Consciousness and Non-Locality (I): Theoretical Research

by Steve Randolf, PhD

 

The use of quantum entanglement in theories of consciousness and psi, as well as in quantum biology, has always been a subject of debate. Objections to such use are primarily related to the demanding conditions necessary for the creation and maintenance of entanglement, which strongly contrast with the wet and warm environments typical of living organisms. In the case of psi phenomena, there are additional arguments, such as the no-communication theorem of quantum mechanics and the relativistic restriction of the speed of light. The following analysis challenges the prevailing skepticism by highlighting the experimental and theoretical evidence pointing toward the existence of a unique persistent and ubiquitous form of entanglement.

 

Non-locality in quantum mechanics

In 1935, Einstein, in collaboration with Podolsky and Rosen (Einstein et al., 1935), introduced a thought experiment based on the emerging mathematical formalism of quantum mechanics (QM). This experiment put forth the idea that two quantum particles, whether originating from a common quantum process or prepared through a specific form of interaction, could be regarded as a unified quantum entity. Consequently, the act of measuring any parameter on one particle would instantaneously influence the corresponding parameter of the other, regardless of the physical distance separating them.

From Einstein's perspective, this presented a paradox (often referred to as the EPR paradox, after the initials of the researchers) that revealed a gap in the quantum-mechanical formalism, contradicting the principle of locality (local realism) that had acquired almost the status of universal law by the time.

Einstein, A., Podolsky, B., & Rosen, N. (1935). Can Quantum-Mechanical Description of Physical Reality Be Considered Complete? Physical Review, 47, 777.

 

This article had enormous repercussions. The first one to react was Erwin Schrödinger who just a few months later published a discussion of the EPR paradox using the term "entanglement" for the first time to refer to the phenomenon. In that article, he emphasized the importance of entanglement as it apparently revealed a profound difference between classical and quantum mechanics. Schrödinger, like Einstein, struggled to comprehend the phenomenon because it seemed to involve the superluminal propagation of information, which contradicted Einstein's already-accepted theory of relativity.

Schrödinger, (1935) Discussion of Probability Relations between Separated Systems, Mathematical Proceedings of the Cambridge Philosophical Society, Volume 31, Issue 4, pp. 555-563.

 

In search of a possible explanation, in 1952 David Bohm proposed an interpretation of QM known as the pilot-wave theory, which he built upon earlier work by De Broglie. This theory introduced hidden variables and assumed nonlocality as a fundamental aspect of physical reality.

As the idea matured in Bohm’s mind, he suggested that the universe had two aspects: a hidden, primary aspect that he termed the "implicate order" and a secondary visible aspect that he called the "explicate order." The hidden aspect he argued would be giving rise to everything visible/perceivable in our experience, analogous to how a 2D holographic film produces a 3D holographic image (Bohm, 1980; Bohm & Hiley, 1993). Information is distributed throughout the holographic film and the 3D image can be reconstructed out of any arbitrarily small fragment of the film (within the recording medium’s resolution limits). However, the hologram of the universe needed to be a dynamic one, an idea that Bohm referred to as "holomovement." Bohm envisioned all forms and phenomena including QM ones as the outcomes of countless foldings and unfoldings between these two orders.

Bohm, David (1952). "A Suggested Interpretation of the Quantum Theory in Terms of 'Hidden Variables' I". Physical Review. 85 (2): 166–179.

Bohm, D. (1980). Wholeness and the Implicate Order. Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Bohm, D., & Hiley, B. (1993). The Undivided Universe. Routledge.

 

Impressed and motivated by Bohm's work, John Stewart Bell began searching for a way to verify the existence of non-locality. In 1964, he proposed his famous inequalities that allowed for experimental determination of whether correlations between quantum objects could be attributed to local hidden variables (local realism) or genuine non-locality.

Bell, J. S. (1964). "On the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen paradox". Physics Physique Fizika, 1(3), 195–200.

