Quantum consciousness. Is quantum mechanics responsible for consciousness and free will? There is a reductionist claim that the universe is a sophisticated kind of clock ruled by the laws of physics. Are we sophisticated automatons?
But doesn’t this unpredictability of natural laws via quantum mechanics give us free will?
Sir Roger Penrose tried to tackle this. Is there a quantum physics connection to consciousness that ensures that we have free will?
Reductionism is the idea that any complex system is the sum of its simpler fundamental individual parts. Matter, energy, and the laws of physics that determine how they interact is all there is.
Counter argument is that consciousness is somehow different. If a human being was nothing more than matter and energy, then what would be the difference between a person who is alive, and the same person immediately after his death. All the matter and energy of the person would not have changed. There seems to be one main difference – consciousness.
Rene Descartes proposed the idea of a malicious demon. Such a demon could take over his mind to create a delusion about the reality, that nothing may actually exist. Descartes said, there is one thing that even the evil demon could not delude me of, and this is my sense of existence. He said, “I think, therefore I am.” I can only be fooled if my mind exists, If my mind cannot be fooled about my existence, then my mind must be separate from my body. And this idea of mind-body dualism, is sometimes used to justify free will. There are 3 choices for how consciousness could arise. One is dualism. Free will is explained, but this would by definition, be supernatural since it is not subject to physical laws. Second is the materialism. Consciousness is a direct consequence of physical laws. But this view cannot explain free will. Third is that consciousness results from physical processes that are not yet fully understood, but is ultimately scientifically explainable. Roger Penrose embraced this third idea. He partnered with anesthesiologist Stuart Hameroff to show that some brain functioning is non-determinable based on the laws of quantum mechanics. Microtubules, made of proteins called tubulin, facilitate the delivery of neurotransmitters in the neurons of brain cells. Tubulin can switch between two states of phosphorylation and be in a superposition. If this is true then each tubulin molecule could act as a quantum bit or qubit. Consciousness is the result of the collapse of the superposed states of this tubulin. Penrose and Hameroff theory is called Orchestrated objective reduction, or the Orch OR theory.
MIT physicist Max Tegmark said that the brain is too wet and warm for delicate quantum effects. Tegmark showed that any superposed state in microtubules would decohere within 10^-13 seconds. This is 10 orders of magnitude faster than the time it takes for any known brain process to occur.
Matthew Fisher, physicist at Univ of California, Santa Barbara also showed that the temperatures needed to maintain superposition based on the frequency of neuronal firing is about 10^-7 kelvin, which is much higher than body temperature – 310 kelvin or 98.6 F.
Fisher proposed a theory where quantum superposition could be maintained in the nucleus of atoms. Certain chemical reactions can produce spin correlated nuclei, where the spin of one nucleus is dependent on another. Since nuclei tend to be more isolated being in the center of atoms, the quantum correlation or entanglement, can be maintained for longer periods of time. He found that the decoherence time for phosphate ion is about 1 second, which is enough time for it to have an effect on brain processing. Such ions are found in ATP. Quantum behavior in the phosphorus nuclear spins could be protected from decoherence if the phosphate ions are incorporated into larger molecules called “Posner molecules.”
The main theoretical argument against the quantum consciousness theories is that quantum states in the brain would lose coherency before they reached a scale where they could be useful for neural processing.
Physicists opposed to the idea point out the evidence from brain fMRI. We still need to explain what Australian Cognitive scientist, David Chalmers calls the “hard problem” of consciousness, the subjective quality of the experience that you have. This subjective conscious experience is qualia.