|Subject: A human self is forever
Date: Thu, 08 Apr 2004 05:31:38 +0300
From: Dimi Chakalov <email@example.com>
To: Giuseppe Vitiello <firstname.lastname@example.org>
CC: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org,
Regarding your "DECOHERENCE?",
Talking about long range correlations (p. 4), what could be the corresponding bosons in the macroscopic quantum system (p. 5) right above our neck?
A diamond is forever, and so is the human self. They don't decohere, only the physics of the brain is still unknown. You can verify it with your own brain at
Note: Giuseppe Vitiello has written a very interesting note, which was posted on Quantum-D in April 1997. More on the "boson", which "can span the whole system volume without inertia", can be read here.
Structure and functionDate: Tue, 8 Apr 1997 16:54:50 -0700 (PDT)
From: Giuseppe Vitiello <email@example.com>
Subject: Structure and function
"Structure and function"
To appear in Proceed. of The Conference "Toward a Science
of Consciousness II The 1996 Tucson Discussions and
Debates", Tucson (Az)
Dipartimento di Fisica
Universita di Salerno, 84100 Salerno, Italy
I discuss the role of quantum dynamics in brain and living matter
physics. The paper is presented in the form of a letter to Patricia
Dear Patricia, after your talk in Tucson I said to myself: "I must
meet Patricia Churchland and discuss with her on the role of Quantum
Mechanics (QM) and quantum formalisms in Consciousness studies".
However, the Conference was very dense, you very busy and I was "not
so sure..." from where to start discussing with you. So, at the end
I decided to write you a letter.
In your talk, which I enjoyed a lot, you were keeping saying "I am
not so sure...", "I am not so sure...". You explained very well why
one should have real doubts about "hard" (and easy!) problems (on
which I will not say anything in this letter) and especially about
using QM in the study of Consciousness.
From what you were saying I realized that you were completely right:
"if" QM is what you were referring to, and "if" its use and purpose
are the ones you were saying, "then" your doubts are really sound
and, even more, I confirm to you that QM is completely useless in
Consciousness studies; the popular expression: "a mystery cannot
solve another mystery" would be the fitting one.
However, as a physicist I want to tell you that one should not talk
much "about" QM. Physicists, and other scientists as chemists,
engineers, etc., "use" QM in a large number of practical applications
in solid state physics, electronics, chemistry, etc. with extraordinary
success: it is an undeniable fact that our every day (real!) life
strongly depends on those successful applications of QM; everything
is around us (including ourselves!) is made of atoms and the Periodic
Table of the Elements is clearly understood in terms of QM (recall,
e.g., the Pauli Principle in building up electronic shells in the
atoms). QM is not a mystery, from this perspective. The photoelectric
cell of our elevator or our CD or computer have nothing counter-
intuitive. Of course, I am not saying that the success of QM by itself
justifies the use of QM in Consciousness studies. I will come back to
this point later on.
What I want to stress here is that QM is NOT the OBJECT of our
discussion! There are certainly many open problems in the inter-
pretation of certain aspects of QM which are of great epistemological
and philosophical interest. However, these problems absolutely do
not interfere or diminish the great successes of QM in practical
applications. It is certainly interesting to study these interpretative
problems, BUT they are NOT the object of our present discussion.
And, please notice that here I am not defending QM, since as I have
clearly stated many times in my papers, QM does not provide the proper
mathematical formalism for the study of living matter physics. The
proper mathematical formalism in such a study turns out to be indeed
the one of Quantum Field Theory (QFT). But this is a too strong
statement at this moment of our discussion. Let me go by small steps,
I must confess to you that I am not prepared to take as the object of
our discussion how to approach to the study of Consciousness. As a
physicist, I would better start by considering some more "material"
object, as the brain itself or more generally living matter, for
example the cell. Here I need to explain better myself since the word
"material" may be misleading.
In Physics it is not enough to search what things are "made of". Listing
elementary "components" is a crucial step, but it is only one step. We
want to know not only what things are made of but ALSO "how all of it
works": we are interested in the Dynamics. In short, fancy words: we
are interested "in structures AND in functions"; and we physicists are
attached to our fixations in a so narcissistic way that we even mix up
structure and function up to the point that we do not anymore make a
sharp distinction between them. So, to us, having a detailed list of
components does not mean to know much about the system under study.
Moreover, it is not even possible to make a "complete" list of com-
ponents without knowing how they work all together in the system. The
same concept of component is meaningless outside a "dynamical" knowledge of the system. Thus when I say "material" I refer also to dynamical laws, not only to the mere collection of components.
