This article is part of the Research Topic Neurodynamics of will


Front. Integr. Neurosci., 12 October 2012 |

How quantum brain biology can rescue conscious free will

  • 1Department of Anesthesiology, Center for Consciousness Studies, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, USA
  • 2Department of Psychology, Center for Consciousness Studies, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, USA

Conscious “free will” is problematic because (1) brain mechanisms causing consciousness are unknown, (2) measurable brain activity correlating with conscious perception apparently occurs too late for real-time conscious response, consciousness thus being considered “epiphenomenal illusion,” and (3) determinism, i.e., our actions and the world around us seem algorithmic and inevitable. The Penrose–Hameroff theory of “orchestrated objective reduction (Orch OR)” identifies discrete conscious moments with quantum computations in microtubules inside brain neurons, e.g., 40/s in concert with gamma synchrony EEG. Microtubules organize neuronal interiors and regulate synapses. In Orch OR, microtubule quantum computations occur in integration phases in dendrites and cell bodies of integrate-and-fire brain neurons connected and synchronized by gap junctions, allowing entanglement of microtubules among many neurons. Quantum computations in entangled microtubules terminate by Penrose “objective reduction (OR),” a proposal for quantum state reduction and conscious moments linked to fundamental spacetime geometry. Each OR reduction selects microtubule states which can trigger axonal firings, and control behavior. The quantum computations are “orchestrated” by synaptic inputs and memory (thus “Orch OR”). If correct, Orch OR can account for conscious causal agency, resolving problem 1. Regarding problem 2, Orch OR can cause temporal non-locality, sending quantum information backward in classical time, enabling conscious control of behavior. Three lines of evidence for brain backward time effects are presented. Regarding problem 3, Penrose OR (and Orch OR) invokes non-computable influences from information embedded in spacetime geometry, potentially avoiding algorithmic determinism. In summary, Orch OR can account for real-time conscious causal agency, avoiding the need for consciousness to be seen as epiphenomenal illusion. Orch OR can rescue conscious free will.

Keywords: microtubules, free will, consciousness, Penrose-Hameroff Orch OR, volition, quantum computing, gap junctions, gamma synchrony

Citation: Hameroff S (2012) How quantum brain biology can rescue conscious free will. Front. Integr. Neurosci. 6:93. doi: 10.3389/fnint.2012.00093

Received: 14 July 2012; Accepted: 25 September 2012;
Published online: 12 October 2012.

Edited by:

Jose Luis Perez Velazquez, Hospital for Sick Children and University of Toronto, Canada

Reviewed by:

Jack Adam Tuszynski, University of Alberta, Canada
Andre Chevrier, University of Toronto, Canada

Copyright © 2012 Hameroff. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in other forums, provided the original authors and source are credited and subject to any copyright notices concerning any third-party graphics etc.

*Correspondence: Stuart Hameroff, Department of Anesthesiology, Center for Consciousness Studies, University of Arizona, PO Box 245114, Tucson, AZ 85724, USA. e-mail: