Study Rules Out Fröhlich Condensates in Quantum Consciousness Model

March 10, 2009 By Lisa Zyga, feature
Researchers have found that the formation of coherent Fröhlich condensates requires high temperatures, making them incompatible with biological systems, and thus an unlikely component in the Penrose-Hamerhoff model of quantum consciousness.

( -- Scientists don't fully understand how consciousness works, and, so far, no classical theories can explain consciousness in the brain. In light of this lack of understanding, some researchers suggest that quantum mechanics may play a significant role in the workings of the mind and the brain. Quantum consciousness theories have always been controversial, and now a recent study has undercut one more component of these proposals.

One theory, proposed by physicist Roger Penrose and anesthesiologist Stuart Hamerhoff, is called “orchestrated objective reduction” (Orch OR). The theory suggests that , which are structural components inside cells, might function as cellular quantum computing elements. Inside the microtubules, coherence among quantum superpositions is maintained until the wave function collapses. Normally, a wave function collapses due to a measurement (i.e., interaction of the system and its environment), but here the collapse is postulated not to occur until the quantum superpositions become physically separated within spacetime geometry, called “objective reduction.” When an area of collapses, an instant of consciousness occurs.

The physical cause of the coherent activity within the microtubules, as Penrose and Hamerhoff suggest, could be Fröhlich condensates. Proposed by physicist Herbert Fröhlich in 1968, Fröhlich condensates are similar to Bose-Einstein condensates in that both are systems with the unique collective property of macroscopic quantum coherence. In Fröhlich condensation, several vibrating oscillators can achieve a highly ordered condensed state, vibrating in resonance. Specifically, nearly all the vibrations occur in-phase at the Fröhlich condensate’s lowest frequency.

However, Fröhlich condensates have never been unambiguously observed in experiments, despite intense research during the past 40 years. In a recent study in PNAS, researchers from The and The University of Queensland in Australia have investigated the basic properties of Fröhlich condensates in an attempt to determine the most likely methods to experimentally observe them. The researchers showed that extremely high energies and temperatures are required to form coherent Fröhlich condensates and hence they cannot exist in biological systems, as proposed by the Orch OR theory. Still, Fröhlich condensates could exist outside a biological environment, such as in terahertz radiation, which could have medical applications, and in microwave reactors used in “green” chemistry applications.

“The Penrose-Hamerhoff model is very good in that it provides a comprehensive proposal involving physics and biology, but this falls short in the area of the chemistry - the precise nature of the atomic motions involved in forming the basic quantum qubit,” lead author Jeffrey Reimers, a chemistry professor at The University of Sydney, told “Our original intention was to take their proposal and run full simulations of the protein motion and hence provide a significantly enhanced and better justified model that would form the core of subsequent research.”

Instead, the researchers found that the Penrose-Hamerhoff model runs into problems due to the nature of Fröhlich condensation. In their study, the researchers show that, unlike Bose-Einstein condensation, Fröhlich condensation is a classical process that does not guarantee coherent motion. Fröhlich condensates are classified into three types (weak, strong, and coherent), with each type arising in different circumstances. In weak and strong condensates, the vibrations are incoherent but can still have profound observable effects on various systems by redistributing energy. In coherent condensates (the kind used in the Orch OR model), all the vibrational energy is in a single quantum state.

In calculations and simulations, the researchers showed that coherent Fröhlich condensates are very fragile and the coherence lasts a very short time - shorter than a single vibrational period. This finding agrees with the criticism of Orch OR that quantum coherence should decohere too quickly for it to have a significant impact on cognitive function. Also, the scientists showed that the formation of coherent Fröhlich condensates requires high energy and extremely high temperatures - up to 100 million Kelvin, which is not possible in any biological environment.

“Strictly, we show that Fröhlich condensation cannot cause , so the challenge is then to find a way of implementing Orch OR in which coherence is guaranteed by some other process so that Fröhlich condensation is no longer required,” Reimers said.

However, as the researchers elaborate in an upcoming paper, the involvement of a process other than Fröhlich condensation appears unlikely. As Reimers explained, coherence is known to exist in many analogous chemical and biological systems, including masers and photosynthesis, the latter of which is one of the most optimized quantum systems in biology. However, the coherence lifetime for these systems is only a few picoseconds, while Orch OR requires coherence on a timescale that is at least six orders of magnitude longer.

Nevertheless, weak and strong Fröhlich condensates may have realistic applications, though not in theories of quantum consciousness. The researchers found that weak condensates could have significant effects on proteins, and could possibly help explain enzyme actions in terms of excitation of vibrational modes, as Fröhlich originally proposed.

The researchers also suggested methods to observe the three types of condensates. In the past, researchers have attempted to observe coherent Fröhlich condensates by channeling a large amount of mechanical energy into a specific vibrational mode of a system. The current study shows that no amount of mechanical energy can produce a coherent Fröhlich condensate. Instead, the most likely ways to produce coherent condensates is by exposing systems to terahertz radiation or using microwave reactors.

Observing strong and weak Fröhlich condensates may be easier than observing coherent condensates, the researchers showed. For instance, mechanical energy sources might be able to produce strong condensates, and the interaction of radiation with biological systems could produce weak condensates.

More information: Jeffrey R. Reimers; Laura K. McKemmish; Ross H. McKenzie; Alan E. Mark; and Noel S. Hush. “Weak, strong, and coherent regimes of Fröhlich condensation and their applications to terahertz medicine and quantum consciousness.” PNAS. To be published.

