June 16, 2007

Consciousness: An Inside Story

person meditatingIt is a daunting task to explain what is consciousness, for there is no consensus in this regard. Though many different definitions exist; it can simply be defined as the feeling of ones own lively presence with in oneself. How this feeling is brought about in the living beings, including humans, is not precisely known and many a hypotheses have been propounded. The most appealing as well as the most tenable among these is that it is due to the processes and interactions that occur in the hydrophobic domains of dendritic proteins in the neurons of the brain. Proteins are chains of amino acids (like beads in a string) which have different shapes depending on what the constituent amino acids are. Amino acids containing hydrophobic side chains such as valine, isoleucine etc. and amino acids containing aromatic rings such as phenylalanine, tyrosine are (by definition) very much insoluble in water. Thus dendritic proteins which bathe in the extra cellular fluid consisting of water fold themselves in such a way so as to make an infolding, an inward pocket where these particular (hydrophobic) amino acids are located. It is with in this microcosm of pockets strange things happen.

As we all know, that in the nano world, weak forces such as van der Waals become increasingly relevant where as those of gravity begins to take a backseat. In these pockets an interaction occurs between these adjacent non polar (hydrophobic) molecules. Just like the south pole of a bar magnet would induce the formation of a north pole in a ferromagnetic substance there is the creation of opposite charges on the nearby molecule by the action of 'transient dipoles' (the hydrophobic molecules behave as transient dipoles in which charges oscillate/interchange between the poles. The charges occur as a result of imbalances in the electron clouds of the molecules). This attractive force that exists between transient dipoles is also known as London force, a kind of van der Waals force.

The oscillations that occur in the dendritic proteins are synchronized in a global scale with in the brain. As a result 'binding' occurs, which means that there is consolidation in a global scale within the brain about all the attributes of a thing. For example, when someone gets hurt he feels pain by the help of his thalamus and locates the painful stimulus by the help of his cerebral cortex. Binding helps us to feel both simultaneously, as shown in the example. It is necessary as the brain processes tasks parallely. It is much akin to the clocking in a computer to a fixed frequency.

Exactly how this clocking/synchronization is done is not known for certain. This synchronization is also known as the gamma synchronization as it is reflected as gamma waves in the EEG (electroencephalogram), having a frequency in the range of 30-70 Hz. This synchrony can occur as a result of electromagnetic coupling between regions within the brain and this would explain why it is done almost instantaneously. That the brain radiates electromagnetic waves is well known.
Another possibility is quantum coupling by the processes of entanglement. According to quantum mechanics it is possible for a particle to learn about another one, in no time, without ever having to go to that particle physically. This 'instantaneous/in no time' phrase is important as we do not want any phase lag to creep in so that a decoherence state does not occur. In the leaves of plants too, the electrons sparked off by photons/sunlight go hopping (by mind reading!) to the place where actual photosynthesis is taking place by previously reading the quantum state of other electrons by entanglement.

The association of hydrophobic pockets assumed with the formation of consciousness can be inferred from the fact that swamping these charges by external electric fields as in electro anesthesia, would result in 'unbinding' and anesthesia. Again, chemicals such as anesthetics which dissolves the hydrophobic pockets cause anesthesia by disrupting the London forces attempts to strengthen our notion.

References: The Brain From Top to Bottom
Quantum Consciousness & Orch-OR
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