Discovery of quantum vibrations in 'microtubules' corroborates theory of consciousness

Jan 16, 2014

A review and update of a controversial 20-year-old theory of consciousness published in Physics of Life Reviews claims that consciousness derives from deeper level, finer scale activities inside brain neurons. The recent discovery of quantum vibrations in "microtubules" inside brain neurons corroborates this theory, according to review authors Stuart Hameroff and Sir Roger Penrose. They suggest that EEG rhythms (brain waves) also derive from deeper level microtubule vibrations, and that from a practical standpoint, treating brain microtubule vibrations could benefit a host of mental, neurological, and cognitive conditions.

The theory, called "orchestrated objective reduction" ('Orch OR'), was first put forward in the mid-1990s by eminent mathematical physicist Sir Roger Penrose, FRS, Mathematical Institute and Wadham College, University of Oxford, and prominent anesthesiologist Stuart Hameroff, MD, Anesthesiology, Psychology and Center for Consciousness Studies, The University of Arizona, Tucson. They suggested that quantum vibrational computations in were "orchestrated" ("Orch") by synaptic inputs and memory stored in microtubules, and terminated by Penrose "objective reduction" ('OR'), hence "Orch OR." Microtubules are major components of the cell structural skeleton.

Orch OR was harshly criticized from its inception, as the was considered too "warm, wet, and noisy" for seemingly delicate quantum processes. However, evidence has now shown warm quantum coherence in plant photosynthesis, bird brain navigation, our sense of smell, and brain microtubules. The recent discovery of warm temperature quantum vibrations in microtubules inside by the research group led by Anirban Bandyopadhyay, PhD, at the National Institute of Material Sciences in Tsukuba, Japan (and now at MIT), corroborates the pair's theory and suggests that EEG rhythms also derive from deeper level microtubule vibrations. In addition, work from the laboratory of Roderick G. Eckenhoff, MD, at the University of Pennsylvania, suggests that anesthesia, which selectively erases while sparing non-conscious brain activities, acts via microtubules in brain neurons.

"The origin of consciousness reflects our place in the universe, the nature of our existence. 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 in the current review. "This opens a potential Pandora's Box, but our theory accommodates both these views, suggesting consciousness derives from quantum vibrations in microtubules, protein polymers inside brain neurons, which both govern neuronal and synaptic function, and connect brain processes to self-organizing processes in the fine scale, 'proto-conscious' quantum structure of reality."

After 20 years of skeptical criticism, "the evidence now clearly supports Orch OR," continue Hameroff and Penrose. "Our new paper updates the evidence, clarifies Orch OR quantum bits, or "qubits," as helical pathways in microtubule lattices, rebuts critics, and reviews 20 testable predictions of Orch OR published in 1998 – of these, six are confirmed and none refuted."

An important new facet of the theory is introduced. Microtubule quantum vibrations (e.g. in megahertz) appear to interfere and produce much slower EEG "beat frequencies." Despite a century of clinical use, the underlying origins of EEG rhythms have remained a mystery. Clinical trials of brief brain stimulation aimed at microtubule resonances with megahertz mechanical vibrations using transcranial ultrasound have shown reported improvements in mood, and may prove useful against Alzheimer's disease and brain injury in the future.

Lead author Stuart Hameroff concludes, "Orch OR is the most rigorous, comprehensive and successfully-tested theory of consciousness ever put forth. From a practical standpoint, treating brain microtubule vibrations could benefit a host of mental, neurological, and cognitive conditions."

The review is accompanied by eight commentaries from outside authorities, including an Australian group of Orch OR arch-skeptics. To all, Hameroff and Penrose respond robustly.

Penrose, Hameroff and Bandyopadhyay will explore their theories during a session on "Microtubules and the Big Consciousness Debate" at the Brainstorm Sessions, a public three-day event at the Brakke Grond in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, January 16-18, 2014. They will engage skeptics in a debate on the nature of consciousness, and Bandyopadhyay and his team will couple microtubule vibrations from active neurons to play Indian musical instruments. "Consciousness depends on anharmonic vibrations of microtubules inside neurons, similar to certain kinds of Indian music, but unlike Western music which is harmonic," Hameroff explains.

