“States of matter are immaterial abstractions, just like consciousness.”
Physicist Rob Sheldon responds to “’Quiet revolution’ in theoretical physics: Consciousness is a state of matter?” (Max Tegmark’s (yet another) proposal to explain consciousness according to current science theory):
Tegmark gets one thing right–states of matter are immaterial abstractions, just like consciousness. After all, the atoms in H2^0 are the same in vapor, liquid and ice, it is just that they behave differently with some extra energy needed to move them from one state to another. It also takes extra energy to move them, say, from my desk to my mouth, but I don’t usually say that this is because there are two matter states of my cup. So it isn’t an “intrinsic” property of water to be in one state or another, because if I take liquid water and heat it up in my pressure cooker to the critical point, it is both liquid and vapor at the same time and in the same way.
So what is this thing, this “state of matter”? It’s a human language abstraction that helps abbreviate a lot of long-winded explanation. Sort of like saying that you are in a state of aggravation by philologically inept physicists. It conveys an abstraction, an idea. Something that people pay money for when it is in a novel, but the US Government declines to pay for in a science experiment.
So what did Tegmark just say when he said “Consciousness is a state of matter”? He just said, “Consciousness is something people are consciously conscious of.”
As Dufflepuds would say, “So true, so true, Boss.”
But this is not what Penrose was saying about his microtubules.
Sheldon then directs our attention to a recent article, “Discovery of Quantum Vibrations in ‘Microtubules’ Inside Brain Neurons Supports Controversial Theory of Consciousness,” which is about a quite different theory, that has recently received some evidence in support:
The theory, called “orchestrated objective reduction” (‘Orch OR’), was first put forward in the mid-1990s by eminent mathematical physicist Sir Roger Penrose, FRS, Mathematical Institute and Wadham College, University of Oxford, and prominent anesthesiologist Stuart Hameroff, MD, Anesthesiology, Psychology and Center for Consciousness Studies, The University of Arizona, Tucson. They suggested that quantum vibrational computations in microtubules were “orchestrated” (“Orch”) by synaptic inputs and memory stored in microtubules, and terminated by Penrose “objective reduction” (‘OR’), hence “Orch OR.” Microtubules are major components of the cell structural skeleton.
Orch OR was harshly criticized from its inception, as the brain was considered too “warm, wet, and noisy” for seemingly delicate quantum processes.. However, evidence has now shown warm quantum coherence in plant photosynthesis, bird brain navigation, our sense of smell, and brain microtubules. The recent discovery of warm temperature quantum vibrations in microtubules inside brain neurons by the research group led by Anirban Bandyopadhyay, PhD, at the National Institute of Material Sciences in Tsukuba, Japan (and now at MIT), corroborates the pair’s theory and suggests that EEG rhythms also derive from deeper level microtubule vibrations. In addition, work from the laboratory of Roderick G. Eckenhoff, MD, at the University of Pennsylvania, suggests that anesthesia, which selectively erases consciousness while sparing non-conscious brain activities, acts via microtubules in brain neurons.
“The origin of consciousness reflects our place in the universe, the nature of our existence. Did consciousness evolve from complex computations among brain neurons, as most scientists assert? Or has consciousness, in some sense, been here all along, as spiritual approaches maintain?” ask Hameroff and Penrose in the current review. “This opens a potential Pandora’s Box, but our theory accommodates both these views, suggesting consciousness derives from quantum vibrations in microtubules, protein polymers inside brain neurons, which both govern neuronal and synaptic function, and connect brain processes to self-organizing processes in the fine scale, ‘proto-conscious’ quantum structure of reality.”
The Penrose-Hameroff theory has the advantage that it seems to be trying to explain what processes mediate consciousness rather than what exactly it is or where precisely it is located. In short, it takes its subject seriously enough to point the way to possible research. Sheldon continues,
Tegmark’s “states of matter” thing, is just a comparison of thermal energy to binding energy of matter. It is a local phenomenon, and by itself, has no information content. It is what produces frost-flowers on the window, but cannot produce the words “Go back to bed, its too cold.”
Penrose, on the other hand, is saying that the QM wavefunction of a microtubule is bigger than its atoms, so that it becomes some sort of larger QM object, connecting one cell to another, perhaps one half of the brain to other, or even one person to another. This coherent QM wavefunction can then carry information in ways that electro-magnetism and atoms cannot, so that there is a global coherence to the universe that violates materialism, that violates atomism, that violates Darwinism.
Well why can’t we call that a “state of matter”? Because it precisely is the opposite of matter. That’s really what QM means — particles acting as waves, discrete objects acting as one, coherent globalism over discrete individualism. And what does this coherence mean? It means you are part of a bigger picture, you are a cog in a machine, you are part of a design.
I’m not even sure if Penrose would admit to that.
See also: Popular science writer sort of gets it about the multiverse scam
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