 

Soon, multiple demonstrations of violations of Bell inequalities began to emerge, thereby validating the existence of nonlocal correlations (Kocher & Commins, 1967; Kocher, 1971; Freedman & Clauser, 1972; Aspect et al., 1982). However, for many, nonlocality remained difficult to accept, and new loopholes casting doubts on the concept were consistently found. It was not until 2015 (Hanson) that the definite loophole-free experiment was successfully conducted, dispelling the last existing doubts and confirming the reality of non-locality.

Kocher, C. A. and Commins, E. D. (1967). "Polarization Correlation of Photons Emitted in an Atomic Cascade". Phys. Rev. Lett. 18, 575.

Kocher, C. A. (1971). "Time correlations in the detection of successively emitted photons". Annals of Physics, 65(1), 1–18.

Freedman, S. J., & Clauser, J. F. (1972). "Experimental Test of Local Hidden-Variable Theories". Physical Review Letters, 28(14), 938–941. doi:10.1103/PhysRevLett.28.938.

Aspect, A., Grangier, P., & Roger, G. (1982). "Experimental Realization of Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen-Bohm Gedankenexperiment: A New Violation of Bell's Inequalities". Physical Review Letters, 49(2), 91–94.

Hanson, R. (2015). "Loophole-free Bell inequality violation using electron spins separated by 1.3 kilometers". Nature, 526(7575), 682–686.

 

However, quantum entanglement (QE) was found to be a rather unstable phenomenon, easily lost through a process known as decoherence. Decoherence is essentially the loss of coherence within the studied microscopic system due to its entanglement with its macroscopic environment.

Decoherence also occurs within systems of many particles due to their thermal vibrations. This process can be somewhat slowed down by working at cryogenic temperatures. However, as the temperature increases, the lifetime of entangled states decreases dramatically. For this reason, for a long time, the possibility of QE playing a significant role in natural processes, especially in living organisms, was dismissed.

Nevertheless, this idea has been changing over time, as both the temperature and the size of entangled systems have been increased enormously by means of increasingly sophisticated physical experiments employing ultra-sensitive and ultra-fast measurements. For instance, in 2011, quantum correlations between optical phonons in two millimeter-sized diamonds were demonstrated at room temperature (Lee et al., 2011). The role of QE in real biological processes has also been validated.

C. Lee et al. (2011). Entangling Macroscopic Diamonds at Room Temperature. Science, 334, 1253.

 

Even more astonishingly, it has been demonstrated that QE is timeless, meaning that two quantum entities can be entangled not only in space but also across time. This phenomenon has been under theoretical investigation for years, both within the framework of quantum mechanics (Ringbauer et al., 2018) and quantum gravity (Doi et al., 2023), yet it remains shrouded in mystery. The topic of nonlocality in quantum gravity will be discussed separately in the following chapter.

Ringbauer, M., Costa, F., Goggin, M.E., et al. (2018). Multi-time quantum correlations with no spatial analog. npj Quantum Information, 4, 37.

Doi, K., Harper, J., Mollabashi, A., et al. (2023). Time-like entanglement entropy. Journal of High Energy Physics, 2023(5), 52.

 

With the demonstration of nonlocality, the supposed contradiction between QE and relativity, which initially troubled the pioneers of QM like Einstein and Schrödinger, was resolved. Furthermore, it is now understood that QE does not actually allow for instantaneous transmission of information, a concept known as the no-communication theorem (Peres & Terno, 2004). This theorem is generally accepted within the physics community, although it also has its critics (Peacock & Hepburn, 1999).

Peres A. and Terno D. R. (2004). Quantum information and relativity theory, Reviews of Modern Physics, 76, 93.

Peacock K. A. and Hepburn B. (1999). Begging the Signalling Question: Quantum Signalling and the Dynamics of Multiparticle Systems, Proceedings of the Meeting of the Society for Exact Philosophy.

