Edited and shortened by Kenneth Finton from original version:  



The aftermath of the election of Donald Trump is being sorted. A common theme keeps cropping up. It tells us that the Democrats failed to understand white, working class, fly-over rural America. Trump supports are saying this. Talking heads across all forms of the media are saying this. Trump supports are saying this. Progressive pundits are saying this. Even  some Democratic leaders are saying this.

The real problem isn’t east coast elites don’t understand or care about rural America. The real problem is rural America doesn’t understand the causes of their own situations and fears and they have shown no interest in finding out. They do not want to know why they feel the way they do or why they are struggling because the don’t want to admit it is in large part because of choices they’ve made and horrible things they’ve allowed themselves to believe.

It doesn’t matter how many people say it, it is still bullshit.

It is an intellectual/linguistic sleight of hand meant to throw attention away from the real problem. The real problem is not that east coast elites do not understand or care about rural America. The real problem is that rural America doesn’t understand the causes of their own situations and fears and they have shown no interest in finding out. They do not want to know why they feel the way they do or why they are struggling. They do not want to admit know that they have made bad choices and allowed themselves to believe in horrible things.

In deep red States, the white Christian God is king –– figuratively and literally, religious fundamentalism has shaped most of their belief systems. Systems built on a fundamentalist framework are not conducive for introspection, questioning, learning, or change. When you have a belief system that is built on fundamentalism, it is not open to outside criticism, especially by anyone who is not a member of your tribe and in a position of power. The problem is not “coastal elites don’t understand rural Americans.” The problem is rural America doesn’t understand itself and will never listen to anyone outside their bubble.

Another problem with rural-Christian-white Americans is that they are racist. Perhaps most are not the white-hood-wearing, cross-burning, lynching racists –– though some are still. There are many people who deep down in their hearts truly believe they are superior because they are white. Their white God made them in his image and everyone else is a less-than-perfect version, flawed, even cursed. Their religion taught this. Even though they have taken back some of their more racist declarations, many still believe the original claims. Non-whites are the color they are because of the sins of their ancestors. Blacks don’t have dark skin because of where they lived and evolution. They have dark skin because they are a cursed people who do not deserve the things that God’s blessed white people do. If God cursed them for a reason, then it is not proper to question it. If God cursed them, then treating them as equals would be going against God’s Will.

It is really easy to justify treating people poorly if they are cursed by God. They will never be as good as you no matter what they do. Some predetermined status was given to them by an almighty God.

For the “coastal elites” who understand evolution, genetics, science, there is little to nothing we say to those in fly-over country. They will not listen. To them, we are arguing against God. They have an anti-education belief system. One cannot win a battle of beliefs with these people if you are on one side of the argument and God is on the other. No degree of understanding this is going to suddenly make them less racist, more open to reason and facts. Telling “urban elites” they need to understand rural Americans isn’t going to lead to a damn thing because it misses the causes of the problem.

Rural Christian white Americans will not listen to educated arguments, even if supported by facts, that go against their fundamentalist belief systems. Any change must come from within. Internal change in these systems does happen, but it happens infrequently and it always lags far behind reality. This is why they fear change so much. They aren’t used to it. Of course, it really doesn’t matter whether they like it or not, it, like the evolution and climate change even though they don’t believe it, it is going to happen whether they believe in it or not.

Another major problem with closed-off, fundamentalist belief systems is they are very susceptible to propaganda. All belief systems are to some extent, but fundamentalist systems even more so because there are no checks and balances. If bad information gets in, it does not get out. Because there are no internal mechanisms to guard against it, it usually ends up very damaging to the whole.

Gays being allowed to marry are a threat. Blacks protesting the killing of their unarmed friends and family are a threat. Hispanics doing the cheap labor on their farms are somehow viewed a threat. The black President is a threat. Two billion Muslims are a threat. The Chinese are a threat. Women wanting to be autonomous are a threat. The college educated are a threat. Godless scientists are a threat. Everyone who isn’t just like them has been sold to them as a threat. Since facts and reality do not matter, nothing you say to them will alter their beliefs.

President Obama was born in Kenya. He is a secret member of the Muslim Brotherhood who hates white Americans and is going to take away their guns. They believe this.

Are their fears rational and justified? The problem isn’t understanding their fears. The problem is how to assuage fears based on lies in closed-off fundamentalist belief systems. They do not have or want to have the necessary tools for properly evaluating the fears.

