by Stuart Hameroff and Deepak Chopra
extracted from "Exploring
Frontiers of the Mind-Brain Relationship"
S. Hameroff (S)
Departments of Anesthesiology and Psychology, Center for
Consciousness Studies, The University of Arizona Medical
Center, 1501N Campbell Ave, Tucson, AZ 85724, USA
The Chopra Center, 2013 Costa del Mar, Carlsbad, CA
A. Moreira-Almeida and F.S. Santos (eds.), Exploiting
Frontiers of the Mind-Brain 79
Relationship, Mindfulness in Behavioral Health, DOI
10.1007/978-l-4614-0647-l_5, © Springer Science+Business
Media, LLC 2012
The concept of consciousness existing
outside the body (e.g. near-death and out-of body experiences,
or after death, indicative of a 'soul') is a staple of religious
traditions, but shunned by conventional science because of an
apparent lack of rational explanation.
However conventional science based
entirely on classical physics cannot account for normal in-the-brain
The Penrose-Hameroff 'Orch OR' model is a quantum
approach to consciousness, connecting brain processes (microtubule
quantum computations inside neurons) to fluctuations in fundamental spacetime geometry, the fine scale structure of the universe.
Recent evidence for significant quantum
coherence in warm biological systems, scale-free dynamics and
end-of-life brain activity support the notion of a quantum basis for
consciousness which could conceivably exist independent of biology
in various scalar planes in spacetime geometry.
Sir Roger Penrose does not necessarily
endorse such proposals which relate to his ideas in physics.
Based on Orch OR, we offer a scientific
hypothesis for a 'quantum soul'.
1 - Brain,
Mind, and Near-Death Experiences
The idea that conscious awareness can exist after bodily death,
generally referred to as the "soul," has been inherent in Eastern
and Western religions for thousands of years.
In some traditions, memories and
awareness may be transferred after death to other lifetimes:
In addition to beliefs based on religion, innumerable subjects have
reported conscious awareness seemingly separating from the subject's
brain and physical body; this occurs in conjunction with so-called
near death experiences (NDEs), most typically in patients who have
been resuscitated after cardiac arrest (e.g., van Lommel et al.
2001; Parnia et al. 2007).
Such patients describe remarkably
consistent phenomenology including visions of a white light, being
in a tunnel, feelings of serenity, conversing with deceased loved
ones, life review and, in some cases, floating out of the body
(out-of-body experiences - OBEs).
Frequently, NDE/OBE patients also
report a subsequent loss of the fear of death, and tend to be more
serene and accepting of life's vicissitudes (Chopra 2006).
Somewhat comparable experiences have been reported in various types
of meditative and altered states, as well as traumatic psychological
events, or seemingly without cause. A Gallup poll estimated some ten
million Americans have reported some form of NDE/OBE (Chopra 2006).
ketamine, used as a "dissociative" anesthetic, can produce
subjective reports of conscious awareness outside the body (Jansen
2000), as can various other psychoactive drugs. But subjective
reports of drug-induced effects are distinctly different from those
of NDEs/ OBEs (Greyson 1993).
Unable to explain NDEs/OBEs, modern science on the whole ignores and
derides such reports as unscientific folly, illusions due to
stimulation of particular brain regions (Blanke et al. 2004), or
hallucination due to hypoxia (lack of oxygen; Blackmore 1998).
in response one can point out:
subjective reports of illusions
of body image are quite limited and completely different from NDE/OBE
hypoxic patients are agitated, not serene, and do
not form memory
modern science cannot explain normal,
This last point is critical.
NDEs/OBEs are particular types of
subjective conscious awareness, in some way akin to our everyday
conscious experience (including dreams). How the brain produces
consciousness remains unknown.
The prevalent modern scientific approach to consciousness casts the
brain as a biological computer, with 100 billion neurons and their
axonal firings and synaptic connections acting as information
networks of "bit" states and switches. Variability in synaptic
strengths mediated by chemical neurotransmitters shapes network
activity and enables learning and intelligent functions (Hebb 1949;
Crick and Koch 2001; 2004).
