The quantum function of the brain
A new theory to explain the functions of the Brain
In the past decade, a radical change in the model used by neurology today has been proposed. It is suggested that it is necessary to change the focus of our study from the level of the neuron and its network of synapses, to a more fundamental level, namely the molecular components of the neuron. These molecular and macromolecular components, such as tubes and microtubules, are governed by the strangest and most successful scientific framework of all time – quantum mechanics.
The works of R. Penrose, S. Hameroff, the team of (D. Nanopoulos, V. Mavromatou, A. Mershin, E. Skoulaki) and others (Tuszynski, Jibu, Stapp, etc.) have brought to light this the new approach to understanding brain function. The arguments for the need for this approach have been formulated mainly through the writing of articles by Penrose, Nanopoulos & Mavromato as well as others.
The common denominator of all is that subcellular processes play a fundamental role throughout life and are of the utmost importance in all that enables the senses in our lives, including its ultimate attainment, intelligence.
Classical neurology has taken great strides in researching brain functions but has also come to a dead end, faced with enormous complexity.
The new concept therefore suggests that the brain phenomena we now observe and the properties of the brain will be explained by more fundamental elements, and we expect that discoveries relating to the quantum nature of the molecular function of cells will eventually provide the bridge between intellect and brain that has long been sought after. An ally of quantum theory is string theory.
But why are quantum mechanics and string theory relevant to the study of the brain?
Let’s follow the ideas of one of the founders of this new quantum brain treatment. Dimitris Nanopoulos is the man who tried to find the answer to the problems of how consciousness works, and the brain, based on the findings of superstring theory.
The theory of superstrings
Let’s take a brief look at superstring theory. It was born in our quest to understand the laws of fundamental interactions and the fundamental particles of the Universe.
For more than 100 years we have believed that fundamental particles are like mathematical points, that is, they have no dimensions. This view, however, reached a dead end when we tried to unify all the interactions, namely the electromagnetic, the gravitational, the strong and the weak. Then it seemed that there is a big problem if we use only point particles.
In recent years we have abandoned the idea that fundamental particles are point and turned to some entities that are one-dimensional. They have some extent as conventional strings and this similarity gave the name to the corresponding theory.
We must say, however, that the size of these objects is very small, about 25 orders of magnitude smaller than the size of the individual. So even in accelerators where we observe very small particles, it is very difficult to observe the strings.
The fundamental objects of string theory actually have more than one dimension but for the sake of simplicity let us assume that they are one-dimensional.
The great importance of string theory is that for the first time this theory is the one that provides a consistent theory of quantum gravity.
The collapse of the wavefunction and the quantum gravity
The relationship now between string theory and brain function starts with a very interesting idea. In quantum mechanics, the evolution of a system is represented by a wavefunction. As long as we do not observe the system, this wavefunction evolves in time in a completely predictable way, occupying a large area of space.
But once we make an observation – a measurement in a quantum system, the wavefunction collapses, the system is located almost spatially as a point and the results of the measurement are not predetermined but probabilistic.
That is, every time the wavefunction of the system collapses, it results in only one of the many possible values of a quantity allowed by the wavefunction, eg its position. This dark corner of quantum mechanics is now being shed some light on the new theory of quantum gravity. The fact that the wave function collapses is what is in turn related to the function of the brain and consciousness.
The new idea of quantum gravity tells us that even if we do not observe a system it shrinks because at the quantum level quantum gravity works. And it is precisely the interaction of the system with quantum gravity that makes it shrink. That is, it makes the wavefunction from spread that was in a large area of space to be located in a very small area without the intervention of an observer.
This is precisely the fundamental premise of string theory, that is, the collapse of a wavefunction can occur without the observation of an observer, as quantum theory holds.
But let’s see what this means for the microcosm. A microsystem like an electron or a proton has a very, very long time to collapse, maybe trillions of years. In practice, therefore, an external observer is needed for its wavefunction to collapse.
