Massimo Teodorani, Ph.D.
Astrophysicist, Researcher, University Physics Lecturer, Science Writer, Electronic Musician
ABSTRACT – After a brief introduction regarding the basic principles of quantum theory, I will concentrate the attention on the issue of “non-locality” by describing and discussing the theory and the experimental proofs which underlie the physical mechanism of quantum entanglement. In the first case I will describe the EPR thought experiment and David Bohm’s theory, by discussing the meaning of “quantum potential” as a non-local guide to reality as a whole just starting from elementary particles. Discussion on non-locality will then culminate in the concept of “implicate order” as a global consciousness of the Universe. The role of the human brain will be then presented as a neural correlate of individual consciousness. At this point the speech will focus on Penrose-Hameroff quantum theory of the brain. In this context I will explain how consciousness emerges from the brain as an orchestrated collapse of the quantum wave function that describes microtubules in the brain, by assuming that they are a quantum coherent entity all over the brain. The simple E = h / t (total energy associated to microtubules) Penrose’s equation will be amply discussed, by showing how the number of microtubules in a living being affects the level of consciousness, up to the asymptotic superior limit for an infinite value of E corresponding to “God’s mind”, namely the implicate order for excellence. Finally a work hypothesis elaborated by this author will be presented about the role of the human “soul”, as non-local software that is strictly linked to the body as hardware, and whose role is to acquire information which can then be uploaded to a “non-local library” located in the quantum void. The presentation will be wholly non-technical but rather layman’s style.
1. Introduction to quantum theory
Differently from standard Newtonian/Einsteinian physics the realm described by quantum physics is not deterministic but rather probabilistic. This happens in the world of elementary particles where the observer, using measurement instrumentation, inevitably affects the observed reality. According to the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle it is not possible to determine the trajectory of an elementary particle like the electron, since it is not possible to know simultaneously at each instant its position and its speed. If we improve the knowledge of position, i.e. locating the particle as a point-like particle, reducing the uncertainty about its position we increase the uncertainty on the speed. Similarly, it is impossible to determine at the same time the material component (photon) and the energetic component (wave) of a given quantum event. But the energy has simultaneously the properties of both a wave and a particle. Therefore, unlike the trajectory of a planet in its orbit that follows a well defined and predictable Newtonian mechanics, the trajectory of an electron can be predicted only using probabilistic techniques and not deterministic.
A quantum system is just represented by a “wave function”, which is one of the basic terms of the Schrödinger Equation, which determines how this function evolves over time. The wave function cannot be used to precisely locate the exact coordinates of the elementary particle (such as an electron) but rather to define probabilistically a volume of space within which the electron may be found with higher probability. Such volume of space is technically represented by an “orbital”. As soon as one makes a measurement, the particle is found only in a given place, but between a measurement and the other the particle dissolves into a “superposition of probability waves” and it is potentially present in many different places simultaneously within a given orbital. When the measurement (i.e.: the act of observation) is made, this wave packet “collapses” instantly, again into a localized particle: this represents the so called “wave function collapse”. All this means that in the world of elementary particles the observer inexorably affects what is observed.
These concepts can be intuitively explained with an example: the “Schrödinger’s Cat Paradox”. Imagine we have a box and put in a cat and then close it. Then suppose that a photon enters the box with half a chance of being transmitted, and another half of not being transmitted. If the photon is transmitted, it triggers a device that emits a chemical that kills the cat, but if it is not transmitted the cat remains alive. But since the cat is inside the box we cannot know whether it is alive or dead. In fact, there is a superposition of states in which the cat is both alive and dead. This example represents intuitively the concept of “superposition” of quantum states, just as described by the wave function. We will know if the cat is alive or dead, just at the very moment when we open the box. The act of opening the box is exactly equivalent to the process of measurement and corresponds to the collapse of the wave function. We can use one more example to explain the same concept: the “Coin Paradox”. If we are inside a dark room and throw a coin in the air and then it falls on the ground, we cannot know if it shows head or cross, because the coin is in a “superposition of head and cross,” until we turn on the light. When we turn on the light we make the superposition of head and cross “collapse”, because we are finally able to see which of the two sides of the coin is shown. The act of measuring something destroys the superposition, forcing the quantum state described by the wave function to get a “classical state” in which the identity of the various states is determined. All this happens in the world of elementary particles, and the perturbative role of the observer is absolutely critical, as he inexorably interacts with a quantum reality made of a superposition of states, bringing these states to take on only one well-defined state.
