Quantum EcoBiotics - The Biophysics of Consciousness

Note: This page is a brief and incomplete overview of a work that has been in intense development for several years.

Quantum EcoBiotics (QEB for short) studies the intersection of evolutionary ecology with modern physics - specially, the principles of quantum mechanics. QEB is an emerging field that has already provided some profound insights into the nature of organic life, consciousness and the relationship between matter and information. While I intend to expand the discussion of QEB over time, at present most QEB notes are stored in very large, highly graphic PowerPoint presentations. This site will attempt to introduce the basic concepts in a more compact form.

Beyond the Quantum Mantra

Quantum pioneer Max Plank once remarked, "Science advances...but only one funeral at a time."

One of our most difficult challenges a human can face is to shift deeply ingrained concepts and beliefs when faced with fundamentally new information. Part of the reason is neurological. During childhood, the developing nervous system is highly plastic - able to forge new connections and pathways with relative ease. After the age of 10 or so, our most strongly developed pathways are literally "burned in" to our neurophysiology while less thoroughly reinforced patterns are enzymatically disassembled.

Plank's wry observation about the value of funerals has more than a small measure of truth. When new ideas are sufficiently challenging, a field such as physics can only really advance as its older practitioners die off. Exceptionally flexible individuals may keep pace, but even the great Albert Einstein, when faced with the bizarre realities of Quantum Mechanics, famously remarked, "I don't believe God would play dice with the universe." What is less well reported, however, is that when faced with overwhelming evidence that the world was, indeed, as strange as quantum theory predicted, he later added, "I still don't believe God would play dice...but I have earned the right to be wrong."

It took until the 1970s for there to develop a large and diverse enough cohort of scientists schooled in quantum theory and the other mind-boggling consequences of post-classical physics to apply these discoveries in fields outside of their specialization. This is always a tricky business since academics tend to powerfully define and defend their intellectual terrain. Physicists like Fritjof Capra, who wrote "The Tao of Physics," started to flesh out what had already become apparent in the 1930s: That the strangeness inherent in quantum mechanics was strikingly similar to the strangeness found in the teachings of Zen Buddhism and other forms of transcendental mysticism.

In a way, this similarity has become too facile. It's become too easy to use the word "quantum" as a meaningless cipher, standing in for "mysterious and profound phenomenon that no one really understands." In fact, quantum physics is the single most precise and highly corroborated scientific theory in all of human history. I'm fond of saying that the theoretical predictions of QED - Quantum Electrodynamics - match experimental results so closely that it's like measuring the distance from the Earth to the Moon to the accuracy of the diameter of a single human hair.

The brilliance of Plank and Bohr and Heisenberg and Schroedinger and Feynman and so many others deserve a better epitaph than, "They sorta, like, you know, did this 'science is really Zen' thing." On the other hand, the broad recognition that modern science reflects the complex and paradoxical nature of consciousness is truly wonderful. It challenges us, however, to follow this remarkable path and see where it might lead us.That's the challenge of QEB.

Cutting to the Chase

I've often said that if you know quantum physics, understand a bit about the newly emerging field of quantum computation and also have a good grasp of evolutionary ecology - with a healthy smattering of cellular biochemistry and evolutionary developmental biology - then I can sum up the grand insight of Quantum EcoBiotics in a just a few words.

The problem is, very, very few people share all those intellectual predicates - so if I just put it out there, one of the most amazing ideas I've ever experienced just falls flat. I've watched it land in the dead eyes of exceptionally intelligent people because they just don't have the background to grasp what it means. After a couple of hours of explanation - accompanied by hastily drawn diagrams on napkins and the backs of envelopes and whatever else is lying about - their eyes light up and they usually say, "Wow! Do you know what this means? It's, well, it's really, really important!"

