This article, reproduced in toto, comes from HuffPo’s “Religion and Science” section (there’s a 2.5-minute video there, too). I’ll make no comment, as I’m too disheartened to do anything except bold the good parts, and because the piece discredits itself. Yes, I know I’m phoning it in, but it’s more important to work on my book today than debunk this stuff, which is the usual pottage of consciousness, quantum mechanics, and cosmology. I’m starting to realize that these elements go together in the woo-mind like peanut butter and jelly. Oh, Morgan Freeman!

In a video that recently aired on “Through the Wormhole” narrated by Morgan Freeman on the TV channel Science, Dr. Hameroff claims, “I believe that consciousness, or its immediate precursor proto-consciousness, has been in the universe all along, perhaps from the Big Bang.”

Understanding where consciousness comes from could solve mysteries such as what happens to the “soul” during near-death experiences, or when a person dies.

Dr. Hameroff goes on to share hypothetical scenarios derived from the Orch-OR (orchestrated objective reduction) theory of consciousness that he and Roger Penrose, mathematician and physicist, proposed in 1996. According to the theory, consciousness is derived from microtubules within brain cells (neurons) which are sites of quantum processing.

But what exactly is consciousness, where does it come from and can it be scientifically proven? Dr. Stuart Hameroff, MD, is Professor Emeritus at the Departments of Anesthesiology and Psychology and the Director of the Center of Consciousness Studies at the University of Arizona and much of his research over the past few decades has been in the field of quantum mechanics, dedicated to studying consciousness.

According to Dr. Hameroff, in a near-death experience, when the heart stops beating, the blood stops flowing, and the microtubules lose their quantum state, the quantum information in the microtubules isn’t destroyed. It’s distributed to the universe at large, and if the patient is revived, the quantum information can go back to the microtubules. In this event, the patient says they had something like a near-death experience, i.e. they saw white light or a tunnel or floated out of their body. In the event that the patient is not revived, “it’s possible that the quantum information can can exist outside the body, perhaps indefinitely, as a soul,” he said.

The Orch-OR theory of consciousness remains controversial in the scientific community. [JAC: That's for damn sure!] Many scientists and physicists have challenged it, including MIT physicist Max Tegmark, who wrote a paper in 2000 that was widely cited.

Still, Dr. Hameroff believes that “nobody has landed a serious blow to the theory. It’s very viable.”

Nobody cares about landing a serious blow to the theory. It’s like trying to land a serious blow to a garbage can.


  1. Kevin
    Posted December 4, 2013 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    Jellybeans of wooness. All around fruitfest.

  2. Linda Grilli Calhoun
    Posted December 4, 2013 at 1:41 pm | Permalink


    My BS meter just went on overload. L

    • Marta
      Posted December 4, 2013 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

      You remember that science fiction movie “The Blob” from the 50′s? Proto-consciousness.

      • D. Taylor
        Posted December 4, 2013 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

        I remember it. Scared me to death!

        • Marta
          Posted December 4, 2013 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

          Me, too. I couldn’t sleep by myself for a year.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted December 4, 2013 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

        Or if we are to take a page out of Chopra’s book, maybe proto consciousness is seeing something with your eyes only slightly open.

    • Posted December 4, 2013 at 10:32 pm | Permalink

      Yes, proto-consciousness.

      That’s how we’re meant to know there must be something to what he’s saying. Why, he uses a sciencey sounding prefix! Never mind that it doesn’t actually convey any information.

      There’s consciousness, and then there’s proto-consciousness. Got it?

      • Posted December 5, 2013 at 7:06 am | Permalink

        …and, if you’re not proto-consciousness, you’re ante-consciousness. And who wants to be ante-conscious?


  3. NewEnglandBob
    Posted December 4, 2013 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    I’m laughing and laughing at the stupidity.

    • gluonspring
      Posted December 4, 2013 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

      I think it’s not just stupidity. I know nothing of Hameroff, but Penrose is a smart guy. He’s committed to some kind of wooish Platonism, though, and this impels him to believe and look for (i.e. make up) ways that the brain can be more than a computer. Another smart guy who contributed to this idea is the physicist John Wheeler who coined his It-from-bit interpretation of quantum mechanics.

      Being smart is, itself, no shield against delusion.

      • Reginald Selkirk
        Posted December 4, 2013 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

        My impression is that Wheeler either was misinterpreted, or has reformed.
        As of 2002:

        “The process whereby the macroscopic world reacts to a quantum event—the process that makes reality—can, in my view, be accomplished with inanimate matter. Following Niels Bohr, I like to call this process “registration” rather than observation (which too strongly suggests human involvement).”

        • gluonspring
          Posted December 4, 2013 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

          I think he must have reformed. He was always a little vague what he meant by this so he probably has wiggle room to claim he never embraced the idea, but essays I read of his, for example one I have to hand called “Information, Physics, Quantum: The search for links.”, he talked of ants as observers and of a super-Copernican principle that “rejects now-centeredness in any account of existence as firmly as Copernicus repudiated here-centeredness”. He does a back-of-the-envelope calculation to show that far more bits of information must be involved to account for the universe than could possibly be counted on by “observer participancy” (his term) *to date*, but then suggests that “there are billions of years yet to come, billions on billions of sites of observer-participancy yet to be occupied. How far foot and ferry have carried meaning-making communication in fifty thousand years gives faint feel for how far interstellar propagation is destined to carry it in fifty billion years.” It’s vague, but the strong impression one gets is that: observer-participancy can include weekly aware agents like ants, that the existence of things *now* is somehow dependent on “observer-participants” in the future, and so on.

          Who knows what he really meant, though, because his language is so slippery. I found this, and similar essays of his, great fun but hard to take seriously.

      • stuartcoyle
        Posted December 4, 2013 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

        Part of the problem is that people reading Penroses’ books, The Emperor’s New Mind and it’s sequel, cannot distinguish between the purely hypothetical musings and the real mathematics and science in them. I found his arguments against strong AI worth considering, if not convincing.

