Knowledge of physics and mathematics is NOT required. Basic school level will be quite enough. What you'll learn The structure and function of our universe Basic structural levels of matter in the micro world Basic structural levels of matter at a megascale Objective laws governing the physical world Methods in physics which allow us to obtain knowledge of our universe.
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Why particle physics matters | symmetry magazine
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This is caused by the interactions of a quantum object with its surrounding environment, through which the "quantumness" leaks away. Nerve signals are electrical pulses, caused by the passage of electrically-charged atoms across the walls of nerve cells. If one of these atoms was in a superposition and then collided with a neuron, Tegmark showed that the superposition should decay in less than one billion billionth of a second.
It takes at least ten thousand trillion times as long for a neuron to discharge a signal. However, Penrose is unmoved by those arguments and stands by the Orch-OR hypothesis. And despite Tegmark's prediction of ultra-fast decoherence in cells, other researchers have found evidence for quantum effects in living beings. Some argue that quantum mechanics is harnessed by migratory birds that use magnetic navigation , and by green plants when they use sunlight to make sugars in photosynthesis.
Besides, the idea that the brain might employ quantum tricks shows no sign of going away. For there is now another, quite different argument for it. View image of Could phosphorus sustain a quantum state? In a study published in , physicist Matthew Fisher of the University of California at Santa Barbara argued that the brain might contain molecules capable of sustaining more robust quantum superpositions.
Specifically, he thinks that the nuclei of phosphorus atoms may have this ability. Phosphorus atoms are everywhere in living cells. They often take the form of phosphate ions, in which one phosphorus atom joins up with four oxygen atoms.
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Such ions are the basic unit of energy within cells. Much of the cell's energy is stored in molecules called ATP, which contain a string of three phosphate groups joined to an organic molecule. When one of the phosphates is cut free, energy is released for the cell to use. This media cannot be played on your device.
Cells have molecular machinery for assembling phosphate ions into groups and cleaving them off again. Fisher suggested a scheme in which two phosphate ions might be placed in a special kind of superposition called an "entangled state". The phosphorus nuclei have a quantum property called spin, which makes them rather like little magnets with poles pointing in particular directions. In an entangled state, the spin of one phosphorus nucleus depends on that of the other. Put another way, entangled states are really superposition states involving more than one quantum particle.
Fisher says that the quantum-mechanical behaviour of these nuclear spins could plausibly resist decoherence on human timescales. He agrees with Tegmark that quantum vibrations, like those postulated by Penrose and Hameroff, will be strongly affected by their surroundings "and will decohere almost immediately". But nuclear spins do not interact very strongly with their surroundings. All the same, quantum behaviour in the phosphorus nuclear spins would have to be "protected" from decoherence.
This might happen, Fisher says, if the phosphorus atoms are incorporated into larger objects called "Posner molecules". These are clusters of six phosphate ions, combined with nine calcium ions. There is some evidence that they can exist in living cells, though this is currently far from conclusive. I decided In Posner molecules, Fisher argues, phosphorus spins could resist decoherence for a day or so, even in living cells. That means they could influence how the brain works. The idea is that Posner molecules can be swallowed up by neurons. Once inside, the Posner molecules could trigger the firing of a signal to another neuron, by falling apart and releasing their calcium ions.
Because of entanglement in Posner molecules, two such signals might thus in turn become entangled: a kind of quantum superposition of a "thought", you might say. Lithium drugs are widely used for treating bipolar disorder. They work , but nobody really knows how. But then he came across a paper reporting that lithium drugs had different effects on the behaviour of rats, depending on what form — or "isotope" — of lithium was used. On the face of it, that was extremely puzzling.
In chemical terms, different isotopes behave almost identically, so if the lithium worked like a conventional drug the isotopes should all have had the same effect. But Fisher realised that the nuclei of the atoms of different lithium isotopes can have different spins.
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This quantum property might affect the way lithium drugs act. For example, if lithium substitutes for calcium in Posner molecules, the lithium spins might "feel" and influence those of phosphorus atoms, and so interfere with their entanglement. At this point, Fisher's proposal is no more than an intriguing idea. But there are several ways in which its plausibility can be tested, starting with the idea that phosphorus spins in Posner molecules can keep their quantum coherence for long periods.
Why particle physics matters
That is what Fisher aims to do next. All the same, he is wary of being associated with the earlier ideas about "quantum consciousness", which he sees as highly speculative at best. Physicists are not terribly comfortable with finding themselves inside their theories. Most hope that consciousness and the brain can be kept out of quantum theory, and perhaps vice versa. After all, we do not even know what consciousness is, let alone have a theory to describe it.
It does not help that there is now a New Age cottage industry devoted to notions of " quantum consciousness ", claiming that quantum mechanics offers plausible rationales for such things as telepathy and telekinesis. As a result, physicists are often embarrassed to even mention the words "quantum" and "consciousness" in the same sentence.
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But setting that aside, the idea has a long history.