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January 29, 2011, 2:30 PM

The Nature of Reality

Participants: Mark Alford, Deepak Chopra (moderator), Stuart Firestein, Stuart Hameroff, Menas Kafatos

In the concluding chapter of The Road to Reality, mathematician Roger Penrose asks, "What is reality?" He goes on to state, "I do not believe that we have yet found the true 'road to reality,' despite the extraordinary progress that has been made over two and half millennia, particularly in the last few centuries. Some fundamentally new insights are certainly needed.... Some readers may still take the view that the road itself may be a mirage. Others might take the view that the very notion of a 'physical reality with a truly objective nature, independent of how we might choose to look at it, is itself a pipe dream." Penrose's inquiry provides the parameters for this roundtable—can physics and mathematics fully describe reality? Is it possible that reality will never be fully described within a mathematical framework, thus questioning whether mental processes and consciousness can be fully explained within the physics/mathematics paradigm? Is it possible that a future, yet undiscovered physics/mathematics will accurately define reality?

(Please Note: This event is free and open to the public. It is recommended that you arrive at least 20 minutes early to get a seat. Please do not hold seats for late-comers. Additional seating will be available for a large-screen simulcast one floor down from the event space.)

Mark Alford is a professor of theoretical physics at Washington University in Saint Louis. He has held research positions at U.C. Santa Barbara, Cornell University, the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, and M.I.T., as well as a lectureship at Glasgow University. In 2005 he received an Outstanding Junior Investigator award from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Deepak Chopra is the founder and chairman of the Chopra Foundation, founder and co-chairman of the Chopra Center for Wellbeing in Carlsbad, California, and Senior Scientist with The Gallup Organization. He is the author of over fifty-five books, including eighteen New York Times bestsellers, on mind-body health, spirituality, and peace. Peace Is the Way received the Religion and Spirituality Quill Award in 2005 and The Book of Secrets: Unlocking the Hidden Dimensions of Your Life was awarded the Grand Prize in the 2005 Nautilus Awards. Chopra's latest New York Times bestsellers include Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting the Soul and Muhammad: A Story of the Last Prophet. In 1999 Chopra was called one of the top 100 heroes and icons of the century by Time Magazine.

Stuart Firestein is Professor of Neurobiology and Chair of the Department of Biological Sciences at Columbia University. He has received numerous awards and has been a McKnight Scholar and Whitehall Fellow. Most recently he received the prestigious Linville-Wright Award for Research in Olfaction. His work has received support from the Human Frontiers Science Program, NATO, the Office of Naval Research and the National Institutes of Health, as well as private foundations and industry. Dr. Firestein's laboratory investigates the sense of smell, attempting to understand the molecular, genetic and physiological mechanisms that make the vertebrate nose the best chemical detector on the planet. He has published more than 50 papers in scientific journals and is the author of several popular articles and textbook chapters on smell.

Stuart Hameroff is Professor of Anesthesiology and Psychology and Director of the Center for Consciousness Studies at the University of Arizona. In the mid-'90s Hameroff developed a theory of consciousness with Sir Roger Penrose. This theory proposes a connection between neuronal processes in the brain and the most fundamental level of reality, i.e., Planck scale geometry described through quantum gravity. In recent years Hameroff has considered the implications of this theory for Eastern spiritual traditions, suggesting that consciousness occurring in non-local, holographic spacetime geometry may conceivably account for various so-called mystical phenomena, including awareness of a deeper reality, interconnectedness by entanglement, and afterlife.

Menas Kafatos is the Fletcher Jones Professor of Computational Physics at Chapman University, in Orange, CA. He also holds the positions of Vice Chancellor for Special Projects and Dean of the Schmid College of Science. His research interests are general relativity and cosmology; consciousness and quantum theory; Earth system science; hazards and climate change; data systems; and computational science. He has written numerous articles and books on quantum theory, its relationship to consciousness, and approaches to the development of what he terms "integrative science." He is author or co-author of more than 300 articles and 15 books, including The Conscious Universe, The Non-Local Universe, Looking in–Seeing out: Consciousness and Cosmos, and Principles of Integrative Science.

