The Penrose Institute is inspired by the scientific philosophy and work of Roger Penrose. It seeks to understand the human brain, creativity and the interplay between quantum mechanics and general relativity.
Nearly 30 years ago Roger Penrose wrote a book, The Emperor’s New Mind, in which he challenged the conventional wisdom that human brains were computers. He went further, and proposed that they were not even quantum computers, but that a deeper understanding of physical laws would be needed to explain consciousness. His proposal was considered highly controversial. Physicists pointed out that exotic quantum effects only showed themselves in the laboratory near absolute zero: How could exotic quantum mechanical effects occur in the relatively hot brain? Recently three major developments have brought his ideas back to the forefront: We have found exotic quantum effects drive photosynthesis in plants and there is growing acceptance that some birds use an exotic quantum effect to aid navigation. We have built working quantum computers. And, artificial intelligence is making giant leaps causing us to wonder what the limits of AI might be.
Roger believes the human brain displays creative abilities that are beyond brute force computation. His thought is that mathematical and artistic creativity rely on the faculty of human understanding and that understanding is a non-computable phenomenon – meaning that computers and AIs will never be able to duplicate the human brain. Understanding things allows us to quickly solve problems, displaying intuition, imagination and ingenuity as we do. How the brain performs these feats is a mystery. It must utilize some clever tricks because it consumes far less power than today’s computers, but most scientists believe these ‘tricks’ can be achieved by computation. Roger believes this is not so and the ‘tricks’ will require us to modify our understanding of the interplay between quantum mechanics and general relativity, perhaps leading to new physics. It is the aim of the Institute to study these ideas.
Whether the tricks humans employ to display creativity require exotic physics or simply clever algorithm techniques is a matter of considerable debate. What is not in question is that the brain is able to perform these tricks – whatever they are – allowing humans to be wonderfully creative and solve all manner of hard problems: goal seeking, dealing with new circumstances, having a gut feeling for right and wrong and so on. The Institute has an open mind as to which of these two interpretations is correct and seeks to discover the truth through rigorous experiments.
On this journey of discovery, we will probe the human brain at the nano scale, model it in computers and test it under laboratory conditions. We hope our research will shed light on both its marvellous creative capabilities as well as the problems that occur with age and disease. The brain is our most critical organ. It defines ‘us’ and can’t be replaced as we age.
Key research objectives include computational and biological modelling. Creating software and biological tools that help humans use their unique intelligence. Investigating quantum effects in the brain and developing experiments that might lead to an understanding of quantum collapse. Using BEC devices to give us insight into the relationship between quantum mechanics and general relativity.
Since all that we experience in our Universe is through our conscious observation, understanding the brain – the seat of consciousness – must be one of our most important scientific endeavours.
Sir Roger Penrose OM FRS
Many people have been inspired by Roger Penrose’s innovative ideas and approach to science, in particular his views on creative understanding and human consciousness. The prevalent scientific view is that the human brain is a classical computer formed by the network of connections between our neurons. Penrose’s view is that this model is insufficient to explain the working of the human mind and that new physics is needed to understand how consciousness arises.
To understand the human mind, the cosmos and the laws of physics that govern them, and to spread the wonder of science and mathematics, inspired by the work of Roger Penrose.
The Institute will follow the scientific philosophy of Roger Penrose across a broad range of interrelated scientific domains. This philosophy is born of a passion to uncover paradoxes in our current understanding of physics and propose new ideas that can be experimentally tested. Such tests may, of course, result in the disproof of the ideas, even his own! Our principles:
- Uncover paradoxes and failings in our current physics theorems.
- Consider both the physical world and the minds which observe it.
- Be creative, novel and challenge the status quo.
- Follow a rigorous and detailed scientific method with falsifiable theories proven by repeatable experiments.
- Be unfashionable, brave and controversial without being discourteous.
- If a principle needs to be changed, explain why and change it!