Synapses, quantum theory and panpsychism

Christopher U.M. Smith

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The introduction situates the ‘hard problem’ in its historical context and argues that the problem has two sides: the output side (the Kant-Eccles problem of the freedom of the Will) and the input side (the problem of qualia). The output side ultimately reduces to whether quantum mechanics can affect the operation of synapses. A discussion of the detailed molecular biology of synaptic transmission as presently understood suggests that such affects are unlikely. Instead an evolutionary argument is presented which suggests that our conviction of free agency is an evolutionarily induced illusion and hence that the Kant-Eccles problem is itself illusory. This conclusion is supported by well-known neurophysiology. The input side, the problem of qualia, of subjectivity, is not so easily outflanked. After a brief review of the neurophysiological correlates of consciousness (NCC) and of the Penrose-Hameroff microtubular neuroquantology it is again concluded that the molecular neurobiology makes quantum wave-mechanics an unlikely explanation. Instead recourse is made to an evolutionarily- and neurobiologically-informed panpsychism. The notion of an ‘emergent’ property is carefully distinguished from that of the more usual ‘system’ property used by most dual-aspect theorists (and the majority of neuroscientists) and used to support Llinas’ concept of an ‘oneiric’ consciousness continuously modified by sensory input. I conclude that a panpsychist theory, such as this, coupled with the non-classical understanding of matter flowing from quantum physics (both epistemological and scientific) may be the default and only solution to the problem posed by the presence of mind in a world of things.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)164-174
Number of pages11
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2008

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  • Kant-Eccles problem
  • freedom of the Will
  • problem of qualia
  • quantum mechanics
  • operation of synapses
  • molecular biology
  • synaptic transmission
  • neurophysiology
  • subjectivity
  • neurophysiological correlates
  • consciousness
  • Penrose-Hameroff microtubular neuroquantology
  • molecular neurobiology
  • quantum wave-mechanics
  • panpsychism
  • Llinas’ concept
  • oneiric consciousness
  • sensory input
  • panpsychist theory
  • quantum physics


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