2. Quantum synchronicities: entanglement and coherence
The laws of standard Newtonian physics describing rigorously and precisely the world around us – from the objects of everyday reality to the behavior of celestial bodies – provide an insuperable limit: the speed of light, which, according to the findings of relativity theory, cannot exceed 300,000 kilometers per second. This means that the photons of light and any other electromagnetic radiation employ time to cover a space. These times are reduced to a fraction of a second and a half to travel the Earth-Moon distance but become four years to travel the distance between the Earth and the nearest star. In this way the known universe – the size of which is at least 14 billion light-years – cannot have a simultaneous perception of itself and any communication between the component parts is possible only in times that are immeasurably long.
But when we enter the size of the infinitely small – that of electrons and quarks – in particular circumstances completely different physical mechanisms occur. Both through theoretical (starting from the famous Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen “EPR thought experiment”) and mathematical arguments and through lab experimentation it has been possible to demonstrate that if two particles – such as two electrons – have interacted with each other at least once, when they are separated even at great distances from each other a very spooky phenomenon may occur. If an observer uses an electron microscope to observe the particle that remained in the laboratory, this action, based on the emission of photons to illuminate it, inevitably alters the quantum state of the particle. The perturbation induced by the observer causes the reversal of the sign of the “spin” of the particle, i.e. the direction of its rotation. In this way, when we enter the world of the infinitely small, the observer perturbs the observed reality by modifying it, and then what we see of this micro-universe is only the result of our interaction with it. We just talked about the first particle, the one that has remained in our laboratory, and which we observe using our experimental apparatus by perturbing its spin. While we do this to the first particle, we now must ask what happens to the twin particle, which is, for example, 1 light-year away from the first particle. The answer is that, in the exact same instant in which the particle that is located in the laboratory is observed with the instrument, the twin particle in turn will reverse the sign of its spin in a perfectly synchronized way with the first particle, i.e. in zero time. If this does not happen then the law of spin conservation will be violated.
From all this it is clear that when we switch from the macro-world – one dominated by the speed of light and described by classical physics and astrophysics – to the micro-world we enter into a domain that is governed by entirely different laws, although both domains can be described by the same type of sophisticated mathematical infrastructure. But the thing that really surprises is that in the microscopic realm of quantum mechanics synchronicity between particles becomes possible, so that the communication of information is done by canceling the constraints of both space and time. This mechanism is now technically known in physics as “quantum entanglement”. This unsettling properties of elementary particles, which have also been proved in a laboratory – in particular with the double slit experiment and Alain Aspect’s experiment on entangled photons in 1982 – have since 15 years allowed us to realize the mechanism of quantum teleportation, which for now is limited to elementary particles such as photons, electrons, atoms and molecular aggregates, but which in the future may perhaps allow us to teleport instantly complex aggregates such as a pen, an insect or even a human body teleporting particle by particle and making so that a supercomputer reconstructs its original aggregation. This stunning synchronic mechanism has nothing to do with transmission of energy – as energy (being the other side of matter) follows only the laws of electromagnetic wave propagation – but rather with transmission of pure information.
Quantum physicist David Bohm was able to explain such synchronic behavior using a non-local parameter called “quantum potential”. In describing the behavior of an elementary particle, he modified the classical version of Schrödinger Equation, by splitting it into two parts: a “local” part that obeys to the standard laws of classical physics and a “non-local” part that describes quantum entanglement through the quantum potential. This means that the macroscopic world can exist only if space and time exist and therefore the physics describing it has local (or causal) characteristics. On the other side the microscopic world receives guidance and information instantly by the quantum potential. Bohm’s quantum potential is not a quantity that decreases as the inverse square of the distance as all electromagnetic signals in classical physics do, but rather it has no constraints of space and time. At some deeper level of reality, elementary particles are not individual entities, but rather extensions of a single fundamental “organism”, in such a way that their separation, at a deeper level of reality, appears to be only an illusion.
