Musical Computation

@midjourneybot: /imagine: analog computation orchestrated into layers

Musical Computation

In the first chapter, we learned how a Tesla computer “decides” where the road goes from its raw camera data. Millions of pixels are loaded into the first layer of a neural network. Then the second layer looks for line segments. Then the third layer looks for lines. Then the fourth layer looks for shapes. With all its best guesses completed, the top layer makes the final decision. Well, our brain works exactly the same way.

If the Observer Effect in quantum mechanics uses our attention to render reality, then there must be some kind of quantum connection in our brains that connect it to the universe, right? Fortunately, my favorite Theory of Consciousness works just like that. It was developed by Sir Roger Penrose and Stuart Hameroff and is called Orchestrated Objective Reduction, or Orch OR for short.

Penrose and Hameroff are such unlikely research partners. Hameroff is a tie-dye wearing anesthesiologist and consciousness researcher. He uses fMRI machines to watch people’s brains on enough drugs to make them unconscious. Hameroff was researching small microtubules in our brain to understand their role in cancer and noticed that their activity dropped significantly when people were unconscious. Hameroff’s first book on the topic was called “Ultimate Computing”, published in 1987. Here’s how Hameroff describes himself, “I think more like a quantum Buddhist, in that there is a universal proto-conscious mind which we access, and can influence us. But it actually exists at the fundamental level of the universe, at the Planck scale.”

Share this with a friend who might identify as a quantum Buddhist.


Hameroff essentially believes our consciousness is “quantumly entangled” with the universe. I agree.

Sir Roger Penrose is a coat-and-tie wearing Professor of Mathematics at Oxford University who won awards for his physics work with Stephen Hawking. The wiki for Hameroff describes their partnership like this, “Separately from Hameroff, the English mathematical physicist Roger Penrose had published his first book on consciousness, The Emperor's New Mind, in 1989. On the basis of Gödel's incompleteness theorems, he argued that the brain could perform functions that no computer or system of algorithms could. From this it could follow that consciousness itself might be fundamentally non-algorithmic, and incapable of being modeled as a classical Turing machine type of computer. This ran counter to the belief that it is explainable mechanistically, which remains the prevailing view among neuroscientists and artificial intelligence researchers.”

“Penrose saw the principles of quantum theory as providing an alternative process through which consciousness could arise. He further argued that this non-algorithmic process in the brain required a new form of quantum wave reduction, later given the name objective reduction (OR), which could link the brain to the fundamental spacetime geometry.”

“Hameroff was inspired by Penrose's book to contact Penrose regarding his own theories about the mechanism of anesthesia, and how it specifically targets consciousness via action on neural microtubules. The two met in 1992, and Hameroff suggested that the microtubules were a good candidate site for a quantum mechanism in the brain. Penrose was interested in the mathematical features of the microtubule lattice, and over the next two years the two collaborated in formulating the orchestrated objective reduction (Orch-OR) model of consciousness. Following this collaboration, Penrose published his second consciousness book, Shadows of the Mind (1994).”

Okay, let’s try to explain all that. Neuroscientists agree that our brains use neural networks. Cells called Neurons are nodes in the neural network. Each neuron has a long tail called an Axon. At the end of each axon are multiple terminals, which connect to other neurons to make the network. These interfaces are called Synapses. That’s pretty standard neuroscience. Orch OR agrees with all that. But Orch OR goes on to claim that within each neuron there are 100M Microtubules performing quantum calculations with the universe.

Your brain is a quantum computing neural network.

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Stuart Hameroff has authored several whitepapers on Orch OR. They are complicated so here’s one of the abstracts to make it simple: “The ‘Orch OR’ theory attributes consciousness to quantum computations in microtubules inside brain neurons. Quantum computers process information as superpositions of multiple possibilities (quantum bits or qubits) which, in Orch OR, are alternative collective dipole oscillations orchestrated (‘Orch’) by microtubules. These orchestrated oscillations entangle, compute, and terminate (‘collapse of the wavefunction’) by Penrose objective reduction (‘OR’), resulting in sequences of Orch OR moments with orchestrated conscious experience (metaphorically more like music than computation). Each Orch OR event selects microtubule states which govern neuronal functions. Orch OR has broad explanatory power, and is easily falsifiable.”

Pretty simple, right? 🫤

The easiest metaphor to understand what these microtubules are doing is “vacuum tubes”. In early computers, vacuum tubes were primarily used as electronic switches and amplifiers. They could be configured to perform logical operations, such as AND, OR, and NOT, which are the basic building blocks of digital circuits. The microtubules in our neurons hold analog waves and perform calculations by adding and subtracting them together. Analog Computation is one of the main reasons quantum computers are so much faster than digital computers.

