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Sep 08, 2018

A Little Soul Search

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The Gita is beginning to make sense to scientists too, writes MUKUL SHARMA
 
During the Great War when Arjuna had developed cold feet at the prospect of killing his cousins, his charioteer Krishna wised him up thus: “Know that to be imperishable and indestructible, by which all this is pervaded; for none can bring about the destruction of this indestructible substance, the imperishable soul.”He then added: “The soul is never born nor dies at any time. Soul has not come into being, does not come into being and will not come into being. Soul is unborn, eternal, ever-existing and primeval. Soul is not slain when the body is slain.”
 
Now any scientist would immediately consider the above statements as a whole lot of ancient Hindu hooey to convey some kind of mysterious eastern knowledge or tradition. But here’s a little trick: replace the word ‘soul’ with ‘information’ and suddenly the passages from the Bhagwad Gita would make sense to any person of science.
 
For starters, they would immediately recall the days when everybody thought that anything that drops into a black hole — including all the information it contains — is destroyed forever at the singularity at its centre. Till, that is, Stephen Hawking came along and discovered what are now known as Hawking Radiation. Basically this states that black holes are not forever; they slowly evaporate while leaking out stuff that had been swallowed.
 
This brings us to how cheap media and digital tabloids also use the same trick by converting ‘information’ into ‘soul’ to grab more eyeballs. Here’s a typical example: ‘Scientists Find That the Soul Doesn’t Die — It Goes Back to the Universe’.
 
What they’re talking about is a two-decade-old theory proposed by the mathematical physicist Roger Penrose and anaesthesiologist Stuart Hameroff, which suggests that following bodily death, the information content of consciousness does not perish along with its corporeal counterpart but returns and exists within an interconnected relationship with the universe. This happens, they maintain, because it was always part of it and will continue to be the same on both sides of eternity.
 
It must be noted here that these two gentlemen are not a couple of hick experimental hobos working on the fringes of science. Roger Penrose is the Emeritus Rouse Ball Professor of Mathematics at the Mathematical Institute of the University of Oxford and considered to be one of the leading physicists in the world, while Stuart Hameroff is director for the Center for Consciousness Studies and Emeritus professor for Anesthesiology and Psychology at the University of Arizona.
 
Unlike other brain scientists who think that consciousness is a function of the complexity of nerve cells or neurons in the brain, they posit that inside our brain cells there are tiny structures called microtubules which develop like forests and determine its structure. They also suggest that the microtubules are perfectly designed to be the cell’s onboard computer, thereby processing information at the molecular level. Their theory argues that microtubules allow neurons and the brain in its entirety to function as a quantum computer.
 
So what happens when we die? According to Hameroff: “When the heart stops beating, the blood stops flowing and the microtubules lose their quantum state. The quantum information within the microtubules is not destroyed, it can’t be destroyed. It just distributes and dissipates to the universe at large.” The theory also maintains that if the patient is resuscitated, the quantum information goes back inside the microtubules and the patient says, “I had a near death experience.” However, if they are not revived, then it is possible for the information to exist outside the body, indefinitely.
 
Update: In 2014, a research group led by Anirban Bandyopadhyay, PhD, at the National Institute of Material Sciences in Tsukuba, Japan, seemed to corroborate the pair’s theory by experimentally showing the existence of quantum vibrations in microtubules inside brain neurons.
 
It’s a good thing Arjuna got his charioteer’s point.
 
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