This "brain-as-computer" view is able to
account for complex non-conscious cognitive functions including
perception and control of behavior. Such non-conscious cognitive
functions are described as "zombie modes," "auto-pilot," or "easy
problems" (Koch and Crick 2001; Hodgson 2007; Chalmers 1996).
"easiness" derives from the apparent cause-and-effect between
specific computational functions of brain neurons, and actions and
behavior which do not involve conscious will or phenomenal
The "hard problem" (Chalmers 1996) is the question of how cognitive
processes are accompanied or driven by phenomenal conscious
Despite detailed understanding of
neuronal firings, synaptic transmissions, neurotransmitter
chemistry, and neuronal computation, there is no accounting for
conscious experience, the "self," free will or "qualia" - the
essence of experienced perceptions.
How can the redness, texture,
and fragrance of a rose, the experiential world, derive from data
streams and electrochemical activity?
The answer according to most views in modern science is that
consciousness emerges from a critical (but unspecified) level of
neuronal computational complexity. In nonlinear dynamics, new
properties do emerge in hierarchical systems, but such systems
abound in nature and technology without consciousness, (e.g.,
weather patterns, the internet).
The notion that computational
complexity per se can account for consciousness may be mere wishful
The brain-as-neuronal-computer view has three problems.
Because brain synaptic
computation correlating with sensory processing often occurs
after we have responded to that sensory input (seemingly
consciously), the conventional view in modern science is
that consciousness occurs after-the-fact, and that conscious
control is an illusion, consciousness is merely along for
the ride (Dennett 1991; Wegner 2002).
Apparently we are, as T.H.
Huxley (1893) famously said, "helpless spectators".
The best measurable correlate of
consciousness (gamma synchrony EEG) does not derive from
electroencephalography (EEG) in the gamma range of 30-90
cycles per second (Hertz, "Hz") occurs in various brain
regions at different times concomitant with consciousness
(Gray and Singer 1989a,b; Engel et al. 1991; Singer 1995;
Gamma synchrony requires
networks of neurons interconnected not only by
axon-to-dendrite chemical synapses, the basis for recognized
neuronal computation, but by dendrite-to-dendrite gap
junction electrical synapses (Christie and Westbrook 2006;
One unconventional view is that
gap junctions in various neurons open and close, enabling
mobile zones of gamma synchrony to move about the brain,
mediating consciousness (Hameroff 2006; 2010).
As cells, neurons are far more
complex than simple switches.
Consider the unicellular
Paramecium which can swim around, find food and mates, avoid
obstacles, learn and have sex, all without a single synaptic
connection. Artificial intelligence (AI) efforts to simulate
brain function have yet to simulate anything as intelligent
and nimble. Paramecium utilizes intelligent organizational
functions of cytoskeletal lattice polymers called
microtubules (Sherrington 1953).
These same microtubules form the
internal structure of brain neurons, regulate synapses and
disintegrate in Alzheimer's disease (e.g. Brunden et al.
processing may underlie neuronal function.
Unable to explain consciousness in the
brain, conventional science ignores apparent evidence for NDEs/OBEs,
rejecting even the possibility of their occurrence.
There are, however, unconventional but
scientifically valid approaches to consciousness, which may address
the three problems described above, and accommodate NDEs/OBEs as
well as possible conscious awareness after bodily death.
approaches explore strata of nature at an even finer scale than the
chemical reactions and electrical signals relied upon by
neuroscience, seeking convincing answers at the quantum level
2 - The
Quantum World and Fine Scale of the Universe
Quantum theory tells us that physical processes occur in discrete,
quantized steps, or levels.
The laws that govern the quantum differ
strangely from the predictable reality of our everyday ''classical"
world. At small scales, and sometimes at large scales, the bizarre
laws of quantum mechanics reign.
For example, atoms and subatomic
quantum particles can exist in two or more states or places
simultaneously, more like waves than particles, and existing as
multiple coexisting possibilities known as quantum superposition,
governed by a quantum wave function.
Another quantum property is "nonlocal
entanglement," in which components of a spatially separated system
remain unified and connected (Penrose 1989).
