The Quantum Pontiff

Bad New Scientist has an article up today entitled Brain ‘entanglement’ could explain memories, which certainly must have sent Roger Penrose’s brain into a state of multiple correlated back-flips (twistor flips?) However, from the article:

Subatomic particles do it. Now the observation that groups of brain cells seem to have their own version of quantum entanglement, or “spooky action at a distance”, could help explain how our minds combine experiences from many different senses into one memory.

First of all, damnit New Scientist, entanglement is not just between “subatomic particles.” Second of all, the effect described is as similar to spooky action at a distance as the fact that when you look at my feet you’ll most likely see that I have the same color sock on both of my feet. To suggest that the effect described in this PLOS biology paper where they observed correlated local field potential mesurements in a monkey’s brain has got anything to do with quantum entanglement is…well…just plain wrong.

(Which is not to say that quantum effects might not arise in the brain: we simply don’t have any evidence of such effects and speculations about such effects arising are, so far, physically implausible. I.e. that’s how a scientist says: probably not, but I’m always ready to change my opinion with some good hard evidence.)

Comments

  1. #1 yogi-one
    January 14, 2010

    Damn – how does he get the same color sock on both feet?
    40 years of doing laundry and I still can’t master the sock-entanglement problem!

    He must be a true Big Brain…

  2. #2 Blake Stacey
    January 14, 2010

    . . . The Hell? My brain just got strongly correlated with my desk.

    I was glad to see people calling out New Scientist in that article’s comment thread — not that it’ll make a difference, of course. And then there are the folks trying to defend the magazine by saying, “It’s just a sensational headline!” or “They’re just making an analogy to help the readers understand!” OK, first of all: making an analogy to explain something only works if your readers understand the subject you’re making the analogy to. Saying “X is just like Y” does no good if Y is so technical it’s only understood by professional physicists and is surrounded by mystical Choprawoo babble besides. And as for sensationalizing the science — we’re sticking electrodes into monkey brains and measuring the signals inside. You don’t need to make up bullshit to make that interesting.

  3. #3 Dave Bacon
    January 14, 2010

    Blake…indeed! I sometimes wonder if New Scientist does this just to attract bloggers like me to link to their articles.

  4. #4 sikiş
    January 15, 2010

    I was glad to see people calling out New Scientist in that article’s comment thread — not that it’ll make a difference, of course. And then there are the folks trying to defend the magazine by saying, “It’s just a sensational headline!” or “They’re just making an analogy to help the readers understand!” OK, first of all: making an analogy to explain something only works if your readers understand the subject you’re making the analogy to. Saying “X is just like Y” does no good if Y is so technical it’s only understood by professional physicists and is surrounded by mystical Choprawoo babble besides. And as for sensationalizing the science — we’re sticking electrodes into monkey brains and measuring the signals inside. You don’t need to make up bullshit to make that interesting.

  5. #5 Jesse
    January 20, 2010

    Um… I thought quantum entanglement was limited to atomic- scale stuff, at least so far? I hadn’t heard of whole molecules getting entangled.. (Did I miss something in third semester physics? Or just misunderstand you terribly?)

  6. #6 Fashionwatch
    January 21, 2010

    Damn – how does he get the same color sock on both feet?
    40 years of doing laundry and I still can’t master the sock-entanglement problem!

    He must be a true Big Brain…

  7. #7 Dave Bacon
    January 21, 2010

    Jesse: First “subatomic” does not equal “atomic” :) Second yes larger than atomic systems have been entangled. See for example the experiment entangling two phase supercondcuting qubits http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v461/n7263/abs/nature08363.html (here is a writeup in sciencenews http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/47638/title/Entanglement_in_the_macroworld)

  8. #8 Jesse
    January 21, 2010

    Thanks! That helps a lot.

    You know, I remember in physics my big problem was that I never understood differential equations and vector calc well enough to really get the physics. (I got stuck on the potential barrier problem and Schrodinger’s equations. It was not until years later I found I wasn’t taught the notations they ere using! [bra ket] Arrrgh!)

    Ayhow, the stuff New Scientist published sounds a bit like the usual new-agey gobbledyook.

  9. #9 well
    May 16, 2010

    how about quantum entanglement behind photosynthesis?
    lawrence berkley and uc berkley physicists and chemists
    found it goin on:
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/05/100510151356.htm

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