Sir Roger Penrose is known for his maths. But maths reaches out into most places if you let it. So will his pal Stuart Hameroff, he proposed an idea back in the 1990s that consciousness came from quantum vibrations in the inner working of brain neurons. The idea seemed wacky at the time, but as the quantum nature of the universe, the world and everything in it has become more apparent, they two boffins recon that it’s time to revisit the idea.
In an article the journal Physics of Life Reviews, they suggest that quantum vibrations in the microtubules inside neurons could be the stuff of consciousness, and that manipulation of these vibrations could provide treatments for a range of mental, neurological, and cognitive conditions.
The whole idea is complex and intriguing, but for the moment I’m less interested in the fine details under discussion than the discussion itself.
The materialist view is that you need to find the structure that is causing consciousness, because consciousness, like everything, is just a matter of material. Finding that this but of matter vibrates in a curious manner then lays itself open to the idea that it proves the material underpinning of this intriguing phenomenon.
But the problem here is that the same vibrations could be a consequence of consciousness and not the cause. The material observations would be similar if not identical but the drivers are wholly different.
The two scientists recognise this in their piece. “Did consciousness evolve from complex computations among brain neurons, as most scientists assert? Or has consciousness, in some sense, been here all along, as spiritual approaches maintain?” ask Hameroff and Penrose. The theory is quite capable of accommodating each view.
So is consciousness a merely material thing, or a spiritual entity lived out in a physical being?