≡ Menu

Dr. Stuart Hameroff: Consciousness is More than Computation!

Dr. Stuart Hameroff is a Professor of Anesthesiology and Psychology, and Director of the Center for Consciousness Studies at the University of Arizona. Together with British quantum physicist Sir Roger Penrose, Hameroff is the co-author of the controversial Orch OR model of consciousness.

I first met Dr. Hameroff at the recent GF2045 conference where the usually mild-mannered Ray Kurzweil went out of his way to make it abundantly clear that the Orch OR model is totally wrong. Others called it “speculative,” “non-testable” and “unscientific”. By now both Stuart and Roger must have become accustomed to such attacks, and I have developed a lot of respect for the calm but firm way they are daring to stand their ground. Furthermore, if the Orch OR model were to be correct, then, there will be profound implications on variety of fields and disciplines such as medicine, neuroscience, artificial intelligence, quantum physics and philosophy. And so I decided to bring Dr. Hameroff on Singularity 1 on 1 where we can confront the controversy head-on.

Stuart Hameroff

Photo by Carl Geers

During our 1 hour conversation with Stuart we cover a variety of interesting topics such as: how he got interested in studying consciousness and the definition thereof; why understanding anesthesia is the route to understanding consciousness; the hard problem of consciousness; why the brain is more than a classical computer; how Hameroff reached out to Roger Penrose after reading The Emperor’s New Mind; the Orch OR model and why the vast majority of scientists are disdainful of it; the best ways of proving or disproving the Hameroff/Penrose model and the most important implications if it is indeed correct; out-of-body experiences, quantum souls, afterlife, and reincarnation; Hinduism and Buddhism; cryonics and chemical brain preservation; Stuart’s upcoming paper [together with Roger Penrose] where they will review and present new evidence in support of the Orch OR theory.

Some of the most memorable quotes that I will take away from this interview are:

“Consciousness is the most important thing there is!”

“Assuming that a neuron is a bit-like [computer] firing ON or OFF is a tremendous insult to neurons.”

“Most scientists can’t explain consciousness in the brain, so they can’t say that consciousness out of the brain is impossible.”

“Consciousness is the music of the Universe.”

This is by far the highest quality, best produced and most expensive interview that I have done so far. It would have never happened without the generous support of Richard and Tatiana Sundvall. I am also very obliged to videographer Carl Geers not only for doing a great job behind the camera but also for putting up with my mercilessly caustic sense of humor for three long days. Finally, I want to thank Dr. Stuart Hameroff for welcoming a “Singularity/AI type” like me in his operating room, as well as his genuine willingness to address any and all of my tough questions on the spot, without preparation and prior approval.

(You can listen to/download the audio file above or watch the video interview in full. If you want to help me produce more high-quality episodes like this one please make a donation!)


Who is Stuart Hameroff?

Stuart R. Hameroff, M.D. is Professor of Anesthesiology and Psychology, and Director of the Center for Consciousness Studies at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona. A full-time clinical anesthesiologist, he also organizes the well-known interdisciplinary conferences Toward a Science of Consciousness, and serves on the Editorial Board of the Journal of Consciousness Studies. Stuart earned his B.S. in Chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh in 1969, and his M.D. at Hahnemann Medical College in Philadelphia in 1973.

In medical school in the early 1970s, Stuart became interested in microtubules, protein structures which organize intra-cellular activities. Struck by their lattice structure and seeming intelligence, Stuart and his colleagues in the 1980s developed a theory of microtubules as information processing devices — as self-organizing molecular computers inside cells, for example supporting consciousness in brain neurons. In 1987 he authored Ultimate Computing: Biomolecular Consciousness and Nanotechnology, which closed with a Singularity-like vision of large microtubule arrays into which human consciousness could be downloaded and preserved.

But while microtubule-level processing immensely increased the brain’s potential computational capacity, Stuart came to believe computation per se failed to solve the problem of conscious experience. Having also studied quantum-level mechanisms of anesthesia, he became enamored of quantum approaches to consciousness. In the early 1990s he teamed with Sir Roger Penrose to develop the controversial Penrose-Hameroff Orch OR model of consciousness based on quantum computation in microtubules within neurons. More recently, Stuart developed the conscious pilot, a theory supportive of Orch OR involving spatiotemporal envelopes of dendritic synchrony moving through the brain as a conscious agent, a concept similar to certain AI approaches of executive ‘bubbles of awareness’ moving through computational manifolds.

