The research could help us better understand how the brain works and lead to more advanced quantum computers.
Research from Trinity College Dublin suggests our brains use quantum computation – a discovery that could shed light on human consciousness.
The researchers said quantum brain processes could explain why humans still outperform supercomputers in areas such as learning, decision making and handling unforeseen circumstances.
The research team adapted an idea developed to prove the existence of quantum gravity to explore the human brain.
The study’s co-author, Dr Christian Kerskens, explained that this involves taking known quantum systems that interact with an unknown system.
“If the known systems entangle, then the unknown must be a quantum system, too,” Kerskens said. “It circumvents the difficulties to find measuring devices for something we know nothing about.”
In the study published in the Journal of Physics Communications, the team used proton spins from the fluid within brains as the known system. These proton spins can be identified using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
By using a specific MRI designed to seek entangled spins, the team found MRI signals that resemble a form of EEG signals, which measure electrical brain currents.
These signals are normally not detectable by an MRI, so the scientists believe they could only observe them because the nuclear proton spins in the brain were entangled.
“If entanglement is the only possible explanation here then that would mean that brain processes must have interacted with the nuclear spins, mediating the entanglement between the nuclear spins,” Kerskens said. “As a result, we can deduce that those brain functions must be quantum.”
The researchers said confirming their results would likely require advanced multidisciplinary approaches.
If the results are confirmed, however, this research could enhance our understanding of how the brain works and, potentially, how it can be maintained or healed. The researchers said the findings could also lead to more advanced quantum computers.
“Because these brain functions were also correlated to short-term memory performance and conscious awareness, it is likely that those quantum processes are an important part of our cognitive and conscious brain functions,” Kerskens said.
“Our experiments, performed only 50 metres away from the lecture theatre where Schrödinger presented his famous thoughts about life, may shed light on the mysteries of biology and on consciousness which scientifically is even harder to grasp.”
The research project was supported by Science Foundation Ireland and the Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience, where Kerskens is lead physicist.
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