This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council.


Discussion Board

This forum allows for an ongoing discussion of the above Philoctetes event. You may use this space to share your thoughts or to pose questions for panelists. An attempt will be made to address questions during the live event or as part of a continued online dialogue.
Renee Pisarz says:
I am aware of a "greater reality" I experienced a spontaneous kundalini spiritual awakening after my 18 year old son passed suddenly in 2006. Needless to say, whatever my beliefs were before this happened, I totally went through a transformation and healed after the physical loss of a child. I am grateful that I embraced the light and had faith in what was happening to me. I continue to have mystical and afterlife experiences and precognitive dreams. In an altered state of consciousness, with my eyes open I see into other higher dimensions. I know my brain changed and I opened up all my spiritual senses. I receive telepathic thoughts in a conscious state, and also in a dream state. Because I feel and see subtle energy, I am training to be an energy healer. I know this is my soul purpose. All my chakras opened, and I see a huge sphere of white light above my crown chakra, that I can hold in the palm of my hand. What is really interesting, is all the synchronitcities, with my son's special number 54. A number that has been with him since he was a child. After being in this higher level of consciousness, I look at the clock and it always has the time ending with the number 54. I strongly believe, that I am able to vibrate at the same frequency as my son, or does it mean that I am linking with my higher self? I always get some telepathic thought with my own voice. I am able to feel my son's energy on the side of my face, where I always felt it when he was physcially present. I still have allot of questions. All I know is that we are multi dimensional beings, and I healed and have far greater wisdom with the grace of God. This is a gift, and nothing surprises me anymore, I learned to accept everything I have been receiving. I would appreciate any comments you might have. Thank you so very much.

Renee Pisarz
dana forbes says:
ana forbes says:
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My comment is addressed to Renee Pisarz. Your brief account of your healing and awakening is moving indeed. What compelled me to comment here however, are the references to the synchronicities surrounding the number 54. This number has been an extraordinary companion on my journey for many many years now. I have heard many stories of people seeing other numbers such as 11 or 22 frequently in what might be synchronistic manifestations, but I, until reading your comments, have been the only case I have heard of, of receiving guidance from the number 54. Over the last several years, the frequency and uncanniness of my numbers occurrences has been increasing steadily. And I have had uncanny insights into its particular meaning for me. So needless to say I am intrigued to read that someone else has been led by this numeric star.
Dana Forbes
Renee Pisarz says:
I truly believe we are not alone with this. I know this was a soul contract between myself and my son. I have no doubt. My theory is that at this time, many people are awakening to a higher level of consciousness, in order to survive the difficult times. This is a global shift in consciousness, and transformation. We are going into a new age of more compassion and opening up our hearts and mind. This is suppose to be this way. It is all part of evolution. What happened to me, is extreme from trauma. All I know is that number 54 or maybe 9 has been with me, and has been a guiding light into the unknown.