Physics circumvents the strangeness of quantum mechanics by strictly
dividing the macro/classical and micro/quantum, keeping the two
worlds apart. However, consciousness somehow bridges the
macro/classical and micro/quantum domains, equivalent to the subject
- object split. Consciousness exists precisely on the edge between
quantum and classical.
In our conscious experience, we do not see superpositions -
coexisting wave-like possibilities. We see objects and particles as
material things in specific locations and states. This is partly due
to scale. A humpback whale leaps out of the sea whole, despite the
fact that the atoms and subatomic particles comprising the whale may
occupy uncertain or even multiple positions in the invisible realm
But even when small quantum systems are measured
or observed they somehow choose definite states.
The issue of why we do not see quantum superpositions in our
everyday classical world is known as the "measurement problem,"
which has led to various interpretations of quantum mechanics. Early
experiments by quantum pioneer Niels Bohr and others seemed to show
that quantum superpositions, when measured by a machine, stayed as
multiple possibilities until a conscious human observed the results.
Bohr concluded that conscious
observation "collapsed the wave function," that unobserved
superpositions persisted until being observed, at which instant they
reduced, or collapsed to particular definite states (the choice of
states being random).
In this approach, consciousness causes quantum
state reduction, placing consciousness outside science.
Schrodinger objected through his still-famous thought experiment in
which the fate of a cat in a box is linked to a quantum
According to the Copenhagen
interpretation (so-named after Bohr's Danish origin)
cat is both dead and alive until the box is opened and the cat
observed. The thought experiment was intended to ridicule
Copenhagen, but the question remains: how large can superpositions
Another popular interpretation is the multiple worlds view (Everett
1957) in which superpositions are separations in reality, each
possibility evolving its own distinct universe; a multitude of
coexisting universes results.
Yet another approach is decoherence in which interaction with
classical world erodes quantum states. But decoherence does not
address isolated quantum systems.
Finally, various types of
objective reduction (OR) propose that specific objective thresholds
cause quantum state reduction.
One particular OR theory was proposed by British physicist Sir Roger
Penrose (1989), who began by addressing the fundamental nature of
superposition. He extended Einstein's general theory of relativity,
in which matter is essentially space-time curvature, to the Planck
scale (10-33 cm), the most basic level of the universe.
in one state or location would be a specific curvature in space-time
geometry, and the same particle in another location would be
curvature in the opposite direction, extending downward to the
Superposition of both locations can then be seen as
simultaneous curvatures in opposite directions, and hence, according
to Penrose, a separation, bubble, or blister in the very fabric of
If such space-time separations were to continue and evolve, the
universe would bifurcate, leading to parallel universes as described
in the multiple worlds view supported by many physicists and
cosmologists including Stephen Hawking (Hawking and Mlodinow 2010).
But Penrose has suggested that such
space-time separations are unstable and will reduce, or collapse to
one particular state or location at a particular time due to an
objective threshold intrinsic to the fine structure of the universe,
like infinitesimally tiny soap bubbles bursting one facet or
another, shaping and creating a new reality.
Penrose also suggests that each OR, or
self-collapse -essentially a ripple or quantized annealing in
fundamental space-time geometry -results in a moment of conscious
This is in direct contradistinction to the Copenhagen interpretation
in which consciousness is outside science, externally causing
reduction by observation.
In Penrose OR, consciousness IS
reduction (a particular type of reduction). Thus Penrose OR is the
only worldview incorporating consciousness into the universe.
Penrose OR differs in another important way from Copenhagen and
decoherence in which particular classical states are selected
randomly from among super positioned possibilities. The selections
in Penrose OR are not random, but influenced by information embedded
in fundamental space-time geometry, information Penrose
characterized as Platonic values (Penrose 1989).
The Greek philosopher Plato described an abstract world of pure
form, mathematical truth, and ethical and aesthetic values.
suggests such Platonic values, along with precursors of physical
laws, constants, forces, and consciousness, literally exist as
patterns in fundamental space-time, encoded in Planck scale
Physics tells us the universe is as it is, and thus able to support
life and consciousness, because 20 or more physical constants and
the laws they dictate take on very specific values. If any of these
varied even slightly, we would not be here, so the precise values
and our presence in the universe are apparently a coincidence of
staggeringly low probability, akin to wining the cosmic lottery.
