Patrick Suppes and Jose Acacio de Barros wrote a paper called Quantum Mechanics and the Brain (HT: Clark’s sideblog). Obviously the title was irresistable to me. However, it turns out that the title is a bit misleading. The paper has a few paragraphs discussing previous proposals regarding the role QM might play in the brain and briefly gives the authors’ views on these -- frankly without saying anything new. The paper then shifts to what is its main focus, which is to highlight an interesting instance where there is a good indication that biological systems do exploit quantum level phenomena. This is the animal eye’s demonstrated ability to react to a very faint light signal: specifically the ability to detect and respond to a handful of photons, and probably a single photon.
The paper describes previous experimental results with insects and animals. Sensitivity to single photons was inferred using statistical methods in some of these tests (some of the older references in the paper were also discussed in this Usenet posting from 1996). The authors then outline a proposal for future experiments to confirm the results by utilizing the technological ability we now have to shoot single photons.
This result would demonstrate that organisms are sensitive to the quantum realm. While we remain far from understanding the role quantum effects might play in conscious experience, this is another step toward exploring the subject.