In addition to writing Ultimate Computing (Elsevier), Stuart has appeared in the surprise hit film What the Bleep!? and has published 140-or-so peer reviewed articles such as: The brain is both neurocomputer and quantum computerOrchestrated reduction of quantum coherence in brain microtubules (with Penrose), Conscious events as orchestrated space-time selections (with Penrose), Quantum computation in brain microtubules: Decoherence and biological feasibility (with physicists Scott Hagan and Jack Tuszynski).

Dr. Hameroff’s website is www.quantumconsciousness.org.


Like this article?

Please help me produce more content:



Please subscribe for free weekly updates:

  • Rich Sundvall

    Outstanding work Socrates. Another step up in your career.

  • I am only as good as my friends Rich! Those are the people without whom I will have neither the means nor the motivation to keep going 😉

  • Thank you, that was an absolutely thrilling interview, and has left me with more questions than answers, and I love when that happens.

    To be honest, I find Kurzweil’s opinions quite compelling, yet I also think if Hameroff is correct, we could be looking at a unified theory of consciousness and the quantum world that would not at all conflict with superintelligence that Kurzweil is predicting, although the time to the Singularity might have to be extended.

    But is that necessarily true? the Law of Accelerating Returns seems to hold true regardless of setbacks, including new theories or revisions, and perhaps what Hameroff needs is more computation to model the quantum state of microtubules? Perhaps 2045 isn’t impossible, and Kurzweil’s theory would hold true, and at the same time his views on consciousness could be proven wrong without affecting the Singularity. There is a lot to think about to reconcile Hameroff’s theory.

  • Marius Catalin

    So if the brain isn’t equivalent to 10^16 flops than why so many orders of magnitude higher. What is it doing with all that computing power? Conciseness? Is a huge difference between a classical brain and a quantum one in terms of computing power. You have a C Elegan worm that with his microtubules from the 300 or so neurons is orders of magnitude more powerful than the first from top500 list. And what is it doing? I don’t get it.

  • Guustaaf Damave

    Great show!

  • I don’t know what to say Marius, other than point out that Stuart Hameroff actually explains that. So perhaps you can give the interview a second listen and make sure you are not interrupted by other stuff 😉

  • Ian Too

    Thank you for a fascinating interview. You have a new subscriber from today.

    I came to this as a sceptic, as my opinion has always been that to have consciousness you have to have a brain and I have a prejudice against quantum explanations because so many new age charlatans invoke the quantum, despite their clear lack of understanding of it.

    Doctor Hameroff has however, given me plenty of food for thought and I will be listening to this interview again at least once to clarify issues.

    It does seem to me though, that even if there is an underlaying process, you still need a brain and computation to have a consciousness that involves awareness of qualia. That every interesting question about consciousness involves brain function on some level, so why is it unreasonable to work on the assumption that the brain is enough?

    Whatever else you say about brain/consciousness studies, no one has the complete model, so the fact that conventional neurology hasn’t got a complete explanation doesn’t strengthen Dr Hameroff’s case at all.

    Nevertheless, I will follow his and many other people’s opinions with interest.

  • A fascinating conversation. Your interview was outstanding. I marvel how, on a regular basis, you discuss these weighty topics with experts from diverse fields. Keep up the good work.

  • William Wilkinson

    Terrific stuff Socrates. This and the interview with Geordie Rose have moved my thinking up a couple of gears.

  • Very glad to hear that William, this is why I do it so if you tell me that I have “moved your thinking up a couple of gears” that means I haven’t spent my time, or the money from my donor, in vain. Fantastic!

  • Thank you Joe, I was very fortunate to have a good team behind me on that one. Carl Geers did a great job behind the camera and Rich Sundvall not only paid for it all but also edited the final cut of the interview. So, I was able to focus on what I do best – get my homework done before the interview and have a good conversation during. I also have to add that Dr. Hameroff was very gracious in his own right, despite my constant prodding and pushing 😉

  • MOB_i_L

    I wrote about this in 2002 in Swedish “Kvantdatorer och singularitetsscenariot”. But I thought that? the brain was a quantum computer from 1987. I did study optics and wave mechanics then and in 1989 i studied Quantum Mechanics. I read Penrose book when it came out. I still need to learn the General Theory of Relativity to understand this better.

  • MOB_i_L

    Stuart Hameroff (MD) is an anesthesiologist and some anesthesiologists are involved in electroshocks? (ECT) of the brain. It would be interesting to know Hameroff’s opinion? on ECT and whether it could damage the microtubules in the neurons. Obviously ECT does some damage to the brain because many people complain about permanent memory problems following ECT.

