The Physiological Basis for Consciousness: A Reply to Dom’s Letter


Dear Dominic,

Thanks for your letter. Despite the crappy stationary I was still able to read it. Now I know what to get you for Christmas though I’m sure you would prefer another one of those beers of the month things.

Your ideas about consciousness definitely got me thinking and, of course, googling. I found a fascinating website that you’ll need to check out when you are state side. The author – Hameroff – co-authored some pieces with Roger Penrose, the guy who wrote “The Emporer’s New Mind.” And I apologize for the pun but the concepts are mindblowing. It basically goes into greater depth on the concept you touched on, namely the role of quantum mechanics as it applies to consciousness.

Consciousness kind of bubbles up from quantum states and once they reach a point a reduction, that is, they are no longer existing as set of probabilities, as a set of coexisting opposites (like the cat that was dead and alive at the same time) a sufficient amount of reductions bubble up from the quantum world to the “classical” world we are familiar with, namely neurons firing and chemicals doing their thing. But by the time we see the neurons fire, a gazillion quantum states have gone from superpositon – existing as contradictory states – to a reduced state.

I’m kind of botching the concept especially since physics is not my field but think back to that document I found, where Ledbetter is in search of a vocabulary to describe these phenomena. Though he spoke in terms of saturation points, it’s kind of analogous. Various forces reach a kind of tipping point which results in something on the macro level that is, for us, say, a thought. But by that time all these unseen events have taken place. But there’s an important implication here. With all this stuff – this preconscious stuff – existing under the dictates of quantum mechanics – it can’t be reproduced by some computer. By the time it reaches the point of consciousness where maybe, just maybe, these processes could be reproduced by a computer, there are all of these other processes that are not reproduced so what the computer is reproducing is a hollow[ed] out simulacrum of a conscious state but it’s missing the secret “quantum” sauce.

We’ll talk more about it when you get back from your trip. And please give Carmen a kiss for me.


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