5 New Theories on the Nature of Consciousness That Will Blow Your Mind

Written by on March 30, 2019 in Conscious Evolution, Conscious Living with 0 Comments
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Image Credit: The Mind Unleashed

By Jake Anderson |  The Mind Unleashed

The existence of sentient consciousness in the universe is one of the greatest scientific mysteries of all time. The existence of the universe itself, not to mention the development of organic life, is already confounding enough, but scientists still cannot explain why the universe evolved biological mechanisms to subjectively experience itself. The crux of the debate—rekindled in recent years due to new discoveries in quantum mechanics—centers around whether consciousness is a purely physical, materialistic phenomenon that is self-contained, or whether consciousness constitutes a more symbiotic universal force that helps establish the reality of space-time.

For those who stay up late swan diving into cosmic rabbit holes, here are five stunning new theories of consciousness developed by leading physicists and researchers:


1. “Quantum Consciousness,” or ORCH-OR

For a couple of decades, theoretical physicist Roger Penrose and anaesthesiologist and psychologist Stuart Hameroff have passionately advanced a theory of consciousness known as Orchestrated Objective Reduction, or ORCH-OR. The theory posits that consciousness fires from microtubules embedded in the quantum core of our universe, suggesting that consciousness does not arise merely from neurochemical processes of the brain but has a deeper, more primal origin that is intrinsic to the universe.

The theory suggests that our minds can leave behind imprints, residual information, in the fabric of the world around us. Hameroff also believes that this controversial idea of a “quantum consciousness,” that is not dependent on a purely biological substrate, leaves open the possibility of a kind of afterlife.

In January 2014, Japanese researchers detected quantum vibrations in microtubules, providing important corroboration for one of the controversial pillars of ORCH-OR. Consciousness, Penrose and Hameroff argue, is a non-computable force linked to the fundamental geometry of space-time itself.

2. Panpsychism, Universal Proto-Consciousness

Panpsychism is not a new theory but there have been some interesting tweaks and addendums in recent years. Panpsychism is essentially the belief that the universe itself is conscious, that there is a kind of ubiquitous proto-consciousness that permeates the cosmos. As such, panpsychism has traditionally been seen as a philosophical conundrum that is debated in metaphysical circles.

In recent years, however, a growing number of physicists and astronomers have begun viewing panpsychism as a scientific question—a concept that could actually be experimentally tested.

One such physicist, Gregory Matloff, wrote a paper in which he argued that scientists may be able to validate the idea of universal proto-consciousness by looking for “volitional stars” that chart their own paths in galactic orbits. While it sounds absurd, Matloff believes certain phenomena in observational astrophysics, such as Parenago’s Discontinuity, could help confirm panpsychism. Matloff also believes that a new theory of panpsychism could one day replace dark matter.


Other modern proponents of panpsychism include German physicist Bernard Haisch, who presented a theory that harkens back to ORCH-Or, in that it suggests that consciousness arises in a “quantum vacuum” anytime energy flows through an advanced system or structure and neuroscientist and psychiatrist Giulio Tononi who believes that consciousness may not be limited to biological organisms and that integrated information theory would suggest we make a distinction between consciousness and intelligence in the universe.

3. The Participatory Universe

The “participatory universe” theory is sometimes noted as a subset of panpsychism, but it deserves its own entry. Developed by renowned physicist John Archibald Wheeler—who coined the term “black hole” and worked with Niels Bohr on early groundbreaking experiments in quantum mechanics, among many other achievements—participatory universe, or Participatory Anthropic Principle, incorporates ideas from quantum theory to suggest that human observation creates the universe.

More specifically, Wheeler argued that the universe exists in a state of undefined quantum potential until the conscious observer collapses reality down into a single state. In essence, the universe requires the participation of a consciousness in order to have an objective reality. This theory requires really drilling down into the nuances of quantum theory, but it’s worth going down that rabbit hole.

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