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FQXI ARTICLE

October 19, 2017

Bohemian Reality: Searching for a Quantum Connection to Consciousness

Is there are sweet spot where artificial intelligence systems could have the maximum amount of consciousness while retaining powerful quantum properties?

March 24, 2017

Gerardo Adesso

University of Nottingham

These immortal lines from Queen’s magnum opus

That’s because in the everyday world around us—our ’reality’—things have a high degree of certainty. A chair can be assigned a location and everyone looking at the chair will agree on that location. Yet things aren’t so clear cut when you shrink the scale down to the microscopic world. Quantum physics famously says that, on small scales, objects such as electrons simultaneously co-exist in many places at once—they reside in a superposition of states. Only once we measure their location do we get a definite answer. Until then, all we can do is assign probabilities to the likely outcome of that measurement.

The team of researchers, composed of Adesso alongside Tommaso Tufarelli also at Nottingham and Marco Piani at the University of Strathclyde, is on the search for how this change in scale affects the way we perceive the world. "First, we want to investigate where the border is between quantum and classical physics," Adesso says. Then they want to learn more about how our objective sense of a classical reality—with objects definitely ’here’ or ’there’—emerges out of the inherent fuzziness of the quantum world, where objects are both here

Existential Questions

Adesso wasn’t always destined to tackle these big existential questions. "Physics was not my first choice," he says. "I went into physics for a girl. She was into chemistry and I said I’ll do physics because it was basically next door." At the end of his first year he broke up with the girl but found himself in love with physics, as well as with his future wife—a fellow physicist. "So it all ended for the best," he says.

The role of the observer has a long tradition in quantum physics. It is most famously encapsulated in the standard interpretation of the Schrödinger’s cat thought experiment in which the continued existence of the animal inside a sealed box depends on a quantum measurement. Unobserved, the system exists in both of two possible quantum states at the same time and so the cat can also be thought of as being in a superposition of states—alive and dead. Yet when we open the box to take a look, the cat is clearly alive

Quantum Trade-off

Does consciousness force us to observe a non-quantum reality?

Credit:

All this may seem very esoteric but, in a world where we are building increasingly complex machines and creeping closer to artificial intelligence and quantum computers, understanding the link between consciousness and the suppression of quantum effects could prove crucial. There may be a sweet spot where a system has the maximum amount of consciousness possible without entirely getting rid of the powerful quantum properties you want to harness. It would be the best of both worlds. "Adesso’s recent work provides powerful new insights in the ongoing quest to understand…quantum uncertainty," says Jacob Biamonte, an expert on quantum computing at the University of Malta.

There might be a

trade-off between

being quantum and

being conscious.

trade-off between

being quantum and

being conscious.

- Marco Piani

According to Frank Wilhelm-Mauch at Saarland University, the Nottingham-Strathclyde collaboration faces a big task. "It could be one of these questions that when you try to answer it you realise you have been asking it in wrong way and that it keeps walking away from you," he says. However, it is a worthwhile endeavor, he adds: "I think that finding out which parts we can really understand and which parts are maybe just philosophical is extremely valuable."

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THOMAS HOWARD RAY wrote on September 25, 2017

The speed of light isn't a theoretical limit. Neither are the 19 or so other constants of nature limited by theory.

The speed of light isn't a theoretical limit. Neither are the 19 or so other constants of nature limited by theory.

ANONYMOUS wrote on September 25, 2017

The Fact? The only 'fact' of the Big Bang is the math behind the measures, and the incompleteness in both the theory and census. It is simply the generic popular science of current knowledge that presents the limits of theory and observation as established fact, and for the simple reason that it requires more than a casual interest to acquire enough understanding of the historical developments of science and mathematics to learn to learn what theory means without the preconceptions of common...

The Fact? The only 'fact' of the Big Bang is the math behind the measures, and the incompleteness in both the theory and census. It is simply the generic popular science of current knowledge that presents the limits of theory and observation as established fact, and for the simple reason that it requires more than a casual interest to acquire enough understanding of the historical developments of science and mathematics to learn to learn what theory means without the preconceptions of common...

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