It looks like plants are using Quantum Entanglement to generate energy. So what does this mean for our understanding of the mind, and what would happen if we could show it happening in the brain?
A few years ago, I sat in a lecture at the Royal Society, and listened as an eminent professor of Neuroscience mildly ridiculed a questioner from the audience. The question had been about the possibility of Quantum Physics being the cause of some of the more unusual properties of the brain. "Well, quantum effects have only been seen at very low temperatures," he said, with a sardonic grin. "So no, I can't see it happening at room temperature, and certainly not in the brain." There was scattered chuckling from the audience. The old lady who had asked the question sat down, suitably dismissed. Until recently, the idea of quantum physics in the brain had been rather, shall we say, niche.
The Mathematical Physicist, Roger Penrose, had made a rather blunt entrance to the field of Neuroscience with his book "The Emperor's New Mind". True Artificial Intelligence with traditional computers was impossible, he argued, as classical physics was not responsible for consciousness. Instead, he suggested that we should look to Quantum Physics, and went on to write another book which looked at possible mechanisms. The book was not well received amongst traditionalists in a number of fields, from Computer Science, to AI, Neuroscience and Robotics. In other words, pretty much anyone on whose toes he had stepped. Penrose's book encouraged the Pseudoscience crowd too ("The Tao of Neuroscience" et al.), no doubt increasing the opprobrium.
But science has a way of making traditional views obsolete, quickly. In November we saw the release of a paper (in Nature Communications, no less) by scientists from University College London, in which the mechanism by which plants convert sunlight to energy - photosynthesis - is explained through Quantum Entanglement. Now this is very much at room temperature, and where nature has evolved a useful technique once, it tends to do so again and again. This principle, Convergent Evolution, is a well observed and detailed phenomenon. So suddenly, the argument for the Quantum Mind becomes one hell of a lot stronger.
If someone was to show Quantum Entanglement happening in the brain, it would immediately explode the area of Consciousness Research. Neuroscience and Subatomic Physics would suddenly find themselves closely linked fields, and Richard Feynman's suggestion - that Physics would require a complete revolution in order to understand the nature of perception - would come true. The link between matter and consciousness would be documented and understood, and humanity would likely make most religions obsolete in the process. The technological implications would be unimaginable.
So those are the stakes. Does anyone care to take up the challenge?
1) Roger Penrose, The Emperor's New Mind: http://books.google.co.uk/books/about/The_Emperor_s_New_Mind.html?id=oI0...
2) Rick Grush and Patricia Smith Churchland, "Gaps in Penrose's Toilings": http://mind.ucsd.edu/papers/penrose/penrosehtml/penrose-text.html
3) Edward J. O’Reilly & Alexandra Olaya-Castro, Non-classicality of the molecular vibrations assisting exciton energy transfer at room temperature, from Nature Communications: http://www.nature.com/ncomms/2014/140109/ncomms4012/full/ncomms4012.html