The relevance of physics to consciousness research relies on the fact that it is central to the understanding of complex dynamical systems. In particular, a proper description of brain dynamics that is characterized by long-range coherence and rapidly forming activity patterns necessitates the theoretical foundations of quantum field theory. In such macroscopic quantum phenomena, the collective behavior of the system components is caused by their resonant coupling to an omnipresent background field.
The conceptual approach to the development of a theory of consciousness is based on the hypothesis that the entire spectrum of phenomenal qualities is inherent in a ubiquitous background field, termed zero-point field (ZPF). A central element of the approach is that the brain-ZPF coupling results in the formation of conscious states, involving a universal mechanism which manifests itself in highly synchronized, coherent activity patterns constituting the neural correlates of consciousness (NCC).
The main focus of the research activities is to ground the postulated mechanism on a sound physical foundation and to substantiate the mechanism experimentally. More precisely, the short-term research agenda is intended to pursue two specific aims, each representing theoretical predictions and empirical approaches for testing the predictions.
Aim 1: Study neurotransmitter-ZPF interactions. A quantum theoretical description of the neurotransmitter-ZPF interface will be developed. This interface is expected to form the bedrock of the bottom-up orchestration process underlying coherent neural activity patterns. The predicted critical concentrations of neurotransmitters required for resonant neurotransmitter-ZPF coupling and thus for the initiation of phase transitions in microcolumns, which are the elementary functional units of the cortex, will be compared with empirical data. Furthermore, due to the resonant neurotransmitter-ZPF interaction, downstream effects are expected that have significant impact on the functioning of microcolumns. These predicted effects will also be cross-checked against empirical findings.
Aim 2: Study dynamical characteristics of the NCC. Based on the understanding of the ZPF-driven dynamical properties of individual microcolumns, the interplay between microcolumns, which is responsible for the formation of the long-range coherent activity patterns, will be studied. To this end, the theoretical apparatus developed and the insights gained as part of Aim 1 will be used to set up a framework suited for describing the macroscopic system behavior. Based on this framework, predictions regarding the dynamical characteristics of the NCC will be made. These predictions can be compared with dynamical key indicators derived from NCC measurements.
By achieving these aims, new evidence will be generated to support the hypothesis that conscious states are associated with dynamical states of the brain that require an interaction with the ZPF. Furthermore, the results of this research agenda will enable more extensive theoretical and experimental studies that are grounded on a solid conceptual foundation.