But in a macroscopic system like a part of ourselves, the interactions with gravity become so strong that within nanoseconds a spontaneous collapse of the wavefunction occurs. This is why macroscopic bodies have a classical behavior and are located in space.
Let us now come to the brain. The basic components of the brain are nerve cells called neurons. Inside the neurons there are structures called microtubules. In the microtubules, quantum waves (wavefunctions) are created that somehow transmit information. These quantum waves are the ones that can collapse spontaneously from quantum gravitational interactions.
So in conclusion, the new theory suggests that the final decision on exactly how to react to an external stimulus is due to the spontaneous collapse of such a quantum function.
Roger Penrose’s theory of the origin of consciousness
There is an interpretation of quantum mechanics invented by one of the famous physicists, Roger Penrose, and perhaps it explains the field of science that is even more mysterious than quantum mechanics: the origin of consciousness.
According to Penrose, superpositions of different quantum states do not collapse due to the act of measuring, the presence of a conscious observer, or even due to interaction with the environment. Penrose, on the other hand, believes that the process takes place even in an isolated system through a natural process connected to the nature of spacetime. The objective reduction, or collapse, of the wavefunction occurs due to the different geometries of spacetime in each state of superposition. (So, if a particle is superimposed to be in two positions, the curvature of spacetime will vary depending on where its mass is most likely to be).
Once the difference in geometry becomes critical, such as when the particle engages with its environment, the superposition becomes unstable and collapses into one of the possible states. Of course, no one knows the details of this mechanism since we do not yet have a complete theory of quantum gravity.
This interpretation has been applied by Penrose and Stuart Hameroff to explain how consciousness is activated in the brain. The two scientists resort to quantum mechanics as they believe that the way we think is fundamentally different from the way a computer applies algorithms. They argue that this incalculability of conscious thought needs something beyond classical physics – sketching quantum physics. They also believe that they have found the right biological shield to protect the fragile quantum cohesion inside the brain from the outside environment.
The neurons in the brain contain hollow cylindrical polymers called microtubules. These in turn are made up of proteins known as tubulins, which can exist in a superposition of two slightly different shapes. Penrose and Hameroff argue that microtubules have just the right properties to maintain this superposition, and to spread to neighboring tubules. A coherent superposition is thus maintained for a considerable period of time, allowing preconscious processes to occur. The objective reduction of superposition occurs when we reach the critical threshold of Penrose and consciousness is activated. This is constantly happening in the brain. Maybe we should not end up building a quantum computer. Each person carries one inside his head
The strange world of correlated quantum particles.
In the everyday world described by classical physics, we often observe correlations. Imagine that you are witnessing a bank robbery. The robber points a gun at the terrified employee. By looking at the employee you can decide if the gun has fired or not. If the employee is alive and unharmed the gun has not been dropped. If the employee is lying dead the gun has been dropped.
On the other hand by examining the gun whether it has dropped or not you can decide if the employee is dead or not. We would say that there is a direct correlation between the condition of the weapon and the condition of the employee. “A weapon he has dropped means an employee dead” and “a weapon he has not dropped means an employee alive”. We assume of course that the robber shoots only to kill and never fails.
In the world of tiny objects described by quantum mechanics, things are never so simple. Imagine a person described by quantum mechanics being able to undergo a radioactive decay at a given time, or not. Assume that there are only two situations with regard to splitting, “split” and “non-split” just as we had “weapon dropped” and “weapon not dropped” or “living employee” and “dead employee”.
In the world of quantum mechanics, however, it is also possible for the atom to be in a combined state “split – undivided” in which it is neither one nor the other but something in between. This state is called a superposition of the two states and is something we do not expect in classical macroscopic objects. Two people can be related so that if the first is split and the second will be the same, and if the first is not, neither will the second. This is a 100% correlation.
But in quantum mechanics atoms can also be related in such a way that if the first is in a superposition “split – undivided” it is also the second. Quantum mechanically there are far more correlations between individuals than we would expect classically. This kind of correlation is called ‘entanglement’. In our language we would again call it correlation or entanglement.