 

On the other hand, there exists another theorem, the "no-teleportation" theorem, which states that quantum information cannot be converted into classical information, i.e., transforming qubits into bits, for transmission through conventional channels (Gruska & Imai, 2001). However, it was discovered that qubits can actually be transmitted by combining the use of QE with that of a conventional transmission channel — a phenomenon utilized in encryption, telecommunications, and quantum computing. This effect was proposed by Bennett et al. in 1993 and experimentally demonstrated by Aspect et al. in 1997. In 2022, Aspect, Clauser, and Zeilinger were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for their contributions to the development of QE and quantum teleportation.

Gruska, J., & Imai, H. (2001). Power, Puzzles and Properties of Entanglement. In M. Margenstern & Y. Rogozhin (Eds.), Machines, Computations, and Universality. MCU 2001. Lecture Notes in Computer Science, vol 2055. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg.

Bennett, C. H., Brassard, G., Crépeau, C., Jozsa, R., Peres, A., & Wootters, W. K. (1993). "Teleporting an Unknown Quantum State via Dual Classical and Einstein–Podolsky–Rosen Channels". Physical Review Letters, 70(13), 1895–1899.

Bouwmeester, D., Pan, J. W., Mattle, K., Eibl, M., Weinfurter, H., & Zeilinger, A. (1997). Experimental quantum teleportation. Nature, 390, 575–579.

 

Non-locality in quantum gravity

Simultaneously with the evolution of the understanding of QE, a series of theoretical developments aimed at the creation of a theory unifying quantum theory with gravity (i.e., relativity), also known as quantum gravity, were unfolding. Particularly in the 1970s and 1980s, five independent theories emerged, referred to as "superstring theories," which modeled known particles and their interactions through the vibrational modes of strings. In 1995, these five theories were unified into a single framework known as M-theory, and it was revealed that strings (and consequently, space-time) needed to be multidimensional objects called D-branes rather than one-dimensional ones as initially conjectured (Witten, 1995; Polchinski, 1995). Initially, the requirement was for 10 dimensions, which was later increased to 11.

Witten, E. (1995). "String theory dynamics in various dimensions". Nuclear Physics B, 443(1), 85–126.

Polchinski, J. (1995). "Dirichlet branes and Ramond-Ramond charges". Physical Review D, 50(10), R6041–R6045.

 

Therefore, the existence of seven extra spatial dimensions was found to be necessary to explain the four fundamental forces coherently, in addition to the four known space-time dimensions. Advocates of this theory argue that these dimensions might be imperceptible, similar to how two of the three dimensions of a thin string remain unnoticed when observed from a distance. This model strongly recalls Bohm's proposal of an underlying hidden reality that connects everything (the implicate order).

Today, M-theory is widely considered by many as the leading candidate for a theory of everything (TOE). However, it also has its detractors, primarily due to its complexity and perceived lack of verifiable predictions. Furthermore, the existence of strings and hidden dimensions remains unproven for now. Nevertheless, discoveries have been emerging that lend support to the theory.

Around the same time as the unification of superstring theories (1990s), several researchers realized that these theories suggested the information in our 3-dimensional space might be encoded on a 2-dimensional surface. Particularly, Leonard Susskind demonstrated in 1995 that the paradox of information loss in black holes, which arose from Stephen Hawking's discovery of their evaporation, could be resolved using this argument. Even Stephen Hawking himself accepted this explanation as valid. However, Susskind went further by suggesting that the entire universe could be viewed as a hologram, akin to what Bohm and others had proposed earlier.

Susskind, L. (1995). "The World as a Hologram". Journal of Mathematical Physics, 36(11), 6377–6396.

 

Another significant result supporting the holographic universe concept emerged from an article published in 1998 by Juan Maldacena. This work turned out to be groundbreaking as it unveiled the equivalence between one of the initial 10-dimensional superstring theories and a 4-dimensional quantum field theory, a discovery of immense theoretical interest (the article has already been cited tens of thousands of times). This equivalence is known as AdS/CFT, where the superstring theory involves a space of anti-de Sitter type (AdS), characterized by a negative cosmological constant (shrinking space), while the corresponding quantum field theory is referred to as a "conformal field theory" (CFT).

