Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Revisiting Quantum Mechanics and Consciousness

The recent evidence demonstrating that the brain in a relaxed wakeful state requires approximately 20 times more energy than when the conscious mind is focused on a single task provides an interesting angle on the further exploration of the principle action(s) behind consciousness. One of the initial avenues of explaining the additional energy requirement is the belief that without focus instead of not addressing any possible outcome outside of those required for maintaining life, all possible outcomes are considered. The consideration of all possible outcomes within the current parameters of a relaxing mind could make sense because the first duty of the primitive mind is survival. Survival odds are increased when more information can be processed regarding a given situation, thus the brain would attempt to acquire as much information as possible by considering all possible scenarios. If that is the case, perhaps it provides some interesting insight back into theories relating to quantum mechanical properties of consciousness.

Without a point of focus the brain runs on a default state that can be akin to various uncollapsed wave functions. Recall that in quantum mechanics wave functions are in a continuous state of flux and cannot be defined until that function collapses which usually occurs through observation of the wave function. The very process of conscious thought could be considered as the observation of a very complex wave function which results in a set ‘focused’ pattern of firing collapsing various smaller wave functions in the brain to create the characteristics of the original complex wave function. The collapse of all of these wave functions reduces the amount of energy required because the conscious mind has determined to focus on a single given scenario.

One potentially interesting experiment regarding the above supposition is to see if different ‘noise’ environments produce different levels of energy expenditure. For example suppose an individual is placed in an environment with a lot of foot traffic vs. one with no foot traffic and see if and how energy consumption patterns change when the subject attempts to relax. The purpose of this experiment is based on the presumption that the more possible scenarios the can be comprehended by the brain the greater the number of subconscious wave functions will not be collapsed increasing the total amount of required energy expenditure. If energy consumption does change then that result could be used as a very general element of support for quantum mechanical involvement in consciousness. However, if energy consumption does not change then one of three conclusions can be drawn.

First, the subconscious brain already considers all possible scenarios for all possible situations through uncollapsed wave functions regardless of whether or not the situation is realistic for the given circumstances, thus the baseline energy consumption for a resting waking mind should not change. Second, wave functions as described above have little to nothing to do with energy consumption in the relaxed waking mind. Third, wave functions may have something to do with consciousness and energy consumption, but it is unclear to how and the suggested experiment does not help to determine this functionality. Regardless the new energy consumption evidence does seem to suggest a role for quantum effects in consciousness and should be explored further.

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