Bohm wanted to explain these concepts using intuitive metaphors, the most important of which is the “Metaphor of the Ship”. An elementary particle is represented as a ship that arrives in port due to the power of its engines, but being guided by the signals of radar. The engines represent classical mechanics while the radar represents the quantum potential (as per Bohmian quantum theory). The great power of its engines brings the ship across the sea, but its specific route is determined by the radar signals. The energy associated to these signals is negligible compared to the power of the engines. But such radar signals are rich of information and indicate with precision the direction of the ship. All this is to say that quantum mechanics shows us the structure of cosmic reality as composed of two constantly interacting factors (through “holomovement”, according to Bohm): a structure of forces that govern matter and a non-local “apparatus for driving” the world of matter that provides information on how to move. Therefore, the quantum potential makes sure that at a certain level of reality everything is instantaneously linked to an invisible Unity. This explains the reason of the existence of quantum entanglement, i.e. the root from which it originates. According to Bohm’s model on the universe in its entirety, there are two orders of reality perfectly integrated with each other: the “explicate order”, which is the reality of matter/energy, subject to the impassable limit of the speed of light, and the “implicate order”, which is the “conscience” of matter itself, subject to no limits of space and time. All this means one thing: matter does not move blindly but is constantly guided in a non-local, or synchronic, way from the “consciousness” that underlies matter itself. This theory makes the universe a global entity where the events do not occur randomly but are guided by a “higher principle”, according to which the Universe itself not only has a simultaneous consciousness of itself, but also the power to inform at any time every little component of it, starting from elementary particles. In fact, the macro-objects described by astrophysics – stars and galaxies – are nothing more than aggregates of very small particles, in particular electrons and quarks. Therefore, at some level the universe seems to have really a synchronic structure and this without detracting from the standard laws of classical physics, which in their specific domain govern matter, and which are repeatable at will and work exceptionally well. But scientific thinking that has developed in the physics of the last 50 years shows something more that we can add to these established laws. This “something” has nothing transcendent in it (apart from religious and/or teleological interpretations) but is knowable using the physical-mathematical method and formalism. However, calling it “consciousness of matter” doesn’t seem to be inappropriate.
3. Quantum coherence, microtubules and the quantum brain
As a neural correlate of consciousness our brain represents a marvelous “connection terminal” with the entire Universe through the non-local quantum dimension.
The source of all of this starts from the concept of “quantum coherence”. This is a form of quantum entanglement, or non-local behavior, in which a cluster of many particles are close together (and not distant), constituting together a single unity and acting in unison, which can be described by the same wave function (through Schrödinger equation) like if they were only one entity. This kind of phenomenon occurs in a Laser beam, a Bose-Einstein condensate of atoms and even plasma. But it seems not to stop here.
Weak radiation known as “biophotons” that a few decades ago were discovered by various researchers is one of the focal points of current research in biophysics, the one carried out by biophysicists like Fritz Albert Popp and Peter Gariaev, just to make important examples. It seems that biophotons are the main mark of phenomena showing a high degree of quantum coherence and the main mechanism of transport of non-local information between cells in the human body through that which is called “quantum electrodynamic coherence”. According to very recent research (in particular the one of physicist Emilio Del Giudice), all of this is what represents the universal phenomenon of Life, its birth, its development and its evolution. In fact, there seems to be quantum coherence even in Microtubules that form the neurons of the brain, with truly revolutionary consequences for what concerns the mechanism by which consciousness works.
