Stuart Hameroff MD
Anesthesiologist, Quantum Consciousness Theorist and Researcher
Professor Emeritus, Departments of Anesthesiology and Psychology Banner-University Medical Center Director, The Center for Consciousness Studies, Colleges of Medicine, Science, and Social and Behavioral Sciences, The University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona
Consciousness studies, the Penrose-Hameroff “Orch OR” theory, quantum mechanical/general relativity approaches to consciousness, the role of microtubules in brain function including consciousness, molecular mechanisms of anesthetic gas molecules, brain modulation with transcranial ultrasound.
The nature of consciousness remains deeply mysterious and profoundly important, with existential, medical and spiritual implications. We know what it is like to be conscious – to have awareness, a conscious ‘mind’, but who, or what, are ‘we’ who know such things? How is the subjective nature of phenomenal experience – our ‘inner life’ - to be explained in scientific terms? What consciousness actually is, and how it comes about remain unknown.
The general assumption in modern science and philosophy - the ‘standard model’ - is that consciousness emerges from complex computation among brain neurons, computation whose currency is seen as neuronal firings (‘spikes’) and synaptic transmissions, equated with binary ‘bits’ in digital computing. But this approach fails to account for the nature of phenomenal experience, and relegates consciousness to epiphenomenal illusion, occurring too late for real-time conscious control of our seemingly conscious actions.
What is the origin of consciousness? The standard ‘brain-as-computer’ approach also presumes consciousness ‘emerged’ from complex neuronal computation during biological evolution, extrinsic to the makeup of the universe. On the other hand, spiritual and contemplative traditions, and scientists and philosophers embracing panpsychism, and the ‘Orch OR’ theory (see below) consider consciousness to be intrinsic, ‘woven into the fabric of the universe’, existing all along in the fine scale structure of reality. In these views, conscious precursors and Platonic forms preceded biology, prompting its origin and driving its evolution.
My research involves a theory of consciousness which can bridge these two approaches, a theory developed over the past 20 years with eminent British physicist Sir Roger Penrose, recipient of a 2020 Nobel prize in physics for his pioneering work on black holes. The Penrose-Hameroff theory of ‘orchestrated objective reduction’ (‘Orch OR’) suggests consciousness arises from quantum vibrations in protein polymers called microtubules inside brain neurons, vibrations which interfere, ‘collapse’ and resonate across scale, control neuronal firings, generate consciousness, and connect ultimately to ‘deeper order’ quantum processes in fundamental spacetime geometry.
Funded by the Templeton World Charity Foundation’s program “Accelerating Research in Consciousness”, the biological aspects of Orch OR are being tested in quantum biology labs at Princeton (Professor Greg Scholes) and Central Florida (Aristide Dogariu). If quantum interference in microtubule proteins are found at ambient temperatures, the samples will be exposed to anesthetic gases to see if they are dampened proportional to known anesthetic potencies in causing loss of consciousness and purposeful behavior in humans and animals. My collaborators Jack Tuszynski, Travis Craddock, Aarat Kalra and Bruce McIver are involved in this study which may also reveal the mechanism by which anesthetics act. With Jay Sanguinetti and John JB Allen in Psychology, we are studying how transcranial ultrasound (TUS) can be used noninvasively to resonate brain microtubules and treat mental, cognitive and neurological disorders.
I am also the lead organizer in the conference series “The Science of Consciousness”, and will teach a class in Consciousness Studies, a new program in the Honors College at the University of Arizona organized by my colleague, Regents Professor Tom Bever.
Many thanks to my assistant Abi Behar-Montefiore for maintaining this website, my collaborators and clinical colleagues for their efforts, and my wife Betsy Bigbee for her loving guidance and support.
Faculty website: UA Faculty