The "anthropic principle" addresses the
question of why these values are what they are, and has several
interpretations (e.g., Davies 2006).
The most common is tautological
-that we are in the particular universe which has these specific
values simply because it has those values. If it did not, we would
not be here. For many physicists and philosophers, the tautological
answer is related to the multiple world-views, that this universe
with consciousness is one in a multitude of universes, the others
having different physical constants and lacking life and
This is the view espoused by Hawking and Mlodinow in their book
Grand Design (Hawking and Mlodinow 2010) in which they assert
"M-theory" (a derivative of string theory) with a near-infinite
number of parallel universes, all others devoid of consciousness.
Penrose suggests another possibility which avoids the need for
multiple universes. Values for physical constants defining our
universe may be encoded in the fine structure of the universe
itself, along with mathematical truth, Platonic values, and
precursors of mass, spin, charge, and consciousness. The roots of
consciousness may thus extend to the most basic level of the
Penrose has also proposed that our
universe is serial, that the Big Bang was preceded by a previous
iteration, and before that another one and so on (Penrose 2010).
Unlike the idea of parallel universes which is untested (and likely untestable), the Penrose proposal for serial universes is supported
by evidence from the cosmic microwave background radiation (Gurzadyan
and Penrose 2010).
Perhaps physical constants, conscious
precursors, and Platonic values embedded in the fine structure of
the universe mutate and evolve with each cosmological cycle.
What is the fine structure of the universe?
The material world is
composed of atoms and subatomic particles. But atoms (~10-8 cm) are
mostly empty space, as is the space between atoms. If we go down in
scale from atoms, eventually we reach the basement level of reality,
Planck scale geometry at 10-33 cm, with coarseness, irregularity,
Descriptions of Planck scale geometry include string theory and loop
quantum gravity. String theory, in which Planck scale strings
vibrate at specific frequencies correlating with fundamental
particles, has several problems. It lacks background geometry (e.g.,
in which the strings vibrate) and requires multiple untestable
dimensions (Penrose 2004).
Another approach, loop quantum gravity depicts space-time geometry
as quantized into volume pixels, Planck scale polygons whose edges
may be considered as irreducible spin whose lengths also vary but
average 10-33 cm.
Planck volumes evolve and change with time,
conveying information as a 3-dimensional spider web of spin.
Somehow, space-time geometry is also nonlocal, as revealed by
entanglement experiments (Nadeau and Kafatos 2001), and perhaps
holographic (e.g., Susskind 1994).
Could Planck scale information
Recent evidence suggests that Planck scale information may repeat at
increasing scales in space-time geometry, reaching to the scale of
The British-German GEO 600 gravity wave detector
near Hanover, Germany has consistently recorded fractal-like noise
which apparently emanates from Planck scale fluctuations, repeating
every few orders of magnitude in size and frequency from Planck
length and time (10~33 cm; 10~43 s) to biomolecular size and time
(10~8 cm; 10~2 s, Hogan 2008; Chown 2009).
At some point (or
actually at some complex edge, or surface) in this hierarchy of
scale, the microscopic quantum world transitions to the classical
world. If this transition is due to Penrose OR, consciousness occurs
as a process on this edge between quantum and classical worlds.
This notion that consciousness is in some way intrinsic to the
universe is comparable to purely subjective views on consciousness
going back thousands of years in India. The Vedic tradition and
ancient sacred texts derive their name from the Sanskrit word Veda,
The most philosophical branch of Veda is Vedanta -
literally, "the end of the Vedas." In Vedanta, consciousness is
everything, and manifests, or creates reality. In this view (taken
by one of us, DC, differing slightly from the argument presented in
this paper), consciousness is both subject and object, both quantum
Consciousness is all there is (Chopra 2001).
Penrose OR (and Penrose-Hameroff Orch OR) maintains the classical
world exists on its own.
Consciousness is a process on the edge
between quantum and classical worlds, the process consisting of
discrete, quantized ripples in the fine scale structure of the
universe, transitions between subject and object.