When a child has an irrational fear, you can deal with it because they trust you and are open to possibilities. When someone does not trust you and is not open to anything not already accepted as true in their belief system, then there really is not much you can do.


Do you know what CAN change the beliefs of fundamentalists? When something becomes personal. Many a fundamentalist have changed their minds about the LGBT community once their loved ones started coming out of the closet. Many have not, but, those that have done so changed their views because their personal experience came in direct conflict with what they believe.

The catastrophe of the Great Depression along with the progressive remedies by FDR helped create a generation of Democrats from previously die-hard Republicans. People who had, up until that point, deeply believed the government couldn’t help the economy. Only the free market could change their minds when the brutal reality of the Great Depression affected them directly. They elected Roosevelt.

A significant number of rural America believes President Obama was in charge when the financial crisis started. An even higher number believe the mortgage crisis was the result of the government forcing banks to give loans to unqualified minorities. It doesn’t matter how untrue both of these are, they are gospel in rural America.

How do you make climate change a personal matter to someone who believes only God can alter the weather?  How do you make racial equality personal to someone who believes whites are naturally superior to non-whites? How do you make gender equality personal to someone who believes women are supposed to be subservient to men by God’s command?  How do you get someone to view minorities as not threatening personal to people who don’t live around and never interact with them? How do you make personal the fact massive tax cuts and cutting back government hurts their economic situation when they’ve voted for these for decades?

Can change come about without some catastrophic events?

The Civil War was catastrophic, yet a large swath of the South believed and still believes they were right and held the moral high ground. They were also mostly Christian fundamentalists who believe they are superior because of the color of their skin and the religion they profess to follow. There is a pattern here for anyone willing to connect the dots.

“Rural, white America needs to be better understood,” is not one of the dots. The notion that rural, white America needs to be better understood is a dodge designed to avoid the real problems because talking about the real problems is viewed as too upsetting, too mean, too arrogant, too elite, and too snobbish.

America has always had a race problem. It was built on racism and bigotry. This didn’t miraculously go away in 1964 with the passage of the Civil Rights Act. It didn’t go away with the election of Barack Obama. If anything, these events pulled back the curtain exposing the dark, racist underbelly of America that white America likes to pretend does not exist. From the white nationalists to the white, suburban soccer moms who voted for Donald Trump, to the far left progressives who didn’t vote at all, racism exists and has been legitimized and normalized by white America.

Rural white America does not understand the major issues. They base their beliefs on entrenched fundamentalist belief systems. They do not trust people outside their tribe. They have been force-fed a diet of misinformation and lies for decades and are unwilling to understand their own situations. They truly believe whites are superior to all races. No amount of understanding is going to change these things or what they believe. No amount of niceties is going to get them to be introspective. No economic policy put forth by someone outside their tribe is going to be considered. Their fears are based on myths and lies. They feel left behind in a world they do not understand and do not really care to understand. They are willing to vote against their own interest if they can be convinced that minorities will be harmed more than they. Christian beliefs and morals are truly only extended to fellow white Christians.


What a Trump Presidency Means for Writers

Source: What a Trump Presidency Means for Writers

Since last week’s election, dozens of articles have appeared speculating what a Trump presidency could mean for any number of sectors – the economy, social security, healthcare, technology and the Internet, reproductive rights, foreign relations, and so on.

With the exception of Wall Street, which is already showing its jubilation over the deregulation of financial institutions, most of these articles have ranged from a cautious “we don’t really know” to glum.

How this presidency will affect writers has not been discussed at any great length. However, there are signs that do not bode well.


Trump has essentially declared war on freedom of speech, opening up the possibility of  lawsuits directed at journalists who are critical of his administration (Washington Post). This is not just a violation of First Amendment rights, it is a green light to the potential abuse of power. In a recent article, The Authors Guild issued a strong warning:

 “there is a risk that Trump’s veto power as president could endanger a pending federal free speech bill—the SPEAK FREE Act—from becoming law. This pending legislation, based on similar laws in more than half of our states, would allow federal courts to dismiss unfounded lawsuits filed solely to punish people for speaking out. It just so happens these types of lawsuits (know as “strategic lawsuits against public participation,” or SLAPP suits)—and the threat of them—have been a favorite Trump tactic.”