The reason Orch OR is called “Orchestrated” is because these little vacuum tubes resonate at different frequencies, like various instruments in an orchestra. In Hameroff’s abstract, he mentions “sequences of moments with orchestrated conscious experience”, which is a neurobiologist’s way of describing different layers of a neural network. In other words, microtubules organize themselves into neural network layers based on how much time they need to calculate. The “lowest level” calculations are synchronized to happen more than one billion times per second, which is gigahertz speed. These steps have to be super quick, like loading raw pixel data into individual neurons. Those calculations are fed into layers that calculate millions of times per second—megahertz. Those calculations are fed into layers that process thousands of times per second—kilohertz. The “highest order” calculations are measured in hertz, which is just one time per second.

Just take a moment and think about how slow our inner monologues really are. Humans read about 200-300 words per minute so our inner monologues may only produce between 1 and 5 words per second (hertz). Inner monologues are essentially a Private Chatbot prompt where we get to talk to the rest of ourselves. Our brains hide so much of their computation from us that our consciousness is generally the last to know what’s going on. For example, when your hand gets near a hot stove…it is already moving by the time “you” notice.

The Orch OR theory is still controversial among scientists, but it’s explanatory, testable, and falsifiable. Sir Roger Penrose is a mathematical genius who knows more about Quantum Mechanics than you or I ever will and Hameroff controls consciousness for a living. After all their research they have both concluded that our brains are Quantum Computing Neural Networks powered by the “vibes” of the universe. What’s not to like about that theory? 😎

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If you wanna learn more about their research, here’s a 2-hour lecture from Penrose and Hameroff explaining Orch OR:

@philosophers: The Orch OR theory creates some very interesting philosophical questions. Let’s explore them using another Minecraft analogy. Imagine we simulate our world in Minecraft and use ChatGPT to seed an artificial player called “Minecraft-Adam”. We program Minecraft-Adam’s reward system to get better at the game and the only physics that Minecraft-Adam can experience is rendered by the Minecraft physics engine. Make this digital metaphor as elaborate as you want.

  • Does Minecraft-Adam have free-will?

  • If we changed the “weights” in Minecraft-Adam’s neural network to behave a different way, did we rob him of his free-will?

  • Would Minecraft-Adam notice if we changed the weights of his neural network or would he assume his preferences changed naturally?

  • What would Penrose Reduction be like for this imaginary world?

  • Is a life made out of bits worth less than a life made out of quanta? And if that’s true, is a life made out of quanta worth less than the lives of whoever can make a quantum simulation?

  • Let’s say Minecraft-Adam could measure the pixels of his reality and learned that his whole universe was actually “flat”, operating on a disk drive. How is this any different from Conformal Compactification from our perspective?

  • What would be the “dark matter” of Minecraft-Adam’s universe?

  • If you entered Minecraft-Adam’s universe with an avatar, how would you explain atoms to him?

  • If we paused our Minecraft universe to go eat dinner, would Minecraft-Adam perceive that his universe was paused? Could all the energy in our universe be paused at the same time? Is there a Quantum Clock Cycle?

  • Is generative-ai just another name for imagination?

  • Could Minecraft-Adam have free-will imagination AND not lie to himself?

  • Why would we program Minecraft-Adam to need 8 hours of sleep each day?

  • Why would we want to hide our existence from Minecraft-Adam? What could we learn?

  • If we could create a self-sentient Minecraft-Adam, it seems like his life would get streamed on the internet for everyone to watch like the Truman Show. Somebody would do that for money or for science. Is that an invasion of privacy?

  • Is our universe the most interesting “reality TV show” in the multiverse? Maybe we’re not even in the top 15 most popular “quantum-reality shows”.

  • Are we quantum avatars for a Sim-Life type video game for other players in the multiverse? Do we perceive their game-play choices as our free-will?

  • Do we have subscribers from other universes to the “quantum data feeds” we produce?

  • Can the words in our inner monologues come from anything other than us?

What’s the most important question I didn’t ask?

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I wrote this book in Google Docs to help inform my Google News feed while I worked. Less than a week after I wrote these Minecraft-Adam questions, Google recommended an article about some computer scientists researching this exact scenario. Here’s how they describe their project, “We introduce Voyager, the first LLM-powered embodied lifelong learning agent in Minecraft that continuously explores the world, acquires diverse skills, and makes novel discoveries without human intervention.”

@google: My YouTube is so dialed into what I’m thinking about in life. Google Maps, Google Docs, and Gmail feeding the recommendation engines for my YouTube and Google News are some of the best Returns on Attention and Returns on Privacy in my life. Digital literacy elevated. 🙏

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➡️: Adaptive Hardware

⬅️: The Quantum Neural Network

⬆️: Table of Contents

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