The nature of human consciousness is one of the most challenging yet less understood problems in cognitive science.
As Ken Palmer, the psychology professor, and director of the Cognitive Neuroscience Program at Northwestern once remarked:
The debate about the neural basis of consciousness rages because there is no widely accepted theory about what happens in the brain to make consciousness possible.
This comment clearly refers to the fact that owing to its multi-aspect, multidimensional and parallel functions, consciousness remains a highly mysterious dilemma.
Exploring the Nature of Human Consciousness
During the past as well as present century, there have been many attempts aimed at describing the real nature of human consciousness. The main question that scientists and researchers have been faced with is how the brain that seems just to have been composed of a bulge of gray meat generates such a rich experience as our intrinsic consciousness make.
Other questions include the origin of consciousness and processes inside human brain that lead to human consciousness. Due to the highly complicated functionality of consciousness, there have been many diverse theories aimed at giving reasonable answers to the already many unanswered questions. The most recent theories argue that since consciousness is related to sub-neuronal interactions, it could be best described by utilizing quantum mechanical theories and quantum rules that govern particle level physics like uncertainty principle.
As a departure to conventional methods, the quantum mechanical interpretation of consciousness called quantum mind uses quantum processes as opposed to the classical view of neurobiologists that argue in support of a classical process with no quantum role.
The quantum theories of consciousness have their own diversities and sophistications and are now divided into many branches that although all share the same basics, yet they have their own interpretation of the quantum role.
Quantum Consciousness Theories and Theorists
Pseudoscientific quantum theories base their argument on this claim that both consciousness and quantum mechanics share the same level of strangeness. This claim may seem too naïve and irrational to be regarded as a serious solution for such a complicated issue but has its own followers.
There are also more sophisticated theories aimed at finding an answer on what is called the “combination problem”or “binding problem.” This refers to the mechanism by which a combination of neurons work collectively in perfect harmony and correlation to produce a single conscious experience.
The renowned British mathematician and an old collaborator of Stephen Hawking, Roger Penrose, argues that owing to its quantum mechanical nature and quantum state uncertainties, consciousness is not something computable and deterministic. He goes further to suggest that our brain operates in a probabilistic manner as opposed to the view that compares human brain with a complicated computer. According to him, this probabilistic behavior of the brain leads to what we perceive as consciousness.
Penrose later collaborated with the researcher S. Hameroff to develop the theory of Orchestrated Objective Reduction (Orch-OR). According to this theory, sub-neuronal structures named microtubules can bring quantum effects on the behavior of neurons causing the brain function as a quantum computer.
Another scientist who researches the nature of human consciousness, Mario Beauregard, postulates that due to the small size of neurons’ ion channel, quantum mechanical effects make their own contribution to our consciousness. This idea has been rejected by many others.
Quantum Mind Theories and the Free Will
The question as whether quantum effects can partially or even completely affect our thought is open for scientific research and just claiming that quantum effect cause consciousness has no meaning other than a general statement. However, besides the technical aspects of the issue, there is an important topic that needs to be unambiguously answered – whether “free will” is a result of the suggested probabilistic nature of our brain. Is what we call “free will” real at all? The probabilistic nature of quantum brain does not necessarily reject determinism. It offers different states with one being more probable than the others but the mechanisms are yet to be discovered.
Despite diverse opinions and views, what the majority of scientists like Ken Peller are up to is that contrary to religious and philosophical arguments, the nature of human consciousness should be considered and analyzed within the realm of science, and only through the scientific research, this mystery may be unraveled.
The new research of researchers at Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), published on April 12, 2016, proposes a new way that unconscious information is processed into human consciousness. Based on their comprehensive research, they suggest that consciousness manifests itself only in time steps of the order of 400 milliseconds with the rest of the gap being unconsciousness. This and similar tests are the best proof of this claim.