The Institute is being established in La Jolla, California, with collaborations in London and Oxford. We are open to scientific collaborators from around the world who are interested in understanding consciousness, human creativity, and the unification of quantum mechanics and general relativity. We work with mathematicians, neurologists and physicists, on computation, the brain and unification and cosmology problems. If you have an interest in working with the Institute, please feel free to contact us.
Human and Artificial Intelligence
Over the coming decades AI will profoundly change the nature of human work. What should humans do with our apparently unique gift of creative intelligence? Is this gift truly unique?
Human Intelligence appears very different to today’s artificial intelligence, but AI is getting stronger by the day. Is there something human beings can do that an artificial intelligence can not? This is both a fundamental question in mathematics and computer science, and a question with enormous practical implications as we decide what people should learn in the next few decades and how we should best work with artificial intelligence.
We look to identify people with exceptional abilities for solving non-computable puzzles so that we may image and record their fMRI, MEG and EEG activity and identify the regions of the brain associated with creativity. Through this we may come closer to uncovering the seat of creativity within the brain, or use these patterns as feedback to enhance and train creative ability. Genetic factors can be found by testing siblings, parents and offspring of highly gifted people to determine whether such creative ability is inherited.
It used to be thought that exotic quantum effects played no part in biology, and was confined to experiments undertaken near absolute zero in physics laboratories. A revolution is taking place. We now understand that quantum mechanics is important for modelling chemical processes in the body, such as protein folding in the presence of water. More excitingly, we have seen the first indications of exotic effects. Photosynthesis gains its efficiency from quantum coupling, and some birds appear to use a quantum compass located in their eyes in order to navigate.
Current studies focus on the Connectome – the map of connections between the neurons in the human brain. Sophisticated maps are being built by governments, including the US BRAIN Initiative and the EU Human Brain Project (HBP), along with private institutes such as The Allen Brain Institute. The EU project aims to simulate the brain by running a model of the Connectome on super-computers. However, problems arise as a pure Connectome model does not appear to capture sufficient information to model the workings of a biological neural network. Efforts to fully simulate a virtual worm, the C. elegans nematode, have so far failed despite having a perfect copy of its connectome of around 300 neurons. Of course, worms don’t exhibit creative behaviour. Our goal is to probe and model sub-neuronal structure and determine how small scale and quantum effects are significant to its operation.
The interplay between quantum mechanics and general relativity and its relationship to information theory has largely been a theoretical exercise for the last 30 years. Recent improvements in engineering are allowing us to begin to see relativistic effects directly. LIGO provided the first direct evidence of gravitational waves and recent proposals suggest Bose-Einstein Condensates (BECs) could be the first place where relativistic and quantum effects are exhibited simultaneously. We hope to use these to build a bridge between quantum mechanics and general relativity and potentially throw light on the physics that underlies consciousness.
We are always on the lookout for exceptional scientific talent, either to work at the Institute, or collaborate with us. Here are some skills and roles that we are typically working with.
- Mathematicians working in non-computability, complexity and decidability.
- Neurologists with skill in culturing and probing brain tissue.
- Nano technologists able to probe brain tissues.
- Mathematical Physicists with an experimental inclination.
Q: Why is there a need for a new Institute, and how are you different?
The Penrose Institute tackles a range of topics from an innovative viewpoint, using newly available quantum technologies. It has a unique perspective on the operation of the human brain and its creative capabilities, and seeks a cross functional integrated approach to understanding this.
Q: Isn’t the Allen Institute, among others doing this already?
Other Institutes accept a complex model for neuronal firing but do not ascribe the same level of importance to sub-neuronal structure in the brain, particularly its role in computation. Therefore the work we do is unique. As a corollary, our approach is also controversial with some scientists.
Q: Why is an entrepreneur founding this Institute, rather than a neurologist with a PhD?
The Institute is being founded jointly by entrepreneurs, neurologists and physicists with a variety of qualifications and experience. Putting people with different backgrounds together is a fundamental principle of the Institute.
Q: Hasn’t the Gödel proposal put forward by Roger Penrose been discredited?
No, the proposal is hard to prove. It requires us to know what rules are present in the human brain and show they have been extended. The Institute also depends on the work of Alan Turing who showed certain things are non-computable. We argue that humans appear to exhibit non-computable capability and are intent on investigating this in an open minded manner.
Q: What happens to the Institute if quantum effects in the brain are disproved?
All chemistry is quantum, so our brains are definitely quantum mechanical structures. The debate is whether ‘exotic’ quantum effects, such as entanglement and non-locality, are in play. Our work on modelling uses quantum principles and will at least allow a better model of the workings of neurons. At best we may prove that ‘exotic’ quantum behavior in the brain lead to consciousness.
Q: Do researchers need to work on Orch OR, Twister theory and non-computability to work at The Penrose Institute?
No, The Penrose Institute is inspired by the interests and approach of Sir Roger Penrose across a range of scientific areas concerning the brain, quantum gravity and cosmology. If you have a genuinely valid, creative and innovative approach to tackling these problems we welcome your involvement. We believe there is something special to discover about the working of the human brain, and we suspect this has implications on our understanding of quantum mechanics.
Q: What is your charitable / non-profit status?
The Penrose Institute has partnered with Inquiring Systems, Inc., a Californian non-profit (normally referred to as a charity in the UK) which helps newly formed non-profits to operate. This is because the process of registration in the USA is very lengthy. In normal circumstances your donations should be tax deductible in both the UK and USA. Clearly we are unable to provide you legal or tax advice and you should consult your own advisors on these matters.