Extended brain

The Extended Brain: Cyclic information flow in the quantum physical realm
Dirk K. F. Meijer, Neuroquantology, June 2014, vol. 12, Issue2, pp. 180-200

Summary of the above paper


Ultra-rapid responses of the brain, that have been demonstrated in various studies, cannot be explained by classical nerve excitation, action potentials, neurotransmitter release and further propagation and integration of neuronal activity. Rather it is suggested in this paper that spacetime configurations accessed via molecular activity in the brain (so called iso-energetic states) may represent the basis of such rapid reactions. Higher levels of the brain are suggested to comprise neurons and neuronal assemblies, while at lower level molecules, vesicle release at synapses or quantum fields connect to the fundamental level of the universe. QM theories envisage an interaction between top-down influences from information at the microscopic levels of the brain, and the top-up influences of qualia coming from the fundamental spacetime level.


Mental v. Metabolic activity

It is pointed out that the brain’s processing, even its unconscious processing, is much slower than its underlying metabolic activity. Changes in protein conformations drive action potentials as distinct from energy metabolism, which merely prepares the brain for future brain activity. This mental processing may originate in more or less stable protein conformations, and these are immediately available for use in mental activity (the iso-energetic state). The disassociation from the underlying metabolism allows information processing, memory and conscious experience to be based on relatively stable proteins.

The brain is able to anticipate possible future conditions partly as a result of drawing on the stored memories of past experiences. This ability is seen as a major function of consciousness. The store of memories which may be altered by new information is seen as a configuration of spacetime. The robustness of memory traces leads to the suggestion that the brain can be viewed as a personal universe that is based ultimately on protein configurations.

Dorsal and ventral streams and/or symmetric time concepts

Conscious perception is particularly slow, not only relative to metabolic activity but also relative to unconscious responses. Conscious perception is demonstrated to emerge only 300-500 ms after the original external stimulus. Much more rapid brain responses may be due to an aspect of “feeling the future”, in relation to Cramer’s transactional interpretation of quantum physics as well as symmetric time concepts and backward causation in the quantum realm, as have been experimentally shown by Aharonov et al. Backward causation is not forbidden even in (Newtonian) physics and is fully compatible with a-temporality of mental processes as well as sequence of memories.Penrose suggested a-causal backward time effects used in conjunction with classical channels could influence classical results in a way unattainable by classical, future-directed means alone, and that temporal non-locality and a-causal backward time effects were essential features of entanglement. He suggested that in EPR, quantum information from the measurement/state reduction moves backward in (what we “naively” perceive as classical) time to the unified pair, thento the complementary twin, influencing and correlating its state when measured.

Alternatively, recent neuroscience has demonstrated the distinction between the unconscious dorsal stream governing physical actions, and the ventral stream leading to conscious perception and more deliberative decisions. Ventral-based perceptions can be seen as an adaptive model or map relating to the oscillation of quanta and forces in the vacuum, which of course bears no resemblance to what we see. A useful analogy is the map of a city’s metro system. It bears no resemblance to the actual concrete tunnels or metal vehicles, but it is adaptive for those trying to move around the city. The ventral stream is shown to allow illusions in terms of size etc., which the dorsal stream may not suffer. In terms of time, processing is slower than for the dorsal, and even within the ventral there are variations in how fast different aspects are processed. The representation of time could therefore also be seen as just what is adaptive for survival etc. rather than as anything particularly accurate such as backward causation. 


Synchronicity is an important factor in the organisation of the brain, involving reciprocal patterns of excitatory activity in different parts of the brain. It is proposed that a specialized “multi-layered” physical brain compartment, may represent a workspace in which the two bridging and super-causal isoenergetic and quantum processes, act in concert and in a complementary manner. The author envisions such a cyclic operating system being organized as a number of nested, spatio-temporal, domains that allow a bidirectional flow of information (bottom up and top-down). The vertical counter-flux of information would provide an integrated cybernetic control system that may enable highly efficient and rapid perturbations in brain function, with some delay also being expressed at a “horizontal” orientated neuronal network level. The bottom-up and top-down horizontal neural pathways, are supposed to form a fine-tuned organization of neurological/biochemical signature, that in this manner are functionally connected with deep quantum-based information processing. This requires that each sequential step should provide an output of the type that can be used in either of the two supposed systems: quantum wave information should be collapsed or de-cohered to material signals. Such a versatile operating bi-cyclic system may also allow neural signal amplification as well as forward and backward causation, the latter through holographic interference.

In order to show how such a cyclic mental workspace could operate, at the atomic/molecular and field levels, one example of a potential bidirectional information flow is presented, that is based on the central role of Ca2+ ions under the control of various neuronal proteins. In this concept Ca2+ is viewed upon as an informational vehicle influencing the activity state of the neuron. The informational aspect of Ca2+ is encoded in positive and negative charges within micro-sites on the surface of a spectrum of flexible macromolecules that allow binary choices at various spatio-temporal levels (elementary particle /atom, Ca2+ entrapped in Ca-channel proteins, Ca- mediated vesicle transport and receptor binding, and Ca effects on sub-threshold EPSP’s, re-entry, neural assembly and EM field resonance). As a final level it is suggested that waves of Ca2+ ions along astrogial synicitum may play a role in this activity and thus be involved in binding together widely distributed neuronal activity. 