3 - Quantum
Consciousness - Orchestrated Objective Reduction ("Orch OR")
The Penrose-Hameroff theory of "orchestrated objective reduction" ("Orch
OR") proposes that consciousness depends on quantum computations in
structures called microtubules inside brain neurons, occurring
concomitantly with and supporting neuronal-level synaptic
computation (Penrose and Hameroff 1995; Hameroff and Penrose
1996a,b; Hameroff 1998a,b; Hameroff et al. 2002).
Microtubules are cylindrical polymers of the protein "tubulin," and
major components of the cell cytoskeleton which self-assembles to
configure intracellular architecture, create and regulate synapses,
and communicate between membrane structures and genes in the cell
In addition to bone-like support, microtubules and other cytoskeletal components seem to act as the cell's nervous system,
its "on-board computer," continually reshaping and differentiating.
In microtubule lattices, states of
individual tubulins are proposed to act as "bit" states, as in
classical computers and molecular automata (Hameroff and Watt 1982;
Rasmussen et al. 1990). Microtubule-level processing raises the
capacity for neuronal information processing immensely.
a few (synaptic) bits per neuron per second, 108 tubulins per neuron
switching coherently in megahertz (106 Hz) give potentially 1014
operations, or bits per second per neuron.
But increased information processing alone does not solve all
problems regarding consciousness in the brain.
Penrose Hameroff Orch
OR further proposes tubulins can be quantum bits, or "qubits" in
microtubule quantum computers, and that such quantum computations
connect conscious brain functions to the most basic level of the
This opens the door to consciousness being nonlocal, and in some
cases possibly untethered to body and brain. These speculations are
based on ideas in physics put forth by Sir Roger Penrose. It should
be stated clearly that Sir Roger does not necessarily endorse the
further speculations developed here, and generally avoids
connections between science, religion, and spirituality.
Penrose defined OR self-collapse of superpositions (due to
separations in space-time geometry) and moments of consciousness by
E=h/t. E is the gravitational self-energy of an object (or its
equivalent space-time geometry) separated from itself. h is Planck's
constant (over 2K) and t is the time at which OR occurs.
E may be calculated based on factors
the object's mass
the level at which the object
separates from itself, i.e., its entire mass, individual
atoms, atomic nuclei, or subatomic particles
the spatial separation distance,
how far the object, or its space-time geometry separates
If a superposition of self-energy E
evolves and avoids
decoherence to reach time t, an OR moment of
Because of the inverse relation, the larger the mass and spatial
separation E, the briefer the time t at which OR conscious moments
occur. Superpositions E must avoid decoherence (i.e., the quantum
system must be isolated from the classical environment) until time t
Hence, the conditions for Penrose OR and conscious
moments are fairly stringent.
Penrose and Hameroff suggest such conditions have evolved in the
brain, specifically in microtubules inside brain neurons, and that
microtubules perform quantum computations which are "orchestrated"
by synaptic inputs and neurophysiology, isolated from decoherence,
and terminated by Penrose OR, hence orchestrated objective
reduction, "Orch OR."
Microtubule quantum superpositions E are
proposed to extend and entangle from neuron to neuron through gap
junctions (which mediate gamma synchrony), enabling selective
brain-wide quantum coherence among microtubules.
suggested to be avoided through coherent pumping, actin gelation,
ordered water and topological resonances.
OR events also entail backward time
effects, consistent with evidence for backward referral of conscious
experience in the brain (Libet 1979). Entanglement with the future
may enable real-time conscious action, and rescue consciousness from
the unfortunate role of epiphenomenal illusion (Hameroff 2007).
Orch OR has been criticized since its inception in 1995, mainly
because laboratory-built technological quantum computers require
extreme cold to avoid decoherence by thermal vibrations, and the
brain operates at warm biological temperatures (e.g., Tegmark 2000;
Hagan et al. 2001).
However, in the past 5 years numerous
experiments have shown warm temperature quantum coherence in
proteins involved in photosynthesis, ion channels, and other
biomolecules (Engel et al. 2007).
