In trying to discover the physical basis of consciousness, it may first be helpful to consider the physical structure of the universe from which consciousness somehow arises. Everything that we see or otherwise perceive is comprised of quanta that are best described as energy waves oscillating as excitations or disturbances of the quantum vacuum. In terms of modern physics nothing else exists, there are no things, there is no colour green, although it is not usually put quite as bluntly as that, perhaps for fear of frightening the horses.
In the view of some physicists, it is the vacuum that is fundamental rather than the quanta. These waves of energy are seen as excitations of the more fundamental vacuum. The quantum vacuum is not a void or nothingness, but could better be described as a plenum, as being full of virtual particles or photons that leap in and out of existence, and whose existence can be made permanent by the presence of energy, such as the energy of an extreme gravitational field or equivalent acceleration.
Some physicists are at pains to emphasise the existence of the quantum vacuum as a reality rather than an abstraction. Thus it is proposed that if we were on board a space ship accelerating towards some high percentage of the speed of light, we would see hot particles heading towards us out of the vacuum equivalent to the energy of our acceleration.
The quantum vacuum permeates the whole universe, and in that respect can be identified with the spacetime of special and general relativity. The speed of the light quanta or photons is fundamental in special relativity, and this relates to the proposition that there is no fixed background frame of spatial or temporal reference for the quanta and their interactions, but that each point or event has its own frame of reference. Further, spacetime or the vacuum are curved by the presence of massive objects, and the energy of their gravitational curvature, if sufficiently great, can produce the same hot particles that we see from our accelerating spaceship, gravity and acceleration being equivalent in relativity. This again points to the physical reality of the quantum vacuum.
Unfortunately the two main theories of modern physics, quantum theory and relativity, although individually tested to a very high degree of accuracy, are incompatible with one another. This reflects the essential conflict between quantum theory, which sees energy as discrete units and the smooth continuous curvature of spacetime in general relativity. Physicists have tended towards the view that spacetime like energy will have to be viewed not as a continuum, but as forming some kind of web or network. The significant thing is that once we move away from the concept of a continuum towards something more discrete, the possibility that the network itself contains pattern or information emerges, and with it the possibility that this information could be related to consciousness.
This all seems very far from the world that we see around us containing land, water, buildings, motor cars, people and animals. Strictly speaking, these do not exist as brain states. All that physics shows to exist are the quanta as disturbances of the vacuum. To take the example of vision, photons (light quanta) reach the retina and are converted into electrical and chemical signals in the brain. Neuroscience traditionally describes this process as a representation of the external world. In fact this term rather exaggerates the likeness between brain state and the external world, and it might be more helpful to talk about mapping.
If we think of a very abstract map, such as the map of an urban metro or underground railway system, we might get the right analogy. The two-dimensional coloured lines on a piece of paper have no resemblance to cavernous concrete tunnels, steel rails or metal coaches. However, in evolutionary terms, the map is adaptive once we understand the correlation between lines on paper and a system that can take us to preferred destinations. Likewise, a brain state based on signals from the external world has no resemblance to energy waves oscillating in the vacuum, but the correlation between the two may be advantageous to the survival of an organism.
Where is all this leading in terms of consciousness? It is really to suggest that approaches that start from the old Newtonian physics assumptions of massive objects in the external world bumping into one another, or even of neurons as massive objects projecting chemical at one another, may mislead. Certainly, theories that have proceeded from this basis have failed to produce a satisfying explanatory consensus. This lack of success at least suggests that in looking for consciousness, we might be better to work upwards from the real basis of the physical world.
WHAT THE SITE PROVIDES
The site provides summaries and reviews of books, academic papers, articles and other material relevant to theories of consciousness related to fundamental physics. This includes the ideas of Penrose, Hameroff, Bohm, Stapp, Bernroider and others. The site also offers a blog for new material as its is added and a reference section by subjects and author. The introduction section provides both a discussion of the main theories of quantum consciousness, aimed mainly at readers new to the subject, and an online book attempts to develop an overall theory of consciousness.
The site is categorised according to main subjects of interest including individual theories of quantum consciousness, neuroscience, the emotional brain, freewill, philosophy, physics and quantum biology. The last is an area of particular current interest with respect to quantum theories of consciousness.
There has been a recent spate of papers relating to quantum coherence in photosynthetic proteins (Engel et al, 2007, Lee et al 2007, Sarovar et al, 2009, Collini et al, 2009). The most recent and possibly the most important paper is Collini et al, 2010, which demonstrates long-lived quantum coherence in proteins at room temperature, something which had previously been considered impossible. Further physics papers point to the way in which quantum coherence and entanglement can be reset in high temperature systems, and in which it may be possible to test for such states in protein. All this serves to undermine the core arguments against quantum consciousness as advanced a decade ago.
RELATED TOPICS: Most of the new material relevant to fundamental/quantum consciousness fall under this heading, including neuroscience, emotions, protein and quantum biology.
The main stream section, also under the Related Topics heading, provides critiques of some of orthodox neuroscience, psychology and philosophical ideas on consciousness, including those of Dennett, Churchland, Crick and Koch.
Online Book 1-6: Consciousness, Biology and Fundamental Physics is the latest addition. This is a 46,000 word book format drawing on a variety of physics and neuroscience sources, and arguing for a version of the Penrose/Hameroff concepts modified in various ways, particularly in respect of a closer connection to recent discoveries in quantum biology.
The suggested reading list for quantum consciousness studies is under: Introduction 3: Reading List
The most recent additions to the site are listed below:-
1.) Integration and consciousness - added 22 May 2013 (under Neuroscience: Integration and consciousness)
2.) Attention during natural vision warps semantic representation across the brain - Cukur, T. et al - added 15 May 2013 (under Neuroscience: Brain tuning and attention)
3.) Spacetime and decisions - added 7 May 2013 (under Physics: Spacetime and decisions) - An answer to the freewill question?
4.) Neurons and logic gates - added 30 April 2013 (under Computing/quantum computing/artificial intelligence: Neurons and logic gates)
5.) Sharpest universe map stems dark flow - Maggie McKee - added 10 April 2013 (under Cosmology: Dark flow) - evidence against the multiverse
6.) Art, language and complex cognition - Helen Anderson - added 9 April 2013 (under Neuroscience: Art, language & cognition)
7.) Particle physics research sheds new light on possible fifth force of nature - based on Larry Hunter et al - added 5 April 2013 (under Physics: Spin-spin force)
8.) The curious lives of people who feel no fear - Christie Aschwanden based on Justin Feinstein et al - added 28 March 2013 (under Neuroscience: Consciousness and fear) - Role of consciousness in evaluaton of fear
9.) The sense of smell stinks of quantum effects - Zoe Cormier base don Luca Turin - added 20 March 2013 (under Quantum biology: Olfaction and quantum effects)
10.) Dynamical Casimir effect in a Josephson metamaterial - Lahtteenmaki, G.S. - added 19 March 2013 (under Physics: Vacuum and real particles)