Quantum Mechanics and Consciousness

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Mefiante (December 10, 2008, 22:14:11 PM):
It seems that you are underestimating or perhaps misunderstanding the severity of the three problems I have pointed out. Each one on its own is already an obstacle separately from the others to begin with merely because each one introduces some important unknowns on which the entire model’s validity is critically dependent. If, for example, a valid quantum gravity theory shows that wave function collapse is not complementary to some inherent property of a quantum spacetime field, i.e. it is not consistent with Penrose’s suggestion, the model will clearly need revision from the ground up. And so it is with each of the others too. In combination, such failures would be devastating. But all three will need satisfactory resolution first.

The subsequent post with your list of six questions actually makes the point. Those questions encapsulate the most immediate problems with the model and in each case one must presently confess a lack of knowledge. Nor is it clear that solving them will sustain the model. Your conclusion that the “Penrose-Hamerhoff model is just another model” is fairly accurate but I feel that it overstates the case somewhat because there’s a tendency to pin more hope on it than is warranted, given the extent and severity of its unresolved difficulties. When something says “quantum” many people pay attention simply because the term excites their sense of mystery and the unknown, not because it really clears anything up for them.

As for string theory, I’m reasonably sure that it has just about run its course. It has been quite unsuccessful and much of a dead end but that’s how science often advances. Something new is required, probably a deeper insight or a different take. I’m sure you’ll be aware of how intensely the problem is being worked on.

'Luthon64
AcinonyxScepticus (December 13, 2008, 02:03:15 AM):
This is an interesting discussion.  I personally don't think that our understanding of consciousness requires quantum mechanics (for the sake of filling the gap in our knowledge).  But before I go any further, I don't know if we are all talking about consciousness in the same sense (unless I am misunderstanding the posts).  Consciousness has varied meanings in specific situations - intuitively I get what you're trying to say but it is in the ambiguity that explanations can dodge closer scrutiny.  I can't remember where I read it, but the various views of consciousness were explained as follows:

not knocked-out, as in "he regained consciousness in the ICU" - I am sure we are not talking about this aspect of the word, but I had to mention it.the internal dialogue of "conscious thoughts" - the thoughts that run through your head, even the thoughts you experience as you read this, are experienced as languagethe sense of me being "conscious of the world" - the controller in the control room interacting with the worldthe non-automatic thoughts where I "consciously contemplate the way to solve the problem" - we actively think about what we must buy from the shop on the way home but we do not actively think about the muscle manipulation required to unlock a door or to climb a flight of stairs
You may say that the last three are all piecemeal descriptions of the same thing, the same consciousness we are talking about, but I think that they are all separate and have been confused by our familiarity with the word we use for all four different experiences.

But why do I mention this?  Just to confuse the discussion?  No.  I think that our understanding of consciousness will come from the various breakthroughs that psychologists have made in describing the necessary components which form part of the four aspects above (individually). 

For example: Cognitive Linguistics is a field in psychology (that I take great interest in) that describes the mental cognitions involved with all aspects of language, like grammar, the mental lexicon, linguistic categorisation and so on.  One concept in Cognitive Linguistics posits that once language is acquired by a being, mental thoughts in that language naturally follow.  The sense of self that we naturally talk to becomes more "complete" as more language is acquired.

As for the sense of me who is acting as a controller in a control room, monitoring the world and deciding on a next move, it is largely an illusion anyway, more a case of us watching a constant instant replay rather than experiencing the world and making decisions.  How do we construct the whole complete image?  Well, if we look at it this way perhaps we get a better answer ... How could any organism live without such a coordinated sensory perception?  If we could only hear or see at any one time without being able to do both we would be at a disadvantage.  A coordinated view is a survival trait and a more accurate coordinated view is an even better survival trait.  Our view of the world is not perfect and can easily be fooled (optical illusions, etcetera) so using this as part of a description of the consciousness we are discussing introduces new problems.

What I'm really trying to get at is if consciousness (as a unification of all the pieces of consciousness) is real at all or a naturally emergent property of the delusions our mind creates.