Dr. Anirban Bandyopadhyay (2010) at the
National Institute of Materials Sciences in Tsukuba, Japan has
preliminary evidence for quantum coherence, topological quantum
conductance, and decoherence times of one-tenth millisecond or
longer in individual microtubules at warm temperatures.
For Orch OR and quantum biology, the
future is fairly bright.
Can Orch OR account for NDEs/OBEs and
conceivably an after-life?
4 - Orch OR,
NDEs, and Altered States
Orch OR assumes consciousness typically occurs in the human brain at
around 40 Hz, i.e., 40 conscious moments per second, corresponding
with gamma synchrony EEG, the best measurable correlate of
For £=25 ms (1/40 s), by E=h/t, E
corresponds with nanograms of superpositioned tubulins (~1011 tubulins) distributed in microtubules in thousands of gap
junction-connected neurons (and glia), still a very, very small
fraction of the brain (total ~1020 tubulins, 100 billion neurons).
In principle, OR and Orch OR (and thus conscious moments) can occur
at any scale, in any type of medium, as long as superpositions avoid
Thus E = h/t predicts a full spectrum of possible
conscious moments, much like the electromagnetic spectrum for
Large superpositions E will reach threshold quickly (and
have more intense experiences) while small superpositions E will
require longer times and have weak experiences (intensity
proportional to E).
For example, a single superpositioned
electron (small E, long f), if isolated from environmental
decoherence would reach threshold only after ten million years, and
have an extremely low intensity moment of consciousness.
Larger superpositions (large E, small t) will reach threshold quickly and
have higher intensity consciousness.
But decoherence must be avoided
until time t and OR occurs. Higher levels of consciousness would
involve larger E (more tubulins, more neurons and a higher portion
of the brain), and shorter t, thus higher frequencies.
Vedic meditation, contemplation, and self-reflection exploring
consciousness has led to descriptions of expanded states of
consciousness or enlightenment involving 14 different levels,
"astral planes," or "lokas."
Lokas are portrayed as
realms, or planes of existence which differ from the 3-dimensional
world of our everyday waking experience.
Vedic texts say each plane
or experienced reality has a characteristic frequency range, and is
accessed or reached when it is matched by the frequency of the
subject's conscious awareness (Chopra 2001).
Tibetan monks reach 80 Hz gamma synchrony during meditation (Lutz et
al. 2004) presumably an enhanced, altered state, with twice as many
conscious events per second, each at higher intensity.
Magneto-encephalography has recorded coherent signals in the range
of a kilohertz (1,000 Hz) from human brain (Papadelis et al. 2009),
and higher frequency effects (megahertz, gigahertz, terahertz) have
been measured in microtubules inside neurons (Bandyopadhyay 2010).
Could consciousness shift levels to higher frequencies and greater
brain involvement in altered and enhanced states?
Electrical signals occur in the brain in a self-similar way at
different spatial and temporal scales, scale-free dynamics (He et
This is also called pink noise, proportional to l/fa,
where f is frequency and a is the separations in scale (e.g.,
spatial and temporal orders of magnitude) at which the information
repeats, similar to a fractal or hologram.
Fractal or holographic-like structure also occurs in "small world"
and "large world" networks of neurons, nested hierarchies of
networks within networks within networks. And inside neurons are cytoskeletal networks including microtubules which may also process
information. Scale-free dynamics occurs both temporally and
structurally in the brain, in layers or information processing
systems with both bottom-up and top-down relationships.
In altered states, the process of consciousness may shift to
different planes, or scales in the brain, with higher frequencies
(smaller t), greater intensity, and larger
E in terms of number of involved microtubules, neurons, and volume
of brain capacity. Consciousness occurring by E=h/t normally at 40
Hz (each conscious moment involving roughly one millionth of brain
microtubules) could transition to higher frequencies at, say 10 kHz,
megahertz, gigahertz, and terahertz levels.
These would involve
greater and greater proportions of brain neurons and microtubules.
These levels would involve, respectively, 1/10,000th,
for gigahertz consciousness, the entire brain.