Maldacena, J. (1998). "The Large N limit of superconformal field theories and supergravity". Advances in Theoretical and Mathematical Physics, 2(4), 231–252.

 

The AdS/CFT equivalence provided further support for the holographic universe idea. The CFT theory captures the same information in 4 dimensions as the 10-dimensional superstring theory, analogous to how a hologram encodes information about a 3-dimensional object in just two dimensions. A similar correspondence has also been demonstrated for a de Sitter-type space, i.e. one that is expanding, more representative of actual observations of our universe.

Strominger, A. (2001). "The dS/CFT correspondence". Journal of High Energy Physics, 2001(10), 034.

 

The significance of non-locality

As demonstrated, the confirmation of nonlocality in the form of QE has had profound theoretical implications, strengthening quantum theory and aiding in its merger with gravity theory for the development of a TOE. On another front, it is revolutionizing the modern world, giving rise to vast new scientific domains such as quantum encryption, quantum computing, quantum communication, quantum simulations, and quantum sensing. All of these areas have already shown their immense practical utility, leading to valuable commercial devices.

One of these emerging fields, quantum biology, offers some of the most extraordinary perspectives. Initial concerns about instantaneous information transmission (contradicting relativity) were followed by worries about the instability of entangled states in warm and moist environments, such as living organisms. However, numerous studies have unequivocally demonstrated that nonlocality undoubtedly plays a vital role in various biological processes, including photosynthesis, olfaction, vision, enzymatic catalysis, and avian magnetic navigation (Mohseni et al., 2014). The list continues to expand.

Mohseni, M., Omar, Y., Engel, G. S., & Plenio, M. B. (2014). Quantum Effects in Biology. Cambridge University Press.

 

Non-local models of consciousness

Quantum effects, particularly nonlocality, have also been employed in attempts to explain one of the most extraordinary and least understood biological phenomena: the human mind. Despite the formulation of various theories, experimental evidence to support them is still lacking.

One of the earliest quantum models of the brain was proposed by Ricciardi and Umezawa (1967). They suggested that experimental data concerning the human brain were incompatible with a connection-based memory and instead proposed a form of distributed memory. To achieve this, they utilized the framework of Conformal Field Theory (CFT) and proposed representing the brain as a Bose-Einstein condensate, where memory effects arise from quantum correlations among neurons. Over the years, this theory has undergone several refinements by various scientists.

Ricciardi, L. M., & Umezawa, H. (1967). "Brain and physics of many-body problems." Kybernetik, 4, 44–48.

 

Years later, neurosurgeon Karl Pribram (Pribram, 1991), drawing inspiration from Bohm's holographic theory and other recent discoveries, reinvented the concept of distributed memory through his "holonomic" model. According to Pribram, the brain is a dynamic holographic memory characterized by nonlocality attributed to background processing facilitated by quantum correlations among microscopic brain structures, such as neuronal dendrites.

Pribram, K. (1991). Brain and perception: Holonomy and structure in figural processing. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. ISBN 0-89859-995-4.

 

Particle physicist Henry Stapp (Stapp, 2007) suggested that consciousness plays a fundamental role in the universe and that wave function collapse occurring during observation of quantum systems is influenced by mental processes. Intentional mental states such as focused attention or decision-making could influence the outcomes of the quantum processes. On the other hand, Stapp hypothesizes such mental states to be due to the quantum state reduction according to Von Newmann’s projection principle, maintained in time through the quantum Zeno effect. This means that said states may be maintained through their measurement and observations repeated with a high frequency in brain structures such as synapses, thus avoiding the evolution of the corresponding wave functions.

Henry Stapp, (2007) Mindful Universe: Quantum Mechanics and the Participating Observer, Springer Berlin, Heidelberg.

