Sunday, October 28, 2007

Quantum Philosophy

Just posted this to Stuart Hameroff's Blog, at

The quantum shockwave that hit physics in the 20th Century is hitting biology in the 21st.

Can you say, “Paradigm shift”?

If Stuart is right, and biological processes as diverse as vision and photosynthesis, let alone consciousness per se, are driven by (or receive organizing information from) the funda-mental level of the universe, then we have to wonder what other processes rely on, or actualize, the Planck scale’s Platonic forms. While Stuart and other professional researchers nail down the technical evidence and arguments, I am more interested in the speculative philosophy that will complement quantum biology.

For example, it seems that if some behaviors of unicellular organisms are influenced by quantum information processing—that is, if Stuart is right—then we’re justified in asking what the range of such influence might be. If we accept the premise that biological metabolisms access quantum information, then we may as well admit that we’re in a whole new ballgame. For example, Stuart’s presentation on cilia got me thinking . . . .

The light-processing (quantum-information-extracting) cilia in the rods and cones of a human eye function like the light-sensitive flagella of protozoa, as Stuart explains in his presentation. What he does not mention, though I assume he is aware of it, is that the eukaryotic protozoa that possess cilia and flagella likely received those organelles from bacteria—spirochaetes—during endosymbiosis. This is Lynn Margulis’ revision of evolution theory’s model of the emergence of eukaryotic cells. Margulis proposed years ago that the first complex cells developed from symbiotic communities of bacteria. Initially rebuked by the scientific community, she persevered, and, with new techniques of genetic analysis supporting her ideas, she prevailed. The Margulis model of bacterial endosymbiosis is generally accepted as the most plausible account of the evolution of eukaryotic cells.

Is a prokaryotic endosymbiosis that produces the more complex eukaryotic cells best explained by purely chemical operations or by formative inputs from other souces, such as Platonic information at the Planck scale? Here’s where we hit a very sensitive scientific nerve, because we—Hameroff, et al.—propose that organisms receive information from sources other than those mediated by the senses. A conventional scientist would dismiss the very idea as being an invocation of supernaturalism, of extrasensory perception—a violation of the scientific doctrine of empiricism.

Any attempt to link the behaviors of organisms to information input from a nonlocal source (presumably Platonic information is not limited by the speed of light, because it does not propagate, but simply exists fully accessible at/from every location in spacetime) inevitably will start to resemble a doctrine of intelligent design, with the Platonic forms playing the role of the intelligent designer. This would seem to deliver to scientists a trump card that corresponds to the God card of religionists.

If any natural process eludes a precise accounting in terms of all its causal events and mechanisms, religionists have always been able to point to God’s influence, divine intervention, “Intelligent Design.” As quantum biology develops, scientists increasingly will be able to invoke their own God of the gaps: Platonic information from the Planck scale. This revision to the philosophy of science not only opens the door to the spiritual dimension, as Stuart points out, but also to teleological models of evolution and human history, such as the one developed at


  1. I read the post at and found it interesting. I was curious about the terms "Planck scale Platonic forms" or, as you wrote in your blog "Platonic information at the Plank scale". I am having a discussion on one of the Naturalism boards with a fellow that seems to be thinking along the lines as you. The writers he referenced were Steven Wright and James Gardner. I happened across your site in an attempt to read a little bit more about his side of things and get a better understanding of his thoughts and the theories that are out there. I am and have always been sympathetic to Lynn Margulis's theory and I notice her and it mentioned in the blog. If you would, and I appreciate everyone has time constrains, point me in the right direction to some background to the "Planck Scale Platonic Forms" and what role they have, if any, interacting with matter and what the mechanism of intereaction is, if known. Are these Platonic forms that are accessed geometrical in nature, in other words, simply determine the form that the matter, in this case biological processes, will take or is there some further contribution. Very interesting post and look forward to hearing back form you.



  2. Rich, Your first stop should be Stuart Hameroff's web site.

    Beyond that, you might look into Whitehead's process philosophy. A good resource is the Center for Process Studies. In Whiteheads' terminology, the "Platonic Forms" are "Eternal Objects".

    The Platonic forms, or Eternal Objects, include geometrical forms, but also all qualia. Their interaction with matter occurs during the collapse of the quantum state vector, the reduction of the possibilities of each quantum superposition to a determinate actuality.

    It seems to me that subjectivity is the only nondeterministic agent available to act causally to select from among the possibilities inherent in the superposition the actuality that gets rendered as an empirical fact (a locus of matter in spacetime). What else could it be?

    So, in the Penrose-Hameroff model, each quantum collapse is also an instance of consciousness, or subjectivity.

    If the material on this blog caught your interest, check out the main site:

    I can't find anything on Steven Wright or James Garner. who are they?

  3. Thanks for the reply and I apologize for the delay in responding. I took a brief look at the sight and what little I saw caught my eye. I agree that the evolution/intelligent design argument is a red herring; there is something more fascinating going on. Interestingly enough, the hypothesis at the beginning of the page has been rolling around in my head:

    Stars constitute a genus of organism.
    The stellar life cycle includes a larval phase.
    Biological life constitutes the larval phase of the stellar life cycle.

    I think there is a lot of real estate in those three statements. I am looking forward to exploring the rest of the site in detail and will hopefully contribute something on the blogs. At the very least it will be interesting to explore the thoughts of people that have devoted some time to fleshing out that hypothesis. Alan Watts, interestingly enough, was the first to put that idea in my head. I was listening to a recording of one of his talks on evolution and he said (I am paraphrasing), "The only certain thing one can say regarding the evolution of life is that if you shine sunlight on those rocks, they eventually come alive." A rather interesting quote, don't you think?

    I'll be sure to check out Stuart's site as well as the Center for Process Studies site that you recommended after I go through the StarLarvae site. I look forward to a lot of interesting and productive exchanges in the future.

    James Garder and Robert (not Steven) Wright are proponents of directed evolution.

    Here is a good overview of Wright's views:

    Here is a good overview of Gardner's views:



  4. Thanks for the references to Wright (not deadpan Steven) and Gardner. I had stumbled onto the Biocosm site a while ago and forgot about it. Their work and mine sit on a continuum that ranges from abstract to concrete. Wright’s Nonzero model is at the abstract end, Gardner is somewhere in the middle, and star larvae sits further toward the concrete end.

    I welcome scientific models that leave room for teleology, but I’m less interested when they rely heavily on information theory, game theory, and that sort of thing. I want an understanding that subordinates those ideas to more specific physical processes. It’s one thing to say that as we observe natural and human history we see a growing complexity that looks like a developmental process. It’s another thing to, as I have tried to do with star larvae, get to another level of specificity in nailing down the developmental process in terms of the physical and biological sciences.

    In other words, I hope that I have taken a step toward presenting an explanatory model rather than presenting merely a descriptive one.

    One of the problems that people like us face is the issue of theology. As scientifically minded people, we’ll tend to recoil from invocations of God. But we need to get over our squeamishness, or theophobia. That’s not to say that we adopt some conventional theology. We have to muster creativity and discernment to pull apart the olde theologies, discard what we don’t want, and add in the insights of scientific modernity.

    I’ve neglected this blog lately, but plan to get back to it. Thanks for taking the time. Hit me with tough questions. I like being provoked.