Explore further: Scientists discover important mechanism in plant cells which regulates direction that plant cells grow

More information: "Consciousness in the universe: A review of the 'Orch OR' theory," by Stuart Hameroff, MD, and Roger Penrose, FRS. dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.plrev.2013.08.002

Commentaries on the review are:

"Reply to criticism of the 'Orch OR qubit'–'Orchestrated objective reduction' is scientifically justified," by Stuart Hameroff, MD, and Roger Penrose, FRS; dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.plrev.2013.11.00

"Reply to seven commentaries on "Consciousness in the universe: Review of the 'Orch OR' theory," by Stuart Hameroff, MD, and Roger Penrose, FRS. dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.plrev.2013.08.002

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User comments : 26

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AGreenhill
5 / 5 (8) Jan 16, 2014
Congrats to Penrose and Hameroff for.. uh.. wait, what again? All I see is vague references to unnamed 3rd party researchers that have finally vindicated their quest against modern brain science... Seriously, some tangible links or papers please?
Noumenon
5 / 5 (4) Jan 16, 2014
Penrose wrote about this in "Shadows of the Mind", which was a follow-up to "The Emperor's New Mind", where he argues for the non-computabity of consciousness.
El Cid
5 / 5 (3) Jan 16, 2014
Is it more correct to characterize the current work as that of (purportedly) discovering a relationship between microtubules & EEG?

That would be discovery enough in itself.

And although it is potentially connected to questions of consciousness (presuming even the vaguest notions of a meaning for that term), wouldn't the current work (or review, I'm not sure) be more properly characterized as 'compatible' or 'not incompatible' with Penrose et al's model of the origins of consciousness while neither confirming nor disconfirming it?
Noumenon
3.8 / 5 (4) Jan 16, 2014
Is it more correct to characterize the current work as that of (purportedly) discovering a relationship between microtubules & EEG?


More than that. That there are QM effects operative at the just sub-neuron scale.

In "emperor's new mind" Penrose put forwrd the idea that the mind may be non-algorithmic and non-computable, though deterministic, so he was against strong-A.I. And he suggested that QM effects may play a role in consciousness. Lator, with Hameroff they focused on these "microtubles" in neurons. They received a lot of criticism that QM could even be operative at that scale in the brain. Glad to see this result.

wouldn't the current work (or review, I'm not sure) be more properly characterized as 'compatible' or 'not incompatible' with Penrose et al's model of the origins of consciousness while neither confirming nor disconfirming it?


Certainly true, but the criticisms were overwhelming and this will stick in their crawl.
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (2) Jan 16, 2014
So... What's the frequency, Kenneth?
Otto_Krog
1 / 5 (3) Jan 16, 2014
I really dig this. The mind has a lot to do with quantum mechanics. Einstein and Schrodinger said that the universe is waves, the Copenhagen interpretation said that it is waves and particles.

I say that particles doesn't exist, and that the mind and consciousness can be described as wave structures from the beginning of time.

http://www.crestroy.com
Nestle
5 / 5 (2) Jan 16, 2014
Consciousness depends on anharmonic vibrations of microtubules inside neurons, similar to certain kinds of Indian music, but unlike Western music which is harmonic
Some scientists are getting senile I guess. IMO microtubules have quite different function: they do play an analogy of hollow core optical fibers, which are helping the neural spikes to propagate at distance like the nondispersive solitons.
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
5 / 5 (5) Jan 16, 2014
That old chestnut again.

The review adds new experiments, which are indeed based on "vibrations" (AC measurements), but are not tied to quantum effects and even less coherence except by H&P saying so - it is pattern recognition pseudoscience. And it adds new theory, where H&P avoid Tegmark's find that quantum decoherence in molecules are much too fast to couple to nerve impulses, by proposing unobserved atomic scale oscillations driven by electrons moving atomic nuclei around [!].

I note that the consensus is that "The biochemical mechanism of action of general anesthetics is not yet well understood." But that they interact with receptors which could be expected. [Wikipedia] The experiments that H&P refer to is seems to be on how the drugs binds to other proteins too (say, microtubules). [Paywalled, and life is too short for that shit.]

[tbctd]
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
5 / 5 (3) Jan 16, 2014
[ctd]

This is not neuroscience, obviously. "Physics of Life Reviews" is a journal on physics in living systems. Also notable is that they get criticism from mostly philosophers and woo peddlers [Chopra!] but that the chemists claims H&P proposal "is not scientifically justified".

The neuroscience view was presented the other day. It is claimed that neuroscientist Graziano's theory that builds on biology is the first to tackle both the easy (conscious, when) and hard (conscious, how) problems of consciousness. [ http://medicalxpr...ess.html ]

@El Cid: That is the long and the short of it.

@Otto: Unfortunately, "digging" it doesn't affect that it is non-evidenced. I "undig" gravity if I fall and hurt myself, yet it exists.

@Nestle: It has become a veritable dog and pony show, yes.

Microtubules on the other hand has an already known function, they are motorized skeletons of eukaryote cells. If they weren't there, then it would be a mystery.
Returners
not rated yet Jan 16, 2014
In "emperor's new mind" Penrose put forwrd the idea that the mind may be non-algorithmic and non-computable, though deterministic


I don't think the mind is deterministic. Sure there are drugs which influence us, as can chemical imbalances obviously. At the risk of sounding strange, I'd say "partially deterministic" might be acceptable, given the nature of drugs and intoxicants.

