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Quantum vibrations in brain microtubes supports controversial theorywellcome images/Flickr

The discovery of quantum vibrations inside the brain has opened a "Pandora's Box" in terms of theories about levels of consciousness.

A 20-year-old theory of consciousness published in the Physics of Life Reviews suggested that consciousness came from a deeper level, seemingly supporting spiritual approaches to how the brain works.

It was proposed by scientists Sir Roger Penrose and Stuart Hameroff in the mid-1990s and suggested that quantum vibrational computations in the brain microtubules were "orchestrated" ("Orch") by synaptic inputs and memories stored in microtubules. This was called "objective reduction" ('OR').

Microtubules are major components of the cell structural skeleton.

The theory, Orch OR, was highly criticised at the time, with scientists saying the brain was too warm, wet and noisy for quantum processes.

However, evidence now shows these processes can take place in plant photosynthesis, bird brain navigation and our sense of smell.

Did consciousness evolve from complex computations among brain neurons, as most scientists assert? Or has consciousness, in some sense, been here all along, as spiritual approaches maintain.

Now, the recent discovery of quantum vibrations in microtubules inside brain neurons by researchers in Japan backs up the original Orch OR theory, Penrose and Hameroff say.

Writing in their review, they authors say: "The origin of consciousness reflects our place in the universe, the nature of our existence. Did consciousness evolve from complex computations among brain neurons, as most scientists assert? Or has consciousness, in some sense, been here all along, as spiritual approaches maintain.

"This opens a potential Pandora's Box, but our theory accommodates both these views, suggesting consciousness derives from quantum vibrations in microtubules, protein polymers inside brain neurons, which both govern neuronal and synaptic function, and connect brain processes to self-organising processes in the fine scale, 'proto-conscious' quantum structure of reality."

Another aspect of the theory that has been introduced with the discovery of the quantum vibrations is that they appear to interfere and produce slower EEG frequencies. Despite being used in medicine for 100 years, the underlying origins of EEG rhythms have remained a mystery.

The authors say evidence now "clearly supports" their original theory: "Orch OR is the most rigorous, comprehensive and successfully-tested theory of consciousness ever put forth. From a practical standpoint, treating brain microtubule vibrations could benefit a host of mental, neurological, and cognitive conditions,"Hameroff concludes.