  • Jacob Top Møller

    I completely agree. I find it really fascinating that this interview tries to grasp some of the aspects we have completely ignored in our westernised way of perceiving the mind and consciousness. Dreams, the subconsciousness, awareness altering drugs, meditation, medians in acupuncture, qi and so on.

    I also find it interesting that Geordie Rose doesn’t share the same ideas about the mind operating at a quantum level…

    This is a really good interview! Thank you Nikola .

  • Tomaj Javidtash

    Great interview. I have one question regarding the claim that quantum consciousness may be something that can exist outside the brain. I cannot see how consciousness can be not embodied and yet give conscious experience? If you pay attention to the structure of experience you see that objects are objects precisely as things that have a size, shape, a distance from you (which determines its apparent size and shape), are either on your left, right, or in front of you, and are always viewed in a particular perspective and not from all or no perspectives. All of this points to body that has a position in the world, eyes precisely as located in the front, etc. Out of body consciousness then cannot give us conscious experience the way we know experience. Even an out of body experience occurs from some point in space, from a distance, with things on either side of body. It is impossible to have experience without these features. How is this explained?

  • Pingback: Futurism, Spirituality, and Faith | London Futurists()

  • AuthorX1

    I found Hameroff’s concepts interesting, and I think it’s a
    shame that people attack and/or summarily dismiss out of the box thinking like his.
    Maybe there’s something in his theories and maybe there isn’t, but when any
    theory is still unproven and there are still quite a few complexities and unknowns
    to work through, it’s too early for a summary judgment. The theory may well prove
    that some of our old ideas, (upon which we base the initial dismissal of the
    theory), are unfounded.

    Obviously his theories have been challenged by Kurzweil and
    others, and it has put him on the defensive — and the offensive as well, apparently
    — but for him to try generalize AI/Singularity as being married to a
    traditional “Newtonian computing” model running at 10exp16 CPS is unfair. I too
    am one of those AI/Singularity types, but I’m not stuck on any specific computing

    I don’t know how other people think about it, but my concept
    of AI/Singularity could easily persist in the face of proof of Hameroff’s Orch
    OR model. My idea of the singularity is simply that we are approaching a point
    at which technology will effectively submerge human cognitive capacity, and it
    will force us to evolve with it, hopefully toward an improved “quality of life.”
    One of the ideas that tend to go with the concept of the singularity is that of
    an exponentially increasing rate of technological evolution. Maybe proof of
    Hameroff’s model will be an artifact of that, and it will be the key to
    unlocking the secrets of the human mind.

    Listening to him speak, I was reminded of the saying, “If
    all you have is a hammer, then every problem begins to look like a nail.” It
    also reminded me a little of that old Chris Rock Robotissin bit. Looking for
    consciousness? Mircotubules. Got a cough
    due to cold? Microtubules. Upside down
    in your mortgage? Microtubules! I suppose that one has to be a bit obsessive and
    aggressive in order to put out the political fires and push through the
    social/technical obstacles when proving a new and/or controversial scientific
    theory, but I felt that he went a bit too far with some of his generalizations
    in defense of his ideas.

    He’s a brilliant guy, obviously, but for him to announce
    that consciousness is not computational is jumping the gun a bit, I think. As
    with “AI” and “singularity”, the term “computational” is not tied to a specific
    architecture. I’m reminded of another one of my favorite quotes. It was George E. Box who once said that, “essentially,
    all models are wrong, but some are useful.” So let’s assume that somewhere down
    the road the Orch OR model leads us to a discovery as to what consciousness is really
    all about, and we find quantum incoherence at the root of it all. Can we not
    also envision beyond that, to a point where some sort of mechanism is devised
    that can capture/manage/control the relevant quantum phenomena so that we can
    use it in the production of a “synthetic”, “sentient”, “computational” “mind”?
    I heard nothing that would convince me otherwise, but it was an interesting
    segment nonetheless, so thanks again Socrates for another great interview.

    —– http://www.singularityarchives.com

  • Samuel J.M. King

    Wow! What a wonderful interview. Much of the science Dr. Hameroff discussed was well beyond me, but if I get his central point about the nature of consciousness, it simply rings true. As an old computer programmer and lifelong enthusiast I’ve long been dubious about finding it (consciousness) within the strictures of current AI.

  • Sunrider

    Wow – great stuff Nik. One of the most fascinating and inspiring interviews.

