Is the universe conscious? By Stuart Hameroff

The origin of consciousness in the universe was the central topic at The Chopra Foundation’s recent Sages and Scientists Symposium hosted at the La Costa Resort and Spa from February 25-27, 2011.

Did consciousness emerge at a critical point during biological evolution, e.g. as a by-product of complex computation among brain neurons? Conventional science takes this view. Or has consciousness, in some sense, always been ‘out there,’ everywhere, with biology evolving to best access and connect to it? This is the view in ancient wisdom traditions as described by Deepak Chopra, but also consistent with quantum non-locality.

In the mid 90s Sir Roger Penrose and I developed a theory proposing a conscious connection between quantum computing in brain microtubules, and the most fundamental level of spacetime geometry. Evidence in recent years has shown brain non-locality in precise EEG coherence, reverse time and even various ‘parapsychology’ results, as well as functional quantum effects in DNA, ion channels and microtubules. Quantum non-local consciousness could possibly extend outside the brain, potentially enabling spiritual connection, telepathy, after-life, reincarnation and cosmic wisdom. This is Pandora’s Box to mainstream science which can’t explain consciousness in the brain.

Cosmology also points to intelligence, if not consciousness, intrinsic to the universe.

Why is our universe capable of stars, life and consciousness, all dependent on precise values for a large set of fundamental constants and forces? The odds against us are… astronomical. Yet here we are. Conventional science, for example Hawking and Mlodinow in their book Grand Design, claim a near-infinite multitude of parallel universes, this particular one being just right. We won the cosmic lottery! But there is no evidence nor even possible testing for this claim. An alternative view, consistent with wisdom traditions, is intelligence or consciousness embedded in the fine structure of reality from the Big Bang, perhaps from a previous incarnation of the universe as suggested by Roger Penrose in his recent book Cycles of Time (for which evidence does exist).

We live in interesting times. Chopra, Penrose, Mlodinow and many, many others will convene at the forthcoming Toward a Science of Consciousnes s conference in Stockholm, Sweden, May 2-7, 2011. See

Stuart Hameroff MD

Professor, Anesthesiology and Psychology

Director, Center for Consciousness Studies

The University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona

Published by the Washington Post OnFaith