Friday, February 27, 2009

Creativity and the Quantum Universe

A direct link to the above video is at

There's an article published in the February Issue of Discover Magazine which really caught my eye - written by Mark Anderson, it's called Entangled Life. Let's look at some excerpts from the article:

Graham Fleming sits down at an L-shaped lab bench, occupying a footprint about the size of two parking spaces. Alongside him, a couple of off-the-shelf lasers spit out pulses of light just millionths of a billionth of a second long. After snaking through a jagged path of mirrors and lenses, these minus­cule flashes disappear into a smoky black box containing proteins from green sulfur bacteria, which ordinarily obtain their energy and nourishment from the sun. Inside the black box, optics manufactured to billionths-of-a-meter precision detect something extraordinary: Within the bacterial proteins, dancing electrons make seemingly impossible leaps and appear to inhabit multiple places at once.

Peering deep into these proteins, Fleming and his colleagues at the University of California at Berkeley and at Washington University in St. Louis have discovered the driving engine of a key step in photosynthesis, the process by which plants and some microorganisms convert water, carbon dioxide, and sunlight into oxygen and carbohydrates. More efficient by far in its ability to convert energy than any operation devised by man, this cascade helps drive almost all life on earth.

One of the central controversies surrounding my project is whether it's really correct to apply the thinking of quantum mechanics to the macro world: traditionally, science has taught that the weird world of the quantum wave function--where outcomes are derived from probabilities and randomness, and particles can be in more than one place at the same time--is completely separate from the physical world we see around us. One of the main ideas of my project is that all of these quantum effects occur in the fifth dimension rather than the fourth, and this logical application of what makes one spatial dimension "outside" the previous one works all the way up - we've talked about this logic in entries like Why Do We Need More Than 3 Dimensions, Aren't There Really 11 Dimensions?, and You Can't Get There From Here.

Visualizing the wave function for our universe as coming from the "next dimension up" gives us a way to reconcile how such seemingly strange and unimaginable quantum effects as entanglement and tunneling could be a part of our reality: like the 2D flatlander, who would have some hope of being able to imagine the third spatial dimension as "time" but would find the fourth dimension completely strange and unimaginable, we as 3D creatures are in the same quandary. How can we imagine all this quantum weirdness as being connected to our solid physical world? With my project, I provide a way to visualize the fifth dimension that ties in with that idea and many others.

Here's some more excerpts from that Discover Magazine article:

From tunneling to entanglement, the special properties of the quantum realm allow events to unfold at speeds and efficiencies that would be unachievable with classical physics alone. Could quantum mechanisms be driving some of the most elegant and inexplicable processes of life? For years experts doubted it: Quantum phenomena typically reveal themselves only in lab settings, in vacuum chambers chilled to near absolute zero. Biological systems are warm and wet. Most researchers thought the thermal noise of life would drown out any quantum weirdness that might rear its head.

One of the most significant quantum observations in the life sciences comes from Fleming and his collaborators. Their study of photosynthesis in green sulfur bacteria, published in 2007 in Nature [subscription required], tracked the detailed chemical steps that allow plants to harness sunlight and use it to convert simple raw materials into the oxygen we breathe and the carbohydrates we eat. Specifically, the team examined the protein scaffold connecting the bacteria’s external solar collectors, called the chlorosome, to reaction centers deep inside the cells. Unlike electric power lines, which lose as much as 20 percent of energy in transmission, these bacteria transmit energy at a staggering efficiency rate of 95 percent or better.

The secret, Fleming and his colleagues found, is quantum physics.

To unearth the bacteria’s inner workings, the researchers zapped the connective proteins with multiple ultrafast laser pulses. Over a span of femto­seconds, they followed the light energy through the scaffolding to the cellular reaction centers where energy conversion takes place.

Then came the revelation: Instead of haphazardly moving from one connective channel to the next, as might be seen in classical physics, energy traveled in several directions at the same time. The researchers theorized that only when the energy had reached the end of the series of connections could an efficient pathway retroactively be found. At that point, the quantum process collapsed, and the electrons’ energy followed that single, most effective path.

