Deciding to Read This Article Is Not the Result of Gravity Crushing Your Quantum Spirit

A few years ago, deep in the Apennines in Italy, a team of physicists hunted for flashes of light that might suggest that human consciousness is the product of gravitational forces.

The fact that they left empty-handed does not mean that we are all flesh computers with no free will; however, it makes the search for an adequate model that explains consciousness much more challenging.

If the idea of ​​not having free will is uncomfortable, you are not alone. In the 1990s, Nobel laureate Roger Penrose and an anesthesiologist named Stuart Hameroff argued that the quantum properties of cellular structures called microtubules could introduce enough wiggle room for brains to break free from the ‘one-in, one-out’ constraints of classical mechanics. .

While their hypothesis, called Orchestrated Objective Reduction (Orch OR), falls outside physics and biology, it is complete enough to provide researchers with predictions that can be investigated scientifically.

“What I loved about this theory was that it is, in principle, testable, and I decided to look for evidence that could help confirm or falsify it,” says physicist Catalina Curceanu of the Laboratori Nazionali di Frascati in Italy.

Penrose and Hameroff’s concept may be testable, but it’s still based on a mountain of assumptions about the way physics and neurology work at a fundamental level.

Fundamental to quantum mechanics is the notion that all particles exist as a range of possibilities unless they are somehow quantified by measurement.

Exactly what this means is unclear, leading some to interpret the difference as a ‘collapse’ from the rippling haze of perhaps into an absolute concrete of stark reality.

Equally seductive is the question of why a swarm of possible values ​​should establish itself at all.

An idea championed by Penrose and his colleague Lajos Diósi in the late 20th century suggested that the curvature of spacetime might favor some possibilities over others.

Put another way, mass and its gravitational pull can somehow crush quantum waves.

Applying this assumption to competing quantum states of cellular material — namely, tubulin scrambling chemicals inside neurons — Penrose and Hameroff calculated the time it would take for quantum effects to translate into mechanisms that would affect consciousness.

While their model doesn’t explain why you made a conscious choice to read this article, it does show how neurochemistry can shift away from classical computational operations to something less restrictive.

Penrose and Diosi’s idea of ​​gravitational collapse has been tested before, by none other than Diosi himself. His experiment at the Gran Sasso National Laboratory examined the simplest of collapse scenarios, finding no sign that the hypothesis was accurate.

In light of these findings, the team now asks how their earlier results might affect Penrose and Hameroff’s Orch OR hypothesis.

His critical analysis of the model suggests that at least one interpretation of the hypothesis can now be ruled out. Given what we know about quantum physics, the distribution of tubulin within our neurons, and the constraints imposed by Diósi’s previous experiments, it’s extremely unlikely that gravity is pulling the strings of consciousness.

At least, not in this specific way.

“This is the first experimental investigation of the gravity-related quantum collapse pillar of the Orch OR model of consciousness, which we hope will be followed by many others,” says Curceanu.

Exactly what it would mean if any investigation found a glimmer of proof for Orch OR is hard to say. Noncomputational descriptions of consciousness are not just difficult to study; they are difficult to define. Even indisputable programs that echo human thinking challenge our efforts to identify examples of sentience, self-awareness, and free will.

However, the idea that biological systems are too chaotic for delicate quantum behavior to emerge has faded in light of evidence that entanglement plays a role in functions like navigation in birds.

Perhaps a flash of inspiration is all it takes to set us on the path to understanding the physics of our own souls.

This research was published in Life Physics Assessments.

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