An article in this week’s New Scientist raises the possibility that quantum effects go on in the brain. No one understands quantum physics but, then, no-one understands how consciousness occurs in the brain either. It is for this reason that three of this country’s major scientists think there’s a link between the two. These are Roger Penrose, a polymath and mathematician of Oxford University, Johnjoe McFadden, molecular biologist and Jim Al-Khalili, physicist, both of Surrey University.
Considering we use quantum effects in computer transistors and since nature has had 3 billion years in which to develop almost every possible effect using the standard laws of chemistry and physics, it would be odd if evolution had not used quantum effects also. And, indeed, it has done so. Without electron tunnelling (one of the strange effects of quantum laws) photosynthesis wouldn’t work in plants, without it some animals (e.g. birds, bats, butterflies) wouldn’t be able to migrate for thousands of miles (by ‘seeing’ earth’s magnetic inclination) and, probably (though not yet conclusively proved), genes couldn’t transfer their coding without strange quantum effects going on.
The great paradox of consciousness is that, although I think I have consciousness, I can’t prove that anybody else does. They may just be very clever automatons who are pretending to be people. This tempts those who devote their careers to developing so-called ‘intelligent computers’ (Artificial Intelligence), as also those who have been trying to make a quantum computer — to presume that either sort of computers should feel conscious. But, despite 50 years of effort, both groups have not succeeded yet. Both sorts of computers may be as impossible to achieve in the same way that quantum physics and consciousness have been impossible to understand.
So the question must be left open for the time being!