In “Quantum Consciousness: The Way to Reconcile Science and Spirituality,” Kingsley Dennis elegantly discusses what has proven to the most intractable issue in neuroscience: consciousness. Because fluctuations and altered states of consciousness are so often linked to the supernatural-religious, I have examined it in many posts, including Consciousness and the Supernatural, which provides a brief overview of what we do and do not know about consciousness. Unfortunately, we know less about consciousness than almost any other aspect of the brain-mind.
Dennis’ article espouses a theory of consciousness that is being explored by a small number of researchers. This theory is that consciousness exists at the intersection of the classical (visible/macroscopic) and quantum (invisible/microscopic) worlds, and is at least partially constituted by quantum processes. The savant Stuart Kauffman goes further and argues that biological life is itself the product of this intersection.
While the scientific details of quantum consciousness theory are quite complex, Dennis does a nice job of explaining them in terms that can be understood by non-experts:
The human body is a constant flux of thousands of inter-reactions and processes connecting molecules, cells, organs and fluids throughout the brain, body and nervous system. Up until recently it was thought that all these countless interactions operated in a linear sequence, passing on information much like a runner passing the baton to the next runner.
However, the latest findings in quantum biology and biophysics have discovered that there is in fact a tremendous degree of coherence within all living systems. It has been found through extensive scientific investigation that a form of quantum coherence operates within living biological systems through what is known as biological excitations and biophoton emission.
What this means is that metabolic energy is stored as a form of electromechanical and electromagnetic excitations. It is these coherent excitations that are considered responsible for generating and maintaining long-range order via the transformation of energy and very weak electromagnetic signals.
After nearly 20 years of experimental research, Fritz-Albert Popp put forward the hypothesis that biophotons are emitted from a coherent electrodynamic field within the living system. What this effectively means is that each living cell is giving off, and resonating with, a biophoton field of coherent energy.
If each cell is emitting this field, then the whole living system is, in effect, a resonating field — a ubiquitous non-local field. And since it is by the means of biophotons that the living system communicates, then there is near instantaneous intercommunication throughout. And this, claims Popp, is the basis for coherent biological organization — referred to as quantum coherence.
Biophysicist Mae-Wan Ho has described how the living organism, including the human body, is “coherent beyond our wildest dreams” in that our bodies are constituted by a form of liquid crystal, which is an ideal transmitter of communication, resonance, and coherence. All living biological organisms continuously emit radiations of light that form a field of coherence and communication.
We cannot simply accept these statements as true; biophotons apparently do exist, but measuring them and ascertaining their function has a long and controversial history. Measuring quantum effects in the physical world is a science still in its infancy, though some remarkable tests are being conducted and advances made.
One thing is certain: biological metabolism involves chemical reactions that produce and reduce energy in all sorts of amazing ways. These processes entail and are sensitive to various forces or fields, including electricity, radiation, magnetism, light, sound, gravity, temperature, and pressure. Our understanding of these forces-fields and their relationship to human biology is quite limited, despite the many outlandish, unproven, untested, and authoritative claims made by the New Age faithful.
For a less credulous and more scientific view of quantum consciousness, the best work has been done by Stuart Hameroff and Roger Penrose. Hameroff has published numerous articles — all creative, some convincing, and a few compelling — which you can find on his website. Like Stuart Kauffman, Hameroff’s training is in medicine and his work, while thoroughly grounded in science, is cutting edge.
So where does quantum consciousness, if it exists (and I think it probably does, given that our bodies consist of atoms and subatomic particles, all of which flow in the weird world of quantum waves), leave us? This is how Dennis puts it:
[B]iophysicists have discovered that living organisms are permeated by quantum wave forms. In her 1998 book The Rainbow and the Worm: The Physics of Organisms, Mae-Wan Ho informs us that “the visible body just happens to be where the wave function of the organism is most dense. Invisible quantum waves are spreading out from each of us and permeating into all other organisms. At the same time, each of us has the waves of every other organism entangled within our own make-up.”
This incredible new discovery actually positions each living being within a non-local quantum field consisting of wave interferences (where bodies meet). Each person is thus not only in an emphatic relationship with each other but is also entangled with one another.
Neuroscience, quantum biology, and quantum physics are now beginning to converge to reveal that our bodies are not only biochemical systems but also sophisticated resonating quantum systems.
Assuming this to be true, it would mean that humans are subject to many more influences than those of which we are currently aware and can measure. It would also mean that humans exist in a field matrix where everything is connected in one way or another; think of it as the Butterfly Effect writ large.
Dennis and Hameroff believe this to be the case, but take this idea one step further — they connect this field matrix to “universal consciousness,” which is the darling of spiritualists around the world. Dennis claims that “These new discoveries show that a form of nonlocal connected consciousness has a physical-scientific basis. Further, it demonstrates that certain spiritual or transcendental states of collective Oneness have a valid basis within the new scientific paradigm.” And this is how Hameroff (1998) puts it in a peer reviewed article titled “Funda-Mentality” Is the Conscious Mind Subtly Linked to a Basic Level of the Universe?:
Perhaps panpsychists are in some way correct and components of mental processes are fundamental, like mass, spin or charge. Following the ancient Greek panpsychists, Spinoza (1677) saw some form of consciousness in all matter. Leibniz (1766) portrayed the universe as an infinite number of fundamental units (“monads”) each having a primitive psychological being. Whitehead (e.g. 1929) was a process philosopher who viewed reality as a collection of events occurring in a basic field of protoconscious experience (“occasions of experience”). Abner Shimony observed that Whitehead’s occasions were comparable to quantum state reductions-actual events in physical reality.
It is possible, in other words, that we are connected to a field matrix and that individual consciousness participates in and contributes to this matrix. There are some metaphysical traditions, particularly eastern ones, that have long made similar assertions and actively encourage adherents to engage with this field matrix, whatever it may be (we currently have only a hypothetical understanding of this proposed field). This may also be what shamans are seeking when they deliberately induce altered states of consciousness to experience what David Lewis-Williams calls “absolute unitary being.”
Let us suppose, however, that two centuries from now we arrive at an understanding of these hypothetical concepts (i.e., quantum consciousness embedded within a universal field matrix), and that we can actually measure, test, and manipulate these things. At this point, would we call this understanding “spiritual” or would it simply be yet another finding of science?
I would tend toward the latter characterization. Why? Not so long ago, all humans believed that weather was a spiritual or supernatural force. Over time, we have come to understand how weather works and why it occurs. Weather has therefore become a matter of science and is called meteorology — it is no longer a supernatural matter for spiritualists. If and when we arrive at an understanding of quantum-universal consciousness, I do not think we will be calling it “spiritual.”