Quantum information theoretic approach to the mind-brain problem

Prog Biophys Mol Biol. 2020 Aug 18;S0079-6107(20)30078-X. doi: 10.1016/j.pbiomolbio.2020.08.002. Online ahead of print.


The brain is composed of electrically excitable neuronal networks regulated by the activity of voltage-gated ion channels. Further portraying the molecular composition of the brain, however, will not reveal anything remotely reminiscent of a feeling, a sensation or a conscious experience. In classical physics, addressing the mind-brain problem is a formidable task because no physical mechanism is able to explain how the brain generates the unobservable, inner psychological world of conscious experiences and how in turn those conscious experiences steer the underlying brain processes toward desired behavior. Yet, this setback does not establish that consciousness is non-physical. Modern quantum physics affirms the interplay between two types of physical entities in Hilbert space: unobservable quantum states, which are vectors describing what exists in the physical world, and quantum observables, which are operators describing what can be observed in quantum measurements. Quantum no-go theorems further provide a framework for studying quantum brain dynamics, which has to be governed by a physically admissible Hamiltonian. Comprising consciousness of unobservable quantum information integrated in quantum brain states explains the origin of the inner privacy of conscious experiences and revisits the dynamic timescale of conscious processes to picosecond conformational transitions of neural biomolecules. The observable brain is then an objective construction created from classical bits of information, which are bound by Holevo's theorem, and obtained through the measurement of quantum brain observables. Thus, quantum information theory clarifies the distinction between the unobservable mind and the observable brain, and supports a solid physical foundation for consciousness research.

Keywords: Brain; Conscious experience; Holevo’s theorem; Qualia; Quantum information.