So you can understand if I hesitate to cut to the chase and simply state the basic premise of QEB. On the other hand, since it's going to take some time to get enough information posted here at this website - I'm going to do it anyway. If you're like most of the exceptionally brilliant, wonderfully motivated, well informed and intellectual dynamic people I know, prepare to be underwhelmed. At least until I can get the digital equivalent of some scrawled napkins in front of you. Then you'll be amazed. I promise.

The Fundamental Principle of Quantum EcoBiotics

OK - here goes:

"Living organisms are quantum computers that, through the coherent and orderly superposition of biologically encoded quantum information states, possess a functionally infinite information processing capability. The coherence of the system is fullly conserved rather than collapsed by the quantum information state of the environment because the environment's state is not and has never been separate from the organism's. Rather, the relationship has developed through an unbroken chain of quantum entanglement events between the organism and the environment that form a single, highly adaptive information processing system."

There's more.

There's the notion that human beings have two distinct and differently evolved minds: the "Harmonic Mind" and the "Narrative Mind." These are not philosophical or symbolic distinctions - they represent two distinct organic strategies with unique and convergent evolution. The Harmonic Mind is a quantum computational system that works by creating and manipulating vast "chords" of entangled quantum information states. Because each quantum "bit" of information "feels" every other bit, the net information state exponentially increases in depth with each new addition - unlike conventional digital bits, each of which doubles the number of potential states, but not the total mixed state.

The Narrative Mind is neurological and basically digital and acts like a sophisticated and adaptive I/O ("input/output") system. Over evolutionary time, it has expanded its role from being nothing more than the "screen" on which the quantum superposition state of the Harmonic Mind collapses to synthesize the experience of discrete events in space and time to a processing system with its own local intelligence.

This "dual mind" model makes it possible to understand genius, autism, intuition and mental illness in a new way, as functions of the coordination between the Harmonic and Narrative qualities of consciousness.

It also raises the possibility that the template for life may pre-exist (hats off to Plato!), distributed around the universe as coherent concentrations of quantum-scale information that subsequently piggy-back on appropriate systems of matter - whether it's carbon-based compounds on a world like ours or dense, nucleonic matter on a collapsed star or cyanogen flip-flops in the rarified atomosphere of deep space. This is similar to the theory of panspermia (the idea that Earth and other worlds may have been seeded by existing life forms) but it stems from the information state of the Big Bang - which may also have been the Big Entanglement.

It may sound crazy, but it all arises from a careful examination of the science. Remember what Heisenberg once told a colleague? " You theory sounds crazy - but the question is, 'Is it crazy enough to be true?'"Watch this space...

Here are some raw notes on Decoherence and Quantum Panspermia. Napkins to follow...

The QEB Files:
The Decoherence Question and Reflections on Quantum Panspermia -
Was the Big Bang Actually the Big Entanglement?

Stuart Greene - December 20, 2006 - Marin County, California

The most challenging aspect of any quantum computational system is the problem of maintaining coherence. Briefly stated, coherence means that the superposition of quantum information states between its quantum-bits (q-bits) precisely models the problem the computer is tasked to solve.

Any interfering state information, however slight, changes the relationship between the q-bits, sending the system into a condition in which the computer no longer accurately models the problem. This is called decoherence. When applied to a properly entangled quantum information state, it harvests a meaningful result. When accidentally applied to a system before it has fully entangled the information state of the problem, it yields nonsense.

While conventional computers are also subject to various types of errors, these can be easily checked and, if appropriate provisions have been made, detected and/or corrected. In a quantum computer, because every facet of the net information state influences the characteristics of every other facet, this is not possible to accomplish in the same way. Investigators of biological quantum computing, including Sir Roger Penrose and Stuart Hameroff, invest a great deal of effort and ingenuity in postulating how organic structures may protect themselves from unwanted, premature decoherence, thereby allowing parts of the body to function as a quantum computer. From the perspective of Quantum EcoBiotics (QEB), these considerations are unnecessary. Why? There are two interlocking reasons:

First, QEB starts with the premise that the quantum information state of an organism's environment is not really "outside" or separate from the environment. That is, the superposition of the information state of an organism's biological quantum computer invariably considers both the state of the organism and the state of its environment as a single system.