To say that the mind is entirely deterministic seems to contradict the notion of what a mind is. I can choose to wear a red shirt or a blue shirt, and I can even change my mind after I have made a choice.

Does anyone genuinely believe that is just about number crunching, nano-scale chemical stimuli, etc, and "destined" to happen?

If consciousness is deterministic, then none of you are actually any more intelligent than a rock. You just think you are.
Returners
4.5 / 5 (2) Jan 16, 2014
Microtubules on the other hand has an already known function, they are motorized skeletons of eukaryote cells. If they weren't there, then it would be a mystery


So....Are you saying a biochemical structure can't have more than one function?
Nestle
3 / 5 (2) Jan 16, 2014
The neurons filled with microtubules do behave like one-dimensional metamaterial or sonic analogy of photonic crystal with negative refraction index, which helps the auto-focusation of sound waves into center of axon. The rather intelligent Cephalopoda have large neural system too and they do eliminate the scattering of solitons with increased diameter of neurons, but this approach has its apparent evolutionary limits (the giant axons of sepias have diameter over 1 mm). I'm not even supporter of concepts of holographic memory and consciousness, because the recent experiments with zebrafish demonstrated rather clearly, that the perceptions are handled with brain in quite localized way.
Nestle
5 / 5 (1) Jan 16, 2014
The physicists believe, that the quantum computers QCs must be of highest speed and information density (particularly because lotta money is involved in QC research) - but IMO the computational power of QCs is limited with uncertainty principle in similar way, like this one of classical computers - just from opposite side of product of computational precision and speed. Briefly speaking, the QCs are fast but of low precision. To achieve the same precision like the classical computing provides would require to repeat the quantum calculations multiple-times and to average the results, which would wipe out the advantage in speed. So that IMO the brain doesn't work like quantum computer, because its speed and informational density would be suboptimal. IMO the brain combines the best of both worlds and it works like the quantum wave simulator of observable reality by classical way of electroacustic solitons. And the microtubules are good for simulation of nondispersive quantum waves.
Nestle
3.7 / 5 (3) Jan 16, 2014
So that Penrose and Hameroff could still have their bit of truth, but IMO the brain doesn't utilize the quantum phenomena natively, because these quantum states would be too fragile and shortliving. What it does is, it simulates the behavior of hypedimensional objects at the dimensional scale few orders of magnitude larger, which is already sufficiently stable at the human body temperature.

Hameroff is influenced with idea of cellular automata of Wolfram and he speculates, the surface proteins of microtubules are doing calculations at their molecular level. Again, I consider these ideas far fetched and speculative, as I can see very weak evidence for it. But it may be possible, that microtubules are able to work like memristors in certain extent. What the axon needs to do is to increase its conductivity during more frequent runs of neural spikes, so that the surface proteins of microtubules may spontaneously rearange in such a way, they do represent lower impedance for these spikes.
Nestle
3.7 / 5 (3) Jan 16, 2014
The evolution of scientific ideas rarely proceeds in monotonous way. Instead of it, it usually undulates around certain mean value, because the founder fathers usually tend to exaggerate their insights a bit. Their opponents are often overly dismissive instead from psychosocial reasons driven with competitive jealousy - so that the acceptation of ideas undulates in time, while it gradually converges into unbiased optimal value like the oscillator circuit. So I always judge both speculations, both their dismissals with caution in an effort not to throw the child out with the bath water.
Nestle
5 / 5 (2) Jan 16, 2014
evidence has now shown warm quantum coherence in plant photosynthesis
Yep, but please keep in mind, that this mechanism do increase the yield of photosynthesis only slightly. The pigment array in thylakoid lamellas (quantasomes) appear pretty similar to quantum dots arrays. Each quantasome contains about 230 to 300 chlorophyll molecules, which are regularly spaced in 150 x 180 A lattice, like quantum vortices within superconductors. All the molecules in each photo-synthetic units are spaced and oriented in such a way, captured photons are transferred from molecule to molecule by inductive resonance and the energy absorbed is transferred to as exciton.