    Seems to me that a lot of confusion around intelligence and consciousness persists (or is perpetuated – whether inadvertently or to defend the ’emergent property’ hypothesis).

    One thing I feel wasn’t addressed very much is the nature of consciousness, though – if we have brain level AI that is not conscious, can it be creative? Do we expect it to have an inner drive? Does our internal motivation spring from consciousness or is it a biological left-over from evolution?


  • Jelle Haandrikman

    That was a very interesting interview. I like the link to the Eastern philosophies and how they think about consciousness. As I train martial arts (aikido and kobudo) now for 14 years, you see these concepts coming back and how modern science can come to the same conclusions. As science progresses we discover that Taoism and Buddhism we’re onto something.

    I forwarded the link of this episode to my Kobudo/martial arts teacher. His main goal to teach is for his students to have fun, learn and grow physically, mentally and spiritually. Next to teaching the standard techniques, he also searches for more traditional techniques and concepts of martial arts and is also interested in this kind of material.

    Sometimes he correlates Eastern philosophy, budo (way of the martial arts) and modern science with his instructions. He has talked many times about acting consciousness of yourself and that you can train that through martial arts and Zen. This episode support these lessons that he has given us.
    If he gets through the episode, it will help him teach these kinds of concepts to his skeptical Western minded students.

    More info about him:

  • So, seems to me like Consciousness and AI aren’t necessarily exclusive. You could still have super intelligent machines, more intelligent than humans that aren’t consciousness. I don’t really understand why there is a big hoo haa between Stuart and the AI types.

    Stuarts opinions seem to make complete sense I don’t believe what we exist in in a straight line it feels more like it’s cyclical it would make sense that our brains are producing a stream of information that is stored either in our brain or is released when we die.

    But i’m still looking forward to breakfast made by a team of bots.

  • Pingback: Transhumanist Philosopher David Pearce on Singularity 1 on 1: Give Up Eating Meat!()

  • You might want to take some Piracetam before listening to this interview!

  • Pingback: Grady Booch on Singularity 1 on 1: Enjoy the beauty of what you’re doing but also take responsibility()

  • Pingback: Ed Boyden on Singularity 1 on 1: Let’s Bring Engineers into Studying the Brain()

  • Ron Anderson

    Good Morning, I have recently watched this interview as I have wrote a book on the “reality” of life on earth and am on my second book about consciousness and non-physical experience. It is nice to see others finally learning and discussing about consciousness. One thing that I would like to point out, which may be helpful or contradicting. This is the idea that intelligence or brainpower does not create consciousness, yet are the result of consciousness. Frequency is the key to this, we are the light and music of the universe. It can be measured that the average frequency of the human body is 40hz, this is ancient knowledge. Now if we look at sound or light resonating at 40hz, it becomes very dense and almost what we would call “physical”. 40hz sound coming through a speaker shakes an entire house, if played loud enough. Now if we imagine our physical bodies and brainwaves resonating at 40hz, we are very dense. At this density of light and that frequency of sound, we become what is referred to as “separation” from higher self. In layman’s terms, at this frequency our consciousness is unaware of our higher self as the higher frequencies are drown out by this. It is this low vibrational frequency, that has been the “base” of humanities experience of reality. This reality is based on separation from source energy (higher self), the feeling of aloneness in the universe (because most of the universe resonates at a higher frequency, unattainable within the 40hz range) and fear is the result because of separation. On the other hand, if we go into meditation,our frequency rises and we find an entire new reality, and connection to our higher frequency selves. As stated in the interview, the meditators frequency raised to 50-90hz and at that frequency they were still physical yet our reality changes. I have had a few “out of body experiences”, where I was still conscious, but not within my physical body. Near death experiences are a perfect example that brain function or intelligence are not what produces consciousness, yet quite an example of the opposite. The brain and physical body is shut down, yet they are consciously aware of themselves and their body. We still exist and I have learned that in this experience, our frequency rises so that we no longer are able to become physical, that is until we lower our frequency and return to the body. Another point in the interview that puts fuel to the fire that I am burning, is the fact of using hallucinogens and monitoring brain activity. There is an entirely new conscious experience, with minimal change in brain activity. This should teach us that that conscious awareness resides outside the frequency range detected by our physical brains. I know for myself, that we exist outside of our physical bodies and that physicality “as we know it” is just a product of this extension of our consciousness resonating within this frequency range. I also know that the frequency of the entire earth is rising, which is bringing new information of knowledge through finding connection to higher self or source. This new frequency is bringing a shift of reality to humanity, as it took the density of 40 hz to hold the reality of separation and fear, and all it takes is a small shift in frequency to understand oneness and love, which is our source frequency. If anyone would like me to elaborate, or any other thoughts, ideas or comments, feel free to email me at ronanderson79@live.ca. As i said, we are all just different aspects of the one consciousness. Humanity needs to find this connection and together we will find a better way.