Second, building upon this same point, QEB recognizes that these two facets of the organism's quantum information state - the inner and the outer - are, and have always been, adaptively entangled. There has never been an instant of separation between the organism and its environment, no matter its biological complexity - from the fissioning of a bacterial daughter cell to the fertilization and development of a mammalian embryo.
Furthermore, this entangled relationship is self-regenerating and unbroken throughout life through the continual exchange of information between the "inner" aspect of the biological organism and the "outer" aspect of its environment. The two are connected in exactly the same way that the head and tail side of a coin are connected. They comprise a single system with two aspects and those two aspects are immersed in a ceaseless, fluid movement of entangled information. It's somewhat like a quantum "corpus callosum" connecting the left and right hemispheres of the brain. The cessation of this fluid exchange marks the condition of death - the removal of the adaptive relationship between the organism and its environment. It's interesting to note that subtle bioenergetic exchange is clearly measurable for about 72 hours after brain death - the same figure cited in most spiritual traditions for the length it time the "soul" remains in contact with the physical body.

There are some very interesting corollaries to this observation, one of which is particularly challenging:
This picture suggests that the evolution of an adaptive proto-consciousness may have been able to proceed through coherent quantum level organizations of inorganic matter and only later move onto a matrix of self-replicating molecules in an appropriate environment. In our case, this environment can be thought of as a carbon-based, DNA/RNA molecular computer network. The realization that coherent and even self-organizing non-organic matter may have preceded the evolution of self-replicating molecular computers could solve the "chicken and egg" riddle of the emergence of organic life forms.

As Richard Dawkins is fond of pointing out, the origins of life may be mysterious and improbable - but not improbable enough not to have happened at least once! But once you have the fact of life, as we clearly do, Darwinian principles work to organize it very nicely. Recognizing that coherent, informational self-organization through non-organic quantum computers can exist separately from the organic, self-replicating matter of living organisms, allows the improbability of organic life to be broken down into smaller steps that, once conjoined, add up to the enormous leap of a perfectly tuned system of molecular information storage, adaptation and replication.
This discussion begs another, even more speculative hypothesis: If quantum information state entanglement is inherently independent of space and time - leading to Einstein's famously edgy observation of "spooky action at a distance" - then couldn't it be possible for a previously organized system to leave an informational imprint on the physical matter of the young Solar System? This imprint, which would manifest as a set of coherent, self-organizing quantum information states, could become established in the sub-atomic architecture of whatever matter was available and, in time, allow the transition to whatever appropriate molecular matrix emerged in the newly forming world.

In our case, that turned out to be the matrix of DNA/RNA/ribosomes in a carbon and mineral rich aqueous environment. On other planets and objects, it could be something totally different - perhaps even as strange as nucleonic matter as some science fiction authors have speculated. But the implication remains that the quantum information "seed" of life may be present everywhere, waiting patiently to "evolve" into a material expression whenever conditions present themselves. This is Crick's idea of "panspermia" without the extreme improbability of little green men in spaceships flying around, limited by the speed of light but nonetheless planting DNA on every suitably yeasty planet.

In a nutshell, this idea suggests that the potential for life may lay dormant in the local coherence of quantum information fields throughout the cosmos and that the legacy of the "Big Bang" may not only be the spreading of physical matter into an ever widening gyre. The Big Bang may also be the "Big Entanglement" in which the quantum information state of everything got linked. Dense enough, coherent enough patches of that linkage then manifest almost like a "projector" unbound by space, time and Einstein's traffic laws - sending out the impetus and the ability to run the "movie" of quantum state coherence on any suitable "screen" that develops. The organization of starts, galaxies and planets may be the expression of the original material coherence and the nanoscopic development of coherence manifesting as life on Earth may be another.


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