At present the mechanism of quantum entanglement, or synchronicity in physics, is fully confirmed only in the case of very small objects such as elementary particles. Yet theoretical models exists that posit the possibility that this phenomenon may be operating also in domains larger than a particle, through the so called “mesoscopic domains”. In particular, joint work by mathematical physicist Roger Penrose and anesthesiologist Stuart Hameroff suggest that “microtubules” have properties very similar to those of elementary particles. According to their theory, inside the brain a billion of these microtubules are in a constant state of entanglement between them as if they were musical instruments playing the same note at the same time: this is a typical case of quantum coherence of mesoscopic objects described by only one wave function as if they were only one entity. As soon as the wave function collapses this orchestra of microtubules passes from a state of suspended animation to a state of concreteness. This leads to the formation of a moment of consciousness, which occurs at least a million times a day for an average human being. In this way and according to this theory, the brain, in addition to being a quantum object in its entirety, is nothing but the neural correlate of consciousness itself. In a nutshell this means that the material world – the brain in this case – is closely linked to the world of consciousness, as if matter itself were constantly accompanied by its “ghost guide”, which in turn uses specific conditions within matter to manifest itself. But this is exactly what is described by Bohm’s equation for an elementary particle, where a local/causal realm is strictly linked with a non-local/a-causal realm through the quantum potential. Therefore, the brain acquires exactly the same role as the physical and causal macro-universe, while consciousness is a non-local process able to manifest when some particular conditions of quantum coherence are present in the brain itself. In such a way, starting with what occurs in an elementary particle, the universe is a sort of “process” in which the “body” of the particle responds to causal/local laws of physics, while the “consciousness” of the particle obeys to a-causal/non-local laws coming from the quantum potential. Exactly the same, according to Penrose and Hameroff, occurs in the microtubules composing our brain’s neurons, whose “bodies” create the right condition to realize non-locality in form of what we call “consciousness”. According to this theory the brain and the universe are linked by the same subtle substance. All of this can be explained by physics.
Standard knowledge about the brain insists on advocating a mechanical model, according to which consciousness is merely a purely electrical process – and therefore based on the limit of the light speed, but not quantum – triggered by the continuous exchange of energy taking place between neurons. In fact, according to the conventional approach it is believed that neurons and their chemical synapses are the fundamental units of information in the brain, and that the experience of consciousness emerges when a critical level of complexity in the neural network of the brain is reached. The processing of information in this case would be completely algorithmic, just like in the computer that we have on our table, even though, of course, much more complex. Even today many people continue to believe that the brain – with its 100 billion neurons, each of which contains 1,000 to 10,000 synapses working as switches that run hundreds of times per second and with a number of operations of about 10^15 processing per second – functions just like a desktop computer.
But a new theory contradicts such an old mechanistic vision. According to Stuart Hameroff the microtubules present within each nerve cell (neuron) are able to produce states of quantum coherence within the totality of the brain, so that quantum coherence between Tubulins inside each microtubule, distributed in the brain (in a manner similar to what happens in Bose-Einstein condensates of atoms) becomes possible. Such a coherence and the quantum entanglement processes (in this case linking very close entities) that take place make the tubulins entities that may assume the same characteristics as electrons or photons (elementary particles) in entangled state, but where we do not have simple pairs of particles in a state of entanglement, but rather billions of them. This complex of tubulins is described by only one wave function as if they were only one entity. The collapse of the wave function that describes such states of quantum coherence leads to the formation of consciousness. In the first phase we have an “unconscious moment” corresponding to the quantum superposition of 10^9 tubulin states, a kind of “limbo of consciousness” of very short duration. In the second phase we have the “conscious moment“, corresponding to the collapse of the wave function which gathered within a single quantum state the global entanglement complex that combines microtubules in the brain: this second phase is referred to as “Orchestrated Objective Reduction”.
Why just microtubules? Microtubules are the main component of the cell cytoskeleton, which forms a sort of skeleton of the cells. They are a fundamental part of neurons in the brain. Their role is to adjust the connections between the synapses. It turned out that microtubules are the nervous and “circulatory” system of the cells. They move anything in the cells by organizing their form and function, and they communicate with the membranes and with nuclear DNA. Microtubules are real units with their own intelligence, to the point that a being as the single-celled paramecium can swim, learn, avoid predators, find food and reproduce only thanks to microtubules, and without the need of synapses (since it is free of them). But above all, their well-established character of quantum coherence (emission of biophotons) make them an ideal terrain in a way that striking quantum effects take place, even considering that the special conditions of isolation of microtubules in the brain through the mediation of a type of “gel” make them sufficiently resistant to the phenomenon of decoherence.
The physically important fact here is that each tubulin that composes microtubules behaves like a kind of electric dipole, being able to assume two states of electrical polarization, based on the states 1 and 0. In this way each tubulin is similar to the on-off circuits of a computer. Therefore tubulins within microtubules may play the role of a “Bit”. In this case we have some real “proteinaceous dipoles”, whose distribution in the walls of each microtubule can excite the water molecules inside the nucleus of the same microtubule. It then happens that if many of these dipoles are triggered, the energy itself of water molecules is induced into a state of high quantum coherence. In this way tubulins and water molecules form a highly cooperative system.
