New Study Finds the Brain Uses Quantum Processes

When philosopher of science Roger Penrose theorized that the brain uses microtubules for quantum effects, he was not well received. Furthermore, he not only believed that these microtubules produced quantum effects, he claimed that they gave rise to consciousness itself. The scientific community at large, however, were having none of this “nonsense”. But now, a recent study conducted by N. S. Babcock, et al, published in Biophysical and Biochemical Systems and Processes, appears to have substantiated Penrose’s claim.
Microtubules are essentially large molecules that play integral roles in signal transfer in the brain. They’re made of polymers called tubulin and appear to play a crucial role in how the brain interacts with consciousness. Penrose eventually began focusing on microtubules because he was convinced that consciousness couldn’t be explained by a computable process. Instead, he began looking for mechanisms in the brain that would support what has been called “the collapse of the wave function,” in which the wave of infinite possibilities collapses into a single actuality.
The scientific community at large has refuted this claim by pointing out that the human brain is a rather noisy, hot mess, certainly not supportive of quantum processes, which require extensive shock absorption and intensive cooling in quantum computing. For Penrose’s quantum processes to be possible in the brain, they’d have to be active until a neuron manages to fire, and neurons in the brain are notoriously slow to fire. According to the scientific community at large, this is not possible.
When Roger Penrose originally postulated his theory in his book, The Emperor’s New Mind, he did not initially associate it with microtubules. But he later teamed up with Stuart Hameroff from the University of Arizona after being convinced by Hameroff that microtubules are capable of synchronizing together in such a manner as to resonantly support quantum processes until the neurons begin to fire and thereby facilitate thought. Even so, physicists and neuroscientists alike considered this argument to fall short of explaining consciousness itself.
However, the recent study published by Babcock and associates claims to have discovered quantum processes in the brain. They were hoping for insights into cellular signaling and control when they analyzed the cooperative effects induced by ultraviolet (UV) excitation of biologically relevant Trp mega-networks. The team predicted that they would find the formation of superradient states afforded by the organized arrangements of UV-excited transition dipoles in micotubule architectures, and this is precisely what they found in the form of “fluorescence quantum yield (QY)”. Translated, this means that quantum processes are indeed afforded by microtubule synchronization.
Superradience appears to support quantum processes by requiring molecules to have quantum links to each other to achieve a larger emission of light. This process was successfully predicted by the team when they built a computer model for how the tubulin molecules form microtubules and absorb light. Then, they tested this in a room-temperature experiment that showed that indeed, the microtubules produce quantum effects. The researchers speculated that when these microtubule processes fail, this may be how degenerative brain diseases begin.
However, while this finding has been surprising for many, it still does not, in and of itself, seem to have much to do with consciousness in the opinion of the larger scientific community. We’ll just have to stay tuned to see where this goes.

Source – Ultraviolet Superradiance from Mega-Networks of Tryptophan in Biological Architectures; Phys. Chem. B 2024, 128, 17, 4035–4046 Publication Date: April 19, 2024

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