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Neural Oscillations & Consciousness: Attention as a Litmus Test for the Quantum Mind Hypothesis

Seán O'Nualláin


The “quantum mind” hypothesis, the notion that quantum phenomena are causal and perhaps even essential in mentation and particularly consciousness, has met with fierce resistance. This has been particularly the case over the past 20 years, and the first task of this paper  is to show that while there are indeed strong  - mainly empirical - arguments against the thesis, the ‘in principle arguments published to date evince premature closure.

The burgeoning field of “Quantum cognition” has established that quantum models are appropriate for decision-making, and that of “Quantum biology” has now made the notion of quantum effects at physiological temperatures plausible. If quantum effects are relevant to consciousness, they are likely to be seen in the contrast between attended to and not attended to streams of information.  An exciting confirmation of this theme is the fact that attended to streams involve a decorrelation of the informational fluctuations in streams not so attended to. This gives rise to the idea that perhaps what enters our consciousness is the result of such a decorrelation from a superposed state.

Decorrelation for the purposes of sparsification is prevalent in the brain; what may enter consciousness in the schema proposed here is mental processes with a duration greater than the sampling rate of consciousness (about 80ms) the wave function of which is undergoing state-vector reduction in a manner described by the Quantum Zeno effect. This allows also for truly voluntary action in the manner Von Neumann suggested. This is distinct from the situation with binocular resolution dichoptic stimuli which is a mixture, and is an example of what Fodor calls a “vertical” module with its operation mandatory. There is nothing to be gained by making binocular synthesis subject to voluntary choice.   Likewise, it is realistic to propose that attention in lower animals with their less complex brains involves a much simpler mechanism than human consciousness.

A model of the individual neuron as a harmonic oscillator is outlined, with a causal role for ion channels in the generation of the oscillations. It is clear that ion channels are critical for attention. Moreover, at a mesoscopic level, it is demonstrated that the brain enters a quiet “shutter” mode several times a second in which quantum effects may be appropriately amplified. If quantum effects exist in the brain, it is likely that this complex of phenomena will be central to them. The de Barros and Suppes models, in addition to the similar formalism due to Henry Stapp, are also briefly described.

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ISSN: 2153-8212