Consciousness Blog 25 August 2013

Recent work at the University of Texas, reported in the journal Brain Stimulation, has shown that transcranial ultrasound (TUS), a non-invasive technique, can improve mood and subjective experience in patients with chronic pain.

The research was led by Stuart Hameroff, Emeritus Professor for Anesthesiology and Psychology at the University and associate director for the Center for Consciousness Studies. Although not directly relevant to consciousness studies, the effect is said to act via intra-neuronal microtubules, which Hameroff says vibrate in megahertz frequencies at about 10 million vibrations per second, similarly to the resonance frequency of TUS.

It's micro-tubules which are the key players in Hameroff's theories about consciousness, developed with Roger Penrose and labelled Orch-OR (orchestrated objective reduction). Under their theory, first promulgated towards the end of the last century, and met with by a barrage of criticism from many other consciousness researchers, micro-tubules are a likely site for quantum effects to manifest themselves, making opportunities for tunneling between different regions of the brain, and creating a basis for consciousness to arise. They go further, asserting that consciousness is a universal phenomenon, a position which is close to panpsychism, and opens them to ridicule in some quarters.

There is no experimental evidence that quantum phenomena exist in the brain, in fact, and many researchers say that the relatively hot and wet conditions of neural tissue make quantum entanglement physically unlikely, or at least too short-lived to permit its use in cognitive traffic. More recently, however, entanglement has been shown to exist in many more situations than initially predicted.

If quantum effects do exist in the brain, it is tempting to want to associate them with theories about 'psi' (extra-sensory perception or psychokinesis), since both seem to operate regardless of distance, and instantaneously. But as one commentator said, Hameroff and Penrose have linked quantum mechanics and consciousness with little more basis than the fact that both are mysterious.

Read more in Agent Human: Supplement; The Collective Unconscious by Michael Bell, The Involvement Of PSI In The Evolution Of Consciousness


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