        I will have to read them again, but the impression I got from Penrose was that the ideas about quantum consciousness were just pure conjecture. The woo masters then extrapolate these conjectures as
        fact all the way out to “cosmic fusion quantum God Omega-Point consciousness”. They then can back it all up with an argument from authority.

        • gluonspring
          Posted December 4, 2013 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

          Penrose is a worthy adversary on the question of strong AI. Wrong, but a worthy adversary. That’s why I say he’s a smart guy. He really is. But he clearly *wants* very desperately to believe that humans are special, that we have some kind of direct mental access to a Platonic realm which is, for him, something sort of real. For us to be more than machines he needs to attack strong AI and propose, even if speculatively, a physics based way out. The way he finds is in the idea of quantum computation. But quantum computation needs to be tied to the brain somehow for this to provide the escape from being a machine that he seeks, so he introduces the possibility of microtubules possibly having something to do with the brain’s processing and those tubules having some ability to exist in quantum superposition of states and so on. Sure, he admits all of that stuff is mostly pure speculation, but it’s speculation he raises because he has a clear agenda to move humans out of the realm of “mere computers”. He’s too smart a guy to claim that he’s established this as fact though, as you say, no doubt many of his readers probably miss this, but he’s not too smart to want very badly for it to be true.

          • Jesper Both Pedersen
            Posted December 4, 2013 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

            I think he sees the tubules as processors and quantum information as the product(qubits?).

            I guess these guys are betting pretty strongly on quantum processing occurring in the brain.

            • Posted December 6, 2013 at 10:41 am | Permalink

              The problem is that Penrose’s position has been more or less refuted. Hammeroff’s is as well, but is also crazier.

              Rick Grush and Pat Churchland did a take down on the “quantum mechanics and microtubules” thing from the neuroscience perspective. Vic Stenger has done it from the physics, and for Penrose only, Feferman (and others) on the computability theory and incompleteness stuff.

  4. eric
    Posted December 4, 2013 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    Through the Wormhole always features one or two “alternate” or more out there views. But the general tone is pretty strongly pro-mainstream-science.

    I haven’t seen this episode but its a good bet that it doesn’t support Hameroff’s position.

  5. Posted December 4, 2013 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    This is why we make fun of the UofA, by the way….


  6. Dale Caldwell
    Posted December 4, 2013 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    It is very difficult to land a serious blow to such a large, flaccid, yet highly inflated bag of fluff. Maybe the quantum information is bein carried by midichlorions – oh, wait. That’s in Star Wars.

  7. Jesper Both Pedersen
    Posted December 4, 2013 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    So if a person almost dies or are clinically dead for a short while, the quantum information will depart from the cells and spread out, but then return upon revival.

    I smell a Nobel’s…

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted December 4, 2013 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

      No that is just a dung beetle’s play toy.

      • Mark Joseph
        Posted December 4, 2013 at 2:55 pm | Permalink


      • Jesper Both Pedersen
        Posted December 4, 2013 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

        Tomato, tomato.

  8. coozoe
    Posted December 4, 2013 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    So once again, we preclude ourselves. Consciousness was an item growing on trees that early man chose as a health supplement.

    • gluonspring
      Posted December 4, 2013 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

      Of course, it grew on the tree of knowledge.

  9. francis
    Posted December 4, 2013 at 2:04 pm | Permalink


  10. Sastra
    Posted December 4, 2013 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    . In the event that the patient is not revived, “it’s possible that the quantum information can can exist outside the body, perhaps indefinitely, as a soul,” he said.

    Okay, how the hell do you “land a blow” to a so-called theory which sounds just like speculation about what is “possible?” What will falsify the Orch-OR Theory of Consciousness if a dead body doesn’t count as a dead person any more?

    It sounds like more religious apologetics.

    • jerrold12
      Posted December 4, 2013 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

      Miracle Max: It just so happens that your friend here is MOSTLY dead. There’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive. With all dead, well with all dead there’s usually only one thing you can do.
      Inigo Montoya: What’s that?
      Miracle Max: Go through his pockets and look for loose change.

      The Princess Bride has all the answers. Hameroff is simply confused about mostly dead and all dead.

  11. Ken Pidcock
    Posted December 4, 2013 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    Why isn’t this guy laughed out of his profession? I remember reading Paul Offit’s Autism’s False Prophets and being astonished how many of the whackaloons held elevated academic appointments. I’m afraid that medicine suffers from a guild mentality where it’s unseemly to challenge your peers. Whereas in science, you’d damned well better be able to justify your claims.

    Man, I wish I could just make shit up.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted December 4, 2013 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

      You can, except you have to be comfortable with ridicule during your lifetime & a legacy of “that guy who was a bit of a dumb ass/charlatan”.

  12. AndrewD
    Posted December 4, 2013 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    So, the last 10 weeks spent on a WEA* philosophy course on Consciousness was wasted as it was obviously always in the Universe. We spent 3 weeks trying to come up with some idea of what consciousness is, and then when studying Thomas Nagel, I had realised that I would need to rethink it all again. It would help if a definition of consciousness was provided before postulating outlandish ideas. It would also help to have experimental evidence for a “soul”.

    (*WEA, Workers Educational Association, an organisation here in the UK)

    • Jeff Engel
      Posted December 5, 2013 at 8:36 am | Permalink

      It would certainly help to have a definition of consciousness in hand before postulating outlandish ideas, or even inlandish ones. Unfortunately, everyone has one or several notions of definitions in mind for it, most of which are vague and/or incoherent, and many people will insist on elements that are systematically vague or incoherent in any “acceptable” definition of it.

      But if you can do better than that and get a working program going on that basis, with other people and solid, verifiable results, you’ve started doing something other than philosophy.

  13. Posted December 4, 2013 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    OK, I know this really doesn’t deserve more than an abrupt and mocking response, but I’m in a bad mood:-)…..

    Oh crikey! Did someone prove souls exist while I wasn’t looking?

