While we’re waiting for quantum computers to leap out of the labs and into the practical world, scientists are investigating whether the human consciousness operates within a quantum system.
Not only has quantum physics changed our view of the world, it’s also helped inform the way we go about our daily lives.
If the “little” we already know about the quantum world changed our lives into what it is today, we have yet to unlock all its mysteries.
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We also have yet another equally tough nut to crack that at first sight could seem unrelated to quantum mechanics: the human consciousness.
The Quantum Processor Inside Your Head
Some scientists think that the brain itself might be an organic quantum machine. This is the view of Matthew Fisher, a theoretical physicist at UC Santa Barbara.
After years of research into “quantum neuroscience”, Fisher is heading the newly launched Quantum Brain Project (QuBrain). This is an international research initiative which is setting out to ask one question, in Fisher’s own words:
“Might we, ourselves, be quantum computers, rather than just clever robots who are designing and building quantum computers?”
Until the QuBrain project runs its tests and reveals its results, there could be an interesting angle to discuss.
Sophisticated though silicon AI could be now, it still falls behind the human brain when it comes to accomplishing many tasks like those involving social intelligence, consciousness, and self-awareness.
On the other hand, quantum computers would be much more than a simple optimization or update to current systems.
Quantum computing is based on radically different foundations that rest upon matter’s intrinsic microscopic behavior and properties.
However, we’re still after a commercial quantum processor that would kick the technology into real-world applications.
But, according to some theorists, we might have a small quantum processor right inside our head that, in lieu of qubits, runs on neurons.
Nobody seems to fully understand the inner workings of the human brain. We also still don’t have a full understanding of how quantum mechanics really works. It may be that they are more closely connected than we might think.
The Theory of “Quantum Consciousness”
One of the strangest concepts of quantum theory is the “Observer Effect”. According to this theory, in some quantum cases, the observer somehow influences the behavior of matter.
In the simplest of terms, a quantum system is not an object that exists with a predefined and permanent state.
It’s only the observation of the system that localizes the position and momentum of a particle in a given place at a given time.
As far as our understanding of quantum mechanics goes, the observer is a fundamental element within the quantum theory. Without this theory, the reality of quantum theory “falls apart”.
Per the observer physics, there is no objective reality as an observer can influence how this reality unfolds.
Other scientists argue that not only does consciousness have a direct effect on a quantum field, or at least acts on quantum reality, but that consciousness itself is of a quantum nature.
Oxford physicist and mathematician Sir Roger Penrose has been working since the 1990s on a “quantum theory of consciousness” with fellow physicist Stuart Hameroff.
According to their ORCH-OR theory (Orchestrated Objective Reduction), quantum processes take place in “microtubules” inside the brain neurons to enable consciousness. This theory describes a kind of quantum algorithm that continues to function even after death.
A recent discovery of quantum vibration inside the brain has given some credibility to the ORCH-OR theory.
However, the world of “quantum consciousness” is still a bit of a Wild West in the scientific world. Although there are some theories that may posit interesting hypotheses, there is still plenty that is completely unknown.
It may be true that our brain works within a quantum system, but for now, this is no more than an interesting talking point.