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by Giuseppe Vitiello
John Benjamins Publishing, 2001
Review by Donald Mender, M.D. on Dec 27th 2001

My Double Unveiled

    At the dawn of our present millennium, cognitive neuroscience has come to embrace concepts at least as old as modernity itself.  Over the past century, Ramon Y. Cajal’s interneuronal synapse, George Boole’s logic, and the statistical thermodynamics of Boltzmann and Gibbs have coalesced to shape a current view of the mind-brain nexus called the neural network model. 

    Virtually all mainstream research programs in psychobiology now base themselves on the notion that consciousness stems from networks of brain cells organized like a computer with several processors operating in parallel.   It is assumed that discrete processing units identified as individual neurons perform the cognitive work of the brain and that interactions among them, mediated by chemical signals across synaptic gaps, provide bridges for the relevant logical transformations.  It is also now widely believed that flow of information through brain pathways is best described in terms of analogies to the collective Newtonian behaviors of classical physical particles, i. e. statistical mechanics. 

    Yet another, newer and more powerful mode of understanding the conscious brain has been germinating during the last two decades.  Pioneers of this growing heterodoxy have included Hiroomi Umezawa, Karl Pribaum, Stuart Hameroff, Kunio Yasue, Gordon Globus, and Giuseppe Vitiello.  Their forward-thinking approaches rely not on aging analogies to classical statistical mechanics but on fresh variations of post-Newtonian quantum field theory (QFT).  The material substrate germane to their ideas is not the compartmentalized neuron but the bulk matter of the whole brain including glial cells.  Logics embraced by QFT advocates point beyond the merely Boolean and may even turn out to transcend quantum expansions by moving into completely non-computational domains.  

    Emerging QFT heresies in psychobiology are at least as plausible as the orthodoxy of classical neural network theory.  Kunio Yasue and his collaborator, Mari Jibu, have made this plausibility clear in their seminal introduction to quantum neurodynamics.  Giuseppe Vitiello’s new book, My Double Unveiled, published within the same series as the Yasue-Jibu volume, summarizes and then greatly extends the nascent quantum neurodynamic viewpoint with poetic eloquence and deep rigor.  Vitiello writes in a style and at a level accessible to readers familiar only in a general way with the central concepts of modern physics; no technical equations clutter the text.  Yet his penetrating arguments are developed in a meticulously progressive sequence that moves from overarching to specific insights regarding the possible quantum field-theoretical foundations of conscious mental experience.    

    The author begins by demonstrating that mere catalogues of accumulated experimental data about biological systems cannot by themselves explain the physics of living organisms; dynamic factors must be considered as well.  He then argues that the stability of immensely complex biological structures in space and of intricate biochemical processes over time involves numbers of macromolecules too small to support the classical statistical mechanics of large atomistic collectives as a dynamical model of life.  According to the author, only QFT with its multiplication of material states, each equally stable, can handle the complexity of living matter. 

    The book then shows how QFT implies magnification of quantum principles to a scale larger than the microscopic domain of subatomic physics.  Resulting macroscopic quantum effects, in the form of highly organized matter-waves merging neural structure with function, can engulf and direct the entire behaving brain.  What then emerges is a model of memory, plasticity, and other psychobiological phenomena rooted in self-focusing energy trajectories along protein chains unconstrained by neuronal boundaries, laser-like assemblies of coherent water molecules spanning the entirety of the brain, and their combined commerce with the extracerebral environment.

    Those ambient transactions bring home the author’s most innovative and challenging point:  that the doubling of his theory’s degrees of freedom to reach outside the brain is intrinsic to the physical core of consciousness.  Such a neurocognitively eccentric outlook is radical yet responsibly rigorous; its claims will likely prove testable through experiment in the future.

    A committed critic might cite small stylistic defects in My Double Unveiled, such as scattered grammatical errors, to serve as a platform for assaults on the author’s overall theoretical agenda.  A dogmatic opponent might also complain about the book’s occasionally precipitous metaphysical leaps, which include an unsupported conflation of energy excitation with emergent consciousness during the recall of stored memories. 

    However, these are minor details.   All told, Vitiello’s new volume is a wellspring of superbly reasoned yet daring enlightenment from which human sciences of the coming century will surely profit.              

 

© 2001 Donald Mender


Donald Mender, M. D., New York Medical College, is on the board of the Association for the Advancement of Philosophy and Psychiatry.

 

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