    Why is this nonsense being touted as science? Some will reply that it’s because Penrose IS a scientist. He is also a philosopher. At best, this ‘theory’ (sigh) is a philosophical hypothesis, but even its predicates are unproven wishful thinking. Where’s the hard evidence? There’s not a jot of it, and a scientific theory needs a hell of a lot more than that.

    You’d think in the, what – 17 years?, since they dreamed this up they could have come up with at least one piece of testable, refutable evidence. Instead, all they’ve done is facilitate the misappropriation and complete misuse of quantum theory by charlatans, like Deepak Chopra, who have no understanding of it at all but liberally sprinkle their woo with it to give it a veneer of respectability.

    • Larry Gay
      Posted December 5, 2013 at 10:48 am | Permalink

      I hope that little tantrum has improved your mood. It improved mine. For one thing I was able to understand it.

  14. Diana MacPherson
    Posted December 4, 2013 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    That’s a nice hypothesis you have there. Be a shame if someone were to test it. :)

  15. George Hand
    Posted December 4, 2013 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    Some people are just unable to give up the idea that the mind or consciousness or soul or whatever arise out of the behavior of matter. Well, maybe not the soul if that has any meaning.

    It seem in part a fear of the finality of death and non-existence, or the thing Mooney referred to; dualism.

    Whatever the reason (and I know some very smart people stuck in this rut) it’s too ordinary to be upset by.

    Like gluonspring wrote: “Being smart is, itself, no shield against delusion.”

    The only way to “land a blow” on such an idea is to ask “so why would I believe that?”

  16. Mattapult
    Posted December 4, 2013 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    Why do these apparently intelligent and highly educated people go out on a limb, and start sawing next to the truck?

    • Mattapult
      Posted December 4, 2013 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

      Oops, trunk not truck.

      • George Hand
        Posted December 4, 2013 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

        Mattapult, the “why” of delusion and error is often impossible to determine; perhaps they have been told too often how intelligent and well educated they are, they’ve lost their appreciation for their fallibility.

        Who knows? It happens. Newton was wrong sometimes, Einstein, Hawking, etc. Why not other intelligent, well educated people?

  17. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted December 4, 2013 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    Still, Dr. Hameroff believes that “nobody has landed a serious blow to the theory. It’s very viable.”

    Someone needs to land a good BOP on Hameroff – Burden Of Proof.

  18. Posted December 4, 2013 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    “Nobody cares about landing a serious blow to the theory. It’s like trying to land a serious blow to a garbage can.”

    Or seize a gallon of Jello by the throat.

  19. Posted December 4, 2013 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    While I’ll agree that Hameroff may have let his tendency to speculate get the better of him, I don’t see that his and Penrose’s basic premise is all that untenable or implausible, even if some of the details don’t hang together all that well. (“What’s that you say? Light as both particle and wave? Man will fly to the moon? Bats use sonar, a recently developed and still secret invention? Evolution is true? Preposterous!!”)

    But, for instance, as suggested in the article, both physicists Tegmark (1) and Stenger have argued or suggested that quantum coherence is not possible in biological systems:

    The main argument against the quantum mind proposition is that quantum states in the brain would decohere before they reached a spatial or temporal scale at which they could be useful for neural processing. This argument was elaborated by the physicist, Max Tegmark. Based on his calculations, Tegmark concluded that quantum systems in the brain decohere quickly and cannot control brain function.

    However, as these articles (here (2), here (3), and here (4)) prove or at least demonstrate to a rather convincing degree, that is anything but the case.

    As Einstein said, “As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.” Or, as Shakespeare said, “There’s more in heaven and earth than is dreamt of in our philosophy Horatio”. Or in our science and mathematics. Not that that should justify any “mystery mongering”, but being aware of those “facts” might preclude hubris and the frequently consequential “egg on the face”.

    1) “_”;
    2) “_”;
    3) “_”;
    4) “_”;

    • Posted December 4, 2013 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

      Curiously enough, not a single one of your links exists; all result in a 404 error or equivalent.

      And, no, it’s not because of some weird link corruption; Wikipedia, for example, has nothing even in search results related to “quantum mind.”

      Further, we know a great deal about quantum computation, what it looks like, what it requires, and the rest. I don’t think it’s been 100% ruled out in brains, but it’s certainly at least at the 99 44/100% level, if not more. There’s almost certainly no quantum effects at play in human cognition; if there are any, they’re almost certainly either a form of noise or, with vanishing possibility, efficiency tricks such as what happens in chloroplasts.

      The type of quantum soul the UofA whackjob is proposing would be trivially detectable and observable today. His claims are on the same order as offering up dragons as the explanation for Higgs mass: not even worth dignifying with anything other than dismissal at least, and well worthy of ridicule.



      • Posted December 4, 2013 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

        Check your computer or your IPS – I’ve had those links in my Favorites for years but have just re-accessed and loaded them – still hot, in more ways than one.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted December 4, 2013 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

        It’s woo links – the trick is to deduct the (nearly) invisible “_” (and I removed http too for good measure) and let Google work.

        • Posted December 4, 2013 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

          I put those those links into quote marks – “_http …” – as otherwise the number and type of them causes the comment to go into moderation.

        • Posted December 4, 2013 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

          Hmm…yes, that did it.

          And, as you noted, a problematic Wikipedia article and a bunch of well-known stuff about quantum efficiencies in photosynthesis not at all related to computation. (I seem to recall that the photosynthesis stuff has inspired some novel photovoltaic designs with improved efficiency.)

          Nothing to see here….


          • Posted December 4, 2013 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

            As J.B.S. Haldane said, characterizing the evolution of science and other “ways of knowing”:

            I suppose the process of acceptance will pass through the usual four stages:
            (i) this is worthless nonsense;
            (ii) this is an interesting, but perverse, point of view;
            (iii) this is true, but quite unimportant;
            (iv) I always said so.

