At the dawn of our present millennium,
cognitive neuroscience has come to embrace concepts at least as old as
modernity itself. Over the past
century, Ramon Y. Cajals interneuronal synapse, George Booles logic, and the
statistical thermodynamics of Boltzmann and Gibbs have coalesced to shape a
current view of the mind-brain nexus called the neural network model.
Virtually all mainstream research programs
in psychobiology now base themselves on the notion that consciousness stems
from networks of brain cells organized like a computer with several processors
operating in parallel. It is assumed
that discrete processing units identified as individual neurons perform the
cognitive work of the brain and that interactions among them, mediated by
chemical signals across synaptic gaps, provide bridges for the relevant logical
transformations. It is also now widely
believed that flow of information through brain pathways is best described in
terms of analogies to the collective Newtonian behaviors of classical physical
particles, i. e. statistical mechanics.
Yet another, newer and more powerful mode
of understanding the conscious brain has been germinating during the last two
decades. Pioneers of this growing
heterodoxy have included Hiroomi Umezawa, Karl Pribaum, Stuart Hameroff, Kunio
Yasue, Gordon Globus, and Giuseppe Vitiello.
Their forward-thinking approaches rely not on aging analogies to
classical statistical mechanics but on fresh variations of post-Newtonian
quantum field theory (QFT). The
material substrate germane to their ideas is not the compartmentalized neuron
but the bulk matter of the whole brain including glial cells. Logics embraced by QFT advocates point
beyond the merely Boolean and may even turn out to transcend quantum expansions
by moving into completely non-computational domains.
Emerging QFT heresies in psychobiology are
at least as plausible as the orthodoxy of classical neural network theory. Kunio Yasue and his collaborator, Mari Jibu,
have made this plausibility clear in their seminal introduction to quantum
neurodynamics. Giuseppe Vitiellos new
book, My Double Unveiled, published within the same series as the
Yasue-Jibu volume, summarizes and then greatly extends the nascent quantum
neurodynamic viewpoint with poetic eloquence and deep rigor. Vitiello writes in a style and at a level
accessible to readers familiar only in a general way with the central concepts
of modern physics; no technical equations clutter the text. Yet his penetrating arguments are developed
in a meticulously progressive sequence that moves from overarching to specific
insights regarding the possible quantum field-theoretical foundations of
conscious mental experience.
The author begins by demonstrating that
mere catalogues of accumulated experimental data about biological systems
cannot by themselves explain the physics of living organisms; dynamic factors
must be considered as well. He then argues
that the stability of immensely complex biological structures in space and of
intricate biochemical processes over time involves numbers of macromolecules
too small to support the classical statistical mechanics of large atomistic
collectives as a dynamical model of life.
According to the author, only QFT with its multiplication of material
states, each equally stable, can handle the complexity of living matter.
The book then shows how QFT implies
magnification of quantum principles to a scale larger than the microscopic
domain of subatomic physics. Resulting
macroscopic quantum effects, in the form of highly organized matter-waves
merging neural structure with function, can engulf and direct the entire
behaving brain. What then emerges is a
model of memory, plasticity, and other psychobiological phenomena rooted in
self-focusing energy trajectories along protein chains unconstrained by
neuronal boundaries, laser-like assemblies of coherent water molecules spanning
the entirety of the brain, and their combined commerce with the extracerebral
Those ambient transactions bring home the
authors most innovative and challenging point: that the doubling of his theorys degrees of freedom
to reach outside the brain is intrinsic to the physical core of
consciousness. Such a neurocognitively
eccentric outlook is radical yet responsibly rigorous; its claims will likely
prove testable through experiment in the future.
A committed critic might cite small
stylistic defects in My Double Unveiled, such as scattered grammatical
errors, to serve as a platform for assaults on the authors overall theoretical
agenda. A dogmatic opponent might also
complain about the books occasionally precipitous metaphysical leaps, which
include an unsupported conflation of energy excitation with emergent
consciousness during the recall of stored memories.
However, these are minor details. All told, Vitiellos new volume is a
wellspring of superbly reasoned yet daring enlightenment from which human
sciences of the coming century will surely profit.
2001 Donald Mender
Donald Mender, M. D., New York Medical College, is on the board of the
Association for the Advancement of Philosophy and Psychiatry.
Publishers Web Site