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A science-based afterlife: Can quantum entanglement save my failing body?

 Conceptual illustration of quantum dots in action.

Conceptual illustration of quantum dots in action.© (photo credit: Lars Lüder) 

Lately, it feels like my body is falling apart – from the cancer to the sciatica, the eye floaters, edema, insomnia, and recurrent lung infections.

I’m ready for a trade-in. Same brain, but how about a new body?

Such technology doesn’t exist today. You can’t just pop into some space-age “body shop” for the latest upgrade.

But even if it were real, I might not be so keen on “trading up” if what the physics of today suggests is correct.

Take Star Trek’s transporter. You step onto a platform, “energize,” and your atoms are disassembled, only to be reconstituted far away.

DOES CONSCIOUSNESS extend beyond our flesh and bones? (credit: Owen Beard/Unsplash)© Provided by The Jerusalem Post

DOES CONSCIOUSNESS extend beyond our flesh and bones? (credit: Owen Beard/Unsplash)

Unfortunately, if the transporter were real, it would require killing the person stepping onto the platform before inserting his or her consciousness into a new body. As science writer John Wenz notes, “Everyone you’ve loved on the show has died,” sometimes over and over again. 

While it would seem just like the OG Brian – same body, same memories, same personality quirks – my consciousness, that thing that makes me “me,” would essentially die, even if an exact copy would continue on for my loved ones.

I’m not sure the transporter operators would be so enthusiastic about their jobs if they had to clean up corpses every time someone beamed down to a planet.

In the Netflix series Altered Carbon, one’s consciousness is stored in a “cortical stack” implanted in the neck. If you want a different body, you just transfer the stack. But, as in the Star Trek example, the original “me” would be gone.

The fatal trade-offs would be the same if consciousness could be uploaded to a computer server. That, too, would not be a real transfer. (Sorry, fans of Amazon Prime’s subversive sci-fi comedy Upload.)

But what if you could shift your consciousness into a new body or digital framework without losing your connection to the original you? 

Quantum mechanics and shifting bodies

Scientists have proposed some eye-opening theories.

Nobel Prize winner Roger Penrose and anesthesiologist Stuart Hameroff have speculated that consciousness is a quantum process “facilitated by microtubules in the brain’s nerve cells.”

Quantum mechanics is the branch of science that deals with the behavior of matter and light on the subatomic scale. In Penrose and Hameroff’s hypothesis, consciousness is a “quantum wave” that, as it passes through those microtubules, affects the firing of neurons in the brain.

Quantum mechanics also encompasses such tantalizing properties as “superposition” – the ability to be in many places at the same time; and “entanglement” – where two particles that are far apart nevertheless remain connected. You could conceivably place one particle on a spaceship while the other remained on Earth; the particles would remain entangled, even if one is now in another solar system.

This could, theoretically, facilitate communication over great distances. Now, add in “superposition.” Could it then be possible to hold on to the “me” I know even in a new bodily “shell” by being able to exist in two places at once?

What if I popped my consciousness into a younger, healthier body? Would that still be “me”? Is consciousness “all in our heads,” destined to die along with our physical bodies? Or does consciousness extend beyond our flesh and bones?

An episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine explored this thought experiment.

A species known as the Trill looks human but houses a “symbiont,” a worm-like parasite, inside. This allows a single symbiont to live for hundreds of centuries, using different bodies.

In Deep Space Nine, Klingon Lt. Commander Worf falls in love with Jadzia Dax, a Trill. But when a shuttle accident results in mortal blows to her body, the symbiont is transferred to a new host. Only problem: Worf was in love not only with the symbiont but with Jadzia as a whole, including her body. Will he stay with his new Trill spouse? 


Susan Lahey summarized Penrose and Hameroff’s quantum waves in an issue of Popular Mechanics.

“Normal states of consciousness might be what we consider quite ordinary – knowing you exist, for example. But when you have a heightened state of consciousness, it’s because you’re dealing with quantum-level consciousness that is capable of being in all places at the same time. That means your consciousness can connect or entangle with quantum particles outside of your brain – anywhere in the universe, theoretically.”

DOES THAT point to a science-based afterlife?

The perception that there is a consciousness that exists outside of the physical self is the result of awareness of other universes that share our “state space,” writes scientist Timothy Palmer in his book The Primacy of Doubt: How the Science of Uncertainty Can Help Us Understand Our Chaotic World. 

When we imagine “what if” scenarios, we’re “actually getting information about versions of ourselves in other universes,” writes Lahey.

While scientists work out the overlap between quantum mechanics and consciousness, “quantum biology” is emerging as a new field of study.

In photosynthesis, Lahey points out, “plants use chlorophyll in a process that stores the energy from a photon.” A photon is essentially “a quantum particle of light.” The light hitting the plant wants to find the plant’s “reaction center.” It does so by trying all possible paths simultaneously.

That’s quantum superposition, Lahey writes. And the microtubules in our brain are even better than chlorophyll at maintaining quantum coherence.

Will quantum biology finally provide a fact-based explanation reconciling the supernatural with the physical world?

The technology to move consciousness from body to body or from body to computer is not here yet, but the possibility that one’s consciousness can interact with the rest of the universe and may even exist beyond an individual’s body in an extended state of quantum entanglement and superposition is enough to make one a believer.

I’m just not sure whether that’s in the world to come or in the majesty of science.  

Opinion by BRIAN BLUM: The Jerusalem 

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