jeanne c says:
please pass on this news about the protein cryptochrome for possible comment:
It’s been proposed that birds’ eyes contain entanglement-based compasses. Conclusive proof doesn’t yet exist, but multiple lines of evidence suggest it. Findings like this one (in a new paper in "Physical Review Letters",)underscore just how sophisticated those compasses may be. “How can a living system have evolved to protect a quantum state as well — no, better — than we can do in the lab with these exotic molecules?” asked quantum physicist Simon Benjamin of Oxford University and the National University of Singapore, a co-author of the new study. “That really is an amazing thing.” Many animals — including not only birds, but some mammals, fish, reptiles, even crustaceans and insects — navigate by sensing the direction of Earth’s magnetic field. Physicist Klaus Schulten of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign proposed in the late 1970s that bird navigation relied on some geomagnetically sensitive, as-yet-unknown biochemical reaction taking place in their eyes. Research since then has revealed the existence of special optical cells containing a protein called cryptochrome. When a photon enters the eye, it hits cryptochrome, giving a boost of energy to electrons that exist in a state of quantum entanglement. One of the electrons migrates a few nanometers away, where it feels a slightly different magnetic field than its partner. Depending on how the magnetic field alters the electron’s spin, different chemical reactions are produced. In theory, the products of many such reactions across a bird’s eye could create a picture of Earth’s magnetic field as a varying pattern of light and dark. However, these quantum states are notoriously fragile. Even in laboratory systems, atoms are cooled to near–absolute-zero temperatures to maintain entanglement for more than a few thousandths of a second. Biological systems would seem too warm and too wet to hold quantum states for long, yet that’s exactly what they appear to do.
jeanne c says:
well, god is the details as Planck would say, so the problem of evil - why, what benefit to evolution?

thank you to all, i've learned much from you.
Criss Tareyton says:
First I must say that Physics and Mathematical framework can not and will not be able to describe reality. Reality is an awaking of the spirit and one must enter into the relm of a spiritual transformation in order to graps reality. I began my spiritual quest in 2001 and since then I have experience episodes of enlightenment. Meaning Jah breathes life into my soul and I feel reality. I must say that being an empth that experience is very hard to explain in words, and in mathematical and physics quotations.
melanie mccool says:
I would like to address my comment to Renee. Our 18 year old son just died in April. I had no powerful kundalini awakening experience, but gradually am working to stay in touch with the reality of now and the spirit and soul of our son. Keeping one foot in the "householder" existence and one in the realm of the greater universe is challenging. Anyway, best wishes to you for moving forward in your work and developing your gift.
Mary Ludwig says:
Where this dialogue seems to fall short, in my opinion, is the recognition that, as creatures, we cannot fully comprehend reality. From a standpoint of Christian anthropology, what differentiates us humans from other animals, is that unique capacity for reason. However, this discussion seemed to avoid a classical Judeo-Christian notion of a personal God as "Creator" and hence our fundamental disposition as "creatures" and seemed to assert, perhaps unwittingly, a schism between science and religion.
Renee Pisarz says:

We all have the gift of intuition. I wrote a mini book, Angel 54 A Mother's Sacred Journey from grief to healing. It is available on Amazon. I was guided to write this book after my son made his transition. It is my hope to help others after loss. Check it out, I know you can read some of it online. I do hope you connect with your son, ask for guidance.

Stuart Dambrot says:
A fantastic event. It was personally very gratifying to add something of value to the conversation. To that end, here are links to the research I mentioned:

Quantum Biology: marine algae using quantum superposition-based photosynthesis:
research paper: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v463/n7281/full/nature08811.html

Quantum Entanglement: 10 billion entangled qbits embedded in silicon (researchers used high magnetic fields and low temperatures to produce entanglement between the electron and the nucleus of an atom of phosphorous embedded in a silicon crystal):
research paper: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nature09696.html
research group: http://qsd.physics.ox.ac.uk/

Stuart Mason Dambrot
Consilientist | Futurist

Mark Alford says:
Stuart Dambrot: Thank you for your contribution and for providing links to the research papers.

If you read the abstracts of the papers you will see that the photosynthesis result was for molecules that were only 5nm apart, and the qbits embedded in silicon were at a temperature of about 3K.

So these experiments do not seem relevant to quantum coherence in brain processes, which would have to occur at human body temperature (over 300K), *and* be maintained over distances of at least the size of a neuron (thousands of nm).
Stuart Dambrot says:

I appreciated your input at the Philoctetes event as well.