As president, Trump would attempt to overturn Supreme Court decisions protecting journalists from harassment lawsuits initiated by public figures. The first of these dates back to the Court’s unanimous 1964 decision in The New York Times v. Sullivan, which allowed free reporting of the Civil Rights movement. Not coincidentally, Trump named the New York Times as one of the newspapers he would sue.


Trump’s stance on copyright has not been formalized, but given the Trump campaign’s unauthorized use of copyrighted images, and the lawsuits resulting from his breach of copyright law, it would not be a stretch to conclude that reforming copyright law will not be high on Trump’s list of priorities.


Perhaps the most profound blow to writers would come with the elimination of net neutrality. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, net neutrality guarantees equal access to the Internet without favoring some sources over others. If Trump has his way, Internet content would be filtered, and businesses would be able to pay for being prioritized. In short, the net would be reduced to an advertising platform for the wealthiest corporations. That leaves writers hoping to build an online presence in the lurch.

1) WRITE. As writers we have an advantage over people who are not used to expressing themselves in print. The pen, in our hands, is mightier than the sword. We can write articles, communicate with our representatives and the media, and reach the public in ways that are effective and articulate. Above all, DO NOT SHUT UP! Self-censorship is the worst kind of censorship. Speak your mind, honestly and frankly, and without apology.

2) JOIN ORGANIZATIONS THAT DEFEND WRITERS. PEN America and the National Coalition Against Censorship are two long-standing organizations that defend writers and the First Amendment right to free speech. The Authors Guild, which is dedicated to defending the legal rights of authors, particularly regarding copyright, has also stated it will protect authors during the Trump presidency.

3) DONATE TO ORGANIZATIONS THAT DEFEND CIVIL RIGHTS. There are many organizations in the United States dedicated to defending the civil rights of U.S. citizens and residents. Here is a list of Pro-Women, Pro-Immigrant, Pro-Earth, Anti-Bigotry Organizations that need your support. You don’t have to give a lot – every little bit helps.

4) PARTICIPATE IN THE ELECTORAL PROCESS. Half of registered voters did not participate in the last election. Democracy is a “use it or lose it” form of government. No matter how discouraged you may feel – don’t opt out. Do your research, understand the issues, ignore the hype, and vote.

5) ADVOCATE. Defend those who cannot defend themselves – the disabled, the undocumented, the impoverished. Sign petitions, call your representative, wave signs if you want to. This is the land of liberty, not the land of bullies, hate mongers, and pussy grabbers. Trump has done a good job of normalizing reprehensible behavior; it’s up to us to stamp it out.

Can Obama Pardon Millions of Immigrants?

However, President Obama can still act to bring humanity and justice to an immigration system notoriously lacking in both. He can do so by using the power the Constitution grants him — and only him — to pardon individuals for “offenses against the United States.”

The debate over the deportation deferral program has been framed as a question of the division of powers. Both sides agree that Congress is the only entity that gets to define offenses against the United States. Reasonable commentators also agree that the president enjoys prosecutorial discretion to determine which deportation cases to pursue and which to forgo. The difficult question is whether a categorical decision to decline to prosecute millions begins to intrude on Congress’ power. While the program is consistent with the way previous presidents have used prosecutorial discretion, without guidance from the Supreme Court, debate will surely continue.

There is one area, however, where the president’s unilateral ability to forgo punishment is uncontested and supported by over a hundred years of Supreme Court precedent: the pardon power. It has been consistently interpreted to include the power to grant broad amnesties from prosecution to large groups when the president deems it in the public interest.

Such pardons have been used by presidents including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson. Most recently, Jimmy Carter issued a pardon to around half a million men who had violated draft laws to avoid military service in Vietnam.

It’s a common assumption that pardons can be used only for criminal offenses, and it’s true that they have not been used before for civil immigration violations. However, the Constitution extends the power to all “offenses against the United States,” which can be interpreted more broadly than just criminal offenses.

A pardon could not achieve everything the deferred deportation program aspired to — notably, it could not deliver work permits. However, it has a certain operational elegance to it that would avoid many of the political battles surrounding the deferral program. No application process would be necessary. A pardon becomes immediately effective upon issuance by a president. With fewer than 300 words and a signature, President Carter’s pardon became effective on his first full day in office.

The enormous administrative undertaking that would be required to put into effect the deferred deportation program — which some in Congress had hoped to defund — would thus be wholly unnecessary. Indeed, Congress would be impotent to restrict the president’s pardon as the Supreme Court has made clear that “Congress cannot interfere in any way with the president’s power to pardon.” If immigration enforcement agencies or any future administration failed to respect the pardon, individual beneficiaries could use it as a shield in any deportation proceedings that followed.

President Obama has plenty of time left to issue such a pardon. There is solid historical and legal precedent for him to do so. And although it would probably bring about legal challenges, opponents could not use the legal system to simply run out the clock, as they have with his deferred deportation program. A deferred deportation program could be undone by a President Trump. Unconditional pardons, in contrast, are irrevocable.

Finally, some would surely argue that a pardon protecting a large category of immigrants from deportation would, just like the deportation deferral program, effectively amount to a repeal of laws enacted by Congress. However, pardons do nothing to alter the law. They protect certain past offenders from punishment and prosecution, but leave the law unchanged as applied to any future violators.

President Obama has deported around 2.5 million people. That is about the same number as were deported in the entire 20th century. His apparent strategy was to demonstrate his bona fides on enforcement in order to persuade recalcitrant Republicans to work with him on immigration reform. It didn’t work. It turns out that you don’t convince people to be more humane on immigration by deporting immigrants hand over fist.

We are left with a brutal legacy of millions of families torn apart, many simply for doing what they needed to do to protect and feed their children. President Obama will not be judged on his intentions or his attempts on immigration, but rather on his real impact. This is his last chance to establish a legacy of pragmatic compassion.

Shine On, Harvest Moon

220px-shine-on-harvest-moon-1908“Shine on, Harvest Moon” is a popular early-1900s song credited to the married vaudeville team Nora Bayes and Jack Norworth. It was one of a series of Moon-related Tin Pan Alley songs of the era. The song was debuted by Bayes and Norworth in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1908 to great acclaim. It became a pop standard and continues to be performed and recorded even in the 21st century.

During the vaudeville era, songs were often sold outright, and the purchaser would be credited as the songwriter. John Kenrick‘s Who’s Who In Musicals credits the song’s actual writers as Edward Madden and Gus Edwards. However, David Ewen’s All the Years of American Popular Music credits Dave Stamper, who contributed songs to 21 editions of the Ziegfeld Follies and was Bayes’ pianist from 1903 to 1908.[1] Vaudeville comic Eddie Cantor also credited Stamper in his 1934 book Ziegfeld – The Great Glorifier.[2]

The earliest commercially successful recordings were made in 1909 by Harry Macdonough and Elise Stevenson (Victor 16259), Ada Jones and Billy Murray (Edison 10134), Frank Stanley and Henry Burr (Indestructable 1075), and Bob Roberts (Columbia 668).[3]


To hear the original 1908 recording from Edison Recordings click the link below.,_Harvest_Moon.ogg#file




Uploaded on Jan 1, 2009

Shine On, Harvest Moon (from Ziegfeld Follies of 1931)
Words and music by Nora Bayes and Jack Norworth, 1908
Ruth Etting, vocal.
Recorded July 28, 1931, in New York.

The night was mighty dark so you could hardly see,
For the moon refused to shine.
Couple sitting underneath a willow tree,
For love they did pine.
Little maid was kinda ‘fraid of darkness
So she said, “I guess I’ll go.”
Boy began to sigh, looked up at the sky,
And told the moon his little tale of woe


Oh, Shine on, shine on, harvest moon
Up in the sky;
I ain’t had no lovin’
Since April, January, June or July.
Snow time, ain’t no time to stay
Outdoors and spoon;
So shine on, shine on, harvest moon,
For me and my gal.

Note: The months in the chorus have been sung in different orders.

The Ada Jones and Billy Murray recording linked on this article has it as April, January, Ju-u-une or July[4]

Mitch Miller and Leon Redbone used January, February, June or July.

Second verse[edit]

I can’t see why a boy should sigh when by his side
Is the girl he loves so true,
All he has to say is: “Won’t you be my bride,
For I love you?
I can’t see why I’m telling you this secret,
When I know that you can guess.”
Harvest moon will smile,
Shine on all the while,
If the little girl should answer “yes.”

(repeat chorus)

Originally issued on Perfect 12737. This song was first introduced by Nora Bayes and songwriter-husband, Jack Norworth in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1908. Ruth Etting’s performance of the song in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1931 was a tribute to Nora Bayes. The 1931 production of the Follies was the last to be produced under the direction Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr.; he died shortly thereafter in 1932. It’s interesting to note that Nora Bayes recorded this song for Victor in 1910 but it was never released. “Oh, shine on, shine on, harvest moon up in the sky, I ain’t had no lovin’ since April, January, June, or July. Snow time ain’t no time to stay outdoors and spoon, So shine on, shine on, harvest moon, For me and my gal.”