So where do I think consciousness (the pieces) come from ultimately?  How can the firing of neurons make me think I'm an individual?  To me it's an example of Langton's Ant at work.  Yes, I know, you can explain almost anything with the Ant if you think about it, but really, in this case I think that the analogy is very helpful to our understanding.

What is Langton's Ant?
Langton's Ant is a demonstration that simple algorithms can have unpredictable results.  Imagine a world which consists of nothing but white squares; there is one white square and on all sides white squares extend on towards infinity.  A really boring, really massive chess board.  In this square at the source (there is no middle for an infinitely large chessboard, that's why I mentioned a single white square at the beginning) there is a programmed ant.  This programmed ant has a simple list of instructions:
1) Move forward to the square in front of you
2) If you arrive at a white square, turn right
3) If you arrive at a black square, turn left
4) Change the colour of the square you are in from black to white or vice versa
5) Go to step 1.

The instructions are extremely basic.  Looking at them we imagine that the ant will turn a circle and arrive at the source and turn a circle in the opposite direction and head back towards the source and continue to make symmetrical patterns of this sort.  But when we run the simulation, that is not what happens.  After about 470 steps it seems to stop making symmetrical patterns and start making random-looking patterns and most bizarrely, after about ten thousand steps it builds a "highway", a long wide repeating pattern which (it is presumed) continues on to infinity.  But why?  Why does it do these weird things especially seeing as we did not program the ant to do anything like that?  Even more bizarrely, you can't stop the ant from making a highway.  You can put three, eight or even fifty ants at random locations and even though they run into each other while following their instructions (they come to a black square that should have been white) they will eventually build the highway but it will take more steps to get there (only very few configurations end in stalemate where two ants build a pattern, hit each other coming the other way and go back and delete the entire pattern, reach the start and then build the same pattern, then delete it and so on). Even if you "pollute" the universe, place hundreds of randomly placed black squares, the ant cannot be stopped, it will still build a highway (in a different place).

If neurons are given simple reactionary instructions to follow, how can they build a consciousness?

But beware, this is not a kind of "I'll throw my hands up and say; 'That's a good enough explanation'" mentality that I'm promoting, it is rather that the emergent properties are not always predictable at the lowest level.  I would love to learn more about consciousness, I just don't think replacing one unknown for another unknown will be an adequate solution.

James
Teleological (July 01, 2009, 22:17:53 PM):
It seems that you are underestimating or perhaps misunderstanding the severity of the three problems I have pointed out. Each one on its own is already an obstacle separately from the others to begin with merely because each one introduces some important unknowns on which the entire model’s validity is critically dependent. If, for example, a valid quantum gravity theory shows that wave function collapse is not complementary to some inherent property of a quantum spacetime field, i.e. it is not consistent with Penrose’s suggestion, the model will clearly need revision from the ground up. And so it is with each of the others too. In combination, such failures would be devastating. But all three will need satisfactory resolution first.
Even if so, these arguments pose no fatal problem for the model, and at present are nothing more than arguments from ignorance.

A few recent findings and articles of interest.
The “conscious pilot”—dendritic synchrony moves through the brain to mediate consciousness
Abstract:
Quote
Cognitive brain functions including sensory processing and control of behavior are understood as “neurocomputation” in axonal–dendritic synaptic networks of “integrate-and-fire” neurons. Cognitive neurocomputation with consciousness is accompanied by 30- to 90-Hz gamma synchrony electroencephalography (EEG), and non-conscious neurocomputation is not. Gamma synchrony EEG derives largely from neuronal groups linked by dendritic–dendritic gap junctions, forming transient syncytia (“dendritic webs”) in input/integration layers oriented sideways to axonal–dendritic neurocomputational flow. As gap junctions open and close, a gamma-synchronized dendritic web can rapidly change topology and move through the brain as a spatiotemporal envelope performing collective integration and volitional choices correlating with consciousness. The “conscious pilot” is a metaphorical description for a mobile gamma-synchronized dendritic web as vehicle for a conscious agent/pilot which experiences and assumes control of otherwise non-conscious auto-pilot neurocomputation.

Good explanation (ppt file)

Are quantum states too sensitive and fragile to disruption by thermal energy to affect the macroscopic nature of proteins and other macromolecular structures.

