Sunday, November 14, 2010

Quantum decoherence in the brain on prime time TV

It is great how interesting physics still gets a mention in The Big Bang Theory. Last night my family watched The Maternal Congruence (Season 3, Episode 11). Leonard's mother [Beverley] comes for a visit and on the ride from the airport it turns out she and Sheldon have been in correspondence, unbeknown to Leonard. Here is the scene and dialogue I was delighted about:
Beverley: Yes, dear. Mommy’s proud. I’ve been meaning to thank you for your notes on my paper disproving quantum brain dynamic theory.
Sheldon: My pleasure. For a non-physicist, you have a remarkable grasp of how electric dipoles in the brain’s water molecules could not possibly form a Bose condensate.
Leonard: Wait, wait, wait. When did you send my mom notes on a paper?
On the Big Blog Theory, David Saltzberg [the UCLA Physics Professor who is a consultant to the show] discusses the "quantum dynamic brain theory" at length and mentions Roger Penrose and says:
Quantum Brain Dynamicists entertain the idea that the same kind of condensate might exist in a living human brain, at normal body temperature. Does that sound pretty unlikely?  It did to me.  So I poked around a bit.  The amount of published material in refereed scientific journals turns out to be small.  Most of what I found about it was published on webpages and small publishers which is a red flag..... There are a few papers  on these ideas published by Springer, a serious publisher of scientific work.   Usually ideas about how the world works  separate nicely into mainstream (even if speculative) versus crackpot.  Here we find the distinction is not so clear.
Saltzberg's scepticism is justified. The case again Penrose is actually much stronger than suggested by Saltzberg. Here I mention two papers I recently co-authored which discredit the "Quantum dynamic brain theory." 

Weak, strong, and coherent regimes of Fröhlich condensation and their applications to terahertz medicine and quantum consciousness published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA)


  1. As collaborator to Sir Roger Penrose on the Orch OR theory of consciousness based on quantum computation in microtubules, I am not a physicist but a medical doctor/biologist. However the eminent Professor McKenzie and colleagues are dead wrong in both their papers attacking/dismissing our theory. They don’t understand the relevant biology.

    See my talk at the recent Google Workshop on Quantum Biology which specifically addresses their criticisms.

    Clarifying the Tubulin bit/qubit - Defending the Penrose-Hameroff Orch OR Model

    Regarding water dipoles, the water molecules inside hollow microtubule cores and on its outer surface are completely ordered, not random, and will therefore not disrupt quantum coherence. Moreover, topological qubits in microtubules are the key point, not Bose-Einstein condensates.

    Stuart Hameroff MD
    Professor, Anesthesiology and Psychology
    Director, Center for Consciousness Studies
    The University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona

  2. I was at the Google workshop Stuart mentions. The conclusions I reached is that these models of quantum consciousness are so ephemeral and ill-defined as to be completely unfalsifiable, notwithstanding your best efforts.

    The "topological qubits" business was predictably nonsensical -- the speaker presenting alleged experimental evidence showed no clear understanding of even what it means to call something a "bit."

    The most bizarre thing to me was how this crackpottery manages to stay even on the margins of respectable science (e.g., by appearing at the Google Workshop). These folks have their international conferences and journals. The guy claiming topological qubits in microtubulues actually gets funding for this research from the US Air Force Office of Sponsored Research (AFOSR). Now there is a waste of tax-payer dollars to get excited about!