The Relationship Between Quantum Mechanics and Consciousness

I started thinking the other day about how we have been trying to model consciousness: physical. Researchers have long been trying to build a physical computer which mimics the scale of the human brain. The basic thought is that the architecture of the brain, the number of neurons and synapses, is largely what’s responsible for enabling consciousness. But recent research into avian behaviors, namely crows, seems to refute that: bigger, or more complex, is not necessarily indicative of higher-functioning thought.

But there is another aspect of the physical, and that’s biology. Does the very nature of the neuron, in some way, contribute to the rise of consciousness? Do the structures within the cells and how they communicate (at scale), provide some basis for the opportunity for consciousness? That may very well be the case and AI researchers have been building and using neural nets (a software equivalent, in a sense, of how neurons work) as a way to represent this albeit in a very simplistic way. No, neural networks have not been able to represent human consciousness any more than physical computers reflecting brain structures.

And that got me to thinking about quantum mechanics and how it relates to the brain and consciousness.

Regardless of what biologists may tell you, all of life distills down to physics. The way that neurons work, their very construction of molecules and atoms, the electrical signals traversing over synpases…all physics. So why, then, have we not looked at how the brain operates with regards to quantum mechanics? If the physical and operational aspects of the human brain adhere to classical physics, then it must also adhere to quantum mechanics as well. Perhaps consciousness, then, is related to entanglement. Perhaps memory is an aspect of spin (which would allow for so much more storage than just the physical aspects of the brain; something which still is not really understood). As quantum computing continues to advance, making use of qubits based on quantum dots, it’s possible that we will get closer to a computational approximation of the human brain than where we are now.

What if we have not been seeing the brain (and its functions such as consciousness, perception, and memory) using the correct model of physics? Here is an abstract of the Nature article linked above:

Qubits based on quantum dots have excellent prospects for scalable quantum technology due to their compatibility with standard semiconductor manufacturing. While early research focused on the simpler electron system, recent demonstrations using multi-hole quantum dots illustrated the favourable properties holes can offer for fast and scalable quantum control. Here, we establish a single-hole spin qubit in germanium and demonstrate the integration of single-shot readout and quantum control. We deplete a planar germanium double quantum dot to the last hole, confirmed by radio-frequency reflectrometry charge sensing. To demonstrate the integration of single-shot readout and qubit operation, we show Rabi driving on both qubits. We find remarkable electric control over the qubit resonance frequencies, providing great qubit addressability. Finally, we analyse the spin relaxation time, which we find to exceed one millisecond, setting the benchmark for hole quantum dot qubits. The ability to coherently manipulate a single hole spin underpins the quality of strained germanium and defines an excellent starting point for the construction of quantum hardware.

Perhaps the human brain already operates like this and that the “electrical control” required for quantum manipulation (for computation or storage purposes) is built into the physical structures of the brain. Maybe we can even go so far as to say that quantum mechanics is the “operating system” of the brain and at some point during the physical (biological) development, that operating system starts up and improves over time. This would seem to lend itself to the impact of physical brain trauma on cognitive ability (language, memory, processing, etc.). Or maybe there is something else in play, another sub-structure (a linkage between certain structures within the brain; perhaps a quantum linkage) which starts the whole thing up and keeps it working?

Of course, a lot of this can’t be proven or even tested at this point but it’s a direction that I believe neuroscience research needs to move. They need to work more closely with physicists to explore how the brain operates within a quantum framework. I believe that this path of research will help enlighten our understanding of consciousness and, hopefully, pave the way for a true computational representation of the human brain.