            [Sorry for the repost – fixed a HTML error]

            • Posted December 4, 2013 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

              They also laughed at Bozo the Clown.

              Get back to us when you have actual evidence. Hell, I’d settle for just a simple single-digit-qbit quantum computer made with analogues of the proposed brain structures.

              Hint: we know what quantum computers look like. We know what the brain looks like down to quantum scales. The brain is not a quantum computer, unless everything we think we know about both quantum computing and the brain is worng.



          • Posted December 5, 2013 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

            Ben Goren said:

            They also laughed at Bozo the Clown.

            Yes, quite true. But if, as a horse-back guess, we assume that some 99% of such claimants have turned out to be “Bozos”, and that some 1% have turned out to be Newtons and Einsteins and Margulises and Wegeners then that still leaves open the question as to how Penrose and Hameroff will be viewed.

            In addition, I think you might be too close to one particular tree to see the forest. For instance, while most of QM is rather outside my salary range, it seems, on some evidence, that one might argue that the photosynthesis described in those articles is an analog computer, and one of the quantum kind:

            Electrons moving through a leaf or a green sulfur bacterial bloom are effectively performing a quantum “random walk”—a sort of primitive quantum computation—to seek out the optimum transmission route for the solar energy they carry.

            And while it is of course a moot point how far up that process scales, at least in the biological realm, it seems rather premature – to say the least – to insist, and rather dogmatically at that, that it doesn’t. “As below, so above.”

            • Posted December 5, 2013 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

              That’s some bad journalism that equates that sort of quantum efficiency with quantum computing and that likens it to a drunkard’s walk. You might as well call a river a topographical computer because it’s always found to follow the lowest path on the terrain.

              Again, we know what quantum computers look like, how they function, what sorts of environments (materials, temperatures, etc.) are necessary to permit the very delicate quantum states to function, what’s necessary to amplify quantum-scale computational phenomenon into macro-scale observations, and the rest. The brain is far too big, too hot, too messy, too noisy, and in every other way just not the sort of place that that sort of thing to happen.

              Worse, there just isn’t any need for that hypothesis. We have a pretty good idea of how simpler neurological systems work, and there’s no need to invoke any sort of quantum woo to explain their much simpler behavior. The observed complexity of human behavior is perfectly in line with the relative increase in neurological complexity.

              Imagine you were familiar with simple, small steam engines and no further advanced motor technology. Now imagine you saw a top-fuel dragster make a run down the track. Would you insist that the dragster must be using some of the “antimatter” that you had heard about, or would you accept that it’s reasonable that it’s actually a variation on the steam engine idea you’re already familiar with, just with different different mechanical configurations and a different (but basically similar) fuel and a lot of refinements to all the fiddly bits?



          • Posted December 5, 2013 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

            Ben Goren:

            You might want to actually read that Discover article in its entirety – you know, take your thumb off the scales. But notably this passage where one of the researchers – not the journalist – refers to that “random-walk stuff” and suggests it is the basis for the efficiency (> 95%):

            “We have shown that this quantum random-walk stuff really exists,” Fleming says. “Have we absolutely demonstrated that it improves the efficiency? Not yet. But that’s our conjecture. And a lot of people agree with it.”

            But not a bad analogy with the dragsters. However, it seems to me that you’re not really comparing apples and oranges, that the cases aren’t particularly analogous. When you’ve built a conventional computer that provably exhibits human quality consciousness then you might have a case. Otherwise it seems what we’re talking of is which is the more efficient and commercially viable method of generating electrical power through fusion, i.e., there aren’t any – at least as far as I know, although I’ve heard Morgan Freeman may know of one ….

            • Posted December 5, 2013 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

              There’s a huge difference, not only in degree but in type, between efficiency improvements and computation. The much closer analogy to efficient photosynthesis than computation would be fluorescence, which is also a quantum phenomenon. You don’t think your CF lights are deep in thought, do you?

              And I hardly think it necessary for us to build a perfect replica of an human brain before we can be confident in our rough sketches of it. Long before we had Google Maps, we knew that there aren’t any mysterious mesas deep in the Amazon where dinosaurs still roamed. And, though much of the Earth’s core remains a mystery, we know that T-Rex isn’t actually hiding out down there, either.

              The observation that the brain is exactly what it appears to be — a highly complex biological computer — may not be as exotic as it being a portal into an universal cosmic quantum consciousness. But reality tends to be a lot more fascinating than fantasy, so it’s really not that much of a problem after all.

              Oh — and we really, truly, honestly don’t need to invoke quantum woo in order to explain the brain and consciousness. Intel’s most powerful chips have transistor counts about three orders of magnitude shy of the brain’s neuron count, which really is just about the right ratio. If Moore’s Law holds (which it may well not as the global economy collapses from pollution and oil starvation — but that’s another topic) then we should expect to have the necessary hardware to model a brain in a supercomputer in a decade or so. Software is another matter entirely, and may well take yet another decade after that before computers have enough extra horsepower for a brute-force simulation to be able to provide a simulated infancy and childhood in faster than real time such that it can be fruitfully analyzed.

              But, again…as many fascinating and unexpected things as we’ll learn from that type of research, we’re just not going to find Atlantean mermaids.




          • Posted December 5, 2013 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

            Ben Goren:

            No more than you think, I expect, that a collection of SSI [small-scale-integration] NAND and NOR gates in a garage-door opener or security system are cogitating about the fate of Western civilization. The basic principles of logic are in play in each case – quantum phenomena and, hypothetically, quantum mind versus digital logic and conventional mind. The devil’s in the details on how they’re wired together and in the number of them – emergent phenomena as many argue.

            … we’re just not going to find Atlantean mermaids.

            Dang. And I had so set my mind on those. Not. You might want to consider that even though you’ve seen some small group of white swans, it is arguably, on some evidence, a bit of a stretch to insist that all of them are.

            • Posted December 5, 2013 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

              Your arguments are as tangential as observing that static cling is a property of electrons, so therefore you could build a computer using dryer sheets.