Copyright 2009
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed in whole or part without the express written permission of

Explore further: Physicists show coherence of Bose-Einstein condensates extends to spin state of atoms

Related Stories

Bose-Einstein condensation in the solid state

September 27, 2006

New experimental research shows that half-matter, half-light quasi-particles called polaritons show compelling evidence of Bose-Einstein condensation at the relatively high temperature of 19 degrees Kelvin. The creation of ...

Quantum Disappearance of a Bose-Einstein Condensate

May 3, 2005

As the coldest form of matter known to exist, atomic Bose-Einstein condensates are unique forms of matter where the constituent atoms lose their individual identities, becoming absorbed into the cloud as a whole. Effectively, ...

Distinguishing decoherence in quantum systems

April 22, 2008

“Over the years, work on Bose-Einstein condensates, known as BEC, have led to more and more interesting phenomena,” Artur Widera tells “This is because they behave according to quantum mechanics, and are ...

Recommended for you

How community structure affects the resilience of a network

June 22, 2018

Network theory is a method for analyzing the connections between nodes in a system. One of the most compelling aspects of network theory is that discoveries related to one field, such as cellular biology, can be abstracted ...

The pho­to­elec­tric ef­fect in stereo

June 22, 2018

In the photoelectric effect, a photon ejects an electron from a material. Researchers at ETH have now used attosecond laser pulses to measure the time evolution of this effect in molecules. From their results they can deduce ...

Water can be very dead, electrically speaking

June 21, 2018

In a study published in Science this week, the researchers describe the dielectric properties of water that is only a few molecules thick. Such water was previously predicted to exhibit a reduced electric response but it ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

5 / 5 (4) Mar 10, 2009
Still, WHY is it that an 'instant of consciousness occurs' when the wave function collapses? Why does that mean consciousness would occur?
2.6 / 5 (5) Mar 10, 2009
RE: Penrose-Hamerhoff model of quantum consciousness vs. "memophorescenicity" model!?

Still, WHY is it that an 'instant of consciousness occurs' when the wave function collapses? Why does that mean consciousness would occur?

I thought these are very sharp questions and observations -- ones that could not be answered by the Penrose-Hamerhoff model of quantum consciousness.

Whereas these observations of the intricate and dynamic brain-mind interactions require a new formulation of the Theory of Mind -- more scientifically and philosophically -- as one which must now incorporate all the more delicate mechanisms of our thought and memory systems in our brain; and one that has had been extensively and empirically characterized, localized, and defined as "memophorescenicity" as the brain-mind quantum panorama of consciousness in my seminal book "Gods, Genes, Conscience" (linked below; please see Chapter 15: The Universal Theory of Mind, in general; and Chapter 15.4: Memory Modulation and Recall: A New Hypothesis of Psychic Imagery, Perceptivity, Creativity, and Reflectivity, in particular).

Best wishes, Mong 3/10/9usct3:25p; author "Decoding Scientism" and "Consciousness & the Subconscious" (works in progress since July 2007), "Gods, Genes, Conscience" (2006: http://www.iunive...95379907 ) and "Gods, Genes, Conscience: Global Dialogues Now" (blogging avidly since 2006: http://www2.blogg...50569778 ).
5 / 5 (2) Mar 10, 2009
Still, WHY is it that an 'instant of consciousness occurs' when the wave function collapses? Why does that mean consciousness would occur?

I think it was missing a line: "According to the model..."
5 / 5 (1) Mar 10, 2009
I had the great honour of spending quite a bit of time with Herbert Fröhlich when I was a postgraduate student at Liverpool University in the late 1980's. I remember one professor who quipped: "Now that he's going senile he's only twice as intelligent as the rest of us."

Whether his ideas were right or wrong it was marvelous to have someone about who though out of the box and pushed boundaries.
Mar 10, 2009
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Mar 10, 2009
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Mar 10, 2009
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
3 / 5 (4) Mar 11, 2009
I've got this model and theory that explains heaps of stuff.

Oh cool, let me make a measurement and run a test.

OH No No ... as soon as you make a measurement it all disappears - ya know, the wave function collapses.

Doh! I guess I just have to believe you then.

Yeah ... have Faith.
2.3 / 5 (3) Mar 11, 2009
i dont have a great understanding of this but if you give a robot the ability to see hear feel think smell and taste on a level equivalent to a human, is it not conscious? It doesn't seem that emotions are necessary for consciousness, look at a crocodile. I think consciousness is definitely quantum and occurs in everything within our matrix of reality, only in more or lesser degrees as in immaterial objects.
3 / 5 (2) Mar 11, 2009 soon as you make a measurement it all disappears - ya know, the wave function collapses..
Not at all, for example, Moon is formed by quantum objects too and it didn't dissapear yet. Quantum mechanics even allows so called weak measurement, which doesn't change the quantum state of object at all.
1 / 5 (2) Mar 12, 2009
Prana girls
5 / 5 (1) Mar 16, 2009
Objectivity (Science) cannot measure subjectivity(Consciousness). It seems to me to be a basic truth. I know that I am aware, but I do not know if any of you are, I can only trust that you are, based off of some assumptions and patterns.
5 / 5 (1) Mar 17, 2009
Objectivity (Science) cannot measure subjectivity(Consciousness). It seems to me to be a basic truth. I know that I am aware, but I do not know if any of you are, I can only trust that you are, based off of some assumptions and patterns.

That's only true if you define consciousness as purely subjective. At least one major philosopher, Daniel Dennett, rejects this definition.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.