Traditionally, this designation goes to the full moon that occurs closest to the Autumnal (fall) Equinox. In the northern hemisphere the Harvest Moon usually comes in September, and this year (2016) it will fall on the night of September 16-17. At the peak of the harvest, farmers can work into the night by the light of this moon. Usually the full Moon rises an average of 50 minutes later each night, but for the few nights around the Harvest Moon, the moon seems to rise at nearly the same time each night: just 25 to 30 minutes later across the U.S., and only 10 to 20 minutes later for much of Canada and Europe. Corn, pumpkins, squash, beans, and wild rice — the chief Indian staples — are now ready for gathering.

A New Spin on the Quantum Brain


By Jennifer Ouellette
November 2, 2016

A new theory explains how fragile quantum states may be able to exist for hours or even days in our warm, wet brain. Experiments should soon test the idea

The mere mention of “quantum consciousness” makes most physicists cringe, as the phrase seems to evoke the vague, insipid musings of a New Age guru. But if a new hypothesis proves to be correct, quantum effects might indeed play some role in human cognition. Matthew Fisher, a physicist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, raised eyebrows late last year when he published a paper in Annals of Physics proposing that the nuclear spins of phosphorus atoms could serve as rudimentary “qubits” in the brain — which would essentially enable the brain to function like a quantum computer.

As recently as 10 years ago, Fisher’s hypothesis would have been dismissed by many as nonsense. Physicists have been burned by this sort of thing before, most notably in 1989, when Roger Penrose proposed that mysterious protein structures called “microtubules” played a role in human consciousness by exploiting quantum effects. Few researchers believe such a hypothesis plausible. Patricia Churchland, a neurophilosopher at the University of California, San Diego, memorably opined that one might as well invoke “pixie dust in the synapses” to explain human cognition.

Fisher’s hypothesis faces the same daunting obstacle that has plagued microtubules: a phenomenon called quantum decoherence. To build an operating quantum computer, you need to connect qubits — quantum bits of information — in a process called entanglement. But entangled qubits exist in a fragile state. They must be carefully shielded from any noise in the surrounding environment. Just one photon bumping into your qubit would be enough to make the entire system “decohere,” destroying the entanglement and wiping out the quantum properties of the system. It’s challenging enough to do quantum processing in a carefully controlled laboratory environment, never mind the warm, wet, complicated mess that is human biology, where maintaining coherence for sufficiently long periods of time is well nigh impossible.

Over the past decade, however, growing evidence suggests that certain biological systems might employ quantum mechanics. In photosynthesis, for example, quantum effects help plants turn sunlight into fuel. Scientists have also proposed that migratory birds have a “quantum compass” enabling them to exploit Earth’s magnetic fields for navigation, or that the human sense of smell could be rooted in quantum mechanics.

Fisher’s notion of quantum processing in the brain broadly fits into this emerging field of quantum biology. Call it quantum neuroscience. He has developed a complicated hypothesis, incorporating nuclear and quantum physics, organic chemistry, neuroscience and biology. While his ideas have met with plenty of justifiable skepticism, some researchers are starting to pay attention. “Those who read his paper (as I hope many will) are bound to conclude: This old guy’s not so crazy,” wrote John Preskill, a physicist at the California Institute of Technology, after Fisher gave a talk there. “He may be on to something. At least he’s raising some very interesting questions.”

Senthil Todadri, a physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Fisher’s longtime friend and colleague, is skeptical, but he thinks that Fisher has rephrased the central question — is quantum processing happening in the brain? — in such a way that it lays out a road map to test the hypothesis rigorously. “The general assumption has been that of course there is no quantum information processing that’s possible in the brain,” Todadri said. “He makes the case that there’s precisely one loophole. So the next step is to see if that loophole can be closed.” Indeed, Fisher has begun to bring together a team to do laboratory tests to answer this question once and for all.

Fisher belongs to something of a physics dynasty: His father, Michael E. Fisher, is a prominent physicist at the University of Maryland, College Park, whose work in statistical physics has garnered numerous honors and awards over the course of his career. His brother, Daniel Fisher, is an applied physicist at Stanford University who specializes in evolutionary dynamics. Matthew Fisher has followed in their footsteps, carving out a highly successful physics career. He shared the prestigious Oliver E. Buckley Prize in 2015 for his research on quantum phase transitions.