              There are all sorts of various interesting phenomena that happen at quantum scales, and all they have in common is that you need quantum mechanics to describe their behavior rather than classical mechanics.

              I already mentioned that fluorescence is a quantum phenomenon. So is lasing. Superfluids and electron diffraction are also quantum phenomena.

              Not a single one of those phenomena will let you do quantum computation. For that, at a minimum, you need particle entanglement…and you just can’t do that sort of thing in an environment such as the brain. It’s far too hot, too dense, and too noisy; you can’t even create entangled pairs in that type of environment in the first place — any more than you can get diffraction effects by shooting elephants through doorways.

              Sorry, but your insistence that you’re not peddling quantum woo is as meaningful as Chopra’s insistence that he’s not peddling quantum woo. Your proposal is indistinguishable from one of his: that weird quantum phenomena that you don’t actually understand is somehow the key to actually understanding the human mind.

              It just simply isn’t, no matter how sexy you think it is.



          • Posted December 5, 2013 at 10:38 pm | Permalink

            Ben Goren:

            Not a single one of those phenomena will let you do quantum computation. For that, at a minimum, you need particle entanglement…

            Bit of a guess on my part, but a later experiment in 2009 still suggests entanglement, presumably the basis for the calculation required to determine the most efficient path:

            The energy in sunlight is converted into food by plants and some bacteria. According to recent work, the process may involve a quantum mechanical coupling between electrons that helps channel energy through photosynthetic proteins. A new technique allows this effect to be seen directly in a two-dimensional spectrum of a protein sample. The spectrum cleanly distinguishes “random hopping” of energy within the protein from more coordinated movement involving “coherently coupled” electrons.

            Although it is probably moot whether “entanglement” is the same critter as “coherently coupled”, but this suggests that is the case.

            • Posted December 6, 2013 at 7:13 am | Permalink

              There is nothing they describe in that summary that would lend itself to computation. The phenomenon as they describe it is far more closely related to fluorescence and lasers than the computational bits of a quantum computer.

              It is unlikely that any similar such phenomena exist in brains. But, if so, all it means is that brains use electrical energy more efficiently than a classical description would predict. That has nothing whatsoever to do with computation — though, of course, efficiency is a good thing.



    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted December 4, 2013 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

      I don’t think Tegmark showed that quantum coherence is impossible in biological systems.
      What Tegmark showed, and no one has been able to refute, is that coherence is impossible to reach a useful scale for neural processing as your reference says.

      But as for biology and evolution using what physics mechanisms it stumbles on, there is plenty of evidence that photosynthesis antenna complexes use quantum coherence to amass and transmit energy. As well as hints that protein folding et cetera uses quantum tunneling at times.

      I’m not even going to look into the “quantum mind” or Discover entries, waste of time. The Nature and APS entries are both about photosynthesis, not neural systems.

      The remainder of your comment is just contradictory argument from authority combined with rejection of authority. The usual woo gaffleflab.

      • Posted December 4, 2013 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

        Not a rejection of authority, but a questioning of it. As Feynman put it (quoted in Leon Lederman’s The God Particle, pg 192):

        Our patron saint, Richard Feynman, in the essay “What Is Science?” admonished the student: “Learn from science that you must doubt the experts …. Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.” And later: “Each generation that discovers something from its experience must pass that on, but it must pass that on with a delicate balance of respect and disrespect, so that the race … does not inflict its errors too rigidly on its youth, but it does pass on the accumulated wisdom plus the wisdom that it may not be wisdom.”

        You might try some of that.

  20. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted December 4, 2013 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    If someone is phoning it in, it is Hameroff. His and Penrose’s hypothesis remains a laughing stock in the science community. Tegmark’s paper was a trivial calculation why H&P isn’t viable. [Googeable on Tegmark's website or arxiv.]

    If trivial equals serious I don’t know. But both H and P has never passed a peer reviewed criticism of T’s rejection what I know of.

    Combined with that, near-death experiences has nowadays well tested predictions out of neuroscience of anesthesia AFAIU. Hopefully we have people here that know this well.

    I’m more mystified with Freeman. He seems Enlightened in the true sense. I haven’t followed his narrations, but I hope am troubled with him been taken in or forced to bow to woo.

    • Posted December 4, 2013 at 10:32 pm | Permalink

      I find a nice antidote to this kind of stuff is to look up and absorb some vintage Freeman. Makes it all better.

    • Posted December 5, 2013 at 4:05 am | Permalink

      It’s also a good antidote for bozos trotting out irrelevant links, stages of acceptance, and quotes from Hamlet… while trying to school a practicing theoretical physicist in QM.

      • Posted December 5, 2013 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

        You might want to consider that physicists don’t sit on the right-hand side of “Gawd”, as you seem to think, and are thereby omniscient or infallible. A famous case in point, among a great many, being the following assertion from William Thompson, as described in Lee Smolin’s The Trouble with Physics (pg 13):

        In 1900, William Thompson (Lord Kelvin), an influential British physicist, famously proclaimed that physics was over, except for two small clouds on the horizon. These “clouds” turned out to be the clues that led to quantum theory and relativity theory.

        • Posted December 5, 2013 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

          (sigh) – have read it. Am well versed in Kelvin, et al. Seriously… what is being discussed is like talking about somehow overturning H2O = water. Minor considerations (like water also has a bunch of other species in it: OH-, H3O+, H5O2+, etc.) appear to be many orders of magnitude removed from what is needed for manifesting activity in the brain. The point has been made (and made again) above. I won’t bother yet again.

  21. Posted December 4, 2013 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    “the quantum information in the microtubules isn’t destroyed. It’s distributed to the universe at large, and if the patient is revived, the quantum information can go back to the microtubules”

    Oh really? And just how does that happen? What medium carries the information? Does it dampen with distance? Do other sources of EM energy introduce noise? How is it attracted back to its source without losses? Doesn’t that violate the 2nd law of thermodynamics?

