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So Much for the Cylons…

March 16, 2007

Came across this yesterday while reading Andrew Sullivan’s page.

After reading through it the first time, and seeing "quantum" and "mechanics" hanging out together, and the Planck scale being mentioned, I read through it again. 

I don’t claim to understand what’s going on here.  But, from what I can understand, this is pretty fascinating stuff…the idea that the soul and that some sort of universal consciousness may exist…and that the way our minds work may be irreproducible by artificial intelligence.

Take a read for yourself.  Let me know what you think?  Is this compelling, or crackpot?

The most fascinating stuff I’ve come across in my research, by a
long shot, is in the area of quantum mechanics, as presented in the
work of the Oxford mathematican/physicist Roger Penrose and his colleague Stuart Hameroff, an anesthesiologist and professor at the University of Arizona.

Together, Penrose and Hameroff have developed a theory of
consciousness called ORCH OR (Orchestrated Objective Eduction of
Quantum Coherence in Brain Microtubules) which posits that
consciousness "occurs" not at the neuronal level in the brain, and not
in algorithmic processes mimicking on a grand scale the way computers
work, but at the sub-neuronal level, in the microtubles (crystal-like
lattice structures that help organize cell structures and enable
information processing)  in which quantum processing interacts with
classical physics. It’s that intersect, between classical and quantum
physics, to drastically over-simplify the Penrose/Hameroff model, that
"provides the global binding necessary to consciousness."

Why is this interesting? Two reasons: because it suggests that the
brain functions not like a computer but in a non-computable (i.e.
non-reproducible by artificial means) way, and because Penrose goes
further, and theorizes a stable set of Platonic ideal structures
residing at the very lowest energy level of the Planck scale (where
quantum gravity, whatever that is, would be strongest), which inform
and influence at least our unconscious minds. Because quantum mechanics
allows for non-local patterns, and because these non-local patterns
repeat everywhere, the implication is that the universe is in some way
conscious, and that we are part of that consciousness.

The Italian physicist Paola Zizzi, taking the Penrose/Hameroff model
a logical step forward, has developed the theory that in the moment of
the Big Bang, the universe also acquired consciousness (in the sense of
these Platonic ideal structures), which she calls the Big Wow. The
immediate implications of this theory are profound, and echo some of
the basic tenets (though certainly not much in the way of dogma) of our
major religions: that we are all connected; that consciousness exists
apart from the purely mechanistic or biological workings of our
temporal bodies; that consciousness exists outside of classical
space/time; and that when we die, or when our brain activity ceases, to
be precise, the quantum information that has accreted through a
lifetime of experience does not disappear. It may decohere, in the
sense that the individual information is no longer organized the way
your brain organized it, or it may remain semi-coherent in what
Hameroff suggests as some kind "hologram," (he is after all still a
scientist); it may even float around and reconstitute itself in some
other form, that’s to say as some other person. No one knows.

What Penrose/Hameroff do claim to know, or at least strongly
suggest, is that individual consciousness does remain, after death, in
some form (perhaps outside the ken of current science, or even
philosophy, though certainly not religion). I’m probably doing grave
injustice to Penrose and Hameroff by summarizing their theory with such
radical simplicity. Penrose’s two books: "The Emperor’s New Mind" (written before he’d come into contact with Hameroff’s research into microtubules) and especially "Shadows Of The Mind: A Search For The Missing Science Of Consciousness," are undoubtedly better resources if you’re interested.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Tim permalink
    March 18, 2007 11:31 pm

    Doesn’t assuming that there is some Platonic Ideal structure at the root of consciousness force one to assume a supreme being who put it there?

    Are these the same folks that want us to believe that “Creationism” is legitimate science and should be taught in schools alongside evolution?

  2. March 23, 2007 2:47 pm

    If evolution is legit – why are there still monkeys?

  3. March 23, 2007 4:02 pm

    “Doesn’t assuming that there is some Platonic Ideal structure at the root of consciousness force one to assume a supreme being who put it there?”

    Not necessarily. We are, after all, examining this from a very limited vantage point (not unlike Plato’s cave allegory).

    Hameroff himself offers a pretty thorough defense of his colleagues theory of Platonic ideal structures existing at the lowest energy level of the Planck scale:

  4. Tim permalink
    March 27, 2007 11:44 pm

    “If evolution is legit – why are there still monkeys?”

    Where to begin? Evolution Theory NEVER insists that an old species die out. Only that new ones come into being that survive if they find a niche in nature that they are better at exploiting than another species.

    Sometimes this comes at the expense of the old species — the new species exploits the same niche, just better. Other times, it’s a new niche.

    Man found a new niche. The monkey were still better at their old niche.

    One of the Darwin’s inspirations was the variety of finches he found on Galapagos, each one evolved to take advantage of a different niche. The evolved variations didn’t replace the old ones, those variations survived because they found a niche that no other species occupied. Man didn’t replace monkeys — surely, for all of our faults, you don’t think of us as just monkey substitutes, do you?

    (Now Matt is going to go make me read all of Hameroff’s stuff again … bah.)

  5. March 28, 2007 7:16 am

    The Monkey Substitutes would be a great band name…

  6. Tim permalink
    March 28, 2007 10:36 pm

    Hmm. You’re onto something there.

    Guess my hangup on the whole Platonic ideal thing is not the way Planck and others envision it. I’m perfectly fine with the idea that there are basic laws and constants that exist on the quantum level. Mathematical constants that govern physics, that is.

    In Plato’s version of the Platonic Ideal, though (relevant because, well, his name is on it after all), he thought that we held ideals for all things in our head. We knew that this brown creature and this white one were both horses, for example, because we held the Platonic IDEAL of horses in our head, and we were able to reference the thing we were seeing against that ideal.

    But this ideal (in Plato’s version) was something we were born with. It was inherent in the existence of things. Important to Plato’s definition: this ideal was specifically NOT something we learned.

    Planck’s ideal is, well, quite a bit different than Plato’s. All I’m saying.

    Now I’m going to go read and stop confusing myself.

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