Imagine that it is not the robber but the person who decides whether to drop the gun or not. If the person splits, he releases the trigger with some mechanism and the weapon fires. If the weapon is not broken it does not drop. But what if the individual is in the combined state “split – undivided”?
And what about the ailing employee who will be both dead and alive at the same time? Schrodinger himself, one of the pioneers of quantum mechanics, was concerned about such a situation where a cat instead of an employee was in a box and the disintegration of the person instead of a shot released a deadly poison into the box.
The problem is that in the everyday world we are not used to situations like “dead – living” cat. But if we believe that quantum mechanics is a complete theory that describes every level of our experience, such strange situations should be possible.
Where does the strange quantum world end and the ordinary classical world begin?
This is a problem that has been debated for decades and various interpretations of quantum theory have been proposed.
In 1935 Einstein expressed the view that the strange behavior of correlated systems merely implied the imperfection of quantum mechanics and that paradoxes could be removed within the framework of classical physics as long as we accepted some kind of hidden variables.
In 1964 John Bell suggested that in some experiments classical theories using hidden variables gave different predictions than quantum mechanics. He formulated a theorem according to which quantum particles are much more correlated than classical ones even if for the latter the hidden variables are also taken into account. This theorem allows us to test whether quantum mechanics or the theory of hidden variables gives the correct predictions.
Needless to say, all the experiments that were done lean overwhelmingly in favor of quantum mechanics. The only kind of hidden variables that Bell’s theorem cannot rule out are the non-local ones, that is, those that could act instantaneously over long distances. Quantum correlation (entanglement) is now acceptable although it does not have a “logical” interpretation.
More recently since the early 1990s in the field of quantum information theory, quantum correlation has begun to be treated as a means of communication.
If Alice and Bob each have a particle from a pair of correlated particles, a quantum state can be fully transmitted from Alice to Bob by sending him fewer classical bits than would be required without correlation.
Other ways of using quantum correlation as a means of information are dense coding and cryptography. Correlation is a situation in which we can intervene. That is, under certain conditions, low correlation states can be transformed into more correlated ones by acting locally. Conversely higher correlation can be reduced by giving a larger number of less correlated situations.
Research in quantum correlation is a very creative field today.
Quantum computers use quantum correlation
Over the last half century, Quantum Mechanics has shifted from the realm of atomic and particle physics to more and more macroscopic experimental applications. The potential of quantum computers is being explored in detail by numerous research teams around the world, both theoretically and experimentally. Quantum computation envisions quantum computers that will use “qubits” rather than conventional “bits”.
In classical, digital computers, when a relationship (correlation) between two bits is encoded and must then be retrieved, each bit must be accessed separately. Qubits on the other hand, being quantum objects, can exist in a superposition of states (i.e. both states at the same time) as long as they do not interact with the environment.
Once a relationship between two qubits is encoded, the same relationship can also exist in a superposition of states. When a quantum computer retrieves data, it processes one qubit, and the superposition is corrupted but at the same time the information contained in the other qubit is somehow passed on (no one quite understands how!) To the one who processes the qubit, if between them there was a correlation.
Some of the advantages of quantum computers of the future are higher speed, giant memory capacity and greater computing power.
The most interesting and discussed aspect of quantum computers is their ability to perform tasks that are impossible if we use classical computers. The best known of these is their ability to search through unclassified lists of items, with steps or times that are classically impossible.
Does the brain contain a quantum computer?
Quantum computers are characterized by an integrated and “decentralized” way of handling data and retrieving information, almost the same as that of the human brain in recognizing shapes and patterns.
Because at the root of quantum computation lies the property of entanglement of quantum systems, Dimitris Nanopoulos and his collaborators proposed quantum correlation for the interpretation of certain mental activities.
