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Quantum coherence in microtubules: A neural basis for. emergent consciousness?

Quantum coherence in microtubules: A neural basis for. emergent consciousness?

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JOll11lal
of
Co
nsciolisnessStudies,
1,No
.1
,Summer1994,pp.
91
-
11
8
QUANTUM COHERENCEINMlCROTUBULES:A NEURALBASIS
FOR
EMERGENT
CONSCIOUSNESS?
Stuart
R.
HamerojJ2AdvancedBiotechnology Laboratory, Department
of
Anesthesiology, University
of
Arizona Health SciencesCenter,Tucson,
AZ
85724,
USA
Abstract:
The paper beginsw
ith
a general introductionto the nature
of
humanconsciousness and outlinesseveral different philosophicalapproaches.A critique
of
traditional reductionistanddualist pos
iti
onsisoffered and
it
is suggestedthatconsciousness should beviewed as
an
emergentproperty
of
physicalsystems.However,a
lth
ough consciousne
ss
ha
s
it
s
or
ig
in in
di
stributed brain processes
it
hasmacroscopic properties-most notably the'unitary
se
nse
of
se
lf,non-deterministicfree w
ill
,andnon-algorithmic'intuitive'process
in
g-which can
be
st be described by quantum-mechanical principles. There havebeen manyattemptsby physicistsandphilosopherstoapplyquantum mechanical principlesto the realm
of
conscious
ne
ss,but they have been primarilyspeculative and analogicalasthere hasbeenlittlesupportive ev
id
ence fromthe neuro
sc
iences.Thispaper postulatesthatcytoskeletalmicrotubulesw
ith
in
neuronscouldbeapo
ssibl
es
it
efor quantumeffects.Althou
gh
thesupportive ev
id
enceforsu
ch
athesisis,
of
necessity,highly technical,the art
icl
e
ha
sbeenstructured
in
su
ch
a waythat thegeneralarguments are access
ibl
eto thegeneralreader.Forthosemore technically minded,fullsupportive ev
id
enceisava
il
able
in
footnotesand appendices.
Introduction:
Emergence
of
Consciousness
The
nature
of
hum
ancon
sciou
s
ne
ss
is
the
greatest
frontier
facing
s
cience
andmankindand
is
being
approac
h
edby
many
dis
cipline
s-inc
luding
n
euroscience
,
cognit
i
ve
s
cience
,
computer
s
cience
,
phy
sic
s,
mathematic
s,
medicine
,
phannacology
,
philo
s
ophyand
religion. Within
thisdiv
er
se
approach
ex
istsas
pectrum
which
,
atone
extreme
,
con
sid
ers co
ns
ciou
s
ne
ss
as
s
implythe
s
um
total
of
brainact
i
vit
i
es.
Thi
s
reductionist
vi
ew
isbestexemplified by funetionalist philosophers(e.g. Dennett,
19
9
1)
and proponents
of
'strong artifieialintelligenee'or'strong
AI'
(e.g. Minsky,
19
86)who eontend thata
ll
mentaleve
nt
s
may be
reduced
to
ana
lgorithm
a
ndthat
a
ll
brain function
s,
inc
luding
con
s
ciou
sn
ess,
mayevent
ua
ll
y
occur
in
comput
ers.
Onthe
other
end
of
the
s
pectrum
isa
dualist
vi
ewwhich con
sid
ers
the
brain
and
mind
as
dis
tinct
,
separate
entiti
es and
eonseiousness as existing
in
aseparate reality (e.g. Popper and Eeeles,1977).This reduetionism/dualism diehotomy may potentially be resolved byviewswhieh eontend
that
con
s
ciou
s
ne
ss
h
as
a
distinctquality
,
but
one which
emerges
frombrainprocesses
whichcan
be
acco
unt
ed
for
by
n
atura
ls
cience.
One
aspect
of
natural
s
cience
,
quantum theory
,
may beespecia
ll
y
relevant.
In
particu-
l
ar
,
the
concept
of
quantumcoherence
l
eading
to
macro
s
copic
quantum
s
tate
s
may
help
1
Reprinted
in
part
in
the proceedingsfromtheAbis
ko
(Sweden) Conference on
Matter Matters-
On
the Material
Ba
sis
of
heCognitiveActivity
of
h
eMind,
ed
.RolfWasen,PeterArhem,and Uno Sved
in.
2
I
am
indebtedtoAlwynSco
tt
forguidance andsuggestions,to Roger Penro
se
forva
lid
ation and
in
spiration,to Richard Hofstad for patienceandclerical talent,andto Gordon Globus,JaneClark, KeithSuthe
rl
and andthe journal'srefereesfor review,cr
iti
cism andrestructuring.Supported
in
partbyNSFGrantNo.DMS-9114503.Summer1994supportfromM1DIT,Danish Technical
Un
ivers
it
yisalsoappreciated.
 