After all, what I am saying is quite simple: everybody agrees indeed
that studying the Tucson phone book does not mean to know the city of
Tucson. Let me give one more specific physical example: the crystal.
As well known, when some kind of atoms (or molecules) sit in some
lattice sites we have a crystal. The lattice is a specific geometric
arrangement with a characteristic length (I am thinking of a very
simple situation which is enough for what I want to say). A crystal
may be broken in many ways, say by melting it at high temperature.
Once the crystal is broken, one is left with the constituent atoms.
So the atoms may be in the crystal phase or, e.g. after melting, in
the gaseous phase. We can think of these phases as the functions of
our structure (the atoms): the crystal function, the gaseous function.
In the crystal phase one may experimentally study the scattering of,
say, neutrons on phonons. Phonons are the quanta of the elastic waves
propagating in the crystal. They are true particles living in the
crystal. We observe them indeed in the scattering with neutrons. As
matter of fact, for the complementarity principle, they are the same
thing as the elastic waves: they propagate over the whole system as
the elastic waves do (for this reason they are also called collective
modes). The phonons (or the elastic waves) are in fact the messengers
exchanged by the atoms and are responsible for holding the atoms in
their lattice sites. Therefore the list of the crystal components
includes not only the atoms but also the phonons. Including only the
atoms our list is not complete! However, when you destroy the crystal
you do not find the phonons! They disappear! On the other hand, if you
want to reconstruct your crystal after you have broken it, the atoms
you were left with are not enough: you must supplement the information
which tells them to sit in the special lattice you want (cubic or else,
etc.). You need, in short, to supplement the ordering information which
was lost when the crystal was destroyed. Exactly such an ordering
information is "dynamically" realized in the phonon particles. Thus,
the phonon particle only exists (but really exists!) as long as the
crystal exists, and vice versa. The function of being crystal is
identified with the particle structure! As you see there is a lot in
the quantum theory of matter and please notice: the description of
crystal in terms of phonons has nothing to do with "interpretative
problems". It is a well understood, experimentally well tested physical
Such a situation happens many times in physics; other familiar examples are ferromagnets, superconductors, etc.. It is a general feature
occurring when the symmetry of the dynamics is not the symmetry of the
states of the system (symmetry is spontaneously broken, technically
speaking). Let me explain what this means. Consider the crystal as an
example: the symmetry of the dynamics is the continuous space trans-
lational symmetry (the atoms may move around occupying any position
in the available space). In the crystal state however such a symmetry
is lost (broken) since the atoms must get ordered in the lattice sites;
they cannot sit, e.g., in between two lattice corners: order is lack
of symmetry!A general theorem states that when a continuous symmetry
is spontaneously broken, or equivalently, as we have just seen, an
ordered pattern is generated, a massless particle is dynamically
created; this particle (called the Nambu-Goldstone boson) is the
phonon in the crystal case. Please, notice that this particle is
massless, which means that it can span the whole system volume without
inertia, which in turn guaranties that the ordering information is
carried around without losses and that the ordered pattern is a stable
one since the presence (or, as we say, the condensation) of the
Goldstone particles of lowest momentum does not add energy to the
state (it is enough to consider the lowest energy state, namely the
ground state); in conclusion, the ordered ground state has the same
energy of the symmetric (unordered) one (we call it normal ground
state): they are degenerate states. This is why the crystal does exist
as a stable phase of the matter. Actually, ground states, and therefore
the phases the system may assume, are classified by their ordering
degree (the order parameter) which depends on the condensate density
of Goldstone quanta. We thus see that by tuning the condensate density
(e.g. by changing the temperature) the system may be driven through
the phases it can assume. Since the system phases are macroscopically
characterized (the order parameter is in fact a macroscopic observable),
we see that a bridge between the microscopic quantum scale and the
macroscopic scale is established.
All the above is of course possible only if the mathematical formalism
provides us with many degenerate but physically inequivalent ground
states which we need to represent the system phases, which in fact have different physical properties: this is why we have to use QFT and not
QM, as I said above. In QM all the possible ground states are physically
equivalent (the Von Neuman Theorem); QFT is on the contrary much richer, it is equipped with infinitely many, physically inequivalent ground
states and therefore we must use QFT to study systems with many phases.
Above I have been mentioning "theorems": however, I want to stress that
these mathematical theorems perfectly fit and are fitted by real
experiments and they represent the only available quantum theory (QFT
indeed) on which the reliable working of any sort of technological
gadget around us is based; in spite of the many epistemological and
philosophical unsolved questions quantum theories may arise.
