Is relating Quantum field theory to the brain and how the brain works silly?

  1. Hey everyone,

    I would like to first point out I am not a biology major in any way...I am a physics major, with a ever increasing interest in neuroscience.

    I am trying my best right now to find ways that I can incorporate my physics knowledge to the brain.

    Right now I am trying to figure out some basic research in which I can incorporate physics into the brain, but having a hard time. (if anyone has any suggestions I would LOVE to hear them)

    I have been interested and been learning a great deal about quantum field theory, and I have read a couple things on hypothesis that the quantum field theory can be applied to the brain. Or is this considered silly and.... however you want to put silly research lol ?

    Is it worth looking further into the relationship of quantum field theory to the brain, or maybe someone who is well versed in biology can suggest other ways we can incorporate physics to the brain.

    Thanks all! :)
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Ryan_m_b

    Staff: Mentor

    Quantum chemistry applied to biochemistry is indeed an active area of research. However in the case of the brain there has been controversy because there are groups that have made strong claims that consciousness is the product of quantum effects without experimental data to support said claims.
     
  4. Yes, I have heard a few things about that concern.

    As you said, there is no experimental data to support such claims on quantum brain dynamics.

    However, can this be a possible area to look to research, or is it simply something impossible to research?

    EDIT: Since you know what I am trying to say, do you have any suggestions on research I can look into that relates physics to the brain as in disorders in many forms. ?
     
  5. Ryan_m_b

    Staff: Mentor

    I don't see why not but then again neither quantum physics nor neuroscience are my field
    Yes, nuclear medicine and/or imaging would be great avenues to explore for someone with a physics background.
     
    Last edited: Oct 8, 2012
  6. atyy

    atyy 10,078
    Science Advisor

    That's silly. But the techniques of QFT (path integral) are applicable to the brain.
    http://arxiv.org/abs/1009.5966
    http://neurotheory.columbia.edu/~larry/ToyoizumiPRE11.pdf
    http://www-clmc.usc.edu/publications//T/TheodorouThesisCorrected.pdf
     
  7. Hey...

    atyy, so you are saying quantum brain dynamics is silly?

    Thanks for those links, pretty interesting stuff!
     
  8. atyy

    atyy 10,078
    Science Advisor

    Yes, unless you want to do quantum chemistry or something like that, but that's more chemistry than biology, if one is allowed to draw such conventional distinctions.

    Even in physics, statistical field theory as used in critical phenomena uses the formalism of the quantum field theory, but the physics itself is classical statistical mechanics.
     
  9. Mute

    Mute 1,391
    Homework Helper

    There are plenty of physicists who are studying nervous systems at various levels (individual neurons, coupled neurons, retinal neurons, etc), either with mathematical modeling, computation or experiments. There's lots of modelling to be done to understand the basic physics of neural systems. As atyy mentioned, some models can employ field theory mathematical techniques (path integrals, etc), but that doesn't have anything to do with quantum mechanics. See, for example, the supplementary information of this paper (access will require you to log in through your university's library or be on their network).

    People seem to have this idea that "We have no idea how consciousness really works!" and "We have no idea how quantum mechanics really works!" somehow imply that consciousness must somehow be related to quantum mechanics, but that's just not a good enough rationale to investigate a connection between the two. That hasn't stopped people from trying (e.g., Roger Penrose). The suggestions, since they are typically not guided by any sort of experiments, usually come off more as crazy fringe theories. Penrose and Osheroff(sp?)'s theory of quantum computation in the brain gained some traction for some reason (probably Penrose advocating it), but last I heard their proposal for the mechanism of quantum computation was shown experimentally to be physiologically unreasonable.

    That said, there are sometimes places for quantum mechanics in biological studies (not necessarily the brain). For example, I believe quantum mechanics plays some role in photosynthesis (or at least models of it). Similarly, there has been research on quantum entanglement in cryptochrome in bird eyes, see this article, for example.

    In sum, there's plenty of theoretical research to be done in neuroscience that use physics techniques, but it might not involve quantum mechanics.
     
  10. You may find this article interesting.

    Abstract:
    For other physicsy approaches, statistical mechanics, dynamical systems & chaos theory, information theory, network theory and classical electrodynamics have all been used to construct mathematical models of various brain functions.
     
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