If you understood the importance of the papers, however, you would surely realize that

(1) replicable detection of quantum processes in living biological systems is tremendously promising in and of itself; 5nm is a significant distance for superposition/collapse to occur; that the process occurs in living systems at 180K; and that it has evolved (as in selected by Darwinian evolutionary processes) differently in various species within the genus. Perhaps most surprising, however, is your weak induction that this particular confirmation of quantum processes in biological systems is irrelevant to the panel discussion because of temperature and size differentials between marine algae and neurons. This is like continuing to assert the historically prevalent assumption that quantum events do not obtain at higher scales, nor at biological temperatures, despite the evidence presented in the paper under discussion.

Would you also state, for example, that genetic research in laboratory mice is irrelevant to the potential subsequent development of related human treatments because of the differences in biological environments and genome expression? Of course not, since those differences are acknowledged as part of the research protocol, and the assertion would be absurd. I suggest you consider that until we determine through analogous research that quantum events are or are not present in neuronal function, and if they are, whether or not they are involved with sapient consciousness, the jury is and - given the revelatory and often counter-intuitive history of scientific discovery, and if we are true to the scientific method - must remain out.

(2) the importance of the entanglement research is clearly found in the number of qbits embedded (of course through magnetic fields and low temperatures), given that roughly one year ago the closest achievement was 100 qbits - and that was only a design.

Recall that Einstein also said, "I believe in intuition and inspiration. Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution. It is, strictly speaking, a real factor in scientific research."
Mark Alford says:

We already know that quantum coherent effects can occur at high temperatures, but only on distance scales of a few nanometers (the size of a molecule): that is the basis of all chemical bonding! And we already know that quantum coherent effects can occur over long distances, but only at very low temperatures (a few Kelvin).

The problem with quantum coherence in brain processes is that it needs *both*: quantum coherence involving millions of molecules, over distances of thousands of nanometers, at temperatures of 300K. All evidence so far indicates that this would be extremely hard to achieve, like building ice sculptures in a furnace. Here is some recent literature on the difficulties involved:

I agree that one must not close one's mind: a future experiment may surprise us. But the experiments you quote give no indication that quantum coherence is achievable at cellular distance scales AND at room temperature. So at this point I think it is reasonable to remain skeptical.

Stuart Hameroff says:
Mark Alford cites three references against the type of quantum processes in microtubules necessry for consciousness in the Penrose-Hameroff Orch OR model. For a detailed refutation of the first and third, please see my talk at the Google Workshop on Quantum Biology here
The second paper is a meaningless quibble about the number of tubulins per neuron.

Weve now seen 100 microsecond quanutm states in bird brains at warm temperatures.
Bandyopahdhyay has reported (not yet published) millisecond coherence over many nanometers
at room temperature in microtubules.

A few years ago the party line was that neither warm temperature nor spatially significant quantum coherence could occur in biology. Now both have been shown. Stay skeptical Mark,
but the tide is turning like a tsunami. If tomatoes and pigeons can utilize quantum coherence, dont you think human brains might also?

Stuart Hameroff
Mark Alford says:
Hello Stuart! (lots of Stuarts in this discussion...)
Quantum coherence is very common at the atomic scale (1 nm), even at high temperatures. As you say, biologists are now finding it at the molecular scale (a few nm) in warm systems. But there is a huge leap from there to the cellular distance scale of thousands of nm, involving millions of molecules. As far as I know, there is no experimental indication that warm quantum coherence can survive anywhere near such long distances. So I still think skepticism is justified.
Stuart Hameroff says:
Dear Mark

As I said, stay skeptical. But you’re ignoring microtubules which do span intra-cellular distances including long asymmetric cell extensions like axons and dendrites (continuously in axons, in interrupted fashion in dendrites). A single microtubule, which may indeed be microns long, is a crystal-like lattice of identical components (tubulin), so all that is needed is for quantum states to traverse from tubulin to tubulin within a microtubule. And that is apparently precisely what happens, as Anirban Bandyopadhyay has shown: millisecond coherence over hundreds (at least) of nanometers at resonant frequencies. The quantum sites within each tubulin are quantum channels composed of electron clouds of aromatic amino acids. To make it even better, they appear to line up for topological quantum computing. By the way, Anirban will present these results at the Stockholm conference Toward a Science of Consciousness 2011. See www.consciousness.arizona.edu

Since you cited the attacks against Penrose-Hameroff Orch OR by the Australian group in PNAS and PRE, and I replied by citing my talk at Google, I think you owe it to this forum to comment on whether my reply adequately dealt with their objections. I admit they are an esteemed group of physicists and chemists, and published in top journals, but on these points they are full of crap. Will you defend their views against my rebuttal?