The team’s recent theoretical and experimental advances in this field speak of qubits molecular switches, the parameters of which fit perfectly with the proposed role of dimers in the tubulins, which are the basic components of a quantum computer. network within a biological brain. In addition, protofilamens that form a microtubule (Microtubule MT for short) play the role of the proposed quantum groups or registers.
What problems of the intellect does the new theory explain?
The main areas where we expect to observe a direct manifestation of quantum phenomena are memory coding, storage and recall. Therefore, these are the points on which the research of Professor Nanopoulos’s team focuses.
The target system is the microtubules (MT), a structural component of the cytoskeleton of all cells. It is believed that the long and characteristic MT arrangement, which make up the axons of neurons, is the seat of all calculations performed in the brain.
In recent years, MT has been researched as natural systems to which the principles of Electromagnetism and String Theory as well as Quantum Mechanics are applied. This course of mathematical and computational research, mainly by this group and others, has led to a considerable understanding of what is happening in MT, revealing functions beyond conventional axial signal transmission.
According to the proposed model, the periodic, paracrystalline structure of MTs enables them to support a superposition of quantum states for as long as it takes to perform quantum computations. Quantum superposition can collapse either spontaneously through the interaction with quantum gravity as discussed above, an idea recently proposed by Ellis, Mavromato, and Nanopoulos, or dynamically through neurobiological phenomena such as the connection of neurotransmitters.
Briefly, it has been suggested that by including quantum phenomena and interactions in brain function, the integrated nature of recall (e.g., recognizing an image that provides only some information) as well as its enormous capacity, variability and the speed of memory can be explained directly.
In addition, this approach argues that it already provides a better explanation of the non-locality in the cerebral cortex displayed by neurons, related to certain functions (mainly integration), that is, the unique sense of perceiving ourselves as a whole. as well as the controversial connection problem, among others.
This means that when we see, for example, an apple, there are different areas of the brain that all give us the mental representation that we see ONE specific object called an apple. But the neurons that react to this object are in different parts of the brain.
Regarding the problem of interpreting human free will – that is, the fact that under the same stimuli different people can react differently – the new theory proposes the following explanation: As already stated above, quantum wavefunctions in microtubules can occur spontaneous collapse from quantum gravitational interactions and this leads to our A or B decision as to exactly how we will react to an external stimulus.
Of course, due to the probabilistic nature of quantum mechanics, we do not know in advance exactly what decision we will make. Thus we can in principle justify the non-deterministic nature of free will.
What does the new theory have to do with the generally accepted views of neurobiology?
The quantum mechanical model of brain function differs significantly from the classical approach to conventional neural networks but is not in competition with the well-established neurobiology of chemical and electrical neurotransmission, synaptic function, etc. The main difference is that in the new theory model, a simple neuron is “promoted” from the role of a relatively simple (even adjustable) switch to the role of an integrated information processing unit.
This peculiar structure can also act in an “orchestrated” or “coherent” way, creating very fast communication corridors between MTs and, in theory, even between very distant neurons. These modes of communication do not refer to direct chemical or electrical signal transmissions between synapses.
When quantum superposition collapses, the result can be a synaptic synchronous release of neurotransmitter molecules into distant areas of the neural network, and so the information that arrives with feedback concerns the environment of even distant neurons.
The overall result of such phenomena can be translated into orchestrated, ie modern changes in large areas of the neural network. There is no classical analog of quantum correlation and while it is common in atomic or molecular dimensions, Nanopoulos’s research on MT as physical systems has shown that in them, too, the coherent states of dimer molecules can correlate and create superpositions.
It should be noted that other researchers, such as Hameroff and Penrose, have proposed the so-called orchestrated objective reduction, which also acknowledges that the seat of consciousness is the microtubules of neurons, but without proposing any particular mechanism that creates it. But only the idea of Dimitris Nanopoulos’ research team suggests a specific way of solving the problem using the theory of strings and quantum gravity.
The following figure shows the structure of a microtubule (MT) as shown by X-ray crystallography (Amos and Klug 1974).
