When Max Planck proposed a consistent explanation for a problem that plagued physicists a century ago, known as “black body radiation,” physics discovered a new paradigm whose instrumentation would allow our civilization to make an unprecedented technological leap. The quantum revolution that began then continues to shake the intellect of those who study it today. Its applications are countless and diverse: electronics, chemistry, astrophysics, and for at least a decade, it has also entered the field of neuroscience as a theory that promises to explain the neuronal phenomenology that gives rise to human thought and consciousness.
The science and other stuff to know
Christian Matthias Kerskens and his colleague David López Pérez—both researchers at Trinity College Dublin—published an article in the Journal of Physics Communications on October 7 where they present the results of their work: they took a mechanism developed to prove the existence of quantum gravity—a paradigm that seeks to explain the gravitational force that emerges from a structure on a fundamental scale—and readapted it to apply it to a model of how the brain works. This enabled them to observe quantum entanglement effects between neural systems.
Kerskens, the co-author of the paper, explains the nature of the experiment: “We adapted an idea, developed for experiments to prove the existence of quantum gravity, whereby you take known quantum systems, which interact with an unknown system. If the known systems are entangled, then the unknown must also be a quantum system. It avoids the difficulties of finding measuring devices for something we know nothing about.”
Quantum entanglement is a phenomenon that consists of a “union” between particles or fundamental elements of a system, which causes a kind of unbreakable connection between the parts of the system. No matter how far or isolated they are from each other, they remain connected in such a way that if one modifies its state, the other imitates it.
This principle, according to the authors, was observed in the brain activity of volunteers using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and gives researchers potential clues about the mechanisms that produce memory, cognitive processes, and consciousness.
Discovering this intimate connection between the fundamental physics that we know quite well and the neurological processes from which our human cognitive characteristics emerge could mean a real revolution, as we could design more intelligent devices that mimic, or even improve human brain activities. We could also develop treatments for neurological conditions, and faster supercomputers, among other implementations.
Other studies had already addressed the possibility that quantum reigns in brain dynamics. The explanation of consciousness based on quantum processes is a topic that has gained popularity and continues to motivate interdisciplinary research.
Dr. Kerskens argues that “Quantum brain processes could explain why we can still outperform supercomputers when it comes to unforeseen circumstances, decision making, or learning something new. Our experiments carried out just 50 meters from the conference room, where Schrödinger presented his famous thoughts on life, can shed light on the mysteries of biology and on consciousness, which is scientifically even more difficult to understand.”
The next generations of quantum experiments and advances in the intricate science of neurology may reveal suspected relationships between the physics that govern the universe and the brains that think about it.