Can Quantum Physics Explain Consciousness? One Scientist Thinks It Might

Fellow scientists labeled him a crackpot. Now Stuart Hameroff’s quantum consciousness theories are getting support from unlikely places.

By Steve VolkMarch 1, 2018 12:00 PM


Anesthesiologist Stuart Hameroff believes tiny structures in our cells called microtubules could explain consciousness. (Credit: Steve Craft)

Stuart Hameroff is an impish figure — short, round, with gray hair and a broad, gnomic face. His voice is smoke — deep and granular, rumbling with the weight of his 70 years. For more than two decades, he’s run a scientific conference on consciousness research. He turns up each day in rumpled jeans and short-sleeved shirts. The effect is casual bordering on slovenly. But up close, he is in charge, and to his critics, he comes off as pugnacious.

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Unraveling the Potential of the Unconscious Mind

People can learn to use the non-conscious content in their brains to make profitable decisions. Findings suggest a novel form of non-conscious metacognition.

Source: ATR Brain Information Communications Research Laboratory Group

We are conscious beings, yet most of the activity in our brains remains nonconscious. Can we harness this hidden pool of information? Notably, one important challenge is the astronomical vastness and complexity of such nonconscious information. How can the human brain ‘know’ what aspects of such complex activity may be relevant, given that it is by definition nonconscious and thereby ‘unknown’? There is no magic formula to solve this problem, and research in artificial intelligence suggests that even the best of our current algorithms struggle to handle this vastness of dimensionality in everyday, real-life problems.

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Quantum Physics May Upend Our Macroscopic Reality In The Universe

If a tree falls in the forest and someone is there to hear it, does it make a sound? Perhaps not.

Once again, quantum physics is calling our concept of reality into question.

If you are familiar with quantum physics, you know that on very tiny scales, the Universe is very weird. Particles act like particles and waves at the same time. An electron may be in one location, and then suddenly in another location, without ever passing through a point between those two spots. Or even a single particle can interact with itself.

But on the macroscopic scale, things are more “normal”. At least, we think. But perhaps quantum physics also affects us, as macroscopic observers. And recent research published in Nature Physics says for even macroscopic observers, quantum physics may call our reality into question.

Tenets Of Reality That Are True… Or Are They?

As macroscopic observers, we can say three things about reality.

  1. If you see an event happening, it really happened.
  2. You can make free choices. Particles can make “free choices” too, which are statistically probabilistic.
  3. If something happens, it can’t instantaneously affect something far away. Information can only travel so fast, normally governed by the universal speed limit – the speed of light.

Let’s compare these with reality on a quantum level.

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Professor: Electrons and Quarks May Experience Consciousness

“What this offers us is a beautifully simple, elegant way of integrating consciousness into our scientific worldview…”

The only reason humans know about the existence of consciousness — the phenomenon of having subjective feelings and experiences — is because we have feelings and experiences.

But despite centuries of study, scientists have yet to make any major progress in understanding consciousness.

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The universe may be conscious, say prominent scientists


A proto-consciousness field theory could replace the theory of dark matter, one physicist states. 

What consciousness is and where it emanates from has stymied great minds in societies across the globe since the dawn of speculation. In today’s world, it’s a realm tackled more and more by physicists, cognitive scientists, and neuroscientists. There are a few prevailing theories. The first is materialism. This is the notion that consciousness emanates from matter, in our case, by the firing of neurons inside the brain.

Take the brain out of the equation and consciousness doesn’t exist at all. Traditionally, scientists have been stalwart materialists. But doing so has caused them to slam up against the limitations of materialism. Consider the chasm between relativity and quantum mechanics, or Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, and you quickly start to recognize these incongruities.

The second theory is mind-body dualism. This is perhaps more often recognized in religion or spirituality. Here, consciousness is separate from matter. It is a part of another aspect of the individual, which in religious terms we might call the soul. Then there’s a third option which is gaining ground in some scientific circles, panpsychism. In this view, the entire universe is inhabited by consciousness.

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The Biocentric Universe Theory: Life Creates Time, Space, and the Cosmos Itself

Adapted from Biocentrism: How Life and Consciousness Are the Keys to Understanding the True Nature of the Universe, by Robert Lanza with Bob Berman, published by BenBella Books in May 2009.

The farther we peer into space, the more we realize that the nature of the universe cannot be understood fully by inspecting spiral galaxies or watching distant supernovas. It lies deeper. It involves our very selves.

This insight snapped into focus one day while one of us (Lanza) was walking through the woods. Looking up, he saw a huge golden orb web spider tethered to the overhead boughs. There the creature sat on a single thread, reaching out across its web to detect the vibrations of a trapped insect struggling to escape. The spider surveyed its universe, but everything beyond that gossamer pinwheel was incomprehensible. The human observer seemed as far-off to the spider as telescopic objects seem to us. Yet there was something kindred: We humans, too, lie at the heart of a great web of space and time whose threads are connected according to laws that dwell in our minds.

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