One of the vital open questions in science is how our consciousness is established. Within the Nineties, lengthy earlier than profitable the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics for his prediction of black holes, physicist Roger Penrose teamed up with anesthesiologist Stuart Hameroff to suggest an formidable reply.
They claimed that the mind’s neuronal system kinds an intricate community and that the consciousness this produces ought to obey the foundations of quantum mechanics – the idea that determines how tiny particles like electrons transfer round. This, they argue, may clarify the mysterious complexity of human consciousness.
Penrose and Hameroff had been met with incredulity. Quantum mechanical legal guidelines are normally solely discovered to use at very low temperatures. Quantum computer systems, for instance, at the moment function at round -272°C. At greater temperatures, classical mechanics takes over.
Since our physique works at room temperature, you’ll count on it to be ruled by the classical legal guidelines of physics. Because of this, the quantum consciousness concept has been dismissed outright by many scientists – although others are persuaded supporters.
As a substitute of getting into into this debate, I made a decision to hitch forces with colleagues from China, led by Professor Xian-Min Jin at Shanghai Jiaotong College, to check a few of the ideas underpinning the quantum concept of consciousness.
In our new paper, we have investigated how quantum particles may transfer in a posh construction just like the mind – however in a lab setting. If our findings can someday be in contrast with exercise measured within the mind, we could come one step nearer to validating or dismissing Penrose and Hameroff’s controversial concept.
Brains and fractals
Our brains are composed of cells referred to as neurons, and their mixed exercise is believed to generate consciousness. Every neuron incorporates microtubules, which transport substances to totally different components of the cell. The Penrose-Hameroff concept of quantum consciousness argues that microtubules are structured in a fractal sample which might allow quantum processes to happen.
Fractals are constructions which can be neither two-dimensional nor three-dimensional, however are as a substitute some fractional worth in between. In arithmetic, fractals emerge as lovely patterns that repeat themselves infinitely, producing what’s seemingly not possible: a construction that has a finite space, however an infinite perimeter.
This would possibly sound not possible to visualise, however fractals really happen continuously in nature. When you look intently on the florets of a cauliflower or the branches of a fern, you may see that they are each made up of the identical fundamental form repeating itself time and again, however at smaller and smaller scales. That is a key attribute of fractals.
The identical occurs in the event you look inside your personal physique: the construction of your lungs, as an example, is fractal, as are the blood vessels in your circulatory system. Fractals additionally function within the enchanting repeating artworks of MC Escher and Jackson Pollock, and so they’ve been used for many years in know-how, similar to within the design of antennas.
These are all examples of classical fractals – fractals that abide by the legal guidelines of classical physics reasonably than quantum physics.
It is simple to see why fractals have been used to elucidate the complexity of human consciousness. As a result of they’re infinitely intricate, permitting complexity to emerge from easy repeated patterns, they could possibly be the constructions that help the mysterious depths of our minds.
However if so, it may solely be taking place on the quantum stage, with tiny particles transferring in fractal patterns throughout the mind’s neurons. That is why Penrose and Hameroff’s proposal known as a concept of “quantum consciousness”.
We’re not but in a position to measure the conduct of quantum fractals within the mind – in the event that they exist in any respect. However superior know-how means we are able to now measure quantum fractals within the lab. In current analysis involving a scanning tunneling microscope (STM), my colleagues at Utrecht and I fastidiously organized electrons in a fractal sample, making a quantum fractal.
Once we then measured the wave operate of the electrons, which describes their quantum state, we discovered that they too lived on the fractal dimension dictated by the bodily sample we might made. On this case, the sample we used on the quantum scale was the Sierpiński triangle, which is a form that is someplace between one-dimensional and two-dimensional.
This was an thrilling discovering, however STM methods can’t probe how quantum particles transfer – which might inform us extra about how quantum processes would possibly happen within the mind. So in our newest analysis, my colleagues at Shanghai Jiaotong College and I went one step additional. Utilizing state-of-the-art photonics experiments, we had been in a position to reveal the quantum movement that takes place inside fractals in unprecedented element.
We achieved this by injecting photons (particles of sunshine) into a man-made chip that was painstakingly engineered right into a tiny Sierpiński triangle.
We injected photons on the tip of the triangle and watched how they unfold all through its fractal construction in a course of referred to as quantum transport. We then repeated this experiment on two totally different fractal constructions, each formed as squares reasonably than triangles. And in every of those constructions we carried out tons of of experiments.
Our observations from these experiments reveal that quantum fractals really behave differently to classical ones. Particularly, we discovered that the unfold of sunshine throughout a fractal is ruled by totally different legal guidelines within the quantum case in comparison with the classical case.
This new data of quantum fractals may present the foundations for scientists to experimentally check the idea of quantum consciousness. If quantum measurements are someday taken from the human mind, they could possibly be in contrast towards our outcomes to positively resolve whether or not consciousness is a classical or a quantum phenomenon.
Our work may even have profound implications throughout scientific fields. By investigating quantum transport in our artificially designed fractal constructions, we could have taken the primary tiny steps in direction of the unification of physics, arithmetic and biology, which may vastly enrich our understanding of the world round us in addition to the world that exists in our heads.