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Published on Jul 23, 2014
Consciousness defines our existence and reality. Most explanations portray the brain as a computer, with nerve cells ("neurons") and their synaptic connections acting as simple switches. However computation alone cannot explain why we have feelings and awareness, an "inner life." Hameroff and Penrose are famous for their quantum model of consciousness.
Stuart Hameroff MD grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, working summers at Republic Steel and Cleveland Stadium. At the University of Pittsburgh in the late 1960s, he studied chemistry, physics, mathematics and philosophy of mind. In medical school in the early 1970s at Hahnemann Medical College in Philadelphia, Hameroff spent a summer in a cancer research lab. Studying mitosis, he became interested in mitotic spindles and centrioles, composed of microtubules, polymers of the protein ‘tubulin’, and major components of the cytoskeleton within all cells. Comparing their lattice structure to Boolean computer matrices, he proposed that microtubules were the source of biological intelligence, and perhaps consciousness. Choosing an academic career, Hameroff trained in anesthesiology at the new University of Arizona Medical Center in Tucson, mentored by the department of anesthesiology’s founding chair, Dr Burnell Brown Jr, MD, PhD. After residency, Hameroff joined the anesthesiology faculty in 1977, a position he still holds as emeritus professor and practicing anesthesiologist. Hameroff’s research pursues theory - brain mechanisms of consciousness, memory, anesthetic action, quantum processing in microtubules, and clinical applications - transcranial ultrasound (TUS) for various brain disorders. In the mid 1990s Hameroff teamed with famed British physicist Sir Roger Penrose to develop a quantum theory of consciousness (‘orchestrated objective reduction’, ‘Orch OR’) based on microtubule quantum computing. Highly controversial and harshly criticized, Orch OR is now supported by evidence, e.g. that anesthetics act in quantum channels in microtubules, and that microtubules have multi-scalar resonances, e.g. in megahertz. Hameroff and Penrose wrote a 20 year review of Orch OR in 2014.