Maybe not:
Coherent Intrachain Energy Migration in a Conjugated Polymer at Room Temperature
Quote
Our results show that quantum transport effects occur at ambient temperature along conjugated polymer chains. We conclude that chemical bonds connecting chromophores, such as in polymers, macromolecules, and supramolecular systems, play an important role in introducing quantum effects in EET dynamics. This observation extends the paradigm of protein-protected coherences proposed by Fleming and co-workers to chemically bonded chromophores in nanoscale materials at ambient temperatures. In the case of conjugated polymers, this phenomenon may assist formation of the semiconductor band character of the electronic states.


First Evidence of Entanglement in Photosynthesis
Quote
Room-temperature entanglement seems to be a by-product of the process of harvesting light. Physicists are fascinated with entanglement, the strange quantum phenomenon in which distinct objects share the same existence, regardless of the distance between them. But in their quest to study and exploit entanglement for information processing, physicists have found it fragile and easily destroyed. This fragility seems to severely limits how entanglement might ever be used.

But a new, more robust face of entanglement is beginning to emerge from other types of experiment. For example, physicists have recently found the signature of entanglement in the thermal states of bulk materials at low temperatures. This has huge implications for biological systems: if entanglement is more robust than we thought, what role might it play in living things?

Now we're beginning to find out. In the first rigorous quantification of entanglement in a biological system, an answer is beginning to emerge. Researchers from various institutions in Berkeley California have shown that molecules taking part in photosynthesis can remain entangled even at ordinary atmospheric temperatures.

The evidence comes from detailed study of light sensitive molecules called chromophore that harvest light in photosynthesis.

Various studies have shown that in light harvesting complexes, chromophores can share coherently delocalised electronic states. K. Birgitta Whaley at the Berkeley Center for Quantum Information and Computation and pals say this can only happen if the chromophores are entangled.

They point out that these molecules do not seem to exploit entanglement. Instead, its presence is just a consequence of the electronic coherence.

This is a big claim that relies somewhat on circumstantial evidence. It'll be important to get confirmation of these idea before they can become mainstream.

Nevertheless, if correct, the discovery has huge implications. For a start, biologists could tap into this entanglement to make much more accurate measurement of what goes on inside molecules during photosynthesis using to the various techniques of quantum metrology that physicists have developed.

More exciting still, is the possibility that these molecules could be used for quantum information processing at room temperature. Imagine photosynthetic quantum computers!

And beyond that is the question that Whaley and co avoid altogether. If entanglement plays a role in photosynthesis, then why not in other important biological organs too? Anybody think of an organ where entanglement might be useful?

Ref: arxiv.org/abs/0905.3787: Quantum Entanglement in Photosynthetic Light Harvesting Complexes


And another interesting article:
A quantum mechanical model of adaptive mutation
Mefiante (July 02, 2009, 20:53:58 PM):
Even if so, these arguments pose no fatal problem for the model…
It seems you don’t understand the severity of the objections. Yes, each one on its own very much could be fatal. Have you any idea how many papers in number theory begin with the phrase, “Assuming the Riemann Hypothesis to be true, …” or some variant thereof? If tomorrow someone finds just one counterexample to the Riemann Hypothesis, most of these papers will become instantly pretty much worthless, and the possibility of a counterexample cannot be ruled out. Many of those papers are deeply intriguing – but no less speculative for it.

… and at present are nothing more than arguments from ignorance.
The whole quantum-consciousness model is one big argument from ignorance! That’s the point. It cannot even be called an “hypothesis” yet because it lacks any rigorous formulation. We don’t have a quantum gravity model, let alone any coherent account of consciousness, and therefore we can’t even begin to speak of testable consequences. At present, it is no more than an interesting bauble, and to base any kind of scientific explanation on it is severely to overstep what the scientific method permits.

'Luthon64
Mefiante (August 19, 2009, 09:41:50 AM):
Some apologists think there is a way God could intervene in the world by manipulating quantum events; others think quantum mechanics can explain free will and consciousness, allow for a unified cosmic consciousness, and even allow us to create our own reality. Stenger shows that such speculations are based on wildly inaccurate misappropriations and misunderstandings of the concepts of advanced physics.
(My emphasis.)

'Luthon64

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