Strange Birth of a Brainwave
You don't believe in ESP? Then maybe your mind's taken
a quantum leap.
Imagine what it might be like to be a sub-atomic particle living
in the bizarre and ambiguous world described by quantum
mechanics.Single particles going through two holes at once; matter existing
in several states simultaneously;pairs of electrons influencing each other
though separated by great distances.But suppose those were the rules governing
our everyday world?
This radical proposal has just been put forward at an Institute of
Psychiatry conference in South London."I don't think we have to assume a
universe of independent atoms," declared Chris Clarke, Professor of Applied
Mathematics at the University of Southampton."I believe global quantum effects
with entities acting in concert are not that uncommon."
One impetus behind Prof Clarke's thesis is the long running problem
that consciousness poses for classical physics.What is awareness doing in
a universe described totally in terms of matter? A growing number of researchers
believe that some features of the mind are better explained by a quantum
model.Recently a number of simple psychology experiments have come up with
results that pose serious problems for the classical model but fit the quantum
one quite well.
One of these was performed at the Institute of Psychiatry last summer
by Dr Peter Fenwick,a clinical neurophysiologist
and organiser of the conference.He found that one half of a couple who have
a strong emotional connection - lovers or parent and child - can tell when
something is happening to their other half although both are in separate
rooms and cannot hear or see each other.
Dr Fenwick hooked the couples up to EEG
brainwaves,and at intervals played a sound to one of them."We found
a definite response in the brainwaves of the other half of the couple
a few seconds afterwards,but the effect only happened with people who were
close," he says.
According to our current scientific model these results are not
possible.Brainwaves are strictly located in the brains and the only way
they communicate with other brainwaves is through the five senses.A way
to bring Dr Fenwick's experiment back to the scientific fold is to interpret
it in terms of quantum mechanics,which is not so hostile to
action at a distance.
Traditionally,of course,quantum and classical mechanics rule quite
different realms.But other apparently quantum effects,such as the rule that
the act of observing something actually changes it, have also been emerging
In a study at Southampton
University,reported in the first issue of a new publication The Journal
of Consciousness Studies,psychiatrist Dr Chris Nunn and his colleagues
measured subjects' brainwaves while they were performing a simple -
pressing a button when certain numbers appeared on a screen.
Sometimes the EEG machine recorded from the left side of the brain,which
is involved in this sort of task,and sometimes from the right,which is not,but
neither the subjects nor the experimenter knew which side was being recorded.The
key finding was that when the left side was being recorded the subjects did
better and missed fewer numbers.Recording from the right side made no
This also doesn't make any sense in terms
of Newtonian physics and the implications
for years of brainwave studies are horrendous,but it fits a quantum model
- that observing something turns a possibility into an event.
"We did this experiment to test the hypothesis that conscious decision-making
is associated with the end of a quantum computation," says Dr Nunn."Very
much to our surprise we found evidence that it was."
Until very recently such an idea would have been rejected out of hand.But
a new candidate for this role has emerged in the form of minute structures
within brain cells called microtubules.
In another of the lectures at the
Penrose,professor of mathematics at
Oxford, talked about his new
of the Mind which describes how microtubules,once thought of as mere
scaffolding for cells,might be orchestrating the brain's quantum activity.
"I believe consciousness is not just something arising out of the activity
of brain cells but a global capacity that allows us to take into account
the whole of a situation at once," he says.
"It could be that the microtubules in the brain provide a unique
environment where the possibilities of the quantum level collapse into an
actual state without being influenced by the environment." But how this works
or what the implications for psychology or neurosciences might be if it were
true are not all that clear.
Many believe that if the brain and consciousness are functioning at
a quantum level then all of that damned data from parapsychology suddenly
has a home.Endless ESP studies
showing that people can identify the card someone is looking at in another
room more accurately than chance,or even predict what card they are going
to look at,are given a rationale.
But Dr Penrose is not very happy with a mystical free-for-all.He locates
his quantum effects firmly within the brain.
"I am very cautious about the quantum - psychic connection.It is entertaining
speculation but that's all. Quantum mechanics has very specific rules.For
numbers are central to the theory but people who construct quantum-based
mystical metaphors ignore them because they don't fit."
"I think there is strong evidence for precognition but I haven't done
the maths yet to work out what else is allowed," he says.
All in the Mind
You dream about an old school friend
and they drop you a line the next day,or the phone rings and you know who
it is before you answer it.Telepathy or coincidence? The latter, say experts
at Hertfordshire University,having carried
out a major study,which concludes that there is no such thing as
telepathy."Strange as these incidents seem,they're nothing more than
coincidences,that were bound to happen to someone, somewhere",says
Dr Richard Wiseman."The evidence simply isn't
of Consciousness | Brain
and Intelligence |
Alan Turing |
Amanda Sharkey |
Scientist : Read My Mind |
The Edge: Mirror
File Info: Created --/--/-- Updated 24/11/2010