Stuart Hameroff: The Science of Consciousness

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An interview with Stuart Hameroff. Consciousness and brain function are discussed in layman’s terms. Hameroff has worked with mathematician Roger Penrose to map neurological brain function to the world of quantum mechanics.

Stuart Hameroff first became interested in the problem of consciousness as an undergraduate at the University of Pittsburgh. In 1972 while in medical school at Hahnemann Medical College in Philadelphia, he began to study how protein polymer networks within living cells, the cytoeskeleton (including microtubules), can process information and control biomolecular activities. After medical school and internship, Hameroff completed residency in the Department of Anesthesiology at the University of Arizona under Dr. Burnell Brown, who convinced him that understanding anesthetic mechanisms could unlock the enigma of consciousness. Joining the faculty in 1977, he researched a number of areas in anesthesiology but eventually focused on his primary interests: consciousness, anesthetic mechanism and cytoskeletal microtubules.

During the 1980´s Hameroff published a number of papers and one book Ultimate Computing-Biomolecular Consciousness and Nanotechnology (1987, Elsevier-North Holland) on models of information processing in cellular microtubules.

In the early 1990´s the study of consciousness became increasingly popular, and he was strongly influenced by Roger Penrose´s The Emperor´s New Mind, 1989, and Shadows of the Mind, 1994, Oxford Press, concerning the possible role of quantum effects in consciousness. They began collaborating on a specific model, Orchestrated objective reduction, in which quantum coherent superposition in brain microtubules disturbs space-time, via quantum gravity, to cause wave function self-collapse, and instantaneous now events comprising a stream of consciousness.

In addition to his research in consciousness studies, Hameroff co-organized an international multidisciplinary conference in 1994, Toward a Scientific Basis for Consciousness, held at the University of Arizona, Tucson. The second conference was organized with the help of the Journal of Consciousness Studies, David Chalmers, Chistof Koch, Marilyn Schlitz, Petra Stoerig and Keith Sutherland in 1996. A third conference took place in 1998. And the fourth one is scheduled for April 2000: “Toward a Science of Consciousness”. These Tucson conferences indeed trascend disciplinary boundaries and raise questions from areas throughout the sciences and humanities.

The title of his contribution to the Cajal Conference, Is Quantum Computation Relevant to the Neuron? The Penrose-Hameroff ‘Orch-OR’ Model of Consciousness?


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