Roger Penrose and Stuart Hameroff have a theory called Orgastrated Objective Reduction or Orch OR, and they claim this has been confirmed. The article says:

"The origin of consciousness reflects our place in the universe, the nature of our existence. Did consciousness evolve from complex computations among brain neurons, as most scientists assert? Or has consciousness, in some sense, been here all along, as spiritual approaches maintain?' ask Hameroff and Penrose in the current review. 'This opens a potential Pandora's Box, but our theory accommodates both these views, suggesting consciousness derives from quantum vibrations in microtubules, protein polymers inside brain neurons, which both govern neuronal and synaptic function, and connect brain processes to self-organizing processes in the fine scale, 'proto-conscious' quantum structure of reality."

In the 18th century, David Hartley proposed in his book Observations of Man that counciousness arises when particles of matter vibrate in our brain. Wikipedia says:

Hartley's physical theory gave birth to the modern study of the intimate connection of physiological and psychical facts. He believed that sensation is the result of a vibration of the minute particles of the medullary substance of the nerves, to account for which he postulated, with Newton, a subtle elastic ether, rare in the interstices of solid bodies and in their close neighbourhood, and denser as it recedes from them. Pleasure is the result of moderate vibrations, pain of vibrations so violent as to break the continuity of the nerves. These vibrations leave behind them in the brain a tendency to fainter vibrations or "vibratiuncles" of a similar kind, which correspond to "ideas of sensation." This accounts for memory.

Joseph Priestley expanded on this idea in his essay Disquisitions Relating to Matter and Spirit. Priestley believed that all matter had the power of attraction and repulsion (fundamental interactions?) and that perception and thought arises from this phenomena in our brain through association. Priestley says:

Nothing but a precise and definite knowledge of the nature of perception and thought can authorize any person to affirm, whether they may not belong to an extended substance, which has also the properties of attraction and repulsion. Seeing, therefore, no sort of reason to imagine that these different properties are really inconsistent any more than the different properties of resistance and extension, I am, of course, under the necessity of being guided by the phenomena in my conclusions concerning the proper feat of the powers of perception and thought.

Giving Hartley and Priestley a little latitude because they lived 300 years ago, is Orch OR basically a reworking of their theories?


1 Answer 1


As far as I can tell, the common theme is that "vibration" is involved in both of them. But that's where the similarities seem to stop.

Hartley formulated specific hypotheses such as

Pleasure is the result of moderate vibrations, pain of vibrations so violent as to break the continuity of the nerves.

which we now know it's not exactly how these sensations are differentiated, but actually wasn't a bad prediction given the scientific knowledge at the time.

On the other hand Hartley postulated these vibrations to be transmitted by ether, which of course we now know does not exist.

Microtubules are real, but whether quantum vibrations in them have anything to do with consciousness is another matter. As far as I know there's no convincing evidence for it. The Orch OR article on Wikipedia discusses some theoretical criticism as well.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the answer. Lots of interesting things to read. I haven’t thought about this in a while, but I just read Freewill by Sam Harris so I’ve been getting back into it. Those guys from the enlightenment period are fascinating to me, and I’m glad my thoughts weren’t completely irrelevant. $\endgroup$
    – Cannabijoy
    Aug 25, 2018 at 9:53

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