eh?

What a terrible article (2)

Old Wolf (56093) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257130)

The article basically says "We shouldn't jump to conclusions just because consciousness and quantum theory are both weird" , with an extra page full of waffle to pad it out. I didn't learn anything substantial from this article and I doubt anybody else would have either. The article doesn't propose anything useful of its own, nor does it successfully debunk any other proposal.

It doesn't even understand what "jump to conclusions" means. Penrose is cited as doing that for the WMAP result, but in fact what he did was propose a theory (that turned out to be wrong). That's what science is about. People propose theories or hypotheses, and then people try to prove or disprove them, perhaps discovering new truths along the way. There's no 'shame' to be had in theorizing something and turning out to be wrong, nor does that make the scientist 'bad' if he does propose a wrong theory at some time.

Re:What a terrible article (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36257188)

Dammit, now I want waffles.

Re:What a terrible article (1)

Black Parrot (19622) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257432)

I didn't learn anything substantial from this article and I doubt anybody else would have either.

Great - all those years of not RingTFA finally paid off!

Re:What a terrible article (1)

Unequivocal (155957) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257526)

Generally speaking - at least peer-reviewed journals - when you propose a theory, you also provide a mechanism or some interpretative framework. Scientists don't (generally) just propose an idea without any formalism to back it up (such as a model or process). Penrose's assertions of consciousness don't have any noticeable disprovable aspects.

As a scientific researcher, if I want to say that the properties of consciousness depend on quantum physics, the usual expectation is that I'll provide a mechanism to explain the dependency, and that mechanism or explanation will have some disprovable characteristics.

Of course Penrose made his assertion in a popular science book (Emperor's New Mind) not a peer reviewed forum, so his speculation went further afield. And b/c he's scientist with a well established career, he gets more lee way than your average post doc (like it or not). And the original citation was to discovery.com -- so you get what you pay for.

It's the unified theory of everything (1)

Atroxodisse (307053) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257138)

And the answer is 42.

Fundamental Assumptions folk make. (1)

mr bms (1500083) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257144)

I think its obvious here that the brain is more complex than our understanding. What I think is startling are the assumptions scientists and other folk have made already. For Example :- Its a computational or logic processing device. Maybe its more of a network card, linking our actual conscientiousness to our bodies. Its a fundamental difference but it would explain telepathy, reincarnation and a host of other phenomena. Personally I think it provides a better model for understanding our minds which I think are limitless and not limited by the size of our brains.

Re:Fundamental Assumptions folk make. (1)

elucido (870205) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257170)

I think its obvious here that the brain is more complex than our understanding. What I think is startling are the assumptions scientists and other folk have made already.

For Example :- Its a computational or logic processing device.

Maybe its more of a network card, linking our actual conscientiousness to our bodies. Its a fundamental difference but it would explain telepathy, reincarnation and a host of other phenomena. Personally I think it provides a better model for understanding our minds which I think are limitless and not limited by the size of our brains.

That phenomena isn't based on science. But it would explain languages, time, and evolution in a way that religion cannot.
This could have serious unintended consequences though.

one site (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36257148)

http://divinecosmos.com/start-here/books-free-online/18-the-shift-of-the-ages/69-the-shift-of-the-ages-chapter-13-the-physics-of-the-spiral-in-the-consciousness-units

QM is metaphysically inconsistent (1)

etymxris (121288) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257174)

Well, the Copenhagen interpretation leads to problematic issues regarding "measurement", leading to the "observer" being an irreducible part of any QM experiment. There's a solution [wikipedia.org] that exists for all the wonky metaphysics of QM that people like Penrose like to harp on. Pretty much everything is symmetric in particle physics except "causation". "Causation" has been made explicitly asymmetric more due to our own anthropogenic biases than any theoretical need. Eliminating this asymmetry pretty much solves all the nonsensical metaphysics that QM has spawned over the past century.

A bit of a fallacy (1)

gijoel (628142) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257178)

Honestly quantum consciousness is just Cartesian Dualism fancied up. Replace quantum with soul and you've pretty much got the same thing.

Quantum Theory is not relevant (5, Interesting)

Bugpowda (671725) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257200)

Professional Neuroscientist here... In fact, I'm recording from a sensory neuron that is partially responsible for the conciousness of an awake behaving mouse right now while browsing slashdot.

There is no reason to think that quantum physics has anything to do with the nature of conciousness. It is not useful to explain free will, or the illusion of free will, of the qualia of objects, or the steadyness of perception on a background of constantly varying spike rates in the brain.

