I happened to come across Shadows of the Mind: The Missing Science of Consciousness by Roger Penrose a few months back. I didn’t realize at the time he’d just won this year’s Nobel Prize for Physics. The book caught my attention when I was researching the possible connection between Quantum physics and the brain. It turned out Penrose had written it back in 1994 when there was less interest in the ‘science’ of consciousness. The absence of study was likely because we didn’t have the means to understand much about it. Since then more methods have emerged to measure what’s happening in the brain, more theories and definitely more books on the topic. As we design more artificial brain like systems, we inevitably find ourselves trying to understand this part of the brain’s functioning. What is consciousness and is there a physical mechanism involved?
To a layman, it seems feasible that quantum effects could be having an impact to the neurons in our brains and this could be affecting behavior. However, there are a lot of good scientific reasons why this couldn’t be the case. At least there is no evidence in existence yet.
This is why Penrose’s book is intriguing because given his very impressive credentials, he argues that there is a connection. In his justification, he makes the case that a type of quantum coherence is at play inside the inner workings of a neuron. This book is mostly about making the case for that – calling for a new science of consciousness.
It was a challenging read as there is a lot of maths and logical complexities to get your head around. I was intrigued by the use of Godel’s Incompleteness theorem as an argument that AI would never be able to ‘think’ like a human. Penrose invites you to skip the detailed maths section if you are convinced enough on the theory (I did). I was left wanting to know more as the last few chapters only gave a glimpse of what might be happening. The science of consciousness is going to need more than the experts of one particular field. It will need a combination of physicists, neuroscientists, psychologists, biologists and maybe more. I have a few recent books to read on this topic and will soon be sharing my findings. The story and science of consciousness continues…