Now you see why I said that I need to start by considering actual
material: this is not simply a list of constituents, it is not simply
specific information from punctual observations, it is not simply a
lot of real data and statistics, but it is also the dynamics. Otherwise,
I would only be like one of those extremely patient and skillful swiss
watch-makers who in the past centuries by mechanically assembling
together a lot of wheels and levers and hooks were building beautiful
puppets able to simulate many human movements. But... the phone book
is not enough and we know that it CANNOT even be complete without the
dynamics. There is no hope to build up a crystal without the long range
correlations mediated by the phonons: if you try to fix up atom by atom in their lattice sites holding them by hooks you will never get the
coherent orchestra of vibrating atoms playing the crystal function.
This is what experiments tell us.
For every new or more refined movement more and more specialized units
and wheels were needed in building the eighteenth century puppets. And
certainly the brain, and living matter in general, do present a lot of
very specialized units, which we absolutely need to search for. But our
list of components will still possibly be incomplete if we do not make
the effort of thinking of a dynamical scheme, too. There are properties
of living matter, such as self-ordering, far from the equilibrium
behaviour, non-dissipative energy transfer on protein molecular chains
and at the same time dissipativity of biological systems, extremely high
chemical efficiency and at the same time extremely high number of
chemical species, and so on, that do point to the existence of a non-
trivial dynamical background out of which the rich phenomenology of
molecular biology emerges. Like with chemistry before the birth of QM,
we are challenged to search for a unifying dynamical scheme, which may
help us in understanding those (collective) properties not in the reach
of the assembly by "hooks" of the units listed in our phone book.
The problem is not why to expect a quantum dynamical level in living
matter (and in the brain). In its "inert (or dead!) phase" the matter
counts among its components atoms, molecules and, as we have seen, other units dynamically generated (e.g. the phonon), all of them ruled by
quantum laws. It would be a really crazy world the one where the same
atoms, molecules and dynamically generated units would not be ruled by
the same quantum laws in the "living phase" of matter.
Sometime people gets confused between "classical level" and "quantum
level". We do speak about "classical limit" of quantum physics, but we
NEVER mean that, e.g., the Planck constant "becomes" (or "goes" to) zero
in the classical limit (even when, for sloppiness, we do say that;
sorry!). The Planck constant has a well definite value which NEVER is
zero! By "classical" we only mean that certain properties of the system
are acceptably well described, from the observational point of view,
"in the approximation" in which certain ratios between the Planck
constant and some other quantity (of the same physical dimensions) are
neglected. This does not mean that in such a case one "puts" the Planck
constant equal to zero, because there are other behaviours, which the
same system shows simultaneously to the "classical" ones, which only
can be described by keeping the non-zero value of the Planck constant
in its full glory. An example: our friend the crystal does certainly
behaves as a classical object in many respects, out of any possible
doubt. However, the phonon IS a quantum particle and therefore the
macroscopic function of being a crystal IS a quantum feature of our
system; not only, but it is indeed such a quantum behaviour, the one
of being a crystal, that allows the "classical" behaviour of the
components atoms as a "whole". Therefore, a diamond is a macroscopic
quantum system classically behaving when one gives it as a gift to his/
her fiance' (and let's hope they will not argue about the phonon, the
Schroedinger cat, their love being classical or quantum and all that;
it would be not at all romantic!).
In the same way, systemic features of living matter, such as ordered
patterns, sequentially interlocked chemical reactions, non-dissipative
energy transfer, nonlocal simultaneous response to external stimuli,
etc., may result as macroscopic quantum features supporting the rich
phenomenology of molecular biology: the idea, in the QFT approach to
living matter, is to supplement with a basic dynamics the phenomeno-
logical random kinematics of biochemistry.
So the problem is not "if" there exist a quantum dynamics in living
matter (how it could not exist!), but which are its observable
manifestations, if any, and in any case how the biochemistry as it
is emerges from it. Of course, it is more and more urgent the need
to know all what we can know about the components, their kinematics,
their engineering; we need working models to solve immediate problems
(floating boats were used well before knowing Archimede's law); we
even need patient assembly of cells by hooks to form a tissue, but
we cannot cry at sky if a cancer develops: from the hook strategy
point of view only random kinematics and no dynamics is involved in
tissue formation and as a consequence there is no reason why the same
list of component cells should behave as a tissue instead of as a
cancer. Sometime also the eighteenth century puppets were falling down
in pieces. Therefore, it might be worthwhile to apply what we have
learned about collective modes holding up atoms in the lattice sites
(the crystal is a "tissue"!), spontaneous symmetry breakdown, coherence,
boson condensation, etc., to study, together with biochemists and
biologists, e.g., the "normal" (or symmetric) state of cancer and the
ordered state of tissue, as we would say in QFT language.
