Quantum Consciousness Falsified?

Underground test of gravity-related wave function collapse falsifies quantum consciousness

On 26 Nov 2021 a physics research team published the result and conclusion of their tests at the Gran Sasso underground laboratory of the Diósi-Penrose model of the gravity induced collapse of the quantum wave . Gravity induced collapse is a basic element of the Penrose-Hameroff hypothesis of quantum consciousness. The conclusion of the Gran Sasso team is that there is no gravity induced quantum collapse in the way Diósi and Penrose supposed. This actually falsified also the Penrose-Hameroff model of quantum consciousness. I received some questions from readers concerning the meaning of the outcome of this experiment. Would it mean also a falsification of the hypothesis of primary consciousness that I defend in my book and on this website?

Orchestrated Objective Reduction – Orch OR falsified

The Penrose-Hameroff theory of consciousness is called the Orchestrated Objective Reduction (Orch OR). Their theory can be summarized very briefly as follows:

"Superpositions of quantum states arise in your brain, in so-called microtubules (small protein structures in the nerve cells in the brain). A conscious experience takes place the moment those superpositions collapse.”
Figure from ‘A review of the ‘Orch OR’ theory’. Microtubules processing information by the quantum collapse, which is presumed to generate conscious experience.

So this is, properly speaking, one of the theories that tries ultimately to explain consciousness as a product of the brain. More precisely as a product of quantum states in the brain. The collapse of the superpositions – the quantum collapse – is thereby assumed to be a physical process, the superpositions are all physically existing. Then at the collapse they change into just one of all possibilities, the other superpositions disappear without a trace into ‘quantum nothing’.

If that collapse is physical, as physicist Roger Penrose and anesthetist Stuart Hameroff think, it means a small change in the distribution of the corresponding electrical charge and according to Maxwell’s laws a very faint electromagnetic signal should be generated. This is the EM signal that the researchers, who wanted to test the Orch OR theory, thought to pick up. They did so in the deep caves of Gran Sasso, where disturbances of the measurements by cosmic rays are as small as possible because they first have to pass through thick layers of rock. A (most likely costly) experiment that showed that the quantum collapse does not generate electrical signals. This means that one of Orch OR’s underlying assumptions has been falsified. So, good riddance for Orch OR. One theory less about the relationship between quantum physics and consciousness. Which is in my opinion good news . We already have too many theories of quantum physics and consciousness.

However, the Orch OR theory has nothing to do with the primary consciousness hypothesis. I hope you can see that. Orch OR is just a single branch of the tree of divergent ideas that try to understand consciousness from only the material perspective. But the Orch OR theory has nothing to do with the primary consciousness hypothesis. On the contrary, the primary consciousness hypothesis is that matter is a secondary phenomenon created by that consciousness upon perception. Which is something completely different.

Is the Primary Consciousness theory also falsifiable?

If you want to falsify the hypothesis of primary consciousness, it can be done a lot easier and cheaper than with a mediagenic experiment deep under the Gran Sasso. The hypothesis of primary consciousness in my book is based on the concept of information. The information that a measurement or observation can provide determines how the observed object behaves or has behaved. It is becoming increasingly clear in experiments that the less information a measurement provides, the more wavelike behavior is observed.

The most extreme example of this is the effect that when observing through which slit of the double slit the object passed, the signature interference pattern, the light and dark bands, changes into a single spread-out spot. That spot is still the result of a wave hitting the screen but now of a single wave that went through just one slit. The inescapable conclusion, then, is that the object must have manifested itself in only one slit — in response to the fact that the information we were able to obtain was precisely about which way the object went. However, the repeatedly observed fact that it is information that collapses the quantum wave is not proof or even evidence that it is the consciousness of the observer that is causing the collapse, although we have to ask ourselves whether information still has meaning if it does not show up within our consciousness. But, just as the collapse of the quantum wave should produce an electrical signal was a fundamental assumption of Orch OR, the collapse of the quantum wave by available information is a basic assumption of the primary consciousness theory. If we can falsify that assumption, then it becomes difficult for the idea of primary consciousness.

The quantum information eraser can do just that

The quantum information eraser experiments are a good step in that direction, but there is still some further work to be done in order to falsify the information hypothesis. In all quantum eraser experiments that I know of, the irreversible destruction of the information about the chosen slit is done by a semi-transparent mirror. And, noteworthy, let that be just the physical part of these experiments where any physicist – who adheres more or less to the Copenhagen interpretation – automatically assumes that it constitutes an exception to the rule that a physical object, if only massive enough, triggers the quantum collapse. According to these physicists, the quantum collapse takes place in and through the detector and ostensibly not by hitting the semi-transparent mirror or other optical components. My assumption, however, is that the quantum wave collapses on the basis of the available information. So not by the detector but by someone becoming aware of the result of the detector. That means, if we irreversibly destroy that information immediately after passing through the detector before anyone can observe it, that the interference pattern of light and dark lines will show up again. Such a precision experiment can easily be carried out in any well-equipped university optical laboratory.

Adapted from the setup of the – flawed – delayed-choice quantum-eraser experiment of Kim et al. (1999): Detector D0 is movable in the x direction, perpendicular to the path of the upper photon. The beamsplitter BSc is the quantum eraser. © Patrick Edwin Moran

In the above figure, you can see that the quantum eraser components I added – two simple changover switches controlled by a QRNG – are located directly behind the detectors D1 and D2. In the upper position the quantum information about the passed slit is erased mechanically by fusing the two signals into one. It is a fairly simple adaptation, actually a drastic simplification, of a 1999 quantum eraser experiment at Maryland University in Baltimore. That experiment is often mentioned by there-is-only-matter physicists to demonstrate the nonsense of the quantum eraser since the 1999 Maryland experiment had a fundamental flaw in its design that rendered its conclusion unwarranted. The debunkers then conveniently ignore the correct and successful quantum eraser experiments that were done afterwards at the same university. For those who want to delve into this ‘hard’ quantum eraser, I refer to this page on my website or to chapter 13: ‘Falsifiability of the consciousness hypothesis‘ in my book.

Now all we have to do is wait for avid researchers who don’t want to miss this opportunity to falsify the primary consciousness hypothesis. No Gran Sasso needed. The NewScientist reader is waiting for them and so am I.

Laboratori Nazionali del Gran Sasso, Italy

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