Quantum consciousness in 2024

Abstract: Quantum and conscious mysteries are brought together in the quantum theory of consciousness, where the phenomenon is attributed to the interaction between neurotransmitters and the zero-point field (ZPF). A materialist success, but a philosophical farce, since the qualitative richness of consciousness is not taken into account. A nugget, though: the theory is a simple solution to the difficult interpretation of the collapse of the wave function in physics. A conciliation is provided by Surimposium, a multidualist theory that replaces the complex dimension between the collapses of quantum and mental probabilities.

Two mysteries holding hands?

In the wake of the recent exhaustive but classic scientific investigation into AI consciousness, let’s take a look at the less neuroscientific, less consensual theories. The most popular is certainly quantum consciousness. To most of us, the quantum world seems as mysterious as phenomenal consciousness. Isn’t it tempting to bring the two mysteries together? Two famous names, Penrose and Hameroff, cleared the way. Since then, it’s been a quantum gold rush! Nugget seekers are rushing in. Let’s take a look at what Joachim Keppler, present at the 1st Workshop on Artificial Intelligence for Perception and Artificial Consciousness (Aixpac 2023), has come up with in his article Bringing robots beyond the threshold of consciousness: scientifically founded conditions for artificial consciousness.

The fundamental field of consciousness, Keppler announces, is the Zero-Point Field (ZPF) of Quantum Electro-Dynamics (QED). The phenomenon of consciousness arises from the coupling of the ZPF field with neurotransmitters operating in the micro-columns of the cortex, its elementary functional units. Consciousness would be a modulation of the ZPF field, disordered in its basic state, becoming coherent in interaction with neurotransmitters.

Quantum theory has its advantages…

Keppler’s article, following in the footsteps of Penrose and Hameroff, offers the advantage of bringing consciousness back within the bounds of physics, and thus of fundamental materialism. For this reason, the authors claim that the theory is “scientific”. It can be refuted by experiment. It would suffice to measure the states of the ZPF field and correlate them with experienced states of consciousness. This is not technologically possible at the moment, but the hypothesis does place quantum consciousness among the scientific theories.

Despite its materialistic anchoring, this theory is likely to appeal to the most mystical of panpsychism advocates. Indeed, the ZPF field is equivalent to “God’s field”, the tool He used to endow us with consciousness. The soul is there, at least in appearance, and we can still speculate on what its field covers. This is the spiritual world, firmly established in reality.

…but is a philosophical joke

Any trained philosopher, on the other hand, will pout. For them, quantum consciousness is a sham. After all, how can we equate a variation in the regime of a quantum field with the richness of conscious impressions? Is it a hoax? If there’s one field concerned by quantum consciousness, it’s that of questions, which we have to shrink terribly to continue to be interested in. Scientists are undoubtedly more philosophical than we might imagine, since most of them are equally skeptical about quantum reductionism.

A nugget worth considering

But don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. There is indeed a hidden nugget in quantum consciousness: an attractive explanation for the problem of wave function collapse. This arduous problem is still unsolved in physics, and a kaleidoscope of theories clash on the subject, from the Copenhagen interpretation to Everett’s multiverse, via decoherence and De Broglie’s pilot wave. Of these, the idealist, observer-involving theory, also known as the von Neumann-Wigner interpretation, is the simplest and shortest explanation: collapse comes from conscious observation. Coupled with the consciousness = ZPF field equivalence, the interpretation is no longer dualistic but entirely monistic at the quantum level; there’s no need for bold or even fanciful hypotheses.

A short explanation, but dramatically too abbreviated for a multi-disciplinary researcher into consciousness. A major drawback: only a conscious being, i.e. one equipped with the famous neurotransmitters, is capable of collapsing the wave function. This assertion is so arbitrary as to be untenable. The more classical decoherence, for example, allows collapse at any moment by interaction with photons of deep space radiation. Two opposing realisms, one autonomous, the other entirely dependent on our consciousness. It’s a chasm we have to jump over.

Crossing this new abyss

The history of consciousness is made up of abyssal dualisms to be bridged. How can we maintain an easy explanation for the collapse of the wave function, while preserving the richness of conscious experience? The answer lies in complexity, a dimension that is all but obscured in quantum consciousness and neuroscience theories, even though every scientist is immersed in it, if only because of the limits it imposes on his or her specialty.

I risk losing non-specialists in complexity in the following paragraphs. If you are, skip to the conclusion.

Surimposed complexity

The solution I proposed in Surimposium is multi-dualism taken to the extreme: each system self-defined by the interactions of its elements is a plane of reality endowed with relative independence. When the system’s information is integrated —the value of each piece of information is dependent on all the others— the whole acquires two indissoluble facets, local and global. The global facet is an approximation of the local facet, which makes it independent. Indeed, global properties do not change within a range of variation of local interactions.