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted December 4, 2013 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

      “Oh really? And just how does that happen? What medium carries the information? Does it dampen with distance? Do other sources of EM energy introduce noise? How is it attracted back to its source without losses? Doesn’t that violate the 2nd law of thermodynamics?”

      Turtles on the way out and rabbits on the way back.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted December 4, 2013 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

        Oh, no! The image!

        I’m not going to sleep tonight, am I?

  22. George Hand
    Posted December 4, 2013 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    Fil Salustri

    Good questions. And one more: “what evidence do you have for this?”

  23. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted December 4, 2013 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    Many rebuttals to this theory are directly cited in the Wikipedia article
    so I would say Hameroff is wrong.

    That said, Roger Penrose has a limited street cred that Deepak Chopra can not claim.
    He co-earned the Wolf Prize for physics with Stephen Hawking, and is co-developer with him of the Penrose-Hawking singularity theorem re black holes, but Penrose has also proposed a novel interpretation of quantum physics not widely held (as have many other physicists).

    A skilled explorer who took a wrong turn in the thicket somewhere, I would say.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted December 4, 2013 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

      I recently learned that, at least some of, his lauded singularity theorems builds on semiclassical spacetime, (particle) trajectories and all.

      That is correct, Penrose uses the constraint that is erased by the very phenomena he looks at [singularities]…

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted December 4, 2013 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

      Upon further reflection it seems to me that the critical difference between Penrose and Chopra is that Mr. Deepity’s notions on quantum consciousness qualify for Wolfgang Pauli’s famed riposte of “Not Even Wrong”.

      This is in part due to Chopra’s horrendous misuse of words he does not seem to know the meaning of.

      I suspect we can award Penrose’s notions the dignity of being merely and simply wrong, albeit probably many orders of magnitude off target.

      The theory of orchestrated objective reduction seems to have been discussed a lot (mostly in a negative light) and in detail in reputable journals like “Physical Review” and “Journal of Cosmology” and on the biological side the “Journal of Neuroscience”. I seriously doubt that any of Chopra’s material has merited even this amount of discussion, given his misreprentations of physics and lack of any rigor, mathematical or otherwise to his theory.

      So at least the theory merits a brief mention on Morgan F’s show, even if it should not get a lot of attention.

  24. Brad
    Posted December 4, 2013 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    I remain open-minded to all sorts of strange possibilities regarding consciousness, and for strictly logical reasons. Historically, science has repeatedly dethroned ideas that once seemed logical and intuitive to everybody. The world is flat. Nope. Earth is the center of the universe. Guess again. Man is special and set apart from other living things. Not even close. We possess free will. Sorry. The self is real. An illusion I’m afraid. And so with consciousness.

    • George Hand
      Posted December 4, 2013 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

      The self and consciousness remain real, they just are very different from an intuitive understanding. They are composite phenomena arising from multiple actors.

      • Brad
        Posted December 4, 2013 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

        Yes, of course, but everybody’s experience is that of a centrally located and in command “I”

        • George Hand
          Posted December 5, 2013 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

          Let me clarify, the self and consciousness remain real, they just are very different from an intuitive understanding. They are composite phenomena arising from multiple actors WITHIN EACH OF US.

          The “actors” are not individual person, but individual processes and phenomena within the mind of each individual; these act together to create consciousness and “the self”.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted December 4, 2013 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

      It is also “logical” (rational, rather) to not open our skulls so that our brains fall out. Biological systems mostly rely on classical physics, as thermodynamics, chemistry, and mechanics all do. So likely neurons work with EM, which is already plenty observed.

      Besides, any use of QM would still not surpass a Turing machine capability. (Which is another of Penrose’s daft claims.) So even if quantum phenomena would be involved, nothing new would be likely.

      Note that H&P makes 2 extraordinary claims. But they have 0 extraordinary evidence, and trivial estimates say both claims are erroneous.

  25. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted December 4, 2013 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    This quantity of queerly quaint quantum woo quite unsettles our quietude.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted December 4, 2013 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

      Quite quotable.

  26. Alexandra M
    Posted December 4, 2013 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    And again. Now NPR has picked it up.

    It’s like whack-a-mole.

    • Posted December 4, 2013 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

      Disappointing, at the least. Descartes proposed dualism, which has since been soundly rejected except by the wooists. The quantum wooists propose quantum woo to explain the supernatural bits of Descartian dualism, despite actual quantum mechanics pointing out that, not only is there no evidence of such a thing, and not only is there ample classical complexity to explain consciousness, what we know of quantum mechanics makes the brain quite hostile to quantum computation. But the wooists persist, and the reporter ends by planting himself more than halfway to crazy town….


      • Myron
        Posted December 5, 2013 at 8:01 am | Permalink

        Naturalistic panpsychists are attribute dualists (mental/experiential/phenomenal properties vs. physical properties), but they reject both Cartesian substance dualism and spiritualist substance monism. If the view that some material substances or objects have mental properties is naturalistic, why should the view that all material substances or objects (or at least all ones of a fundamental physical kind) have mental properties be supernaturalistic?

        • Posted December 5, 2013 at 10:52 am | Permalink

          It would depend on the type and degree of mental properties being proposed.

          As I think I’ve made clear, consciousness / intelligence / etc. are best understood as continuous (not discreet) amalgamations of properties. As such, I don’t think I could argue with certain forms of a statement that inanimate matter has some degree of those properties…but only if it’s understood that in, say, a pebble, those properties are present in at most homeopathic proportions — and, therefore, close enough to nonexistent that, aside from these types of discussions, there’s not even theoretical sense in saying they possess those properties.

          If naturalistic panpsychists contend that a pebble has any detectable or otherwise significant or meaningful degree of consciousness, that is very much a supernatural claim, for it is utterly contradicted by observation and impossible to support with theory.



          • Myron
            Posted December 5, 2013 at 11:41 am | Permalink

            What scientific observations are inconsistent with the truth of panpsychism? I’m asking because I don’t know any.

