Collapse of a number one concept on the quantum origin of consciousness

The Gran Sasso low radioactivity laboratory. Credit score: Massimiliano De Deo, LNGS-INFN

The origin of consciousness is without doubt one of the best mysteries of science. A proposed answer, first urged by Nobel laureate and Oxford mathematician Roger Penrose and anesthesiologist Stuart Hammeroff, of Arizona State College, Tucson, attributes consciousness to quantum computations within the mind. This in flip rests on the notion that gravity may play a task in how quantum results fade away, or “collapse”. However a sequence of experiments in a lab deep in Italy’s Gran Sasso mountains failed to seek out proof to assist a gravity-bound quantum collapse mannequin, compromising the feasibility of this clarification of consciousness. The result’s reported within the journal Opinion on the physics of life.

“How consciousness arises within the mind is a large puzzle,” says Catalina Curceanu, member of the physics assume tank, Foundational Questions Institute, FQXi, and chief experiment physicist at INFN in Frascati. , in Italy. “There are lots of competing concepts, however only a few may be examined experimentally.”

Quantum physics tells us that cats may be alive and useless on the identical time, a minimum of in concept. But, in observe, we by no means see felines locked in such an unlucky state of limbo. A preferred clarification for why not is {that a} system’s “wave perform” – its quantum character permitting it to be in two contradictory states concurrently – is extra more likely to “collapse” or be destroyed whether it is extra huge, leaving it in an outlined state. state, both useless The place alive, for instance, however not each on the identical time. This mannequin of collapse, associated to gravity appearing on heavy objects like cats, was invoked by Penrose and Hammeroff when creating their mannequin of consciousness, the “Orch OR concept” (orchestrated goal discount concept ), within the Nineties.

Quantum calculations within the mind

Curceanu first turned inquisitive about Orch OR concept when she met Penrose, additionally a member of FQXi, at a convention a number of years in the past. Consciousness just isn’t often related to quantum properties as a result of quantum results are fragile and troublesome to keep up even underneath extremely managed situations and chilly laboratory temperatures. It was subsequently lengthy assumed that the nice and cozy, humid atmosphere of the mind can be too disruptive for quantum results to outlive. However Penrose defined that he and Hammeroff recognized tiny buildings known as microtubules in mind neurons that might probably maintain quantum results for brief intervals of time, simply lengthy sufficient to carry out quantum calculations. The Orch OR concept attributes consciousness to quantum computations orchestrated (“Orch”) by electrical oscillations in these microtubules. “What I appreciated about this concept is that it’s in precept testable and I made a decision to search for proof that might assist verify or refute it,” says Curceanu.

“What I appreciated about this concept is that it’s in precept testable and I made a decision to search for proof that might assist verify or refute it.”

On the coronary heart of the idea is the concept that gravity is expounded to the collapse of the quantum wave perform and that this collapse is quicker in methods with extra mass. This idea was developed into a variety of fashions by numerous physicists within the Eighties. One in all them was Lajos Diósi, from the Wigner Analysis Middle for Physics and Eötvös Loránd College in Budapest, Hungary , who co-authored the brand new paper with Curceanu, Maaneli Derakhshani of Rutgers College in New Brunswick, New Jersey, Matthias Laubenstein additionally at INFN, and Kristian Piscicchia of CREF and INFN. Penrose approached this concept independently a number of years later and it turned the core of his concept of consciousness with Hammeroff.

Each theories are sometimes referred to by the umbrella time period, the “Diósi-Penrose concept”. However behind the frequent identify, there is a crucial distinction, notes Curceanu. Diósi’s strategy predicts that the collapse can be accompanied by the spontaneous emission of a small quantity of radiation, simply massive sufficient to be detected by state-of-the-art experiments.

Collapse of a leading theory on the quantum origin of consciousness

From left to proper: Fabrizio Napolitano, Alberto Clozza, Catalina Curceanu, Marco Miliucci – all from INFN-LNF. 1 credit score

go underground

The Curceanu underground laboratory is housed within the Gran Sasso Nationwide Laboratory, 1.4 km under the Italian Gran Sasso mountains. The laboratory is on one facet of the ten km lengthy highway tunnel that crosses the Gran Sasso massif, connecting L’Aquila and Teramo. “The placement was chosen as a result of it’s mainly freed from above-ground cosmic radiation sources, which may intrude with the experiment,” says Curceanu. The experiment makes use of a particularly delicate cylindrical detector, not a lot greater than a cup, made out of very pure germanium. It’s surrounded by shielding, made up of layers of ultra-pure lead and copper, to defend it from any background radiation from the rocks. After working the experiment for 2 months, the staff didn’t measure spontaneous radiation alerts, limiting the feasibility of gravity-driven collapse. In 2020, the staff reported in Pure Physics that their detrimental outcome had helped them eradicate the best model of the Diósi-Penrose mannequin.

Of their new paper, they explicitly examined the implications of their discovery for Penrose and Hammeroff’s Orch OR concept of consciousness. After re-analyzing probably the most believable situations acknowledged by Hammeroff and Penrose, in mild of their current experimental constraints on quantum collapse, they have been led to conclude that just about not one of the situations are believable. “That is the primary experimental investigation of the gravity-bound quantum collapse pillar of the Orch OR mannequin of consciousness, which we hope shall be adopted by many extra,” says Curceanu. “I’m very happy with our achievement.”

Interdisciplinary traits

The experiments and evaluation are partially supported by a grant from the Foundational Questions Institute, FQXi. “With out that, it could not have been doable to attain this outcome,” says Curceanu. “It’s troublesome to acquire funding for tasks like this in any other case, because of its interdisciplinary traits.”

“It is actually thrilling to attach what you are able to do within the lab to maybe the best thriller within the universe: consciousness.”

However all just isn’t misplaced for Orch Or, provides Curceanu. “In actual fact, the actual work is simply at the start.” she says. In actual fact, Penrose’s authentic collapse mannequin, not like Diósi’s, didn’t predict spontaneous radiation, so it was not dominated out. The brand new paper additionally briefly discusses how a gravity-driven collapse mannequin could possibly be realistically modified. “Such a revised mannequin, which we’re engaged on within the FQXi-funded undertaking, may go away the door open for Orch OR concept,” Curceanu says.

In the meantime, the staff is making ready to check these new refined collapse fashions, to additional examine their implications for the Orch OR mannequin. “It is actually thrilling to attach what you are able to do within the lab to maybe the largest thriller within the universe – consciousness,” Curceanu says.

Deconstructing Schrödinger’s Cat

Extra data:
Maaneli Derakhshani et al, On the crossroads of spontaneous radiation analysis and Orch OR concept of consciousness, Opinion on the physics of life (2022). DOI: 10.1016/j.plrev.2022.05.004

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