Stuart Hameroff and Jonathan Powell: The Conscious Connection


We propose that a pathway to understanding consciousness might be found in identifying both sides of the bridge, and the nature of the connection, i.e. the bridge itself.  We attempt to describe the psycho-physical bridge using the Penrose-Hameroff Orch OR theory of consciousness. The underlying psycho/experiential/mental side that embeds proto-conscious experience is described in the physics of quantum geometry at the Planck scale, the most fundamental level of the universe. The physical/material side resides in the brain—specifically, in quantum electron dipole states mediating computations in microtubules and other biomolecular structures involved in consciousness. The connection between the two sides—the psycho-physical bridge—is a specific process called Penrose objective reduction (OR), a proposed threshold for quantum state reduction inherent in Planck scale quantum geometry.  Pan-protopsychism thus becomes the most accurate picture of our universe.

Orch OR describes how well-understood neuronal-level functions (e.g. axonal firings, synaptic transmissions, dendritic synchrony) ‘orchestrate’ quantum computations in microtubules within brain neuronal interiors. The quantum computations reduce to classical solutions by Penrose OR, connecting brain functions to Planck scale quantum geometry which may embed proto-conscious experiential qualities. Orch OR events are correlated with gamma synchrony EEG occurring roughly 40 times per second; conceptually, these may be seen as equivalent to Whitehead’s “occasions of experience.

The amount of potential information in Planck scale spin networks is vast; each Planck scale volume, or ‘pixel of reality,’ may be shaped by a huge variety of combinations of ‘edge’ lengths, number of spins per edge, and nonlocal interactions. In addition to the enormous potential variety in each Planck scale pixel, their sheer number compared to our macroscopic scale is enormous—there are roughly 10107 Planck volumes or pixels in the volume of a human brain, far greater than the number of particles in the universe.

The conscious agent is Orch OR.  It operates in microtubules within gamma-synchronized dendrites, generating e.g. 40 conscious moments per second. Each conscious moment, each occasion of experience, is, according to Penrose OR, an event or transition in spacetime geometry. Consciousness is a sequence of transitions, of ripples in fundamental spacetime geometry, connected to the brain through Orch OR.

The actions of microtubules are fantastically complex. They respond instantly in a vast amount of different ways to mental events in thousands of places throughout the neuron at once. How is this directed? How can anyone think that this is a random process? How can anyone not see that mental events direct these fantastically complex processes?



Fruit Fly Hippocampus


Is consciousness indeed quantized, composed of discrete events? Trained Buddhist meditators describe distinct ‘flickerings’ in their experience of reality. Buddhist texts portray consciousness as “momentary collections of mental phenomena,” and as “distinct, unconnected and impermanent moments which perish as soon as they arise.”

Mouse Hippocampus


Our normal conscious experience seems continuous, but so does a motion picture—even though we know it to be composed of discrete frames.  There is no doubt that we perceive motion pictures as continuous despite their actual ‘quantum’ structure.  Perhaps consciousness is the same.

Human Hippocampus