In the work underway to realize the full potential of quantum computing, perhaps scientists can try looking at our brains to see what’s possible: A new study suggests the brain actually has a lot in common with As far as the computer.
The results can teach us a lot about the functions of neurons as well as the basics of quantum mechanics. The research might explain, for example, why our brains can still outperform supercomputers at certain tasks, such as making decisions or learning new information.
As with much quantum computing research, the study investigates the idea of entanglement — two separate particles that exist in states that are related to each other.
“We adapted an idea, we developed it to perform experiments to prove the existence of quantum gravity, where it takes known quantum systems, which interacts with an unknown system,” says physicist Christian Kerskens of the University of Dublin.
“If known systems are entangled, then the unknown must also be a quantum system. It overcomes the difficulties of finding measuring devices for something we know nothing about.”
In other words, entanglement or a relationship between known systems can only occur if the intermediary system in the middle – the unknown system – operates on a quantum level as well. While the unknown system cannot be directly studied, its effects can be observed, as with quantum gravity.
For the purposes of this research, proton cycles in “brain water” (the fluid that builds up in the brain) work as a known system, with custom MRI (MRIScans used to noninvasively measure proton activity. The spin of a particle, which determines its magnetic and electrical properties, is a quantum property.
With this technology, the researchers were able to see signals that resemble the efforts evoked by a heartbeat, a type of electroencephalogram (EEG) signal. These signals cannot usually be detected by MRI, and the thinking is that they appeared due to the entanglement of nuclear proton rotation in the brain.
The team’s observations require verification by confirmation via future studies across multiple scientific fields, but the initial results appear promising for non-classical quantum events in the human brain when it is active.
“If entanglement is the only possible explanation here, then that means that brain processes must interact with nuclear spins, resulting in entanglement between nuclear spins,” Kerskens says.
“As a result, we can conclude that these brain functions must be quantum.”
Brain functions that illuminated the MRI readings were also associated with short-term memory and conscious awareness, and this suggests that quantitative processes—if that’s what they really are—play an important role in cognition and awareness, Kerskins points out.
What researchers need to do next is learn more about this little-known quantum system in the brain — and then we might fully understand the workings of the quantum computer we carry in our heads.
“Our experiments, conducted only 50 meters from the lecture hall where Schrödinger presented his famous ideas about life, may shed light on the mysteries of biology, and on consciousness that is difficult to understand scientifically,” says Kerskens.
The search was published in Physics Communication Journal.
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