Thus altered states of consciousness may involve transcendence to
deeper, more intense levels of experience, deeper levels of reality,
e.g., consistent with Vedic
astral planes or lokas, and
enlightenment reached by meditation and spiritual practices. Such
enhanced, altered states need not involve alternative dimensions or
universes, but rather deeper, more fine scale geometry in nonlocal
holographic-like levels or scales in this one universe.
As the Beatles said (Lennon and McCartney 1968):
"The deeper you go, the higher you
fly, The higher you fly, the deeper you go."
At any frequency, Orch OR consciousness
in the brain is occurring in fundamental space-time geometry,
localized to brain neuronal microtubules and driven by metabolic
When the blood stops flowing, energy and
oxygen depleted and microtubules inactivated or destroyed (e.g., NDE/OBE,
death), it is conceivable that the quantum information which
constitutes consciousness could shift to deeper planes and continue
to exist purely in space-time geometry, outside the brain,
Movement of consciousness to deeper
planes could account for NDEs/OBEs, as well as, conceivably, a soul
apart from the body.
End-of-Life Brain Activity
Gamma synchrony EEG brain activity is known to correlate with normal
Monitors able to measure and detect
gamma synchrony and other correlates of consciousness have been
developed for use during anesthesia to provide an indicator of depth
of anesthesia and prevent intra-operative awareness, i.e., to avoid
patients being conscious when they are supposed to be anesthetized
For example the "BIS" monitor (Aspect
Medical Systems, Newton MA) records and processes frontal EEG to
produce a digital "bispectral index," or BIS number on a scale of
0-100. A BIS number of 0 equals EEG silence, and 80-100 is the
expected value in a fully awake, conscious adult with gamma
A BIS number maintained between 40 and
60 is recommended for general anesthesia. The "SEDline" monitor (Hospira,
Lake Forest, IL) also records frontal EEG and produces a comparable
In recent years, these monitors have been applied outside of
anesthesiology, e.g., to dying patients at or near the moment of
death, revealing startling end-of-life brain activity.
In a study reported in the Journal of Palliative Medicine, Chawla et
al. (2009) reported on seven critically ill patients from whom life
support (medications, machine ventilation) was being withdrawn,
allowing them to die peacefully.
As per protocol, they were
monitored with a BIS or SEDline brain monitor during the process of
dying. While on life support the patients were neurologically intact
but heavily sedated, with BIS or SEDline numbers near 40 or higher.
Following withdrawal, the BIS/SEDline
generally decreased to below 20 after several minutes, at about the
time cardiac death occurred.
This was marked by lack of measurable
arterial blood pressure or functional heartbeat. Then, in all seven
patients postcardiac death, there was a burst of activity as
indicated by abrupt rise of the BIS or SEDline to between 60 and (in
most cases) 80 or higher. After a period of such activity ranging
from 90 s to 20 min, the activity dropped abruptly to near zero.
The SEDline number is derived from a proprietary algorithm which
includes EEG data. In one patient, raw SEDline data was analyzed and
revealed the burst of postcardiac death brain activity to include
gamma synchrony, an indicator of conscious awareness.
Chawla et al.
raise the possibility that the measured postcardiac death brain
activity might correlate with NDEs/OBEs. Of course the patients
died, so we have no confirmation that such experiences occurred.
In another study published in the journal Anesthesia and Analgesia,
Auyong et al. (2010) described three brain-injured patients from
whom medical and ventilatory support were withdrawn prior to "postcardiac
death" organ donation (Csete 2010)
These patients were hopelessly
brain-damaged, but technically not brain dead. Their families
consented to withdrawal of support and organ donation. Such patients
are allowed to die "naturally" after withdrawal of support, their
bodies then quickly taken to surgery for organ donation.
The three patients in the Auyong et al. study prior to withdrawal of
support had BIS numbers of 40 or lower, with one near zero. Soon
after withdrawal, near the time of cardiac death, the BIS number
dwindled downward and then spiked to approximately 80 in all three
cases, and remained there for 30-90 s.
The number then abruptly
returned to near zero, followed thereafter by declaration of death
and organ donation. Various sources of artifact for the end-of-life
brain activity were considered and excluded.
