Quantum cosmology and the hard problem

Quantum Cosmology and the Hard Problem of the Conscious Brain

Chris King

Dept. of Mathematics, University of Auckland

In: Tuszynski, J. Ed. The Emerging Physics of Consciousness Springer ISBN-13 978-3-540-23890-4

The author favours the approach of Chalmers over the approach of Dennett in looking at the problem of consciousness. He describes Dennett’s ‘multiple drafts’ concept as a description of how verbal reports of internal states are produced, but as lacking in any explanation of how consciousness is achieved ( 1. Dennett ). He reminds us of Chalmers comment that a theory of physics that does not explain consciousness is not a theory of everything. Furthermore, he argues that ultimately our knowledge of objective science is only available via our subjective conscious experience. He cautions against the common tendency to try and discount quantum ucertainty as something that will be averaged out as a result of the very large number of quanta involved in any macroscopic state. In Chaos theory, which may well have a role in brain processes, small fluctuations may be inflated into important differences, and quantum uncertainties may be included in these small differences. King goes on to look at the possible uses of quantum computation. He mentions that classical computing has a problem with the potentially unlimited time needed to check a range of possibilities.

King favours the transactional interpretation of EPR type non-local quantum correlations. In the transactional interpretation of non-local events, when a measurement is made on an entangled particle, it sends a photon back in time to when it and the other entangled particle were emitted, and then forward in time to the second entangled particle. Thus the net time taken to send the quantum information about the measurement of the first particle is zero, and the effect of measurement on the second particle appears to be instantaneous, despite the spatial gap between them. The backward travel in time, which looks like an exotic feature is allowed by the laws of physics as embodied in both the Maxwell and Schrodinger equations.

King thinks that the transactional interpretation of non-locality can be combined with quantum computing to give a spacetime anticipating system and that this may be basic to the way the brain works. He argues that the brain’s performance is not particularly impressive in terms of what classical computers are good at, but it’s impressive in terms of anticipating environmental and behavioural changes. He also stresses the complex structure of neurons which contrasts to the simplistic way in which their interactions are sometimes modelled in neuroscience. It is suggested that ‘edge-of-chaos’ transition in and out of chaos could be involved in perception. Studies of the olfactory cortex show that there is chaotic excitation forming a wave that eventually settles into a basin in the energy landscape. Sometimes this comprises a new basin, in which case this is part of the learning process. The advantage of a chaotic system is its sensitivity to small differences, allowing them to explore a wide range of possibilities, rather than quickly being trapped in one possibility far from the global optimum. Chaotic activity leads to states where the brain would be very finely balanced between different possibilities, and at this point it might be sufficiently sensitive to be influenced by quantum uncertainty. It has been demonstrated that a single ion channel can excite a hippocampal neuron, which can in turn lead to global changes.

King takes the view that adaption/survival problems of an animal in an open environment are intractable because of the exponential growth of the number of options available. The number of options rapidly exponentiates. A gazelle facing a lion would be frozen in a catatonic state, as a result of a version of Turing’s ‘halting problem’. For a process to be adaptive an organism may be thought to have something between 100 and 1,000ms to make a decision. Quantum models of the mind are suggested to solve this problem, and this might involve processing within cells.. However, King argues that for good adaptive reasons, the brain goes beyond the brute force of quantum computing, to achieve intuitive decisions and creativity both of which involves subjective consciousness. These ideas appear to be similar in spirit to the Penrose concept of non-computability. In general computation seeks a single outcome while creative activity and some other behaviours seeks diversity.

Chaotic excitability is suggested as one of the earliest features of eukaryote cells. This would allow the single cell to get feedback from the environment, rather than becoming stuck in a particular and unsatisfactory oscillation. The behaviour of single cell organisms in being able to navigate and behave adaptively in their environment is in any case a problem for cognitive theory.


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