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