Stuart Dambrot says:
Mark et al,

I agree - by all means, stay skeptical. It keeps scientific imagination grounded in what we know to be factual - but there's the rub. Interpretations of physical reality considered to be factual have repeatedly been proven limited in scope, ignorant of scale transitions, or blatantly - sometimes laughably - wrong. The corollary is that being too functionally fixed in relation to a current paradigm can lead to premature rejection of potential insights due to embedded assumptions. Again, Einstein could not accept entanglement and uncertainty for this very reason: he was unable/unwilling to step outside the framework of deterministic (however elastic) space-time.

Mark Alford says:
Will I get in to a technical argument about microtubules? No, because my point is a more general one, that quantum coherence in warm systems has only been seen so far at few-nanometer distance scales, and it is well known that it is much harder to sustain quantum coherence over long distances than short ones. I am just saying why any physicist would be skeptical about quantum coherence spreading up to and beyond the cellular distance scale. I am not making any argument that is specific to microtubules.

I cited those papers to show that there are experts (of which I am not one) who have concerns about whether microtubules *in particular* can have long-range quantum coherence. Thanks to the link you gave to your rebuttal, all readers of this forum can follow that debate.

Because my point is more general than microtubules, I am actually easier to impress. What would have a big impact on me (and many other people, since I'm just channeling standard physics here) would be an experimental demonstration, in any warm and complicated system analogous to a cell, of quantum coherence sustained over micrometer to millimeter distance scales. If I understand your theory (correct me if I'm wrong), that is what would be required for quantum EPR-type "passion at a distance" effects to play a role in motor and sensory brain functions.
Stuart Hameroff says:
So Mark doesn’t want to defend the Australians who attacked Penrose-Hameroff Orch OR because he isn’t an expert on microtubules. Guess what, Mark. Neither are the Australians.

I think well-recognized brain processes such as zero phase lag gamma synchrony and isopotentiality require long range quantum coherence. Neuroscientists claim to explain them with neuronal membrane potentials, but conduction and synaptic delays make such claims extremely dubious.

But as I’ve said, stay skeptical. The evidence is in the pipeline for warm temperature, temporally long-lasting and spatially extensive quantum coherence effects in microtubules. The results will be presented at the upcoming Stockholm conference by Anirban Bandyopadhyay. I attach here the Plenary Program for what I believe to be the best-ever conference on the science of consciousness. People like Stuart Firestein who shrug off consciousness, questioning its very existence, should attend. www.consciousness.arizona.edu

Toward a Science of Consciousness
Brain, Mind, Reality
May 3-7, 2011
Aula Magna Hall, Stockholm University
Stockholm, Sweden

Tuesday May 3

Plenary 1, 8:30 am to 10:40 am
Brain Electromagnetic Fields and Consciousness
McCormick D, Yale, Endogenous Electric Fields Guide Cortical Network Activity
Pockett S, Auckland, Electromagnetic Field Theory Of Consciousness: The Shape Of
Conscious Fields
McFadden J, Surrey, The Continuous Electromagnetic Information (CEMI) Field
Theory of Consciousness

Plenary 2, 11:10am to 12:30 pm
Time and Consciousness I
Atmanspacher H, Freiberg, Temporal Nonlocality In Bistable Perception
Gonzalez-Andino S, Geneva, Backward Time Referral in the Amygdala of Primates