Obviously we cannot say whether the end-of-life brain activity is
indeed related to NDEs/OBEs, or even possibly the soul leaving the
body. Nor do we know how commonly it occurs (ten out of ten in the
two studies cited). Those issues aside, the mystery remains as to
how brain activity occurs in metabolically dead tissue, receiving no
blood flow or oxygen, and lacking mechanisms to remove toxic
Some describe the end-of-life brain activity as nonfunctional,
generalized neuronal depolarization.
Chawla et al. suggested excess
extracellular potassium could cause "last gasp" neuronal spasms of
activity throughout the brain. Another suggested cause is
calcium-induced programmed neuronal death by apoptosis. But such
explanations seem unable to account for globally organized coherent
synchrony during the end-of-life brain activity.
If end-of-life brain activity does correlate with conscious NDE/OBE
phenomenology and/or the soul leaving the body, we still face the
question of how/why conscious activity, or even synchronized
activity of any sort is occurring in the nearly dead brain. But
there are logical possibilities.
Energy requirements for consciousness may be small compared to
non-conscious brain functions, especially if consciousness occurs
primarily in dendrites and cell bodies rather than axonal firings.
Neuronal hypoxia and acidosis would disable sodium-potassium ATPase
pumps, preventing axonal action potentials, but temporarily sparing
lower energy dendritic activity.
Consciousness as a low energy
quantum process might transiently flourish if energy-dependent decoherence-causing mechanisms were impaired, resulting in a
transient burst of enhanced consciousness.
In the Orch OR context, consciousness occurs as a process at the
level of fundamental space-time geometry. When the brain is under
duress, it is conceivable quantum information processes constituting
consciousness dissipate to the nonlocal universe at large.
perspective, in which a separate, as yet undefined spiritual
information field constitutes awareness outside the body, may not be
An afterlife, an actual soul-as-quantum information
leaving the body and persisting as entangled fluctuations in
multiple scales, or planes in quantum space-time geometry, may be
6 - Conclusion
- The Quantum Soul
Conventional science and philosophy attempt to base consciousness
strictly on classical physics, rejecting the possibility of
quantum nonlocality in consciousness, including persistence outside the body
as indicated by NDEs/OBEs, religious lore, and anecdotal memories
But evidence in recent years links
biological functions to quantum processes, raising the likelihood
that consciousness depends on nonlocal quantum effects in the brain.
That in turn suggests that the "hard
problem" of the nature of conscious experience requires a worldview
in which consciousness or its precursors are irreducible components
of reality, fundamental space-time geometry at the Planck scale.
Max Planck (1931) was
clear-sighted when he said,
"I regard consciousness as
fundamental. We cannot get behind consciousness."
Vedic and other spiritual traditions
have similar assumptions; consciousness and knowledge are intrinsic
to the universe.
How did they get there?
Physicist Paola Zizzi has proposed that the
period of rapid inflation during the very early Big Bang was
characterized by superposition of multiple possible universes.
Zizzi (2004) has calculated that the end of inflation and selection
of this universe was caused by a cosmic conscious moment at a
particular instant during the Big Bang (the "Big Wow").
possible universes were related to a previous universe, as Penrose
(2010) has proposed in "Cycles of Time," our universe mutating and
evolving with each rebirth .
The Penrose-Hameroff Orch OR model of consciousness proposes a
connection between quantum brain processes and fundamental
space-time geometry. In this study we consider Orch OR in the
context of anecdotal reports of NDE/OBE experiences as well as
circumstantial evidence for afterlife, reincarnation, and the
potential for quantum consciousness in space-time geometry.
conclude the concept of a "quantum soul" is scientifically
The "quantum soul" implies consciousness in the brain as described
by Orch OR, as well as nonlocal features including:
entanglement among living beings and the universe
Contact with cosmic
wisdom/Platonic values embedded as quantum information in
fundamental space-time geometry
Consciousness as patterns in
nonlocal fractal/holographic-like space-time geometry, able
to exist at deeper planes and scales independent of biology
We present a secular, scientific
approach consistent with all religions and known science.
advent of quantum biology, nonlocality in consciousness must be
taken seriously, potentially building a bridge between science and
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