In the ongoing effort to realize the full potential of quantum computing, scientists may be trying to see what’s possible inside our brains: A new study suggests that the brain has a lot in common. as much as a computer.
The discoveries could teach us a lot about the functions of neurons but also about the fundamentals of quantum mechanics. The research could explain, for example, why our brains are still supercomputers capable of performing certain tasks, such as making decisions or learning new information.
As with much computing research, the study looks at the concept of entanglement – two separate particles in states connected to each other.
“We adapted a concept developed by experiments to prove the existence of quantum gravity, through which you know quantum systems that interact with an unknown system,” says scientist Christian Kerskens from the University of Dublin.
“If known systems are involved, there must be an unknown as to the system as well. It involves the difficulties of measuring machines, something we know nothing about.”
In other words, the entanglement or relationship between known systems cannot occur unless the mediating system in the medium – the unknown system – also operates in quantum. While an unknown system cannot be directly observed, its effects can be observed, such as with quantum gravity.
For the purposes of this research, the proton is turned on the ‘brain water’ (the fluid that builds up in the brain) as a known system, with the usual magnetic resonance imaging.MRI) using proton scans to measure activity non-invasively. The spin of a particle, which determines its magnetic and electrical properties, is a quantum-mechanical property.
Through this technique, the researchers were able to see signals such as the heart’s evoked potentials, which are a type of electroencephalography (EEG) signal. These signals are not normally detected by MRI, and it is thought that they show up because the proton nuclei in the brain are involved.
The team’s observations require confirmation by future studies in multiple scientific fields, but the first results are promising, not as classical as the events in the human brain when it is acting.
“If entanglement is the only possible explanation here then it must mean that brain processes with nuclear spines must interact with each other, mediated by entanglement between nuclear spines,” says Kerskens.
“As a result, we can infer what those brain functions should be.”
The brain functions that the MRI readings illuminated were also associated with short-term memory and conscious awareness, suggesting that quantum processes — if indeed they are what they are — play an important role in cognition and consciousness, Kerskens suggests.
What researchers need to do is learn more about this unknown quantum system in the brain – and then we can fully understand the workings of the quantum computer we carry around in our heads.
“Our experiments, which were performed only fifty meters from the scholastic theater where Schrödinger presented his famous thoughts about life, can illuminate the mysteries of biology, and of consciousness, which we can understand more scientifically,” says Kerskens.
The research was published in the Journal of Physical Communication.
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