Stuart Hameroff, M.D., Professor, Anesthesiology and Psychology, Director, Center for Consciousness Studies
Consciousness defines our existence, but the nature of consciousness remains mysterious, debated since ancient times along two general lines. (1) Plato, Descartes and modern neuroscience have asserted that the brain produces conscious awareness, experience and a model of the world, and thus that consciousness emerged during the course of biological evolution. On the other hand, (2) Eastern philosophy, Aristotle, and modern quantum physics approaches have suggested consciousness is intrinsic to the universe, that consciousness or its precursors preceded life, and may have prompted its origin and evolution. The modern study of consciousness re-emerged in the early 1990s from the shadow of behaviorism (which had banned the topic during most of the 20th century) following well-regarded scientists like Francis Crick, Gerald Edelman and Sir Roger Penrose, and interdisciplinary conferences such as ‘Toward a Science of Consciousness’. Now, decades into the modern era, understanding is divided along the same ancient lines. (1) Materialist philosophers and cognitive neuroscientists liken consciousness to a computer simulation, and the brain to a computer, with neuronal firings and synaptic transmissions equated to ‘bit states’ and switches in silicon (rendering consciousness epiphenomenal and devoid of causal power). Sufficiently complex computation is presumed to result in consciousness, and billions of dollars and euros are aimed at ‘mapping’ brain neurons and connections, with the hope such maps implemented in silicon will reproduce brain function including consciousness (although such mapping strategies, e.g. for simple worms, have thus far failed). (2) Quantum approaches, e.g. based on intra-neuronal structures such as microtubules, once considered unlikely at warm biological temperatures, have gained ground due to plant photosynthesis utilizing quantum coherence, and discovery of quantum resonances in microtubules. Quantum approaches connect brain function to fundamental spacetime geometry, consistent with ancient Eastern views of consciousness intrinsic to the universe.
This talk was recorded at SAND15 US