In a recent article in EnlightenNext Magazine, Stuart Hameroff, MD describes microtubules as a possible quantum-physics-based solution to the question of consciousness, ” Microtubules are molecular assemblies; they’re cylindrical polymers composed of repeating patterns of a single peanut-shaped protein called tubulin that can flex “open” and “closed.” The tubulin proteins self assemble into these beautifully elegant hollow cylinders with walls arranged in hexagonal lattices. . .neurons need a lot of microtubules. If you look inside a single neuron, there are hundreds of microtubules composed of something like one hundred million tubulin protein subunits. You could say the neurons are actually made of microtubules.” Hameroff supposes that although heretofore scientists believed that communication between neurons was the basis for consciousness, the presence of microtubules may actually explain the physical basis for consciousness.
Even though there are one hundred billion or so neurons in our brains, there are 100 times as many microtubules in every neuron. So, every neuron has consciousness or at least some structure to support consciousness. This brings us to the question, yet again, of how to get mind out of matter. Sir Roger Penrose believes that consciousness involves something non-computable. This is described in Gödel’s theorem. Gödel’s are actually two theorems of mathematics. They establish inherent limitations “of all but the most trivial axiomatic systems for mathematics. The theorems, proven by Kurt Gödel in 1931, are important both in mathematical logic and in the philosophy of mathematics. The two results are widely interpreted as showing that Hilbert’s program to find a complete and consistent set of axioms for all of mathematics is impossible, thus giving a negative answer to Hilbert’s second problem.
The first incompleteness theorem states that no consistent system of axioms whose theorems can be listed by an “effective procedure” (essentially, a computer program) is capable of proving all facts about the natural numbers. For any such system, there will always be statements about the natural numbers that are true, but that are unprovable within the system. The second incompleteness theorem shows that if such a system is also capable of proving certain basic facts about the natural numbers, then one particular arithmetic truth the system cannot prove is the consistency of the system itself.”
Hameroff used Penrose and Gödel’s findings with his own intuition to conclude that it isn’t just a human observer which is required to collapse a state of superposition (often called the Copenhagan interpretation of quantum mechanics), but instead, superpositions naturally collapse themselves. In this model, consciousness happens as a series of discrete events (these collapsing superpositions in the quantum field) that we experience as consciousness. Still, the conscious moment and the quantum wave function are one and the same event. It goes back to Einstein’s general theory of relativity. Roger assumes that the gravitational curvature of spacetime also occurs in this very small scale, such as in the functioning of microtubuls in the brain. So, to these thinkers, mind is not matter, but consciousness and matter are inextricably linked.
The yogic philosopher, Patanjali told us that “When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bonds: Your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction, and you find yourself in a new, great, and wonderful world. Dormant forces, faculties and talents become alive, and your discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be.”
Regardless of whether mind is contained in the brain or exists beyond these physical boundaries, it is evident that it is something quit immense. The spark of an eternal fire or the wave of a vast ocean are apt metaphors to describe it. The cosmic nature of mind has been described for centuries prior to Kant and Plato, Descartes, Einstein, Bohr, and Socrates offered their musings. Mahatma Ghandi told us, ” You can chain me, you can torture me, you can even destroy this body, but you will never imprison my mind.” If mind is indestructible, and vast beyond our perception, then do the semantics of its origins really even matter? It is natural for the mind to want to know itself, and this era of human development marks the ability for consciousness to know it is conscious. This alone is an evolutionary leap.
Perhaps we can agree with David Chalmers, “. . .much of the work going on now in neuroscience and psychology, where people are studying the relationship of consciousness to neural and cognitive processes without really trying to reduce it to those processes. . .[I agree with that.]” The brain vs. mind debate may not be a question of either or after all, but a question of quantum reality: the interweaving of mind and matter into one. This is the simple definition of yoga. From the Sanskrit root “yuj,” meaning “to control,” “to yoke” or “to unite.” Yoga derives from “yujir samadhau,” which means “contemplation” or “absorption.” Perhaps we will yoke our mind with the body by the contemplation of consciousness itself.