Perhaps the best, short, free, relatively recent summary of the field was written by Christof Koch and Francis Crick, A Framework for Conciousness, and is available here : http://papers.klab.caltech.edu/29/1/438.pdf [caltech.edu]

I also have a little essay on the nature of free will on my blog here, if interested. http://brainwindows.wordpress.com/philosophy/philosophy-the-science-of-free-will/ [wordpress.com]

Re:Quantum Theory is not relevant (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36257304)

"There is no reason to think that quantum physics has anything to do with the nature of conciousness."

So you know everything about consciousness then.

What's up with you know-it-alls?

Re:Quantum Theory is not relevant (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257322)

What do you think of the idea that consciousness is simple emergent behavior from a sufficiently complex organism?

Meaning, once a species uses tool, plans, and need to deal with chemicals we get our emotions from, and then need to prioritize those* things . It a mechanism to cope with the stress of critical decisions

*typical balancing desire against raw survival.

Quantum theory is at least a little relevant (1)

mosb1000 (710161) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257404)

Isn't the goal of quantum theory to explain electric and chemical phenomena on a molecular/sub molecular scale? Since the behavior or electrons on this scale is part of the workings of the brain (as we currently understand it), and consciousness seems to occur in the brain, isn't it reasonable to hypothesize that quantum mechanics might someday explain consciousness? I'm not saying it will, and we're certinally no where near that point, but you have to admit it's not completely off the wall either.

Read THIS! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36257210)

It is about how the entropy from the second law of thermodinamics is defined in the same way as the entropy of information, all linked by information proprieties that are probabilistic and the quantum particles probabilistic nature url=http://critical-path.itgo.com/Articlesanscover.html.

Re:Read THIS! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36257330)

It is about how the entropy from the second law of thermodinamics is defined in the same way as the entropy of information, all linked by information proprieties that are probabilistic and the quantum particles probabilistic nature url=http://critical-path.itgo.com/Articlesanscover.html.

edit: you have to see the link all around us hidden in plain sight: mathematics theories based on set of axiom can vary indefinetly, the universe is a big computing machine. Information is the basic building block.

No logical fallacy rather an ideological challenge (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36257224)

Materialist views of mind have failed thus far. An appeal to Quantum ideas is where you have to go if you are going to remain a materialist and cling to the hope that you will eventually be able to explain mind. Materialism relies on the idea of cause and effect. The mind defies that assumption. What is the cause of a thought, what is the cause of mind. At this point we cannot even effectively define what consciousness is, much less discuss it in terms of cause and effect.

Ideas like free will, intuition, choice are absurdities to committed materialists. Mind, consciousness, self awareness is the great tabu subject of materialism. Many go so far as to deny the existence of these phenomenon. After all, there is nothing you can do to prove to me that you are conscious.

Re:No logical fallacy rather an ideological challe (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36257350)

Merely due to lack of enough data. Just because materialistic explanations don't work YET doesn't mean they wont, or cannot. Don't get all mystical/magical on us. We are not magical/mystical, just not yet explained in full.

It will come though. We are biological machines like all other biological machines. No magic, no Harry Potter crap, no soul nonsense, no spirit nonsense, no disembodied consciousness that exists OUTSIDE of or IN SPITE OF the body. Your mind is inseperable from the biological organ called the brain. You ARE your brain, not some occupant of it.

Standard Model is enough (1)

feidaykin (158035) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257240)

From a blog post at Cosmic Variance: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/2010/09/29/seriously-the-laws-underlying-the-physics-of-everyday-life-really-are-completely-understood/ [discovermagazine.com]

I've copy/pasted the relevant portion here:

Obviously there are a lot of things about the workings of the human mind that we don't understand. So how can we be so sure that new physics isn't involved? Of course we can't be sure, but that's not the point. We can't be sure that the motion of the planets isn't governed by hard-working angels keeping them on their orbits, in the metaphysical-certitude sense of being "sure." That's not a criterion that is useful in science. Rather, in the face of admittedly incomplete understanding, we evaluate the relative merits of competing hypotheses. In this case, one hypothesis says that the operation of the brain is affected in a rather ill-defined way by influences that are not described by the known laws of physics, and that these effects will ultimately help us make sense of human consciousness; the other says that brains are complicated, so it's no surprise that we don't understand everything, but that an ultimate explanation will fit comfortably within the framework of known fundamental physics. This is not really a close call; by conventional scientific measures, the idea that known physics will be able to account for the brain is enormously far in the lead. To persuade anyone otherwise, you would have to point to something the brain does that is in apparent conflict with the Standard Model or general relativity. (Bending spoons across large distances would qualify.) Until then, the fact that something is complicated isn't evidence that the particular collection of atoms we call the brain obeys different rules than other collections of atoms.

