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Stuart Hameroff, MD, is an anesthesiologist and professor at the University of Arizona known for his promotion of the scientific study of consciousness, and his speculative theories of the 'mechanisms' of consciousness.
His early research suggested to him that part of the solution to the problem of understanding consciousness may lie in understanding the operations of microtubules in brain cells, operations at the molecular and supramolecular level. The operations of microtubules are remarkably complex and their role pervasive in cellular operations; these facts led to the speculation that computation sufficient for consciousness may somehow be occurring there. These ideas are discussed in his first book Ultimate Computing (1987). Further thinking led him to speculate that the role of quantum mechanics, which is the correct theory of matter at the atomic and subatomic level, may have essential ramifications in an explanation of consciousness. This led him to collaborate with mathematical physicist Roger Penrose in developing the 'Orch-OR' (Orchestrated Objective Reduction) model of quantum mechanics, leading to an explanation of quantum coherence occurring within the brain's neural microtubules, which in this theory leads to consciousness and quantum mind.
This work began with Penrose's theory that consciousness must be fundamentally non-algorithmic, and incapable of being modeled as a classical Turing machine type of computer, as was prevalent in the field of Artificial Intelligence at the time. Penrose saw the principles of quantum theory as providing an alternate mechanism for consciousness.
He was inspired by Penrose's book The Emperor's New Mind (1989) to contact Penrose regarding his own theories about the mechanism of anesthesia and how it specifically targets consciousness via action on neural microtubules. Penrose became interested in the mathematical features of microtubule architecture, and the two collaborated in formulating the Orch-OR theory of consciousness.
He was the lead organizer of the first Tucson consciousness meeting in 1994 that brought together approximately 300 people interested in consciousness for the first time (e.g., David Chalmers, Christof Koch, Bernard Baars, Roger Penrose, Benjamin Libet). This conference is widely regarded as a landmark event within the field of consciousness studies, and by bringing researchers from various disciplines together lead to various useful synergies, including for instance indirectly to the formation of the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness, and more directly to the creation of the Center for Consciousness Studies at the University of Arizona, of which he is now the director. The Center for Consciousness Studies hosts meetings on study of consciousness every two years, as well as sponsoring seminars on consciousness theory.
Dr. Hameroff appeared as himself in the documentary film What tнe ♯$*! Do ωΣ (k)πow!? (2004). He also participated in the first Beyond Belief conference, where his theories were sharply criticized by Lawrence Krauss, among others.
- Stuart Hameroff with Conrad Schneiker, Ultimate computing: Biomolecular consciousness and nanotechnology, Elsevier-North Holland, 1987. This work predates the quantum Orch-OR hypothesis; still of interest. Online at author's site
- Hameroff, Kaszniak, Scott, (eds), Toward a Science of Consciousness, MIT Press, ISBN 0-262-08249-7, LoC OP411.T68 1996. papers from the first Tucson conference on study of consciousness. Further volumes in the series exist.
- Roger Penrose, Shadows of the Mind: A Search for the Missing Science of Consciousness, Oxford, ISBN 0-19-853978-9, LoC Q335.P416 1994. This discusses the Orch-OR theory.
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