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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

“Prof studies soul, cerebrum”

Stuart Hameroff has focused on the study of consciousness and its mysteries for more than 20 years.

Anesthesiology professor and director of the Center for Consciousness Studies at UA, Hameroff’s interest in the human mind dates back to his college years, when he took a philosophy class that delved into the teachings of Descartes and Plato. Since then, he’s wanted to understand why human beings are conscious.

His research focuses on microtubules, the structures that comprise the skeleton and the nerve system of a cell, with massive information capacity. Because of the way the 100 billion neurons in our brains work, acting like bits on a computer, many people suggest that once a computer reaches the level of neurons in capacity they’ll be conscious.

Hameroff disagrees. “”I think consciousness is more than just computation. Otherwise fancy computers would be conscious,”” he said.

In the 1990s, he teamed up with physicist Roger Penrose to formulate a theory that combined microtubules and quantum processes in the brain. Connecting it to the fundamental levels of the universe, where they suggest information and values such as wisdom are found, they built their theory of how consciousness is construed. In the Penrose/Hameroff theory, consciousness is connected to what the universe is actually made of.

The theory was not well received among many scholars because of its religious connotation and was categorized as “”mystical,”” he said.

In the last few years, new findings have strengthened their study. Quantum coherence is now being found in various biological systems, including microtubules, and quantum biology is becoming a separate recognized field.

“”But it’s still a controversial theory and still a minority. Most people still believe the brain is a computer and that’s all you need to know,”” Hameroff said.

Research in microtubules has many implications. They’re connected to Alzheimer’s disease, and studies are trying to enhance the cells to help with memory loss and chronic pain by applying vibration directly to the skull.

Technology advances have helped in analyzing levels of awareness. Studies have been looking at near-death experiences trying to understand it. In one study, 17 percent of patients who had cardiac arrests said to have experienced the white light, floating above their bodies before they came back. Although some in the field deem it as hallucinations, “”it’s remarkably consistent from patient to patient,”” Hameroff said.

Brain monitors connected to dying patients have shown a burst of activity, meaning consciousness, right after patients have died.

“”After they cut the aorta, there was a burst of activity,”” Hameroff said of observing a brain-dead patient after their death. Most people can’t explain how without a heart beat and in such poor state of health the phenomenon happened. He believes it could be a sign of the soul leaving the body, as a consequence of the quantum effect.

“”How that happens when the brain is basically metabolically dead is a big mystery,”” Hameroff said.

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