 

A similar but apparently more evolved theory is that of the orchestrated objective reduction (abbreviated as Orch-Or) initially conceived by Physics Nobel laureate Roger Penrose who later extended it with the aid of Stewart Hameroff (Hameroff & Penrose, 2014). Penrose funded the necessity of considering quantum phenomena by invoking Gödel's incompleteness theorems. These theorems purportedly demonstrate that consciousness cannot be solely attributed to algorithmic computation and that there must be an additional mechanism at play.

On the other hand, drawing on experimental data, Penrose argued that consciousness should be grounded in discrete events within neurons. These discrete events giving rise to consciousness emerge from collapses of coherent superposition states, a mechanism reminiscent of Stapp's proposal. However, Penrose also elaborates on the mechanism of collapse itself, suggesting the involvement of fluctuations in the gravitational field and nonlocality.

Stuart Hameroff contributed to this theory by identifying particular neuronal structures called microtubules as the perfect candidates for carrying out quantum processing through stabilized quantum states in the form of molecular dipoles. Penrose and Hameroff also entertained the possibility of microtubules interacting among themselves through QE.

Stuart Hameroff, Roger Penrose (2014). Consciousness in the universe: A review of the ‘OrchOR’ theory. Physics of Life Reviews, 11, 39–78.

 

Non-local models of psi

Non-locality also plays a significant role in certain theories related to psi phenomena. Understanding psi poses two major challenges: comprehending the mechanism of its transmission by the mind and understanding the mechanism of its mediation.

As demonstrated in the previous chapter, many prominent scientific minds consider non-locality as an essential requisite of consciousness. Given that psi is a product of the mind, it can be inferred that non-locality could play at least some role in psi transmission.

On the other hand, all mediation theories involving signal transfer through waves or particles have been refuted. These theories failed to explain retro- and precognition and never detected any mediating signals, even in cases of clairvoyance or psychokinesis (Targ & Puthoff, 1974; Harvey & Watt, 2007). Other theories based on information propagating back in time have also lost credibility, as experiments have revealed that feedback is not essential for the success of e.g. remote viewing sessions (Targ, 2019).

Targ, R., Puthoff, H. (1974). Information transmission under conditions of sensory shielding. Nature, 251(5476), 602–607.

Harvey, J. I., & Watt, C. A. (2007). An Introduction to Parapsychology. McFarland.

Targ, R. (2019). What Do We Know about Psi? The First Decade of Remote-Viewing Research and Operations at Stanford Research Institute. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 33(4), 569–592.

 

Taking this into consideration and the highly probable role of non-locality in consciousness, it logically follows to consider non-locality as a potential mechanism of mediation in psi phenomena. Indeed, non-locality can also be identified in certain psi theories. In 1920, University of Cambridge scholar Whately Smith (aka Carington) proposed a possible explanation for paranormal phenomena, suggesting the existence of a hidden fourth spatial dimension, reminiscent of the physical theories mentioned earlier (albeit produced later) like Bohm's holography and the holography arising from the AdS/CFT equivalence.

Smith, W. W. (1920). A Theory of the Mechanism of Survival: The Fourth Dimension and Its Applications, E. P. Dutton and Co.

 

Similarly, more recently, Targ and Rauscher (2001) proposed an explanation for psi involving an 8-dimensional Minkowski spacetime. This idea was inspired by the relatively recent developments in string theory and supersymmetry. In addition to the 4 real dimensions that we are familiar with, this spacetime includes 4 imaginary dimensions (and hence hidden ones). These imaginary dimensions render the spatial or temporal separation between any pair of points to be zero. The mind would possess the ability to navigate through this space, allowing the transmission of psi without violating relativity. This concept parallels the way a wormhole (a well-known physics concept) hypothetically creates a shortcut in spacetime, permitting the transmission of information at least theoretically.

Rauscher, E. A., & Targ, R. (2001). The Speed of Thought: Investigation of a Complex Space-Time Metric to Describe Psychic Phenomena. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 15(3), 331–354.

