Consciousness in The Universe

By Hameroff, Stuart, Penrose, Roger


The nature of consciousness, the mechanism by which it occurs in the brain, and its ultimate place in the universe are unknown. We proposed in the mid 1990's that consciousness depends on biologically ‘orchestrated’ coherent quantum processes in collections of microtubules within brain neurons, that these quantum processes correlate with, and regulate, neuronal synaptic and membrane activity, and that the continuous Schrödinger evolution of each such process terminates in accordance with the specific Diósi-Penrose (DP) scheme of ‘objective reduction’ (‘OR’) of the quantum state. This orchestrated OR activity (‘Orch OR’) is taken to result in moments of conscious awareness and/or choice. The DP form of OR is related to the fundamentals of quantum mechanics and spacetime geometry, so Orch OR suggests that there is a connection between the brain’s biomolecular processes and the basic structure of the universe. Here we review Orch OR in light of criticisms and developments in quantum biology, neuroscience, physics and cosmology.

1.1 Introduction: Consciousness in the Universe

Consciousness implies awareness: subjective, phenomenal experience of internal and external worlds. Consciousness also implies a sense of self, feelings, choice, control of voluntary behavior, memory, thought, language, and (e.g. when we close our eyes, or meditate) internally-generated images and geometric patterns. But what consciousness actually is remains unknown. Our views of reality, of the universe, of ourselves depend on consciousness. Consciousness defines our existence. Three general possibilities regarding the origin and place of consciousness in the universe have been commonly expressed.

Consciousness is not an independent quality but arose, in terms of conventional physical processes, as a natural evolutionary consequence of the biological adaptation of brains and nervous systems. Thisprevalent scientific view is that consciousness emerged as a property of complex biological computation during the course of evolution. Opinions vary as to when, where and how consciousness appeared, e.g. only recently in humans, or earlier in lower organisms. Consciousness as an evolutionary adaptation is commonly assumed to be epiphenomenal (i.e. a secondary effect without independent influence, and also illusory (largely constructing reality, rather than perceiving it ). Nonetheless, consciousness is frequently argued to confer beneficial advantages to species . Overall, in this view, consciousness is not an intrinsic feature of the universe.

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