Saturday, August 22, 2020

Quantum Mind: Is quantum physics responsible for consciousness & free will?

Arvin Ash has always tended towards reductionism in his videos in the past, and while he did embrace some metaphysics at times, he always stuck to the hard science in the end. But in this video he's open minded to the idea that consciousness maybe not just the result of cause and effect - where there is no free will, and everything is determined by what preceded it - but that there maybe self determination and free will after all. If that's true, then we are not merely just very advanced biological machines, and that there could be something mystical about us, maybe even supernatural.

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. 


Matt Franko said...

If there is “free will!” then one of you guys prove it by “changing your mind!” to think we are “out of money!” and start telling everybody else here we are full of shit to think otherwise...

Matt Franko said...


Matt Franko said...

So when you Art degree morons say “change your mind!” do you literally think somebody is performing a brain transplant on you?

They are literally removing your brain and Putting another one in?

Serious question...,

Kaivey said...

When we change our mind it's a product of our feelings and we can't choose our feelings or our desires. We can't choose who we fall in love with.

Peter Pan said...

Without a definition of 'free will' equivalent to a unit of measure, you are eternally lost within semantic land.

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.

No difference between a philosopher and a plant, living or dead, apparently.

Peter Pan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Greg said...

Terrance Deacon has, what I think is, the best idea about what we are besides matter and energy.

Regarding free will, the choices aren’t only 1) complete free will where we have no constrints and we choose whatever we want or 2) no free will and a completely determined existence. That’s absurd.

Tom Hickey said...

@ Greg

Muhammad was reportedly asked about free will. He requested the questioner to stand on one leg. When the person did, Muhammad said, that is free will. Then he asked the person to raise the other leg while still standing on one leg. The person replied that this was impossible. Muhammad said, that is the limit of free will. :)

Greg said...


I like that story.

Daniel Dennett says that while we may not have the version of free wiill most people think about when we use the term, we do have a version of free will that is real and meaningful. We really do have choices. We aren’t puppets Now, I will add that it can be shown that many of the things we think we chose of our own volition were actually prompted. What feels like our own decision may not have 100% origins in our own mind. So it’s not just constraints like gravity and properties of atoms. Our mind is not the sole author of everything we think it is.

Tom Hickey said...

@ Greg

Yes, there are physical and physiological constraints and also psychological constraints. Physical and physiological constraints are more identifiable and measurable than psychological constraints, many of which are acquired. We are much more creatures of culture and habit – as well as more subject to influence – than most realize. It's not a matter of freedom or determinism but of degrees of freedom.

Peter Pan said...

When we play tic-tac-toe, we experience pure freedom. If only the game didn't limit us.