Re:Standard Model is enough (2)

elucido (870205) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257382)

If we don't experiment and look we wont find out whether or not new physics are involved.

yes. (1)

screamphilling (1173499) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257244)

yes, it most definitely "explains" it. though really it just quantifies consciousness in linear left-brain terminology / bridges the path to spirituality / mysticism /metaphysics.

Does Quantum Theory "Explain" Consciousness? (1)

Ken Broadfoot (3675) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257246)

Short answer... No...
Consciousness barely explains quantum theory... so how could it be the other way?
However, I am sure quantum "stuff" and freewill consciousness are related deeply...
But beyond any explanation better than faith....

No (1)

forand (530402) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257284)

Simply put no it does not explain consciousness. Quantum Field Theory(QFT) may explain all physical processes which go on in the universe but until we are able to make infinite observations (read never) it will not be predictive for emergent phenomenon (physical 'laws' which appear for large ensembles of particles). QFT is probabilistic when the question posed is looking for a deterministic answer, QFT can thus not provide such an answer.

Take something poorly understood -- squared! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36257288)

You get this from homeopathy to religion. Take something really complicated, that's poorly understood by all but a relatively few number of people, that's really hard to test, point at it it, and use it as a difficult to falsify method of justifying your sugar pills/ religion.

Multiply that with consciousness -- which as a former neuroscientist, I can say that I certainly don't understand enough to even point to what it actually is (too many gene products interacting at so many levels!) -- and I doubt any of my former peers could either -- means that it's just handwaving bullshit that ticks some popsci boxes for people to buy his book. Imho.

Occams Razor. (1)

w0mprat (1317953) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257296)

We are biological computers experiencing itself subjectively.

Contemplate this thought experiment: You have a supercomputer cluster, in which you create a simulated environment where life can evolve (maybe you intervene to speed things up but nevertheless it's allowed to evolve and change to some extent).

Given enough computational power there is no reason why some kind of entity couldn't emerge (or be created) within this environment that was capable of pondering it's own existence and studying it's own environment scientifically.

You reveal yourself as a creator to this being and have a conversation with it, explain it isn't real.

The being reveals it has created it's own simulations within the simulation, in order to study it's environment.

It may respond "You on the outside have no more evidence than you do that your existence is real, and that you are not in a simulation yourself. Which from my demostration is equally likely"

Crap.

"You created me in your image, so you could see yourself"

Re:Occams Razor. (1)

Citizen of Earth (569446) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257420)

I prefer this thought experiment: FRY: You're a bender, right? We can get outta here if you just bend the bars! BENDER: Dream on, skin tube. I'm only programmed to bend for constructive purposes. What do I look like, a de-bender? FRY: Who cares what you're programmed for! If someone programmed you to jump off a bridge, would you do it? BENDER: I'll have to check my program. (short pause) Yep! Like us, Bender is unable to escape his programming (until electrocution changes his programming).

quantum consciousness (1)

screamphilling (1173499) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257340)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wVC0FcSRxL8 [youtube.com] robert anton wilson explains quantum consciousness very well

To Be Superimposed on Not To Be, (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36257354)

But Underminable without interference..

Recent???? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36257374)

Last I heard about this, was over ten years ago. Roger Penrose was involved.

Ah. Found a reference. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Emperor%27s_New_Mind

He wrote about this in '89. More than 20 years ago.

Quantum consciousness? grasping at straws (1)

Politimemes (2115728) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257400)

I read Penrose' book a long time ago. He seemed desparate to deny that consciousness could be built out of logic of any form.

For me the best part was his argument that if you could build a machine that exhibited human-like consciousness, it would necessarily deny that it was built that way. My reaction was "yes, just like you".

No (1)

qqe0312 (1350695) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257458)

No, quantum theory does not explain consciousness. That was an easy one. Next!

Nothing is real anyway. (1)

w0mprat (1317953) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257500)

Quantum theory to me is a hint we may be living in a simulation. Therefore consciousness is subjective phenomena.

If you were in a simulation the best test would be looking for the inevitable discrepency in the physics of the environment which would emerge as you approached the limits of the computational substrate. On a small scale things would start to look fuzzy and the rules of the system would stop making useful predictions.

Crap that sounds familiar.

First things first (1)

praedor (218403) | more than 3 years ago | (#36257510)

First, define consciousness or, better yet, prove it matters. Explain fMRI studies that indicate that one actually makes decisions PRE-consciously yet still makes consciousness relevant. That's right, fMRI studies indicate that you make a decision to take an action BEFORE you are actually consciously aware of it. Turns the entire idea of consciousness on its head so that it is merely becoming conscious of what your brain/mind has already decided microseconds BEFORE you are conscious of making the decision.

Once we get past the above, THEN we can get into explaining what it is and how it comes about. It is way premature to assign quantum anything as an explanation before we really know what we are explaining or even if it needs explaining.

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