Oct 302012
 

Errrrr…

Near-death experiences occur when the soul leaves the nervous system and enters the universe, claim two quantum physics experts

It is based on a quantum theory of consciousness he and British physicist Sir Roger Penrose have developed which holds that the essence of our soul is contained inside structures called microtubules within brain cells.

They have argued that our experience of consciousness is the result of quantum gravity effects in these microtubules, a theory which they dubbed orchestrated objective reduction (Orch-OR).

Thus it is held that our souls are more than the interaction of neurons in the brain. They are in fact constructed from the very fabric of the universe – and may have existed since the beginning of time.

I think this is the very epitome of “untestable hypothesis,” at least for anytime in the near future.

The “soul” is one of those ideas that seems to exist not because there’s evidence to back it up, but because it’s something virtually everyone really, really wants to exist. But it’s so wrapped up in religious dogma that any effort to scientifically prove the existence of the soul is bound to irritate just a whole lot of people. Face it: if *any* physical proof (“proof,” not “evidence”) comes to light, it will show *numerous* religions to be wrong. For example, let’s say that “humans have a soul” is proved. They the Quantum Soul Detector is pointed at a cat. If the cat turns out to have a soul, then many Christians (Jews? Muslims?) will be P.O.’ed. If the cat turns out *not* to have a soul, Buddhists and Hindus will, I think, be P.O.’ed. If the soul is shown to hang around after death, or shown to evaporate after death, or shown to “transition” after death, or shown to be reborn after death, a whole lot of people will be P.O.’ed.

And if the quantum researchers proposing this theory are shown to be crackpots, or just plain wrong, a lot of people will be P.O.’ed. More will probably be happy, of course. Given the rather dire religious implications for *any* sort of proof, I suspect a great many people would prefer it if any sort of empirical proof was never announced. To me the hypothesis these fellers are touting sounds like just so much handwavy gibberish.

 Posted by at 11:36 am
  • or worse, we determine the soul hangs around but you end up stuffed in a containment unit in the basement of an old firehouse…

    • Anonymous

      Heh. If you want MASS HYSTERIA, prove the existence of souls… and
      then prove that you can use technology to trap, manipulate or destroy
      them.

      Can you *imagine* the stark terror that a dictatorship could inspire
      if they had the technology to do such… or just convinced people that
      they had such ability?

      • Bill H.

        Aren’t there already at least a couple of very large organizations that claim they can influence the disposition/destination of the soul after death? And are happy to do so for a ‘reasonable’ fee?

        • Anonymous

          Well, the general claim is that they can only *influence,* that in the end “it is up to you.” In Judochrislam, it’s a binary outcome… you go to heaven or you go to hell based on your behaviors and beliefs. But if technological means, even if that requires technology of the kind that would see a Tipler time machine as a plaything, were able to trap, shred or destroy a soul, that would be a different sort of thing.

          Now, what if you had an utter scumbag who’d lived his whole life evilly, and he knew that he could step into a machine that would evaporate his soul? Rather than live in fear of eternal damnation, the idea of being able to live it up for a few decades and then get snuffed out like a candle flame might be damned appealing to some pretty awful people. And if the technology could be weaponized, turned into a sort of neutron bomb that would evaporate every soul in a twenty mile radius while doing no physical damage… boy howdy would *that* be the sort of thing SPECTRE would like to get their hands on.

          And then the question becomes: if the bomb goes off, and has no more physical effect than a flashbulb, what differences would people actually notice? Would those at ground zero drop dead? Go insane? Comatose? Turn into zombies? Be turned into sociopaths or psychopaths or socialists or some other “soulless” type? Or be apparently unchanged?

          And what about people on the outer edges of the “blast radius?”

          Not something I’m exactly worried about, but it might make for some interesting sci-fi/fantasy.

  • Bill H.

    Microtubules? Filled with midichlorians?

    • Anonymous

      As per today’s other major sci-fi announcement, henceforth those are now known as “mickeychlorians.”

  • Murgatroyd

    I think it’s a lot more likely that cats have souls and humans don’t.

  • Nick O’Time

    This article is a little misleading. Sir Roger Penrose has collaborated with Stuart Hameroff on large sections of this theory but I do not think he goes so far as to speculate on the existence of a soul that can continue after the death of the body. However, I would not lightly dismiss anything Penrose says on the subject as he is well respected in the physics community and has collaborated with some of the best minds in the field, including Hawking. The part that Penrose does endorse is the idea that any classical computational computer (i.e. Turing Machine) can *not* achieve consciousness (he has rather involved mathematical proofs of this involving Godel’s Completeness Theorem) and that something unique is going on in Human brains and in fact the brains of all living creatures to varying degrees. He does postulate cellular microtubles as the site of a quantum process and has his Orchestrated Reduction process as the proposed mechanism. If nothing else his related Objective Reduction theory cleans up some of the loose ends in quantum physics and nails down a exact mechanism for quantum state collapse, something that has not been rigorously addressed previously.

    If you really want to know what Penrose is thinking on this I suggest reading “Shadows of the Mind” which he released in 1994. If nothing else it will give you a good grounding of what we don’t know about consciousness and why current theory falls short.

  • Dean

    I’m reminded of Heinlein’s “Beyond This Horizon”, in which humanity finally decides to do exactly what Scott is concerned about — to apply scientific analysis to the whole “Is there an afterlife? What happens when we die?” questions. As I recall, the story ended with it being “reincarnation”, but the “birth trauma” erased any characteristics of the previous psyche. A fun read, but I never thought anyone would apply serious science to the issue during my lifetime. Huh. Guess I was wrong! 🙂

  • publiusr

    Shades of Karl Pilkington, I think this is about as good as it will get:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brain_transplant#Partial_brain_transplant

    More frightening would be having ones connectome dissected, where you are mentally torn apart in order to see what goes where, so later studies can reproduce astronauts on site once long duration space craft achieve orbit to avoid having to be filled with warm meat. I would still volunteer for the sake of “duty and humanity.”