  • Pingback: Michio Kaku on Singularity 1 on 1: Science is the Engine of Prosperity!()

  • Robbert Sint Jago

    The material universe and the information it holds is intensely complex. We try to give meaning to it by words, shapes and observations. We need language. To me it ‘d seem that a outer body experience is a much more complex phenomenon than seeing yourself from a 3rd persons view. When one has regained consciousness, he will explain it in terms and language that has no place for a conscious outside the body. The brain will translate the experience in a way we can understand it, in words, images and concepts.

    Or whatever, just an idea..

  • Robbert Sint Jago

    Great interview Socrates! I think the ideas of Penrose and Hameroff, correct or not, try to bridge the gap between physics and the “mind stuff”.

    Im curious Socrates: Has the interview altered your view/belief on AI and or consiousness?

  • The interview has given me awareness about how big my unknown unknowns in the field are. It has also given me appreciation for Stuart Hameroff and his work both of which I like very much 😉

  • Pingback: Danko Nikolic on Singularity 1 on 1: Practopoiesis Tells Us Machine Learning Is Not Enough!()

  • Stephen Callahan

    Is he trying to say that the Neuron is a computational device in its own right rather than just a switch??

  • Stephen Callahan

    Is he trying to say that the Neuron is a computational device in its own right rather than just a switch??

  • Pingback: The Power of Thought: Dr. Norman Doidge and the Brain That Changes Itself()

  • Mazow Fear

    I believe he is.

  • starrychloe

    I knew AI could not arise spontaneously based only on programming. Consciousness requires non-determinism, whereas computers and programming are always deterministic. Cray thought they would develop intelligence just by embedding more wires on silicon chips, however that never came to pass.

  • Pingback: Consciousness and Quantum Theory perspective. | Brain, mind, consciousness()

  • Pingback: Miguel Nicolelis and Ronald Cicurel: The Singularity Isn't Near and the Brain Can't Be Simmulated()

  • Pingback: The Case of the Conscious Machine()

  • Stagnaro

    I’m a doctor, not a physicist, who have discovered the Psychokinetic Diagnostics, http://www.sisbq.org; http://www.sisbq.org/uploads/5/6/8/7/5687930/dp_libro.pdf, that is based on Lory’s Experiment, http://www.gsjournal.net/old/comments/stagnaro.htm.
    Lory’s Experiment can not be explained by classical physics, but only by quantum physics. If we do not enlighten with classical physics an event of consciousness, like Lory’s Experimente and Psychokinetic Diagnostics, but we understand it with the help of quantum physics, then we must accept that consciousness is a quantum effect.

  • Pingback: Can Consciousness Be Uploaded?()

  • Pingback: Why Experience Matters for Artificial General Intelligence()

  • Thomas Reed

    Singularity hanna I

  • Confucius

    If it could even be done what would be the purpose of an “synthetic”, “sentient”, “computational” “mind”.

    The very premise seems stupendously naive and arrogant.

  • Pingback: Suzanne Gildert on Kindred AI: Non-Biological Sentiences are on the Horizon()

  • Pingback: Lawrence Krauss on Singularity.FM: Keep on Asking Questions()

  • Purpleish

    Kurzweil’s razor: His inability to comprehend (and therefore understand) the connection between meditative prayer and particle entanglement. A thought is a prayer is a quantum event engraved on the conscience of the universe…that which we call God.

  • Gary Feierbach

    Not too impressed. The microtubules in the neurons and all other cels are used to for a variety of purposes including transport of materials. They are highways for organelles and also components of cytoskeletons. They being a component of axons and dendrites can be though of as a component of memory. An incomplete path to a synaptic junction represents the memory of past stimulus to form that connection and if new stimulus comes along it will grow a bit to more toward completing that path and that materials to grow will be transported by those microtubules. While, there is a remote chance that these tubules can be put in some quantum state this has not been demonstrated nor is there any conceivable purpose for such quantum states. Hameroffs’ gobbledygook explanation for such use make no scientific sense. Not in this world anyway.

Over 3,000 super smart people have subscribed to my newsletter: