Search This Blog

Friday, December 16, 2011

Quantum Physics in Your Philadendron

Chlorophyll in an "antenna" - from Ars Technica
When I was in grade school we used holidays were a good excuse to play a variety of Bell Telephone/AT&T movies from the 1950's: Our Mr. Sun, Hemo the Magnificent, The Strange Case of Cosmic Rays, and others (see this for Our Mr. Sun).  The teachers happily sat at the back of the class doing whatever they did and the kiddies got to watch a movie (or sleep).

I distinctly remember one of these movies (Our Mr. Sun?) talking about photosynthesis.

There was a small plant character of some sort (a cartoon) who represented a plant.  The cartoon talked about what photosynthesis was, what was involved in it: sunlight, CO2, and what it produces: sugars and organic compound.

When the actual reaction happened the character put up a small screen that covered the reaction.  The reason was that no one knew how it worked so, rather than say that, they just made a small joke of it.

Of course this was in the 1960's...  These movies were made in the lat 1950's.

Fast forward to today.

I found this article about how the study of photosynthesis is leading to some very interesting results.

Until fairly recently its been assumed that photosynthesis was a basic chemical process and that no quantum-level elements where involved beyond that.

But over the last several years various experiments have yielded results pointing to "more" within the context of photosynthesis.

Basically there is a bacteriochlorophyll complex, found in green sulfur bacteria, that acts as a kind of antenna to collect light very efficiently for photosynthesis.  This antenna involves something called quantum coherence and allows extremely efficient transmission of energy related to the light involved in the process.

Typically quantum coherence is though of in things like the Bose-Einstein condensate - which is something observed at near-absolute zero temperatures with liquid helium wherein a large number of molecules all act as if they are a single molecule.

Study of photosynthesis has lead, however, to the observation of this same process at the molecular level in plants - obviously at room temperature.

The idea is that photons arriving for photosynthesis can simultaneously explore all the possible paths to the core of the photosynthetic process and, in the quantum sense, "choose" the shortest path.  Much like the two-slit experiment where photon interfere with each other even though they don't arrive at their destination at the same time.

For a long time its been thought that quantum-level actions did not occur in the real world, i.e., at a level observable by humans.

But in fact they can.

One of the things that interests me is the notion of "Quantum Consciousness" as put forth by Rodger Penrose.  David Bohm, another physicist, has written about similar concepts in "Wholeness and the Implicate Order."

Penrose claims that consciousness is not something that can be explained by simple chemical reactions in the brain.

I think that the sort of discovery above about photosynthesis makes the claim's by Penrose more likely.

Why is this important?

Because the involvement of quantum-level actions in photosynthesis and possibly consciousness make it non-deterministic - that is that given the same exact situation in terms of molecules, chemical reactions, and so on a chemical-based brain would make the exact same decision.

A quantum brain might not because the quantum-level of activity is not deterministic.

A quantum brain might be sensitive to quantum-level behavior - like entaglement - where two particles millions of miles apart act as one.

A quantum brain might be sensitive to coherence such that quantum actions of two brains or two parts of the same brain might be synchronized by some coherence mechanism as with photosynthesis.

Interesting food for thought...

No comments:

Post a Comment