In physical terms, the approximation is the collapse of the probabilities that the system will be such or such when interacting with a system of the same level. The system is never solitary. Self-defined spatially and temporally by its interactions, it becomes part of a wider context. It is in this new interaction that the collapse of probabilities takes place. Reality is self-observing at every level of complexity. The presence of persistent conflict/free energy creates a higher level of interaction.

Complex reality is a thick mille-feuilles of levels of complexity. A spectacular number of levels are formed by neurons organized in successive graphs, which rapidly increase the complex depth of the concepts they symbolize. At the top is our waking consciousness, endowed with all its trappings.

Conclusion: consciousness is a fusion

Where do we end up? Things to remember: Let’s not say “Consciousness collapses the wave function”, but “Consciousness is the collapse of probabilities in any integrated information system”. In more detail: the collapse of probabilities intrinsic to the system forms a global proprietary level. This level is a ‘layer of consciousness’ inscribed in the complex dimension and the source of a specific qualia. The consciousness experienced by any individual entity is the surimposition (superposition and entanglement) of all the complex layers that constitute it.

Surimposed consciousness is a qualia that is always specific, and can only be experienced at this place, at this depth of complexity, as a consequence of the complex stacking. It can be compared with others of the same depth, but cannot substitute or connect with weaker stacks. This is why our global consciousness does not perceive partial brain states, for example during sleep. The brain is active, but at a lower level of complexity, with mental functions remaining independent. Awake consciousness considers itself ‘unconscious’ during sleep, yet the mental functions active during this period, having become independent complex entities, are probably the seat of frustrated consciousnesses resulting from their own neural surimposition in activity.

We are many, and those many can associate in a multitude of different ways. This is why, when the global workspace is awake, there are so many facets to our personalities. The quality of consciousness you experience is the collapse of the probabilities that you are this or that persona (calm, angry, attentive, etc.) into a fusional personality that evolves according to the context you’re in. With this new approach to the brain, we can explain not only consciousness, but also the organization of our psyche, without falling into the reductionism that is currently the order of the day. The collapse of mental probabilities need not mean the collapse of psychology…


Taking Robots Beyond the Threshold of Awareness: Scientifically Founded Conditions for Artificial Consciousness, Joachim Keppler 2023

4 thoughts on “Quantum consciousness in 2024”

  1. As the author of the article discussed here, I would like to clarify and rectify some points that are misrepresented in this commentary.

    First of all, I am not an advocate of materialism (physicalism). As clearly explained in the referenced article, my approach falls into the category of dual-aspect monism, which is a powerful philosophical antithesis to materialism (physicalism). Dual-aspect monism acknowledges that consciousness is ontologically fundamental – a statement that a materialist would never make. Secondly, I am not following in the footsteps of Penrose and Hameroff. Even though my theory is based on quantum field theory and can therefore be assigned to the branch of quantum theories of consciousness, I pursue a completely different conceptual approach than the other representatives of this branch.

    I argue that physics is very successful in describing the structure and organization of the universe. This description comes in the form of the standard model of physics, which provides us with the construction plan of the universe, expressed by a set of elementary particles and fundamental force fields. At the same time, I argue that present-day physics has no satisfactory answer to the problem of consciousness (the “hard problem of consciousness”). In order to tackle the hard problem, I proceed on the assumption that physics describes so far only the extrinsic, energetic manifestation of the ubiquitous force fields, subsumed under the umbrella term zero-point field (ZPF), while it has not yet been considered that the ZPF might have an intrinsic phenomenal essence and, hence, plays a dual role. This dual-aspect hypothesis is the starting point of my approach. It is an approach that attempts to integrate consciousness seamlessly and parsimoniously into the edifice of physics by treating two seemingly categorically different aspects of reality (physicality and phenomenality) as two different facets of one and the same fundamental entity (the ZPF). The main goal of my work is to show that this idea leads to a coherent overall picture that is perfectly compatible with empirical evidence. I do not see any other promising path to reconciling phenomenal qualities with the laws of nature, without compromising the achievements of modern physics.