Plenary 3, 2:00 pm to 4:10 pm
Consciousness and Reality I
Chopra D, Chopra Foundation Vedic Approaches To Consciousness And Reality
Mlodinow L, Pasadena, Grand Design
Zizzi P, Padua, Consciousness In The Early Universe

Wednesday May 4

Plenary 4, 8:30 am to 10:40 am
Transcranial Therapies
Wassermann E, NIH, Transcranial Stimulation and Consciousness
Snyder A, Sydney, Accessing Information Normally Beyond Conscious Awareness by
Non-Invasive Brain Stimulation
Tyler WJ, Arizona State, Transcranial Ultrasound Therapy for Brain Injury

Plenary 5, 11:10am to 12:30 pm
Neural correlates of consciousness I
Malach R., Weizman, Local Neuronal Ignitions And The Emergence Of Perceptual Awareness
Plenz D, NIH, Neuronal Avalanches, Coherence Potentials, And Cooperativity:
Dynamical Aspects That Define Mammalian Cortex

Plenary 6, 2:00 pm to 4:10 pm
Consciousness and Reality II
Kafatos M, Chapman, Consciousness and The Universe: Non-local, Entangled, Probabilistic and Complementary Reality
Kallio Tamminem K, Helsinki, Quantum physics and Eastern philosophy
Pylkkanen P, Helsinki, Bohmian view of consciousness and reality

Thursday May 5

Plenary 7, 8:30 am to 10:40 am
Varieties of Religious Experience
Beauregard M, Montreal, Neuroscience of Transcendent Experiences
Moreira-Almeida, A., Juiz De Fora, Differential Diagnosis Between Spiritual Experiences and Mental Disorders
Roberto, Padr. Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Sacred Plants of Amazonia

Plenary 8, 11:10am to 12:30 pm
Time and consciousness II
Bierman D, Amsterdam, Presentiment
Cerf M, NYU, Time effects in human cortical neuronal firings

Plenary 9, 2:00 pm to 4:10 pm
Quantum Biology I
KEYNOTE: Luc Montagnier, Nobel Laureate, Pasteur Institute, The Transfer of Biological
Information Through Electromagnetic Waves and Water.
Giuseppe Vitiello, Salerno, DNA: On the Wave of Coherence
Bernroider/Summerhammer, Salzburg, Quantum Properties in Ion Channel Proteins


Friday May 6

Plenary 10, 8:30 am to 10:40 am
Tuszynski JA., Edmonton, Information Processing Within Dendritic Cytoskeleton
Bandyopadhyay, A , NIMS, Tsukuba, Direct Experimental Evidence for Quantum
States in Microtubules and Topological Invariance
Tanzi R , Harvard, Zinc link between aBeta and microtubule instability in
Alzheimers disease

Plenary 11, 11:10am to 12:30 pm
Sir Roger Penrose

Plenary 12, 2:00 pm to 4:10 pm
Neural correlates of consciousness II
Hesslow G, Lund, The Inner World As Simulated Interaction With The Environment
Ehrsson H, Karolinska, How We Come To Experience That We Own Our Body: The Cognitive
Neuroscience of Body Self-Perception
Ullen F, Karolinska, The Psychological Flow Experience: From Phenomenology to
Biological Correlates

Saturday May 7
Plenary 13, 8:30 am to 10:40 am
Anesthesia and consciousness
Hudetz A, Milwaukee, Anesthetics and Gamma Synchrony
Franks N, London, Molecular Actions of Anesthetics
Hameroff S, Tucson, Meyer-Overton Meets Quantum Physics

Plenary 14, 11:10 to 1:20 pm
End of life brain activity
Chawla L, GWU, Surges of Electroencephalogram Activity at the Time of Death. A
Case Series.
Van Lommel P. , Amsterdam, Nonlocal Consciousness: A Concept on the Continuity
of our Consciousness
m g says:
I wonder if the panel had any comment on this: http://www.scribd.com/davidwllms

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