Scientists ponder the possibility of quantum consciousness


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I don’t believe in human consciousness. If I were a conscious entity, I think I’d know, and I don’t feel conscious.


I think therefore I think I am?


I think I think therefore I think I am.



[“Body seems unclear, is it a complete sentence?” No, but if you’re going to link two main clauses with a comma rather than a conjunction or a harder stop, don’t lecture me about grammar.]


I went to a talk by Penrose a few years ago with a few physicists. He was talking about a theory where you have periodic big bang-like events. My physicist friends had so many catty comments about how the talk was total bs. (Disagrees with observations, known conserved quantities, etc.)

This talk seems very much in the same vein. He seems to be making an argument that seems very much like a god-of-the-gaps version of consciousness. i.e. consciousness is the magic sauce in the part of quantum mechanics that we don’t understand.

(In some ways, this is related to the Conway-Kochen argument that we only have free will if our component subatomic particles have free will.)

Mostly, though, it seems like old physicist syndrome:


Q: "Is your mind quantum?"
A: Betteridge’s law.

(Also, name the observable phenomenon that excludes classical physics as the mechanism of consciousness.)


Consciousness is mysterious, quantum mechanics is mysterious therefore consciousness is quantum mechanical. Add embellishments to make it less obviously a false argument.


From the Futurism article:

More specifically, he thought it might be possible that quantum events cause molecular structures in the brain to alter their state and trigger neurons in different ways; that literal quantum effects within the brain exist.

I’m an interested layman rather than a physicist, but isn’t this obviously and trivially true? What with the brain being made of atoms and all?

Is it possible that knowing how to think in the right way—achieving a quantum consciousness—will allow us to perceive quantum mechanics properly for the first time?

Say what now?


I heard Penrose deliver this same spiel 20+ years ago when I was in college. Even at the time it seemed like a re-hash of Cartesian Dualism with some physics and biology terms thrown to make it sound better. The fact that the theory remains unchanged all these years later doesn’t make it seem any more like science. That said, I do appreciate the fact that he proposes a specific mechanism rather than just waving his hands and shouting MAGIC!

I thoroughly enjoyed the Neil Stephenson book ‘Anathem’ right up to the point where I realized that it was a fictionalized account of The Emperor’s New Mind and then I had to take a break to choke back my frustration. Apparently everyone (even Stephenson) wants consciousness to be something special and in particular rather than just a big jumble of complicated, tangled emergent behaviors. Maybe I just haven’t studied enough philosophy to understand what the big deal is.


I have also been left with the impression that Penrose spins a good yarn but that his arguments are somewhat lacking in substance.

I’m quite fond of the SMBC on quantum computing, which I suppose is only tangentially related, but does a good job of indicating that popular explanations of quantum whatsits bear little relation to their practical application.

[quote=“SheiffFatman, post:6, topic:99499”]P-ZOMBIE! P-ZOMBIE![/quote]Ah, yes, Quantum Night. Robert J. Sawyer sure has gotten a lot of mileage out of Penrose over the years, but that last one I found particularly unsettling – not so much because I think there’s really some possibility we’re all surrounded by unconscious zombies, but because it appeals to the problematic human tendency to adopt that model.


A cup of coffee might help there.


Never heard of it. Now I want to read it.


A variation on Cotard’s Syndrome?


“Thanks, Quantum! For taking the edge off of my wild-eyed New Age beliefs!”


Well, life happens at atomic scale first. Bodies are basicaly aimed at searching and capturing energy. So it is reasonable to imagine that there is more going on at quantum level that life itself “learned” to manipulate.

Said the Internet commenter.


I didn’t catch a special-quantumness-of-mind theme in Anathem, though there was a bit about the sense of smell.

I thought it played with emergent-from-the-meat consciousness under Many Worlds Interpretation: are there two of you at the end of the Schrodinger’s cat experiment, one holding a dead cat and one with a live one? Which one of them are you?

If some event results is your destruction, can you really observe it or will you inevitably see things panning out OK?


I found this video profoundly unconvincing, and I actually feel there could be something to the whole quantum consciousness thing :-/


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