    Going into more detail, I hold the view that consciousness is a fundamental property of the universe that has existed from the very beginning, that the seat (substrate) of consciousness is a ubiquitous field, and that in its undisturbed, primordial ground state this field represents an undifferentiated ocean of consciousness. “Undifferentiated” means that all shades of consciousness lie dormant in the field, without concrete conscious states being manifested. Perhaps it would be best to call this state of the field “proto-consciousness”. So, the potential for the formation of conscious experiences exists, but no concrete conscious experiences can be read into the ground state of the field (pure consciousness). Metaphorically speaking, one can think of this state in such a way that the entire keyboard of consciousness is laid out, represented by the spectrum of normal field modes. The keyboard comprises an enormous number of strings, and associating each string with a particular phenomenal shade makes one immediately realize that the ZPF has the potential to constitute the basis for the vast diversity of phenomenal states we experience. In order to generate differentiated conscious states, players are required that play chords on the keyboard. These players have developed over the course of evolution. In order to be able to play the keyboard, a particular mechanism is required, namely, the resonant coupling of a player to selected strings of the keyboard. The resonant coupling leads to the amplification of the selected modes, i.e., through the coupling selected strings of the keyboard are struck and the corresponding phenomenal shades are activated. This is an ingenious mechanism for the generation of diversity from unity, and if I were the Creator, I would exactly design it like this.

    According to my approach, the ZPF as the (hypothesized) foundation of consciousness is universal, but in order to form concrete conscious states, it requires the coupling of a system to the ZPF. In the brain, we find a specific implementation of the coupling mechanism that involves neurotransmitters. This does not mean that neurotransmitters are the key to the understanding of consciousness, nor does it mean that the phenomenon of consciousness arises from the coupling of the ZPF to the neurotransmitters. What it does mean is that consciousness is a fundamental property that is built into the construction plan of the universe, while the neurotransmitters are only little players in the coupling game that participate in the local restriction of the universal field of consciousness and in the formation of concrete conscious experiences. In other words, the biological evolution on Planet Earth has chosen the neurotransmitters as the players for the coupling to the ubiquitous field of consciousness. On other planets it could be completely different molecules, and if we think about creating artificial conscious systems, we may come up with other suitable molecules that can be used to couple to the ZPF. This is the gist of my article.

    • Warm thanks to Joachim Keppler for this detailed response, which perfectly clarifies his position. Indeed, in my commentary, I wrongly classified him among the physicalists, whereas philosophically he is located in panpsychism. This confirms, as I write in the 4th paragraph, that the quantum theory of consciousness is indeed a crossroads between these two trends.

      I fully adhere to the dual aspect monism advocated by Joachim. This way of looking independently at the phenomenal and ontological sides of the same thing corresponds to what I call the ‘double look’ in the philosophical theory exposed in this article:

      However, the basis of my criticism remains: the monism of the quantum theory of consciousness “flattens” the complex dimension of the process existing between quantum interactions and the conceptual schemes occupying the conscious work space. This theory does not account for the depth of the phenomenon, and does not explain why certain neural processes would be conscious and not others. Explanations provided without difficulty by ‘Stratium’, which, like the theory of integrated information, anchors the phenomenon of consciousness in the addition of layers of complexity.

      • The next few years will show whether my theory can account for the depth of the phenomenon of consciousness. However, even in this early stage of the project the strength and explanatory power of the theory is evident. And the greatest strength surely lies in drawing a clear dividing line between conscious and non-conscious systems (as well as conscious and unconscious neural processes).

        The case is broadly as follows: Even though all types of systems are permeated by the ubiquitous ZPF and thus, from a phenomenological perspective, are surrounded by an ocean of potential, yet undifferentiated consciousness, the formation of concrete conscious states is confined to those systems that can dynamically couple to the ZPF, which requires resonant interaction of a system with a set of ZPF modes. These dynamical properties are unique to macroscopic quantum systems, reflected in long-range coherence and attractor formation. In contrast, classical systems are not dynamically coupled to the ZPF, indicating that this kind of systems cannot access the ZPF’s immanent phenomenal color palette and therefore cannot engender concrete phenomenal states.

        A field-theoretical model exists for the details of the coupling mechanism in the brain:


        The model calculations can be used to explain exactly why certain neural processes are associated with conscious states, while other processes cannot exceed the threshold of consciousness. We are dealing here with a critical phenomenon that is controlled via the modulation of neurotransmitter concentrations. The demarcation criteria for conscious vs. unconscious neural processes, as derived from the model, are fully consistent with the body of empirical evidence about the neural correlates of consciousness. The corresponding paper will be published in 2024. So, stay tuned, the journey is far from over!

        Those who are impatient and want to convince themselves of the explanatory power of the theory are referred to the following work:


        • I’m afraid that you are locking yourself into a vision that is really too physicalist, Joachim. The main difference between the quantum theory of consciousness and Stratium is this: quantum theory wipes out all intermediate disciplines of knowledge, including spiritualism. Conversely, Stratium opens up a wide range for them, even encourages the creation of numerous additional disciplines, since a large number of levels of complexity, chemical, biological and especially mental, are revealed.


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