92
S.R.HAMEROFF
ex
pl
ainseveral
of
thequalities
of
consciousness which arcdifficult toex
pl
ain
by
conventionalneuroscienc
e.
Theseproperti
es
,and their possiblequantumcorrelates (in parentheses) are: The 'bindingproblem'or'unitary sense
of
se
lf
'(quantum eoherenee,non-Ioeality
).
• Randomness,non-detenninis
ti
cfree will (quantumindctc
nnin
acy).Non-algorithmic 'intuiti
ve'
processing(computingviaquantumsuperposition). Reversible a
bl
ation
by
general anaesthesia (prevention
of
quantum coherence
by
anaesthetieinhibition
of
quantummobilityin protein hydrophobieregions).
Diff
erence(and transition)between
pr
c-,sub-and non-consciousprocesses and consciousness (collapse
of
the wave function).Thispaper describes apotential'bottom-level'mechanism in thebrain'srecursive,
hi
erarehiealorganization driven orseleetedby (andalsodrivingandseleeting)higher level mechanisms(e.g.neural networks,attentionalscanningcircuits,coherent firing
of
di
stributed neurons).Atthis 'bottom'level,quantumeventscan couple directlyto confonnationalstates
of
cellprotein
s.
Quantum
coherenceincytoskeletalmicrotubules andassociatedwater withineach
of
the brain'sneuronsmaybe abottom levelfrom which conscIOusness canemerge. Emergenceimplies aqualitativelynewpropertyorphenomenonwhichapp
ea
rs ata
hi
erarchical levelabo
ve
thelevelatwhichrules
of
interactionareimplemented.Emergent properties(includingchaos)occurin many complex systemsincluding networks,vor tices,lasers,chemical oscillations,genetic networks,weather anddevelopmentalpat tern
s.
Numerous authorshavedescribedconsciousnessasanemergent phenomenon a
ri
singfroma
hi
erarchy
of
lower-level brain processes.
3
Emergentphenomenacanexert downwardmodulation
on
lower-level interactionsto providereverberation,feedback, errorcorrection andr
ewar
d. In
the brain'shierarchy,consciousness (andsub-conscious faetors)eanreg
ul
ate,bydownwardeontrol,volitionalaetionsandbodilyfunetions. Consciousness also app
ea
rstohave emergedatsomepoint inevolution.Perhaps occurringinitia
ll
y as a 'helpless-spectator'epiphenomenon,consciousnessthenassumed control
of
it
sbiolog
ic
alenvironment(Jaynes,1976).Theemergence
of
consciousnessin ourbrains(duringeachconsciousmoment,duringevolutionand during thedevelopment
ofeaeh
human being)maybelikened to newproperties
of
materials whiehdevelopfrom microsco
pi
cor quantum-levelevent
s.
Forexample,the
di
stinct properties
of
super conductivity andsuperfluidity emergefrommate
ri
als astheir individualatomsreacha
hi
gh level
of
coherence.
In
thesecases,ordereda
li
gnmentor coherenceisdueto lowering temperatureto near absolute zerotore
duc
ethermal oscillations.Consequently,ata criticaldegree
of
coherence,totally newmacrosco
pi
cproperties(superconductivity, superfluidity)emerge(Leggett,
19
89).Thispapersuggeststhatconsciousnessmay emerge as amacroscopicquantumstate froma critical level
of
coherence
of
quantum-leveleventsinandarounda specific class
of
neurobiological microstructur
e:
cytoskeletal microtubules withinneuronsthroughout
th
ebrain.
3
Atkin(1992)hasdefinedconsciousness as emergent
information
itself
at
th
emom
en
t
of
it
sgenera
ti
on-ongo
in
g,self-organiz
in
g change
in
a self/world mode
l.
Baas(1994)hasmathemat
i-
ca
ll
ydescr
ib
ed'hyperstruct
ur
es'w
ith
intrinsic observerfunctionsw
hi
chemergefrom
hi
erarc
hi
es,
an
d
hi
erarc
hi
calschemes
of
brainorgani
za
ti
on l
ea
dingto consciousnesshavebeen proposed(e.g. Scott,1978,1994;So
mj
en
,1983).Globus (1992)descr
ib
es
th
ebrainas'fractal-like',with recursive levels,each us
in
g'ed
ge
of
chaos'non-lineardyna
mi
cprocessingw
ith
ongo
in
gtuning/detuning.
 
QUANTUM
COHERENCEIN MI
CROTUBU
L
ES
MicrotubuleAssociate
d
Pr
otein(M
AP
)
MicrotubuleCen
tr
iole
Membrane
93
Figure
1.
Schema
tic
of
simple ce
ll
withcytoskeletalmicrotubulesorganizedradiallyaround centriolenear nucleus.Microtub
ul
e associated (MAPs)interconnect
mi
crotub
ul
es
toform
Dendrite Dendritic Spine/Synaptic Recept
or
Nucleus
'-.,--/
Membrane
L
AxonMicrotubule
'-
_.n
L-
--
-
Microtub
ul
eAssociatedProtein
Figure
2.Schematic
of
centralregion
of
neuron(distalaxon anddendr
it
esnotshown).Micro tubules,interconnectedby MAPs, are arranged inparallel. Linkingprote
in
sconnectmicrotub
ul
esto membraneprote
in
sincludingsynaptic receptorsondendriticsp
in
es.
Microtubul
cs
(MTs)
arc
cy
lindri
ca
lprotcin polymcrsintcrco
nn
cctcdbycross·bridging protcins(MAPs), which
st
ructurallya
nd
dynamicallyorgani
zc
functional
act
iviti
cs
in
li
v
in
g
ce
ll
s(seeFigureI),
in
cludingsynapticregulation
in
s
id
ethe brain'sneurons(see
Figure
2).
In
Sect
ions
II
a
nd
III
,
we
look at
so
me
of
the
currentmodels
of
cog
niti
ve
proce
sses
and
make
a
ease
forthe
re
l
evanee
of
sub·neuronalstru
etures.The
ba
s
ie
the
sis
isthat brain-wide microtubule-based quantumstates,whencoupledtosynaptic events

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