January 14, 2009

Can SUSY Help Explain Quantum Consciousness?

Discover posted an interesting article today about quantum mechanics explaining photosynthesis, smell, antioxidant effectiveness, and (the best part) consciousness.

First, two definitions: Entanglement is the idea that two or more particles at quantum states are linked together, even if there is physical distance between them, in such a way that both would be affected if one were disturbed. Quantum Tunneling is the potential for a particle to (via probabilities related to its wave function) penetrate a barrier that (per classical mechanics) it should not have the energy to penetrate. Because it's impossible to narrow down a particle's energy and its location at the same time, scientists narrow down probable locations to a fuzzy wavepacket: some of the probable locations indicated in the wavepacket exist on the other side of the barrier, meaning that sometimes, the particle is on the other side of the barrier. That's tunneling.

Back to the brain. Tunneling and entanglement explain (theoretically) how neurons generate a consciousness field; Stuart Hameroff, director of the Center for Consciousness Studies at the University of Arizona, is paraphrased in the article: "Each section of the constantly shifting [neuron] system has an impact on other sections, potentially via quantum entanglement, leading to a dynamic quantum-mechanical dance. It is in this faster-than-light subatomic communication that consciousness is born." This is good stuff (and a continuation of theories that Evan Walker postulated in the 1970s), but what I want to know is how SUSY (supersymmetry) gets involved. If the Lie group SO(10) consists of rotations in ten-dimensional space, could particles tunnel in and out of plack-sized dimensions (or Calabi-Yau spaces?) in a way that could affect quantum consciousness? Sentience is tricky; Leonard Susskind himself answered a question I posed to him in an email by saying, "Probably the biggest mystery in science (at least for me) is the connection between physics and the mind."

The thing is, much like the standard model before the (hypothetical) unified theory, it feels right that the answers are within reach: so many cultures and disciplines over thousands of years have hinted at transcendence; the pineal gland has yet to reveal its secrets; psychokinesis suggests consciousness is a type of force field; Aldous Huxley wrote in The Doors of Perception that "To be shaken out of the ruts of ordinary perception, to be shown for a few timeless hours the outer and inner world, not as they appear to an animal obsessed with survival or to a human being obsessed with words and notions, but as they are apprehended, directly and unconditionally, by Mind At Large— this is an experience of inestimable value to everyone and especially to the intellectual."

Somehow, "extraordinary perception" must* have a quantum explanation; the Mind At Large must have something to do with supersymmetry. Nature is just too clever for it to be otherwise.

*Remember, I'm just pontificating--I'll leave the down-and-dirty analysis to real scientists.

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