            • Posted December 5, 2013 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

              Before going down that rabbit hole, I think I’d need your definition of the term. Or, better…what type and degree of consciousness would you assert, say, a pebble enjoys?



  27. Dawn Oz
    Posted December 4, 2013 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

    Mega deepities. And ‘oh Morgan Freeman!’ – yes, disappointing….

    • Achrachno
      Posted December 4, 2013 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

      Well, maybe we can give him a pass on this, since acting and narrating is what he does for a living. It’s those other guys who are supposed to be evaluating the supposed science in this. Besides, Morgan is “God” in a certain context, so maybe he’s allowed to do whatever he wants anyway.

  28. Posted December 4, 2013 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

    This sounds like William Bray, who I think may be insane.

    Dr. William Bray: Consciousness must be infinite in order for it to exist. N over infinity equals 0. If it is finite it doesn’t exist. It’s okay if the physical universe doesn’t really do this. It’s just a construct. But your consciousness is either finite and therefore you don’t exist, or it’s not finite and you exist for infinity. If you exist for infinity, an infinite thing cannot fit inside of a finite system, this universe. You are not here.

  29. Myron
    Posted December 4, 2013 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

    In the contemporary philosophy of mind there seems to be a revival of panpsychism. I recommend this recent paper by David Chalmers:
    “Panpsychism and Panprotopsychism”
    It can be freely downloaded from Chalmers’s website:

  30. microraptor
    Posted December 5, 2013 at 12:05 am | Permalink

    Still, Dr. Hameroff believes that “nobody has landed a serious blow to the theory. It’s very viable.”

    The windmill is actually taunting the knights!

  31. Posted December 5, 2013 at 1:40 am | Permalink

    The problem is that quantum physics is itself so weird it gives woo-masters of all persuasions the opportunity to attach ANYTHING that is also weird to being “quantum like”. The fact Quantum Biology has demonstrated a range of phenomenon which project quantum effects into the macroscopic world only expands the opportunity for slinging the woo. All we can do in these circumstances is continue to demand evidence – the one thing that REAL quantum phenomenon provides in abundance.

  32. Kelton Barnsley
    Posted December 5, 2013 at 7:55 am | Permalink

    WTF is “proto-consciousness”?

    • Myron
      Posted December 5, 2013 at 8:04 am | Permalink

      For an explanation, see the paper mentioned in post #29!

  33. squidmaster
    Posted December 5, 2013 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    I’m not sure why otherwise competent scientists get all wooish over the phenomenon of consciousness. Consciousness is (loosely, I could elaborate) the brain’s perception of what it just did. Although one could say, “my brain considered the pros and cons of macaroons vs turtles, but decided on truffles instead”, but this is conventionally rendered in shorthand: “I went for the truffles”. The latter is a perfectly reasonable way to refer to the complex computations that integrate sensory perception, internal drives, present context and past experience and produce a motor response to the result of that integration. There is no need to invoke macroscopic quantum entanglement, superposition of states or wave particle duality (I haven’t actually seen this aspect of quantum behavior used as biological obfuscation) to explain a quite fascinating but ultimately deterministic phenomenon.

  34. Myron
    Posted December 5, 2013 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    By the way, Hameroff’s quantum theory of consciousness is not the only such theory:

    Quantum Approaches to Consciousness:

  35. uglicoyote
    Posted December 5, 2013 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Road.

  36. George Hand
    Posted December 5, 2013 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    If there’s one thing this thread settles, it’s that the number of theories about consciousness far outnumber the data points!

  37. Posted December 5, 2013 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    You say samething as the fishing buddies, but they sound better! Ha! Ha!

  38. peterr
    Posted December 6, 2013 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    This may have been rejected, but it appeared again in the box, so I’ll send (resend?) with a few minor fix-ups from a cheerful morning person.

    Six assertions, some of them conflated with each other here:
    1. The brain operates essentially like a (universal classical) computer (i.e. strong AI).
    2. The brain operates essentially like a universal quantum computer (not yet real unless NSA has one, but abstract existence discovered by David Deutsch).
    3. The brain operates using essentially quantum physics.
    4. The brain can do more than a (classical) computer, and actually does more, not just the same faster.
    5. Number 4, plus number 3 more precisely as the 1990′s theory of Penrose-Hameroff concerning those tubules.
    6. Number 5, plus the nonsense uttered by Hameroff in the video.

    At first I thought some here were sloppy in confusing 3 with 2. But Tegmark himself seems to confuse them in the wording of his abstract, so I suppose that’s where it came from. Penrose asserts 4, and also a form of 3 as a possible beginning of an explanation of 4. He knows perfectly well that a quantum computer cannot do anything (in terms of the notion of computability) which a classical computer cannot do (but it can feasibly do much that a classical computer cannot compute ‘in polynomial time’). And so there is no way he is asserting merely that the brain operates as a quantum computer.

    It is ironic that people here often assert that platonism is obviously wrong, and would dismiss Penrose for that reason. At least one even calls it “woo”, which seems to be the word of the month. But they like Tegmark (who is certainly a ‘super-platonist!), or are at least temporarily fans, because he produced a quantum-theoretic argument against 5.

    Does anyone have any evidence that Penrose would agree with 6? Every indication I have ever heard about his atheism, and his insistence that consciousness will only be understood by science, seems to imply that he would reject 6 out-of-hand. So maybe a lot of stuff in the replies, as it applies to Penrose, is simply from ignorance of his opinions. Or maybe I’m ignorant here, in which case I’d like to learn the evidence on this point also.

    Do people here actually think that 6 is a logical consequence of 5? If so, it would be interesting to know the argument. A lack of one would remind me of those who seem to think that theism is a consequence of platonism.

    There would appear to be even better arguments against 5 than the Tegmark argument brought up here: i.e. claimed experimental evidence, falsifying predictions. But it was Hameroff (possibly Penrose disagrees) who claimed those were predictions from 5. If Penrose didn’t agree, again there would be serious differences between those two authors of 5 with respect to its supposed consequences.

