“Time Exists Only In Our Consciousness”: Quantum Consciousness Theory by Hameroff & Penrose

A quantum physicist and a neuroscientist walk into the bar. What would they do? They’d come up with a quantum consciousness theory! This is almost exactly what happened when physicist Roger Penrose published his book “The Emperor’s New Mind” (1989) suggesting that human consciousness is non-algorythmical and cannot be modeled by the conventional Turing-type digital computer [1]. In other words, it is not enough to xerox all the neural pathways in the brain, interpret them through a binary code and call it done [2]. Penrose argues that such approach will not result in creating consciousness, and we need to look deeper, into the quantum world, in order to get to the basic unit of consciousness.

According to the Penrose definition, consciousness results from the collapse of the quantum wave function. It means that elementary particles in their natural state of superposition (being in all possible states simultaneously) reduce themselves to a particular state on a macro level (the level at which the laws of classical physics operate). How and why exactly it occurs is not clear. In the featured video, Hameroff outlines different theories that attempt at the explanation [3].

Although physicist Roger Penrose published his book, he lacked the expertise in the area of human brain. Coincidentally, Stuart Hameroff possessed such an expertise. He called up Penrose and said: “Hey, I can fill some gaps in your theory!” Years later, these two plug alone at figuring out what is it that makes us conscious, or aware of ourselves and of our thinking, which, rumor has it, occasionally happens to some of us.

What Hameroff is suggesting in the featured video is truly mind wrecking. Apparently it may be the case that time flow exists for us only because of our consciousness. Quantum scale universe does not experience passage of time, and thus for particles there is no yesterday or tomorrow, or they simultaneously exist in all time slots. If that is the case, argues Hameroff, in objective reality there is no time. Instead, there are many instances of ‘now’ that we experience and tie together though the ability to record them in our memory.

What’s  even more astonishing, is that the precepts of quantum physics hint at the possibility of movement backward or forward in time, because, in one sense, our conscience, assuming it’s quantum nature is true, is already there! One of the  explanations for quantum entanglement, or the ability of entangled particles, to instantaneously, seemingly faster then light, transfer information to each other across any distance. Some scientists suggest that entangled particles actually go back in time and adjust their state to the moment where the entangled particles were not separated yet. In a sense, entangled particles constantly rewrite their history! Now, what would the Bureau of Temporal Investigations [4] say to that? Probably would be appalled because as we all know, the grandfather paradox is unforgiving to those who have grandfathers, but apparently, it may not apply to the quantum reality.

Hameroff also speaks about one peculiar implication of this time-hopping of the elementary particles: an ability to know the future. If our consciousness is a quantum event, then somewhere in the particles of our brain is the ability to know (or exist) in past, present and future. Hameroff mentions the ability to hit the baseball at the crazy speed when it approaches the bet. Supposedly our brain cannot react that fast, that is, the neurons cannot flair up that fast. But the elementary particles that comprise the neurons, already saw the ball, tracked the trajectory and hit it, all at the same time.

This Hameroff’s idea of peaking into the future reminds me of one time in Reno, when I gave in to the temptation of the roulette. I used the 10c bets and did surprisingly well raising a few hundred dollars. I could swear that if I was not overthinking, I could tell very specific combinations, color and even number, and a few times even predicted a zero. Could it be the case that I was accessing my quantum consciousness at that time and was able to see the combination before it showed up on the wheel? Of course under pressure of gambling you begin to analyze harder trying to guess the number. If Hameroff is right, at that moment I began using an entirely different tool  for  deriving the prediction –  the neurons, for computing probabilities, which are algorithm-based and pinged to the classic physics laws. Of course if this is the case, I blocked the ability of my quantum consciousness to provide the answer [5].

Here’s another interesting thought. It looks like having a physical body restricts the pure quantum consciousness from existing in the natural timeless quantum state when all knowledge is simultaneously accessible (omniscience) and when all places are simultaneously available (omnipresence). Does this remind you anything? Yes, two things at the same time. First, various things ‘omni’ are usually ascribed to God, generic or specific, depends on your particular persuasion. Second, pure (disembodied) consciousness may very well be our soul. But if soul is the quantum consciousness without a body, we could not interact with it, because our brains are pinned to the classical-relativistic physics. In other words, we could not talk to ghosts, even if they even existed, because they would exist in a different physical plain.

What if on sheer quantum level, we are interacting with this hypothetical side of the universe? Remember the famous God Helmet experiments? This experiment aimed at causing specific mild epileptic seizures in brain resulting in induced supernatural experience, as if being in the presence of God. During the experiment, both believers and nonbelievers experienced particular spiritual sensation. Atheists said, see, this is just our biology, or chemistry, a trick of our flesh. A Catholic nun arguably retorted that God might have specifically put those ‘God Radio Receivers’ in her brain so that she could talk to him.

There is no way out of this philosophical pickle, and neither of the sides remained persuaded contrary to their beliefs. Maybe the answers are somewhere in the theory of quantum consciousness [6]. At  the very least, this is a fascinating topic for the Sci Fi writers. We don’t have to wait for the research to catch up to boldly go to the frontiers where no human have gone before.


By Ellie Maloney

More posts like that in the  “Hotter Then Fiction” rubric.


[1] In this video, Sir Penrose explains the theory in more detail.

[2] By the way, this is by the way exactly what a Human Connectome Project is currently undertaking: mapping the human brain.

[3] Copenhagen interpretation:  every superposition collapses because of observation (literally us looking at the superposition makes it to choose one state; it’s like the kid sticking the tongue out and making faces behind your back looks polite when we turn around). Multiple worlds hypothesis: superpositions do not disappear; instead, they brunch  out into new universes. Objective reduction theories: superpositions grow until they meet a specific critical number (a threshold) which causes them to convert from quantum superposition state to a classical state.

[4] Yes, this is the reference to the Star Trek.

[5] I would not be surprised if the reader wondered how I score on the crackpot-science-meter. Sometimes I wonder myself.

[6] Prof. Hameroff has a neat web site where we can learn more about particular science developments in the subject. Feel free to explore it and comment what you think about it.



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