 

There are more recent theories such as Walter von Lucadou's "Pragmatic Information Model" (2015) and Walach's Weak Quantum Theory (Atmanspacher, Römer & Walach, 2002) that propose extending quantum principles to the macroscopic scale, with certain restrictions, while maintaining quantum entanglement (QE) as the assumed direct cause of paranormal phenomena. Von Lucadou discusses the no-communication theorem as a potential obstacle for the application of the theory, but he refers to the publication by Peacock & Hepburn (1999) mentioned above, which does indeed cast doubt on the validity of that theorem.

Such theories face significant opposition for various reasons. Even setting aside traditional skepticism and fear towards psi phenomena (Cardeña, 2015), there are more objective challenges to be overcome, including the instability of quantum entanglement and the information non-transmission theorem.

Kornwachs and W. von Lucadou (1985): Pragmatic information as a nonclassical concept to describe cognitive systems. Cognitive Systems, 1, 79–94.

Atmanspacher, H., Römer, H. & Walach, H. (2002). Weak Quantum Theory: Complementarity and Entanglement in Physics and Beyond. Foundations of Physics, 32, 379–406.

Cardeña E. (2015), "The Unbearable Fear of Psi: On Scientific Suppression in the 21st Century," Journal of Scientific Exploration, 29(4), 601–620.

 

The holographic concept suggests that all the information generated within the universe is distributed throughout its volume, implying an omnipresent and permanent correlation. This clearly represents a type of non-locality distinct from or perhaps complementary to the now well-known quantum entanglement (QE). As demonstrated, this concept, which initially seemed somewhat speculative (similarly to the beginnings of QE), has been gaining scientific support as developments in quantum gravity and the holographic principle have progressed.

The origin of such non-locality could be traced back to the early universe. According to the widely accepted theory of the universe's origin, the first particles (gluons and quarks) formed in the first seconds after the Big Bang. Assuming our universe is a closed system, and since all of these particles were formed in a single process, they should be permanently entangled (Nadeau & Kafatos, 1999).

Nadeau, R., & Kafatos, M. (1999). The Non-local Universe: The New Physics and Matters of the Mind. Oxford University Press.

 

Ervin László (2003) gathered and discussed a series of phenomena and paradoxes from various fields of research such as biology, cosmology, particle physics, parapsychology, and more. According to him, many phenomena exhibit order or correlation where chaos might be expected, such as the fine-tuning of fundamental constants, the uniformity of the cosmic background, long-range correlations in living organisms, empirical paradoxes of genetic determinism, the inconsistency between the rate of natural selection and that of random mutations, and so on. László concludes his discussion with a hypothesis that implies the existence of connectivity or correlation across multiple scales, in a fractal fashion.

László, E. (2003). The Connectivity Hypothesis: Foundations of an Integral Science of Quantum, Cosmos, Life, and Consciousness. State University of New York Press.

 

The idea of the universe as an omnipresent and incommensurable information, present in so many physical theories, is not new. It aligns with concepts like the Tao, Brahman, and Akasha lying at the basis of millennia-old Chinese and Indian traditions. Many physicists, including the fathers of quantum mechanics, Schrödinger, Bohr, and Heisenberg (Viraj Kulkarni, 2020), have been fascinated by these concepts of the universe as an incomprehensible, ineffable, infinite, and intertwined entity.

Kulkarni, V. (2020). What Erwin Schrödinger Said About the Upanishads. Retrieved from https://science.thewire.in/society/history/erwin-schrodinger-quantum-mechanics-philosophy-of-physics-upanishads/ in August 2023.

 

Is it possible that the familiar quantum correlation has a hidden facet? Could it be that when an object or particle undergoes decoherence, some form of residual correlation actually persists? There is abundant evidence that this is indeed so. Read more about it in Consciousness and Non-locality (II).

 

Published: 2023-09-26

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