The tubular subunits are 8 nm dimers consisting of α and β monomers.
Bipolar bipolar protein has two states in which a quantum event (eg the transfer of an electron or a pseudoparticle such as the phonon) to a hydrophobic region is associated with morphological changes over a period of 10-9 to 10-11 sec. . The cylinders within the proteins are α-helical regions. (The original design is by Djuro Koruga).
Skepticism about the new theory.
It is difficult to convince the community of conventional neurobiologists and neurologists that quantum mechanics – the mathematical framework of which describes the microcosm so successfully – can explain biological phenomena. There is no convincing experimental evidence so far because in part there is difficulty in performing such quantum mechanical experiments on macroscopic systems such as MTs.
An objection to the application of quantum theory to brain function stems from the fact that all the important parts that neurophysiologists have identified in the structure and function of the brain are based on very large molecules that behave in a classical way. So why do we have to introduce anything other than classical processes to understand the brain?
Classical neurobiology is limited to treating the neuron as an adjustable “black box” that can, whether or not, trigger action potentials (APs) depending on the cumulative phenomena that power its inputs. APs are electrical signals in the form of membrane depolarization waves, which run through the nerve axes. These active potentials, once triggered, reach all the synapses of the neuron and there they can either cause excitation (release of the neurotransmitter) which will continue to transmit the signal to the next neuron or do absolutely nothing.
To date, however, all proposed models for the brain lack a common way of communicating very quickly between neurons that are at macroscopic distances of the order of cm. As a result, there are various brain functions that have not been adequately explained based on traditional neuroscience. The best known of these is the connection problem where, as mentioned above, a stimulus simultaneously activates neurons that are quite far from each other or at least activates them faster than allowed by the use of conventional chemical neurotransmitters.
The other big dilemma with the classical conceptions of neurobiology is the problem of the non-deterministic free will of humans where we have seen that the new theory addresses it with the probable collapse of a wavefunction.
After all, as Professor Nanopoulos puts it, “microtubules are ideal quantum systems and no one would believe that billions of years have passed since they were created in neurons without the need for quantum function.”
Another skepticism about the importance of the microtubules as seats of consciousness stems from the fact that the microtubules respond not only to neurons but to every cell in the body. So would we expect other parts of the body like the kidneys for example or our fingers to be able to think?
To this skepticism, Professor Nanopoulos answers that microtubules do exist in other tissues such as bone, but what plays an essential role is not the existence of microtubules but their shape. And the very elongated form appears only inside the neurons which also have a very long axis.
Predictions and hopes for the future.
Although it is generally accepted that changes in the structure and function of neurons translate into changes in brain function, a satisfactory understanding of how molecular events affect and cause these changes still needs to be secured.
Trying to understand memory will bring us one step closer to discovering how the outside world is encoded within the tiny structure of the brain.
With the progress of research we will be able to understand how our unique experiences make us unique personalities, although the basic genetic, molecular and physical processes are common to all people.
If the assumption that the microtubules are where the mind “resides” is correct, then some diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease could be treated. In the 1980s there were some indications that Alzheimer’s disease may be related to the microtubules. Many of them remain inside a neuron but instead of remaining parallel, they twist together and somehow destroy the neuron. This in turn leads to memory loss and loss of other mental processes.
So if we have a fundamental structure of the brain through the microtubules, we could use microtubule genetic research to predict at least initially if someone is predisposed to Alzheimer’s disease. Something can also be found that makes the microtubules stay straight and do not twist, destroying the neuron.
In the context of technology as well, the coding achieved in microtubules could be utilized in the laboratory and find application in the creation of quantum computers.
The same research team of Dimitris Nanopoulos also suggests some experiments with microtubules, either in vivo or in vitro with which these ideas could be tested. For example, one of the wonderful properties of microtubules is that they appear to be the only parts of the cell other than DNA that carry some code. So if we isolate microtubules in the laboratory, we can apply an electromagnetic signal at one end and check if it propagates in the way the new theory predicts.