In conclusion, the idea of focusing the attention on microtubules as quantum objects is motivated by the need to find a suitable environment in the brain that allows quantum states to live long enough before interactions with the typical environment (warm and liquid) in the brain destroys them generating the phenomenon of decoherence. But microtubules are an ideal place because tubulins within them may remain for some time under a quantum superposition state, while at the same time microtubules in the brain are found together in a perfect state of entanglement. But these two properties – quantum superposition and quantum entanglement – are used precisely in quantum computers, where what matters are not Bits that are made of states that can be either 0 or 1, but rather Qbits, representing overlaps of 0 and 1. And then when someone observes or measures Qbits their superposition state collapses in such a way that the states of 0 or 1 are chosen. Quantum computation itself is algorithmic, but only at the moment of collapse of the superposed quantum states it happens that a non-algorithmic influence occurs. How does this happen in the brain?
Theoretical physicist Roger Penrose explains the process of formation of a given “moment of consciousness” – understood as an “orchestrated collapse” of the wave function that describes tubulins linked together by entanglement – as a spontaneous disturbance that occurs at the level of the Planck Field (10^-33 cm) by manifesting both quantum and relativistic effects. In this way, the brain would be no more than a carrier able to manifest a consciousness which in fact would be “elsewhere”. The greater the Energy E associated with the mass of microtubules (depending on the number of them): 1) the lower the Time t at which the collapse takes place; 2) the greater the number of moments of consciousness in the course of a day.
E = h / t
(h: Planck constant)
On average, for a man, a “moment of consciousness” generated by this mechanism lasts 1/60 of a second, so that 1,000,000 moments of consciousness can be experienced in the course of a day. It is evident that if the value of E tends to infinity the time t tends to zero, namely to no time. This is an “asymptotic situation” that someone might call “God”.
All of this means that consciousness, in order to be manifested, needs necessarily a “body”. This body, within the brain, is represented by microtubules and tubulins within them and by their quantum coherence. This is the only way to make the wave function collapse. Otherwise the orchestra of microtubules remains in a superposition state bringing to no consciousness. Of course this is not the only kind of body that can make a consciousness manifest, but it is the only one (biological) that we know. In principle, whatever contains a sufficient degree of quantum coherence – which must not be necessarily biological – may potentially bring to the formation of a kind of consciousness: this might be a Laser, a Bose-Einsten condensate, a plasma or even a Fullerene molecule. What matters here is that the value of E is sufficiently high. It is not impossible to imagine that intelligent beings somewhere in the Universe might have a value of E that is greater or much greater than our brain’s.
Penrose-Hameroff’s is today a well established theory about brain and consciousness, which is subject to continuous improvements, and in spite of some criticism from other scientists (such as Max Tegmark’s one), this theory is becoming increasingly popular nowadays inside the scientific community.
A very interesting parallel research is the one carried out theoretically by Italian physicist Paola Zizzi. She is considering the Universe as a brain on a very large scale. According to her theory and calculations, during the inflationary period of the Big Bang the universe was a “Multiverse” which was in a state of quantum superposition of multiple universes, until something – a mysterious “observer from the outside”, or the underlying Planck field – triggered, at the end of the era of Inflation, the collapse of the wave function of the multiverse by inducing, through a certainly very sophisticated process of “measurement”, a conscious choice among the infinite suspended possibilities: the Universe in which we live. Scaled down, this is exactly the same thing that happens when the wave function that holds together tubulins and microtubules in our brain suddenly collapses (orchestrated objective reduction), resulting in the formation of a moment of consciousness. In the case of the “Universal Wave Function” the number of quantum superpositions that are created before the collapse corresponds to 10^9 Universes. But this is also the number of tubulins that are expected to be in a state of superposition in our brain and then are prone to collapse in order to produce a moment of consciousness. Only one difference exists: the time t = 10^-34 seconds (Planck Time), which is equivalent to the “Moment of Consciousness of the Universe” when it materialized only one of the endless possibilities, the one in which we live since about 14 billion years.
