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Quantum Perception

This article is a summary of a more detailed editorial. For more detailed and substantiated version please visit: http://www.quantumperception.net/ 


The quantum mechanical universe is fundamentally different from our classical perception of the world. To reconcile the two, we must either question quantum mechanics or review the act of perception itself. Century-old experiments have proven the validity of quantum theory. In fact, quantum mechanics is by far the most precise and reliable science that humans have ever grasped. Therefore, in order to resolve the incompatibility, it is reasonable to turn to an assessment of perception itself. The brain is our main tool for examining physical reality, so in order to determine the validity of our perceptions, it makes sense to begin with a study of our brain’s physiology, and in particular how the brain receives sensory stimuli.

The Senses

We perceive the world with our senses. The five common senses are vision, hearing, touch, smell, and taste. Our sense organs are mostly stimulated by waves. Our eyes are sensitive to a certain band of electromagnetic waves called visible light. Our ears sense another wave band, called sound frequency. Our skin also receives stimuli as waves. For example, if we vibrate a tuning fork in close proximity to the skin but without touching it, we perceive a tactile sensation. The vibration theory, suggested by Luca Turin, posits that odor receptors also detect the frequency of vibrations of odor molecules.[1]

Taste buds are mainly working with a different mechanism. The holonomic brain theory by Karl Pribram suggests that memories are preserved in spectral form. According to Pribram the visual cortex also functions as a hologram. Many complex brain functions such as huge capacity to store data, association, photographic memory and face recognition can be explained, if the received data is not converted and remains in spectral form inside the brain.
If our sensory receptors receive mainly waves from the outside world, how do we perceive these waves as objects? How do we sketch our so-called objective reality out of these waves?

Wave-Particle Duality

To further the discussion, let us explore the nature of matter. Objects are known to have a dualistic wave-particle nature. In 1704 Newton described matter as solid, massy, hard and impenetrable. In the late 1800s, James Clerk Maxwell claimed that light is the propagation of electromagnetic waves. His claims were experimentally verified by Heinrich Hertz in 1887. As a result, the idea of waves as the sole component of light rays became widely accepted at the time. However, wave theory couldn't explain the photoelectric effect, a phenomenon in which electrons are emitted from a metal after it is exposed to light with sufficient energy. To solve the problem, in 1905, Albert Einstein proposed the particle nature of light. He postulated the existence of quanta (or units) of light energy, called photons, that have particulate qualities. This light quanta is solitary and localized. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921 for his photo-electric theory. However, wave character of light could not be denied, particularly in light of Thomas Young's double slit experiment, which provided solid evidence for the wave nature of light.[2] Therefore, it was decided that light must have a simultaneous dual nature of wave and particle.

In 1924, Louis-Victor de Broglie postulated that not just light but all matter has a wave-like nature as well. De Broglie was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1929 for his hypothesis. Since then, the common belief among physicists has been that matter has a dualistic nature—it concurrently has the characteristics of waves and particles.
Wave characteristics are more apparent in electromagnetic radiation when it is measured over relatively large distances and time spans. On the other hand, particle characteristics are more evident when measuring small time scales and positions. But how can matter exist in this bizarre dualistic state?

According to our classical perception, matter has a specific mass and volume. Matter is also perceived as local and tangible. Waves, on the other hand, are spread out. Waves and their associated fields (e.g., electromagnetic fields) unfold without any boundaries. They do not have a specific mass or a specific shape. They imply a sense of fluidity. However, in the majority of everyday experiences, we perceive only the solid characteristics of matter. We see a ball as a solid, localized, and tangible object that is subject to external forces. Why do we not sense a ball as a wave? The fading wave characteristic of matter is known as wave function collapse. In this phenomenon, the spread out and multi-state wave is reduced to a local and distinct particle.

In 1932, John von Neumann suggested that the collapse of wave function occurs in the consciousness of human beings. In other words, he believed that “objectification” (the act of interpreting incoming data as an object) is an invention of the human mind.

Below, I explore whether the modern understanding of brain anatomy and physiology can shed light on this puzzle. This chapter is inspired by Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor’s recent book, My Stroke of Insight. Dr Taylor is a Harvard-trained neurobiologist who had a stroke in 1996 while she was only thirty-seven years old. Following the haemorrhage in her left hemisphere, her left brain gradually lost its performance, while her right hemisphere remained intact and continued to function normally. Being a neurobiologist, she could sense and interpret the gradual changes that her mind went through at the time of stroke and during her recovery, which took about eight years. In her recently published book, she explains her experience with her massive stroke moment by moment. As her ordeal is relevant to the main topic of this article, I will relate her descriptions of the event to show how the different hemispheres of the brain function. I will also add my own take on her experiences to substantiate the main concept in this commentary.

Since 1996 Turin has been the leading proponent of the vibration theory of olfaction. The theory proposes that a molecule's smell character is due to its vibrational spectroscopy in the infrared range. The theory is opposed to the more widely accepted shape theory of olfaction, which proposes that the vibrational spectroscopic properties of molecules can be an important determinant of their associated smell. See Absolute Astronomy, “Luca Turin,” http://www.absoluteastronomy.com/topics/Luca_Turin#encyclopedia. 
Thomas Young's double-slit experiment showed interference phenomena where two beams of light which are coherent interfere to produce a pattern. See Wikipedia, “Interference (Wave Propagation),” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interference_pattern. 
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