So what drove him to move away from mainstream physics and toward the controversial and notoriously messy interface of biology, chemistry, neuroscience and quantum physics? His own struggles with clinical depression.

Fisher vividly remembers that February 1986 day when he woke up feeling numb and jet-lagged, as if he hadn’t slept in a week. “I felt like I had been drugged,” he said. Extra sleep didn’t help. Adjusting his diet and exercise regime proved futile, and blood tests showed nothing amiss. But his condition persisted for two full years. “It felt like a migraine headache over my entire body every waking minute,” he said. It got so bad he contemplated suicide, although the birth of his first daughter gave him a reason to keep fighting through the fog of depression.

Eventually he found a psychiatrist who prescribed a tricyclic antidepressant, and within three weeks his mental state started to lift. “The metaphorical fog that had so enshrouded me that I couldn’t even see the sun — that cloud was a little less dense, and I saw there was a light behind it,” Fisher said. Within nine months he felt reborn, despite some significant side effects from the medication, including soaring blood pressure. He later switched to Prozac and has continuously monitored and tweaked his specific drug regimen ever since.

His experience convinced him that the drugs worked. But Fisher was surprised to discover that neuroscientists understand little about the precise mechanisms behind how they work. That aroused his curiosity, and given his expertise in quantum mechanics, he found himself pondering the possibility of quantum processing in the brain. Five years ago he threw himself into learning more about the subject, drawing on his own experience with antidepressants as a starting point.

Since nearly all psychiatric medications are complicated molecules, he focused on one of the most simple, lithium, which is just one atom — a spherical cow, so to speak, that would be an easier model to study than Prozac, for instance. The analogy is particularly appropriate because a lithium atom is a sphere of electrons surrounding the nucleus, Fisher said. He zeroed in on the fact that the lithium available by prescription from your local pharmacy is mostly a common isotope called lithium-7. Would a different isotope, like the much more rare lithium-6, produce the same results? In theory it should, since the two isotopes are chemically identical. They differ only in the number of neutrons in the nucleus.

When Fisher searched the literature, he found that an experiment comparing the effects of lithium-6 and lithium-7 had been done. In 1986, scientists at Cornell University examined the effects of the two isotopes on the behavior of rats. Pregnant rats were separated into three groups: One group was given lithium-7, one group was given the isotope lithium-6, and the third served as the control group. Once the pups were born, the mother rats that received lithium-6 showed much stronger maternal behaviors, such as grooming, nursing and nest-building, than the rats in either the lithium-7 or control groups.

This floored Fisher. Not only should the chemistry of the two isotopes be the same, the slight difference in atomic mass largely washes out in the watery environment of the body. So what could account for the differences in behavior those researchers observed?

Fisher believes the secret might lie in the nuclear spin, which is a quantum property that affects how long each atom can remain coherent — that is, isolated from its environment. The lower the spin, the less the nucleus interacts with electric and magnetic fields, and the less quickly it decoheres.

Because lithium-7 and lithium-6 have different numbers of neutrons, they also have different spins. As a result, lithium-7 decoheres too quickly for the purposes of quantum cognition, while lithium-6 can remain entangled longer.

Fisher had found two substances, alike in all important respects save for quantum spin, and found that they could have very different effects on behavior. For Fisher, this was a tantalizing hint that quantum processes might indeed play a functional role in cognitive processing.

That said, going from an intriguing hypothesis to actually demonstrating that quantum processing plays a role in the brain is a daunting challenge. The brain would need some mechanism for storing quantum information in qubits for sufficiently long times. There must be a mechanism for entangling multiple qubits, and that entanglement must then have some chemically feasible means of influencing how neurons fire in some way. There must also be some means of transporting quantum information stored in the qubits throughout the brain.

This is a tall order. Over the course of his five-year quest, Fisher has identified just one credible candidate for storing quantum information in the brain: phosphorus atoms, which are the only common biological element other than hydrogen with a spin of one-half, a low number that makes possible longer coherence times. Phosphorus can’t make a stable qubit on its own, but its coherence time can be extended further, according to Fisher, if you bind phosphorus with calcium ions to form clusters.

