Abstract of talk given at Tucson conference "Toward a Science of Consciousness" (2010)

Quantum computing: the first 540 million years

David Pearce


Is the mind/brain best modelled as a classical computer or a quantum computer? No classical computer can solve the binding problem - the creation of a unified percept from widely distributed neural processing of individual object characteristics. Hence even the most sophisticated silicon robots are lame in a real-world setting. By contrast, evidence that the mind/brain is a quantum computer lies right before one's eyes in the form of the unity of perception - an unfakeable signature of quantum coherence. The evolutionary success of organic robots depends on the ability of our central nervous system to generate dynamic simulations of fitness-relevant patterns in the environment. Unlike classical computers, organic quantum computers can "bind" multiple features (edges, colours, motion, etc) into unitary objects and unitary world-simulations with a "refresh rate" of many billions per second (cf. the persistence of vision as experienced watching a movie run at 30 frames per second). These almost real-time simulations take the guise of what we call the macroscopic world: a spectacular egocentric simulation run by every vertebrate CNS that taps into the world's fundamental quantum substrate. Our highly adaptive capacity to generate data-driven unitary world-simulations is strongly conserved across the vertebrate line and beyond - a capacity attested by the massively parallel neural architecture of the CNS. Unitary world-simulation enables organic robots effortlessly to solve the computational challenges of navigating a hostile environment that would leave the fastest classical supercomputer grinding away until Doomsday. By contrast, the capacity for serial linguistic thought and formal logico-mathematical reasoning is a late evolutionary novelty executed by a slow, brittle virtual machine running on top of its quantum parent. Contra Tegmark, the existence of ultra-rapid thermally-induced decoherence in the mind/brain doesn't refute the case for naturally-evolved quantum computing. For just as a few cubic millimeters of neocortical tissue can encode an arbitrarily large immensity of phenomenal space, likewise each ultra-short quantum-coherent "frame" can encode hundreds of milliseconds of phenomenal time. Contra the Penrose-Hameroff "Orch OR" model of consciousness, quantum mechanics can't explain the Hard Problem as posed by materialist metaphysics i.e. how a brain supposedly composed of insentient matter could generate consciousness. But macroscopic quantum coherence can explain how a unitary experiential field is constructed from what would otherwise be a mere aggregate of mind-dust (cf. Galen Strawson's "Does physicalism entail panpsychism?") The theory presented predicts that digital computers - and all inorganic robots with a classical computational architecture - will 1) never be able efficiently to perform complex real-world tasks that require that the binding problem be solved; and 2) never be interestingly conscious since they are endowed with no unity of consciousness beyond their constituent microqualia - here hypothesized to be the stuff of the world as described by the field-theoretic formalism of physics. By contrast, tomorrow's artificial quantum computers may manifest modes of unitary consciousness unknown to contemporary organic life.

swan image

Talks 2015
Video Interview
Some Interviews
Utopian Surgery?
Social Media 2023
Quora Answers 2023
The End of Suffering
Wirehead Hedonism
The Good Drug Guide
Paradise Engineering
The Abolitionist Project
The Hedonistic Imperative
MDMA: Utopian Pharmacology
Gene-drives.com: Reprogramming the Biosphere (2016)
Physicalistic Idealism: a Testable Hypothesis (2014, 2016)