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The Non-Quantum Mind and I

July 18, 2010

A while back I wrote a piece summarising some interesting stuff from Roger Penrose’s Shadows of the Mind. The conclusion of this book is that quantum effects could be responsible for what we call “consciousness”. I’ve just stumbled across a critique of this in The New Atheism by physicist Victor Stenger.

[Penrose] suggested that quantum mechanics, in particular quantum gravity, might play a role. However, as I showed in my 1995 book The Unconscious Quantum, an application of textbook quantum mechanics to the brain shows that it is too hot and its parts are too big for quantum effects to be significant. Physicist Max Tegmark arrived at the same conclusion in a 1999 paper.

Stenger prefers the idea that the brain is in some way home to a chaotic system, where it is

stable and predictable most of the time but capable of changing rapidly under the right conditions.

These conditions could be caused by thermal motion due to the heat in our brains. He also suggests radioactivity as a possible mechanism – our blood contains radioactive potassium-40, sufficiently energetic to break atomic and molecular bonds.

The conclusion?

So the brain could easily be a nonquantum device, operating according to Newtonian physics and carrying out calculations and logical deductions but still functioning close to chaos with an ingredient of randomness caused by thermal motion or radioactivity, An occasional glitch can then redirect an algorithm in a different direction.

Time to hunt down the references and see what they have to say!

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