In 1975, Aaron Posner, a Cornell University scientist, noticed an odd clustering of calcium and phosphorous atoms in his X-rays of bone. He made drawings of the structure of those clusters: nine calcium atoms and six phosphorous atoms, later called “Posner molecules” in his honor. The clusters popped up again in the 2000s, when scientists simulating bone growth in artificial fluid noticed them floating in the fluid. Subsequent experiments found evidence of the clusters in the body. Fisher thinks that Posner molecules could serve as a natural qubit in the brain as well.

That’s the big picture scenario, but the devil is in the details that Fisher has spent the past few years hammering out. The process starts in the cell with a chemical compound called pyrophosphate. It is made of two phosphates bonded together — each composed of a phosphorus atom surrounded by multiple oxygen atoms with zero spin. The interaction between the spins of the phosphates causes them to become entangled. They can pair up in four different ways: Three of the configurations add up to a total spin of one (a “triplet” state that is only weakly entangled), but the fourth possibility produces a zero spin, or “singlet” state of maximum entanglement, which is crucial for quantum computing.

Next, enzymes break apart the entangled phosphates into two free phosphate ions. Crucially, these remain entangled even as they move apart. This process happens much more quickly, Fisher argues, with the singlet state. These ions can then combine in turn with calcium ions and oxygen atoms to become Posner molecules. Neither the calcium nor the oxygen atoms have a nuclear spin, preserving the one-half total spin crucial for lengthening coherence times. So those clusters protect the entangled pairs from outside interference so that they can maintain coherence for much longer periods of time — Fisher roughly estimates it might last for hours, days or even weeks.

In this way, the entanglement can be distributed over fairly long distances in the brain, influencing the release of neurotransmitters and the firing of synapses between neurons — spooky action at work in the brain.

Testing the Theory

Researchers who work in quantum biology are cautiously intrigued by Fisher’s proposal. Alexandra Olaya-Castro, a physicist at University College London who has worked on quantum photosynthesis, calls it “a well-thought hypothesis. It doesn’t give answers, it opens questions that might then lead to how we could test particular steps in the hypothesis.”

University of Oxford chemist Peter Hore, who investigates whether migratory birds’ navigational systems make use of quantum effects, concurs. “Here’s a theoretical physicist who is proposing specific molecules, specific mechanics, all the way through to how this could affect brain activity,” he said. “That opens up the possibility of experimental testing.”

Experimental testing is precisely what Fisher is now trying to do. He just spent a sabbatical at Stanford University working with researchers there to replicate the 1986 study with pregnant rats. He acknowledged the preliminary results were disappointing, in that the data didn’t provide much information, but thinks if it’s repeated with a protocol closer to the original 1986 experiment, the results might be more conclusive.

Fisher has applied for funding to conduct further in-depth quantum chemistry experiments. He has cobbled together a small group of scientists from various disciplines at UCSB and the University of California, San Francisco, as collaborators. First and foremost, he would like to investigate whether calcium phosphate really does form stable Posner molecules, and whether the phosphorus nuclear spins of these molecules can be entangled for sufficiently long periods of time.

Even Hore and Olaya-Castro are skeptical of the latter, particularly Fisher’s rough estimate that the coherence could last a day or more. “I think it’s very unlikely, to be honest,” Olaya-Castro said. “The longest time scale relevant for the biochemical activity that’s happening here is the scale of seconds, and that’s too long.” (Neurons can store information for microseconds.) Hore calls the prospect “remote,” pegging the limit at one second at best. “That doesn’t invalidate the whole idea, but I think he would need a different molecule to get long coherence times,” he said. “I don’t think the Posner molecule is it. But I’m looking forward to hearing how it goes.”

Others see no need to invoke quantum processing to explain brain function. “The evidence is building up that we can explain everything interesting about the mind in terms of interactions of neurons,” said Paul Thagard, a neurophilosopher at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, to New Scientist. (Thagard declined our request to comment further.)

Plenty of other aspects of Fisher’s hypothesis also require deeper examination, and he hopes to be able to conduct the experiments to do so. Is the Posner molecule’s structure symmetrical? And how isolated are the nuclear spins?

Most important, what if all those experiments ultimately prove his hypothesis wrong? It might be time to give up on the notion of quantum cognition altogether. “I believe that if phosphorus nuclear spin is not being used for quantum processing, then quantum mechanics is not operative in longtime scales in cognition,” Fisher said. “Ruling that out is important scientifically. It would be good for science to know.”