The task is not at all simple. Living matter is not an inert crystal.
And we should expect many surprises. For example in the quantum model
of the brain by Umezawa and Ricciardi the problem of memory capacity
seems to be solved by seriously considering the dissipative character
of the brain system. That dissipation enters into play can be naively
understood by observing that information recording breaks the symmetry
under time reversal, i.e. it introduces the arrow of time: "NOW you
know it...!" is the warning to mean that "after" having received some
information, one cannot anymore behave as "before" receiving it. Thus
memorizing breaks time reversal symmetry. The brain dynamics is
therefore intrinsically irreversible. In more familiar words, the brain,
as other biological systems, has a history. In this respect the brain
is a clock. Well, to treat dissipative brain dynamics in QFT one has
to introduce the time-reversed image of the system degrees of freedom.
One finds thus himself dealing with a system made by the brain and by
its "mirror in time" image, as a result of the internal consistency of
the mathematical scheme (if you want to know more about that look at
my paper in Int.Journal of Mod. Phys. B9 (1995) 973). Problem: are
consciousness mechanisms macroscopic manifestations of the mirror brain
dynamics? Does the conscious experience of the flow of time emerges
from the brain dissipative dynamics? The mirror modes are related to
brain-environment coupling and at the same time to brain self-
interaction. Does this lead to the conscious sense of "self"?
I realize this is a long letter and I will not talk any longer about
brain and living matter, consciousness and QFT. I stop here, otherwise
the Editors of the book on Tucson II will complain for the exceeding
number of words and I risk to be left out as it was for Tucson I book.
I hope we can resume our discussion in a future occasion in order to
be able to join our efforts in the study of the brain.
Arrivederci a presto, Giuseppe
P.S. I thank you for allowing me to publish this letter. G.
This document part of the archive of the mailinglist quantum-d
To understand the non-trivial topology of the phonon field, read "Topology in Physics", math-ph/0503039 v1 [Ref. 1], by Roman W. Jackiw, Jerrold Zacharias Professor of Physics at MIT Center for Theoretical Physics.
In January 2003, Roman Jackiw was very skeptical about my $100 bet (I cannot post his email here) regarding the hypothetical Higgs boson. But can you count all self-conjugate, normalizable zero-energy solutions [Ref. 1] for non-Abelian fields? Maybe they are UNcountable, and the number of quarks will indeed jump to 8, 13, etc, in a Fibonacci sequence.
Needless to say, I will be more than
happy if Roman Jackiw accepts my $100 bet, but I have a gut feeling that
he will prefer to keep quiet. I'll send him a link to this page, as a matter of
netiquette, and hope he will respond professionally to my comments on
"Topology in Physics" [Ref. 1].
[Ref. 1] R. Jackiw, Topology in Physics, math-ph/0503039 v1.
"Whenever one solves a conjugation
symmetric Dirac equation, with a topologically interesting background field,
like a soliton, there always are, in addition to the positive and negative
energy solutions related to each other by conjugation, self-conjugate,
normalizable zero-energy solutions. That this is indeed true can be seen
by explicit calculation. However, the occurrence of the zero mode is also
predicted by very general mathematical theorems about differential equations.
These so-called "index theorems" count the zero eigenvalues, and insure
that the number is non-vanishing whenever the topology of the background
is non-trivial. (...) The existence of the zero mode in the conjugation
symmetric case is assured by the non-trivial topology of the background
field. The result is otherwise completely general.
"Similarly in particle physics, our
phenomenological, effective theories, like the Skyrme model, enjoy a rich
topological structure. Moreover, even the Yang-Mills theory of our fundamental
"standard particle physics model" supports non-trivial topological structure,
which leads to the QCD vacuum angle. In view of my previous observation,
can we take this as indirect evidence that thisYang-Mills based theory
also is a phenomenological, effective description and at a more fundamental
level -- yet to be discovered -- we shall find a simpler description that
does not have any elaborate mathematical structure. Perhaps in this final
theory Nature will be described by simple counting rules -- like my first
polyacetylene story. Surely this will not be the behemoth of string