No one knows what consciousness is and how it works. Of course, scientists from different fields of science have a variety of assumptions on this subject, but no one can give an exact answer to the question of what consciousness is.
A similar situation is observed with quantum mechanics – by studying the interaction of the smallest particles of the Universe with each other, physicists have learned a lot.
But since quantum mechanics is inconsistent with Einstein’s general theory of relativity, researchers cannot figure out how to bring them to a common denominator.
According to one of the greatest scientists of the 20th century, physicist Richard Feynman, no one truly understands quantum mechanics. Interestingly, he could just as well have been talking about the equally intricate problem of consciousness.
Although some scientists believe that consciousness is just an illusion, others, on the contrary, believe that we do not understand where it comes from at all.
So it is not surprising that the age-old mystery of consciousness has prompted some researchers to turn to quantum physics to explain it. Some scientists believe that there is a connection between consciousness and quantum physics. But how can one unsolved mystery be explained by another?
What is consciousness?
It is difficult to define consciousness. How to answer the question of “why am I me” or “how is my consciousness different from the consciousness of a cat?” or “why do I perceive the world this way and not otherwise?”.
Fortunately, there are scientists in the world who are ready to answer, if not all, then many questions about what human consciousness is.
For example, the cognitive philosopher Daniel Dennett, professor at Tufts University (USA), in his book From Bacteria to Bach and Back, talks about how biological processes in the human body create a stream of thoughts and images.
The professor believes that the subjective film that plays before the eyes of each of us is nothing more than an illusion skillfully woven by our brain. He also believes that consciousness is not as mysterious as we think and believes that science should explain objective functioning brain.
Among the scientists who disagree with Dennett’s point of view is the Australian philosopher and teacher David Chalmers. He proposes to consider consciousness as something fundamental, for example, as the laws of physics, which can be discovered in the future with the help of the latest technologies.
His second even more radical idea is called the “panpsychism hypothesis”, according to which consciousness is universal and any system possesses it to some extent, even elementary particles and photons. And where there are photons, there may be quantum mechanics.
How is quantum physics related to consciousness?
Albert Einstein was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921 for discovering the law of the photoelectric effect. The physicist believed that light, which is usually considered a continuous wave, can also be distributed in quanta, which we call photons.
This event, along with Max Planck’s understanding of blackbody radiation, Niels Bohr’s new model of the atom, Arthur Compton’s study of X-rays, and Louis de Broglie’s suggestion that matter has wave-like properties, marked the beginning of a new quantum era in which we are fortunate to live.
Is it any wonder the emergence of a new quantum theory of consciousness called “Orchestrated objective reduction” (or “Orch OR”), the authors of which are Nobel Prize-winning physicist Professor Roger Penrose of the University of Oxford and anesthetist Stuart Hameroff of the University of Arizona.
The Orch OR theory, although it has undergone a number of changes since its inception, generally says that the discovery of quantum fluctuations in “microtubules” that are inside the neurons of the brain gives rise to consciousness.
Microtubules (protein polymers) control neuronal and synaptic functions and link brain processes with self-organization processes at the quantum level. Scientists believe that the new theory can even explain the afterlife.
Note that the theory of Penrose and Hameroff caused a number of criticisms, however, the application of quantum theory in a biological context continued and had the greatest success in relation to photosynthesis.
Interestingly, studies on the sense of smell, enzymes, and even bird DNA also suggest that quantum effects may be more widely involved in the functioning of biological organisms.
PhD student Bethany Adams recently published a paper on the role of quantum effects in the brain in Physics World. Adams’s research highlights a number of possible quantum effects on brain function, while her doctoral research focuses on quantum entanglement between neurons and how pharmaceutical drugs like lithium can affect it.
Although Adams’ work covers several possible applications, she herself hopes that her research will bring the world a better understanding of how antidepressants and mood stabilizers work, as well as new treatments for many mental illnesses. But who knows, maybe her work will allow scientists to explain how consciousness works and where it comes from.