"As a result, we can deduce that those brain functions must be quantum."
As physicists endeavor to build bigger and better quantum computers, a powerful one may have already been lurking inside our heads all along.
In a new study published this month in the Journal of Physics Communications, a team of scientists from Trinity College Dublin suggest that our brains could actually be using quantum computation.
If confirmed — something that will require extensive investigation — the finding could help explain why, in certain respects, our brains still outdo supercomputers.
Their conclusion relies on the idea of quantum entanglement, a phenomenon describing particles changing each other's quantum state, even when they are separated by a large distance.
"We adapted an idea, developed for experiments to prove the existence of quantum gravity, whereby you take known quantum systems, which interact with an unknown system," said Christian Kerskens, study co-author and lead physicist at the Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience, in a statement.
"If the known systems entangle, then the unknown must be a quantum system, too," he explained. "It circumvents the difficulties to find measuring devices for something we know nothing about."
In the case of this experiment, the proton spins of the water in our brains served as the "known system." Kerskens and his team then used a special form of MRI imaging to detect if any of the proton spins were quantum entangled.
Curiously, the scientists ended up detecting a specific kind of electrical brain signal known as heartbeat evoked potentials, which they say is normally not detectable with MRIs.
What allowed them to detect those potentials, the scientists suggest, is quantum entanglement in proton spins in the brain.
"If entanglement is the only possible explanation here then that would mean that brain processes must have interacted with the nuclear spins, mediating the entanglement between the nuclear spins," Kerskens concluded. "As a result, we can deduce that those brain functions must be quantum."
All in all, it's an intriguing suggestion, but there's a lot more that needs to be proven. For one, the study rides on relatively recent proposals in the field of quantum gravity.
And, as the scientists in the study admit, their efforts were largely undertaken through the perspective of quantum physics.
In short, to prove their theory, it'd require a substantial multidisciplinary effort, especially considering the complexity of the human brain — but it's a tantalizing possibility, nonetheless.
More on quantum computing: Oxford Physicist Unloads on Quantum Computing Industry, Says It's Basically a Hype Bubble
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