Memory, consciousness and quanta

There are different possible ways of communicating between the spacetime configuration that supports memory and the individual’s brain. One possibility is that information storage and retrieval involves the coupling of the vacuum of virtual particles to charged particles in organisms. In this, the interaction between particles and the quantum vacuum involves photons being exchanged between the vacuum and the quarks and electrons that are the particles that comprise matter. Any charge on the matter particles may distort the quantum vacuum near to them. Entanglement it is suggested may be induced by via electron spin and photon movements. Protein conformations relying on London forces between dipoles could couple to fluctuations in the quantum vacuum.

Quantum superpositions of different possible protein conformations has also been suggested. Another possibility deriving from Karl Pribram is for holonomic neural networks. Further to this, the various dimensions proposed in string theory have also been suggested as being able to accommodate consciousness, which is not apparent in our three or four dimensional physics.

David Bohm proposed the concept of an implicate order underlying both quantum theory and relativity and containing consciousness. He did not develop this concept in much detail. Later, Roger Penrose, did develop a more detailed concept in which consciousness was also found at the most fundamental level of the universe. Penrose suggested that conscious processing was based on fundamental spacetime geometry emerging at the Planck length. At this smallest scale (10-35m.) Penrose envisages a quantum spin network, a concept also adopted by, the physicist, Lee Smolin. Spin networks define the connections and volumes of spacetime that are also dynamically evolving.

In his Orchestrated Reduction (Orch OR) theory, Penrose proposed that in addition to the familiar collapse or decoherence of the quantum wave function with its apparently random outcomes, there could be an alternative outcome for systems that evolved without ever being pushed into decoherence. He suggested that these coherent states would eventually become blister or bubble like separations in spacetime, and when these separations exceeded the Planck length, they would become unstable. After this, they would collapse to the level of the spin networks encoding conscious experience or qualia. Particular configurations of the spin network code for particular experiences.

Location of quantum coherence in the brain

The possible location in the brain for quantum coherence are examined in this paper. Penrose and Hameroff favoured microtubules as the most likely sites for such activity. Yet, various other sites have been proposed includes organelles, clathrins, glial cells, pre-synaptic vesicular grids and neural membrane proteins. Thermal or biochemical energies, as originally suggested by Frohlich (1968) may drive quantum coherence, and some evidence has been advanced for coherent excitation in proteins.

Quantum functions in photosynthetic organisms

The author also addresses the theory of Stuart Kauffman, who has recently advanced the notion of the ‘poised realm’ where quantum waves decohere to a classical state, but then recohere to a coherent wave state. It is suggested that such a system could support quantum processing in organic matter.

In relation to this, the paper examines the rather overlooked discoveries of the functional role of quantum coherence in photosynthetic organisms. In such organisms, photons are captured by the chlorophyl molecule, in a protein antenna. They maintain quantum coherence for up to 750 femtoseconds, much longer than is predicted for a classical system. This is viewed as being responsible for energy transfer in these organisms being more efficient than classically predicted. The protein antenna has a role in slowing decoherence, or inducing recoherence in decohering parts of the chlorophyll molecule. This process is likened to quantum error correction, in which decoherence can be slowed or reversed by bringing new information into the system. Kauffman thinks that webs of quantum coherence or partial coherence could extend across large parts of a neuron poised between coherence and decoherence.



A problem for Tegmark

Tegmark’s refutation of quantum mind theories on the basis of the very short time to decoherence in the conditions of the brain has been seen been widely seen as a reason for disregarding QM theories. Hameroff and Penrose appeared particularly vulnerable to Tegmark because at least the original version of their theory required quantum coherence to be sustained for 25 ms. In reply, they put forward various arguments for coherence being shielded against such rapid decoherence. However, other commentators have queried whether consciousness has to depend on such a long period of coherence. In the case of photosynthetic organisms decoherence occurred within femto second timescales, within the constraints calculated by Tegmark, but still allows coherence to be functional in increasing the efficiency of energy transfer within organisms even at room temperature.

The Extended Brain concept

The central hypothesis of the paper is that a versatile and rapid responding brain function requires complementary information processing mechanisms both at the iso-energetic and quantum (macro- and micro-) levels, enabling bottom up and top down information processing. This requires a nested organization of fine-tuned neural micro-sites that enable coherence/de-coherence transitions as a basis for information transfer. For a rapid and causally effective flux of information, as well as a continuous updating of a personal information domain, a “bi-cyclic” mental workspace is conceived, housing interacting and entangled wave and protein-based perturbations that build-up and retrieve information from a universal knowledge domain.

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2 Responses

  1. I corrected the spelling of my name.

  2. Is it possible to get permission to use they authors graphics in a paper I am writing.

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