Monday, January 23, 2006

Davies on Quantum Biology

I mentioned in this recent post that I thought efforts to investigate the possible role of quantum mechanics in human consciousness might be putting the “cart before the horse”. That is, I wondered if we can learn whether QM effects were utilized in simpler biological systems. So, I’ve been casting about for information on this topic.

Paul Davies wrote an article entitled “Does quantum mechanics play a non-trivial role in life?” (2004)which seemed to be a good brief review of the topic.

While Davies has written a large number of popular books and articles on scientific and philosophical subjects which appear pretty speculative (I’ve not read him before), this article seems like a clear-eyed survey of scholarly research on this subject.

And it does have a sobering conclusion. The subject, as summarized in the article, is very long on circumstantial evidence and hints, but he characterizes the case for quantum biology as one of “not proven”. A crucial challenge is related to decoherence. Quantum information processing effects which make use of coherent entangled quantum states need to be sheltered from and co-exist with other biochemical processes which appear to operate in decohered states which can be classically analyzed.

The good news is that there seem to be many leads to be followed up by researchers (Davies lists 7 areas of possibility in addition to the general area of “origin of life”); the bad news is there wouldn’t seem to be any results yet that would force greater attention to the area among those inclined to presume the classical paradigm is good enough.

1 comment:

Steve said...

Thanks very much, Mike. I will check this all out.