In ongoing work to realize its full potential quantum computingscientists might try looking inside our own brains to see what’s possible: A new study suggests the brain actually has a lot in common with a quantum computer.
The results could teach us a lot about how neurons work, as well as the basics of quantum mechanics. For example, the research could explain why our brains can still outperform supercomputers at certain tasks like making decisions or learning new information.
As with much quantum computing research, the study addresses the idea of entanglement – two separate particles in states that are connected to each other
“We adapted an idea developed for experiments to prove the existence of quantum gravity, taking known quantum systems interacting with an unknown system.” says the physicist Christian Kerskens from Dublin University.
“If the known systems are entangled, then the unknown must also be a quantum system. It avoids the difficulty of finding gauges for something we don’t know anything about.”
In other words, the entanglement or relationship between the known systems can only take place if the mediating system in the middle – the unknown system – also operates at the quantum level. While the unknown system cannot be studied directly, its effects can be observed, like in quantum gravity.
For the purposes of this research, the proton spins of “brain water” (the fluid that builds up in the brain) act as the known system, with habit Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans for non-invasive measurement of proton activity. A particle’s spin, which determines its magnetic and electrical properties, is a quantum mechanical property.
This technique allowed the researchers to see similar signals Heartbeat-evoked potentials, which are a type of electroencephalography (EEG) signal. These signals are usually not over detectable MRIand the thinking is that they appeared because the nuclear proton spins in the brain were entangled.
The observations recorded by the team need to be confirmed by future studies in several scientific fields, but early results look promising for non-classical quantum events in the human brain when it is active.
“If entanglement is the only possible explanation here, then brain processes must have interacted with the nuclear spins that mediated the entanglement between the nuclear spins.” says Kerskens.
“As a result, we can deduce that these brain functions must have quantum functions.”
The brain functions that the MRI readings shed light on have also been linked to short-term memory and conscious cognition, and this suggests that the quantum processes – if indeed they are – play a crucial role in cognition and cognition awarenesssuggests Kerskens.
Next, researchers need to learn more about this unknown quantum system in the brain – and then we could fully understand how the brain works quantum computer that we carry around in our heads.
“Our experiments, carried out just 50 meters away from the auditorium where Schrödinger presented his famous thoughts about lifecan shed light on the mysteries of biology and on consciousness that is even more elusive scientifically”, says Kerskens.
The research was published in Journal of Physics Communication.