4. One hypothesis about a physical entity called “soul”
Several theories regarding a possible link between junk DNA and the “soul” are being developed according to recent studies by some biophysicists. What is of interest to me is to try to hypothesize what is the role of the “soul” – that I substantially interpret as the subtle vector of consciousness – when the body that brings it dies, i.e. when no physical brain exists any more. I have imagined, so far only qualitatively, the following scenario:
1. The “soul” is a physical and non-transcendent entity that, in form of a quantum field, can be manifest in form of consciousness in any body that has characteristics of quantum coherence (not only the brain).
2. Its role, as the “terminal” of a big “Supercomputer” is twofold: a) to work as software of an hardware called “body”; b) to collect pure information coming from both intelligence and emotions.
3. That information is automatically and non-locally “uploaded” on a “hard disc” located in the quantum void at the Planck scale (10^-33 cm).
How does it work? All the thoughts and emotions are constantly non-locally uploaded there like to an internet website by every single soul. Where does such a process occur? Simply within the quantum void that is present inside the atoms of our body. All the atoms of matter are mostly made of pure void, where protons, neutrons and electrons are immersed. If we hypothesize that this void is the site of “universal consciousness” – i.e. the main source from where the quantum potential is born – then everything coming from us goes there to be memorized just through an “upload operation”, being instantly transmitted to a “Big Library”. That library is not located at a specific place, but it is everywhere in the Universe, just inside the quantum void itself, and all the atoms of the Universe are immersed into it as well. The hypothesis here is that the void contains (or is) the memory of all that which was thought or felt during one or more lives, just working as a quantum supercomputer that collects every information collected by the living beings: all this can be potentially downloaded too. Therefore this (multidimensional) Universe might be an incommensurable work of engineering/informatics, a creation by another intelligence: a highly evolved one. Within such a purely hypothetic scenario, creation of Universes made of matter would be carried out by inflating virtual particles located inside the quantum void: this would bring to many Big Bangs. All that which is “real” in each universe would remain non-locally connected to the original source through the quantum potential. Such engineering, involving both real matter and consciousness, might come from what I like to hypothetically call: “The Builders”. But calling them “Gods” would certainly diminish the “asymptotic” and unknowable figure of “God”.
5. Conclusive remarks
The birth of quantum theory seven decades ago and its growth in recent years has demonstrated to all of us that a reality at a very deep level is not knowable using standard determinism of Newtonian physics, but rather a probability operator named “wave function”. At the level of elementary particles the Universe is knowable only when we observe it, but at the same time, due to the collapse of the wave function, we observe only one out of very many possibilities of existence. Only one reality is made known to us, all the others disappear from our eyes, unless – like from the “many worlds interpretation” by physicists such as Hugh Everett Jr., Lev Vaidman and David Deutsch – all the other possibilities collapse simultaneously in other dimensions.
In addition to the more classical assumptions of quantum mechanics, a very spooky phenomenon occurs among particles that have interacted at least once: this is quantum entanglement. Its non-local characteristics are totally incompatible with the propagation of electromagnetic signals. Quantum entanglement is not due to energy of any kind but rather to the transmission of pure information, whose source is represented by Bohm’s quantum potential, which might be compared with a cosmic quantum super-computer of non-local kind. This “informative field” may link all particles together if they interacted together at least once. Something of this link has been found through several experiments as well as theoretically demonstrated through both thought experiments and mathematical models. This field is a kind of “director” of all matter particles in the universe, which can be unveiled doing some experiments. Such a process seems to be operational in the brain too. And this is quite natural and logical: if, as it probably is, the quantum potential is the non-locally manifested “consciousness of matter”, able to link everything simultaneously, then the consciousness that emerges from a situation of quantum coherence in the brain through microtubules is a manifestation of a general cosmic law in biological and sentient beings. In this light the brain is a sort of “radio receiver” that enables the universe to be conscious of itself through its many sentient terminals. Otherwise, without intelligent life in the universe, the mechanism of consciousness would be just mechanical but not intelligible by both intelligence and emotions. Due to this, Life seems to be an absolutely necessary process in the economy of the universe. At the non-local level the brain might be also intended as a connection point between the micro-world with its spooky effects and the macro-world with its causal physical laws. That’s probably the sense of the Vitruvian Man of Leonardo da Vinci.
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