But the experiments have demonstrated, that the presence of the quantasome
particles in chloroplast membrane is not a necessary condition for photoreduction activity of chloroplasts. In prokaryotes pigments are distributed uniformly on or in the thylakoid lamellae - and their quantum efficiency is just by seven percent lower.
Nestle
3 / 5 (2) Jan 16, 2014
It means, when the nature could utilize quantum phenomena for increasing of efficiency of living organisms, it usually will attempt for it in advanced organisms soon or later, but we shouldn't expect, that these phenomena are dominant or even necessary for their processes. They rather run on the verge between quantum and classical worlds, which has its deeper physical reasons. It's true, the higher organisms have microtubules in their axions and these microtubules may improve their thinking - but we shouldn't ignore the fact, many vertebrates (octopus) are quite intelligent and conscious already - and they still have no microtubules .
Nestle
2.3 / 5 (3) Jan 16, 2014
The microtubules enable to miniaturize the axons and to increase the processing density of neural system of warm blood organisms. But if you would live inside of cold water, then this advantage would change into disadvantage. It's because the nondispersive behavior of neural membranes depends on their liquid crystalline state, in which it behaves like elastic jelly. If we cool it, then the axon membrane crystallizes and it will become dispersive due to scattering of neural spikes at the crystal boundaries. Because the spikes cannot propagate along such a nerve at distance, you become insensitive inside of cold water and you cannot move fast there, if at all. The octopus manages to keep its fast reflexes even inside of cold water, because it has large axons with no microtubules inside of it. Such an axons are capable of sufficiently fast transfer of signals even at their "frozen state" - it means, its lack of microtubules is an adaptation of neural system to cold environment.
AmritSorli
1 / 5 (2) Jan 17, 2014
Consciousness is not energy in a known sense of E=mc2.
Brain is only a medium through consciousness acts in physical world,
but conscioisness itself is non-material.
http://www.amazon...92129593
rkolter
5 / 5 (2) Jan 17, 2014
That there are quantum vibrations in microtubules doesn't imply that those quantum vibrations have anything to do with conciousness. It's interesting, and it's worth exploring, and frankly I think it would be very cool if it was true. But extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, not just something casually related.
Whydening Gyre
2.3 / 5 (3) Jan 17, 2014
Consciousness is not energy in a known sense of E=mc2.
Brain is only a medium through consciousness acts in physical world,
but conscioisness itself is non-material.
http://www.amazon...92129593

It may not be energy in "known" sense, but it is derived from quantifiable energy. Subsequently, it will use the same rules. It's relativity, in that everything is a step in an entropic process. To think that our "consciousness" is the final product of that process is just, well, narcissistic.
barakn
3 / 5 (2) Jan 18, 2014
The octopus manages to keep its fast reflexes even inside of cold water, because it has large axons with no microtubules inside of it.

They do have microtubules. I'm not sure what piece of information your brain has mangled, Zephir - perhaps that invertebrates don't have myelin.
Nestle
not rated yet Jan 18, 2014
The photo of squid axons was linked above, no microtubules are visible in it.
Eikka
5 / 5 (1) Jan 18, 2014
In "emperor's new mind" Penrose put forwrd the idea that the mind may be non-algorithmic and non-computable, though deterministic, so he was against strong-A.I. And he suggested that QM effects may play a role in consciousness.


This notion is supported by many other arguments, like the famous Chinese Room argument that points out all algorithms reduce to something we recognize as not intelligence, so that there either is no intelligence at all or intelligence must be something non-computable.

But the argument as the article puts out just ranks of crank science through vague terminology. Use vague enough words and you can claim you're right whatever turns up. Vibrations and helical patterns, and transverse waves through quantum ethers and so forth.
Nestle
not rated yet Jan 18, 2014
The Couder experiments with water surface solitons make the true quantum objects and their semiclassical analogies phenomenologically indistinguishable - just the scale is different. It's the similar confusion like the confusion of Plasma Universe model with various gravitomagnetic phenomena of dark matter, which do behave similarly, just their scale is different. I do believe, the neural spikes do share many characteristics of quantum waves along 1D strings, but they're still formed with collective motion of many atoms. The Penrose/Hameroff is sorta analogy of Hannes Alfven in the field of quantum consciousnesses.
edward_ponderer
5 / 5 (2) Jan 20, 2014
I would not underestimate the importance of this discovery as a further step towards something along what is envisioned in the Penrose/Hameroff Orchestrated Objective Reduction Theory--if not the precise form when all falls into place. This joins the effect of the cellular "finger" of quantum mechanics not only in the photosynthesis link of physical information into the biological (which may yet prove significant at the system level), but in the crucial tunneling mechanism permitting the enzyme action crucial to molecular material/structural synthesis. Ever since the breakthrough experiments of Aspect et al, we evermore see that quantum mechanics appears to spread from the information atomic into the sensory, system, and conceptual.

Beyond Orch OR, there seems to be a resonance here with Robert Lanza's Biocentrism theory. And indeed, noting that the vessel of reduction would itself be a reduction--one wonders at the multifaceted gem born of the same light it sparkles with.