    I’ve challenged a few stalwarts here before on what I consider their glib dismissals of platonism, so here’s the challenge anew: Tell me whether the logic is wrong below, or, if not, which hypothesis is wrong (since they’d certainly reject the conclusion).

    Photons exist.

    The electromagnetic field exists; for example, its quantization produces those photons.

    That field is a cross-section of a certain tensor bundle over space-time, and so is a mathematical object.

    Therefore, at least one mathematical object exists.

    Quantum field theory would give a few more. It seems to assert that what fundamentally exists are the fields of the elementary particles.

    If the response is that the above are just mathematical descriptions, not existing objects, then I’d like to hear ‘where the buck stops’. That is, do you exist? If so, do your cells not exist? Oh, they do? But the molecules, such as DNA, they are said to consist of do not? Well if they do, but the atoms in these molecules don’t, maybe that’s the buck hitting the brakes. But instead further down? Anyway, an answer is appreciated from any ‘militant anti-platonists’, as the ad hominemers might express it.

    But at least the photons which allow you to read this are more direct evidence than would be provided, say, by the Higgs particle for the existence of another mathematical object, the Higgs field. But, if the objection to the argument is a different one, perhaps it is that the quantization of something which doesn’t exist produces something which somehow does exist but is no longer mathematical. Seems a bit contorted!

    Do you think perhaps most of us have a weak idea of what we really mean by the verb ‘to exist’? I do, though not with respect to non-existence any kind of deity affecting our reality. David Deutsch mentioned above might be worth reading on ‘existence’. He, Tegmark and Penrose all seem to be inveterate platonists, though with basic disagreements close to that question. And despite Torbjorn’s unreferenced dubiousness just above about Penrose’s general proof of the existence of black holes well before they had been observed, all three have rather sterling records as scientists, not just as popularizers.

    • Posted December 6, 2013 at 10:51 am | Permalink

      “That field is a cross-section of a certain tensor bundle over space-time, and so is a mathematical object.” Wrong. That’s how the field is *represented* in one particular theory. Hence no Platonism need be inferred.

      (There are *two* meanings of field in mathematics and physics; they are different and one can be used to understand the other, just as sounds and such can have meanings, so can equations. But they *aren’t* their referents.)

      • peterr
        Posted December 6, 2013 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

        Thanks, Keith, for the reply, but I cannot quite figure out your “two meanings”. Is it one meaning each, one in math, another in physics?

        I’m sure you weren’t meaning the unrelated use of ‘field’ in abstract algebra; and pretty sure it was not the non-difference between ‘in coordinates’ versus ‘coordinate-free’. So I need some coaching here. (A reference at least?)

        If an axiom here for you is a priori rejection of Tegmark’s Type IV multiverse, or at least his conjecture that the material world could actually be a mathematical system, I suppose there is little left to say. But somehow I suspect I am missing something more basic that you are claiming.

        • Posted December 9, 2013 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

          Tegmark’s hypothesis makes exactly the mistake I was alluding to: it needs an *argument* to show that the referents of physical theories are mathematical objects rather than “merely” encoding our ideas about the referents in a convenient form. Does anyone think that a physical theory is about marks on paper? That’s almost as bad as thinking it is about the mathematics used to describe its referent. There’s a saying attributed to Heisenberg about how space is blue and birds fly through it (and not such and such a mathematical object). That’s the same point.

          • peterr
            Posted December 11, 2013 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

            No, sorry not a ‘mere’ argument, but rather, since this is science, an exact indication of what observations/experiments will disprove his contention here. He claims to have done exactly that in his Annals of Physics paper, though a convincing carrying-out of these may be quite a bit into the future.
            I believe that the assertion by almost everyone that it is obvious that the world is not an abstract/mathematical object has just about the same status as the assertions at one time (1) concerning the obvious flatness of the earth, and (2) that living objects could not possibly consist of the same material as other physical objects.
            What the outcome will be is up in the air, but if Tegmark’s ‘radical’ platonism were to become commonly accepted, undoubtedly the world would then become full of people calling fools (probably unfairly) those (most) who at present think they actually have an argument against the abstractness of reality.
            Heisenberg was a scientific genius. But the Copenhagen interpretation of reality is coming to have less hold on scientists all the time, those who concern themselves about foundations, and not only platonists.
            A discussion of your word “referents” might reveal a serious confusion between epistemology and ontology, but it was just tossed off, and I suppose few if any of the small number still reading this would have patience with discussing that. Let’s just look at Tegmark’s paper again, and hope we live long enough to see some resolution (though perhaps you have a more specific rebuttal of it).

  39. Myron
    Posted December 6, 2013 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    @Ben Goren (who asked me for a definition of panpsychism):
    Absolute (naturalistic) panpsychism is the view that all material objects are subjects of experience, i.e. that they undergo some primitive sensations or emotions at least. Relative (naturalistic) panpsychism is the view that all material objects of a certain kind are subjects of experience.
    For instance, David Chalmers writes: “I will understand panpsychism as the thesis that some fundamental physical entities are conscious: that is, that there is something it is like to be a quark or a photon or a member of some other fundamental physical type.” (in “Panpsychism and Panprotopsychism”, 2013). This form of relative panpsychism can be called microscopic panpsychism or micropsychism, as opposed to macroscopic panpsychism or macropsychism, according to which all material objects (of a certain kind) above the level of single atoms or molecules are experiencers. (For instance, panbiopsychism is the view that all living organisms, animals and plants, are experiencers.)

    • Posted December 6, 2013 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

      Consciousness in any meaningful sense of the word must include some sort of analysis of sensory input from surroundings. There are hard, physical limits on communication and computation (both of which are necessary for sensing and analyzing the outside world), and subatomic particles are so far beyond those limits that proposing they are conscious is absurd in the extreme.

      The panpsychism you propose is indistinguishable from Chopra’s quantum woo, and it is nothing but snake-oil hucksterism.



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