Electrons moving through a leaf or a green sulfur bacterial bloom are effectively performing a quantum “random walk”—a sort of primitive quantum computation—to seek out the optimum transmission route for the solar energy they carry. “We have shown that this quantum random-walk stuff really exists,” Fleming says. “Have we absolutely demonstrated that it improves the efficiency? Not yet. But that’s our conjecture. And a lot of people agree with it.”

This revelation is amazing enough. But then the article goes on to talk about new research that explores other ways in which the quantum world is very much a part of our macro world, imparting unique fragrances to molecules that are almost identical, imparting healing qualities to substances like green tea, and perhaps even directly contributing to consciousness. Please do read the entire article, here are three more brief quotes:

  • Quantum physics may explain the mysterious biological process of smell, too, says biophysicist Luca Turin, who first published his controversial hypothesis in 1996 while teaching at University College London. In 2007 Turin... and his hypothesis received support from a paper by four physicists at University College London.
  • In 2007 four biochemists from the Auton­omous University of Barcelona announced that the secret to green tea’s effectiveness as an anti-oxidant... may also be quantum mechanical. Free radical molecules, by-products of the body’s breakdown of food or environmental toxins, have a spare electron. That extra electron makes free radicals reactive, and hence dangerous as they travel through the bloodstream. But an electron from the catechin (catechins are among the chief organic compounds found in tea, wine, and some fruits and vegetables) can make use of quantum mechanics to tunnel across the gap to the free radical. Quantum tunneling has also been observed in enzymes...

  • Stuart Hameroff, an anesthesiologist and director of the Center for Consciousness Studies at the University of Arizona... speculates that anesthetics “interrupt a delicate quantum process” within the neurons of the brain. Each neuron contains hundreds of long, cylindrical protein structures, called microtubules, that serve as scaffolding. Anesthetics, Hameroff says, dissolve inside tiny oily regions of the microtubules, affecting how some electrons inside these regions behave.

Visualizing how much this quantum dance is participating in the creation of the world we see around us is really not that dissimilar to the journeys of discovery that we've just looked at in The Shaman and Modern Shamans. In Music and the Dance of Creativity, we talked about this joyful process of creativity that underlies our universe, and in The Holographic Universe we talked about the new scientific evidence announced in 2009 confirming that for our 4D universe, our "line of time" is not continuous but rather being constructed one planck frame at a time. That new scientific evidence can be added to the list of reasons supporting my conclusion that in order for the quantum world to make sense, we have to see how it is coming from the fifth dimension.

Out of All Possibilities, One is Selected
In entries like Dreaming of Electric Sheep and Imagining the Omniverse, we looked at trying to visualize how our specific universe might be able to "come into focus" from the omniverse, where every possible state exists simultaneously. Let's think about how that is essentially a creative process that we are describing - out of all possibilities, one is selected. Take a close look at Mark Anderson's Discover Magazine article, and his description of how photosynthesis uses quantum effects to achieve such high efficiency. Now, here's a section of that article in which I've substituted some words to help us to see how "quantum weirdness" can also easily be thought of as a description of the creative process:

Instead of haphazardly moving from one idea to the next, as might be seen in work that has no focus, creative ideas travel in several directions at the same time. By simultaneously exploring a set of connections, the "eureka" of a new inspiration can be found. At that point, the exploration process is "collapsed", and the creative person follows the new idea that they find most inspiring.

Seeing the probability space of our "fifth dimensional hologram" all around us, waiting with new ideas and inspirations for us to bring into our reality simply by observing some aspect of the wave function of possibilities, is another way of understanding how much the quantum world and our macro world are tied together, all part of the same continuum, and all part of the ongoing creative process that is happening at every instant in every part of our universe.

Enjoy the journey of discovery!


PS - Here's a song about how these quantum processes are part of the creation and creativity that is all around us, and that we are a part of as we distill one physical reality from the many quantum paths available to us: it's called "Making It Up as I Go".

A direct link to the above video is at

Next: New Translations of Imagining the Tenth Dimension

1 comment:

Derek Munson said...

Hey Rob,
Thanks for all these great posts. You got cool brains!

Tenth Dimension Vlog playlist