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Brain experiment suggests that consciousness relies on quantum entanglement

Published in Consciousness.

Most neuroscientists believe that the brain operates in a classical manner. However, if brain processes rely on quantum mechanics, it could explain why our brains are so powerful. A team of researchers possibly witnessed entanglement in the brain, perhaps indicating that some of our brain activity, and maybe even consciousness, operates on a quantum level.

Supercomputers can beat us at chess and perform more calculations per second than the human brain. But there are other tasks our brains perform routinely that computers simply cannot match — interpreting events and situations and using imagination, creativity, and problem-solving skills. Our brains are amazingly powerful computers, using not just neurons but the connections between the neurons to process and interpret information.

And then there is consciousness, neuroscience’s giant question mark. What causes it? How does it arise from a jumbled mass of neurons and synapses? After all, these may be enormously complex, but we are still talking about a wet bag of molecules and electrical impulses.

Some scientists suspect that quantum processes, including entanglement, might help us explain the brain’s enormous power, and its ability to generate consciousness. Recently, scientists at Trinity College Dublin, using a technique to test for quantum gravity, suggested that entanglement may be at work within our brains. If their results are confirmed, they could be a big step toward understanding how our brain, including consciousness, works.

Quantum processes in the brain
Amazingly, we have seen some hints that quantum mechanisms are at work in our brains. Some of these mechanisms might help the brain process the world around it through sensory input. There are also certain isotopes in our brain whose spins change how our body and brain react. For example, xenon with a nuclear spin of 1/2 can have anesthetic properties, while xenon with no spin cannot. And various isotopes of lithium with different spins change development and parenting ability in rats.

Despite such intriguing findings, the brain is largely assumed to be a classical system.

If quantum processes are at work in the brain, it would be difficult to observe how they work and what they do. Indeed, not knowing exactly what we are looking for makes quantum processes very difficult to find. “If the brain uses quantum computation, then those quantum operators may be different from operators known from atomic systems,” Christian Kerskens, a neuroscience researcher at Trinity and one of the authors of the paper, told Big Think. So how can one measure an unknown quantum system, especially when we do not have any equipment to measure the mysterious, unknown interactions?