Intro/Synopsis Schedule Participants Local Registration Sponsors  


It has long been axiomatic in biology that all purely biological processescan be understood in classical language, without involving quantum ideas like superposition or entanglement. Chemical bonding and charge transfer between atoms are certainly quantum mechanical. But high level processes like photosynthesis or sensory and mental phenomena have been understood using a very successful classical ‘lego block’ approach, akin to classical computing. This classical approach is of course central to the way we think about almost everything, from Accounting to Zoology. Objects exist in their own right (no entanglement) and in definite states (no superposition).

This worldview has been severely rocked by the experimental discovery of long-range quantum coherence in photosynthesis, and possibly of quantum entanglement in avian navigation; and there are very likely many other key biological processes involving room-temperature quantum coherence, waiting to be found. And very deep questions are raised; for example:

(1) What is the right way to think about fundamentally quantum-mechanical biological mechanisms, given that quantum mechanics raises deep (and unsolved) questions about ‘physical reality’?

(2) What advantages does Nature find in such purely quantum processes as superposition or entanglement – eg., in the storage, processing and transmission of information?

(3) Is this something that only occurs in higher organisms, or is it even in the very simplest forms of life? And how old is it? Is it only involved in ‘intermediate level’ processes like photosynthesis, or can it be involved at an even higher level, eg., in the nervous system or in brain function?

(4) Does what we currently know about quantum computation have any bearing on this? And what of the 'computational' nature of biological and mental function - must this be modified?

(5) Biological processes are supposed to be irreversible - how does quantum decoherence play a role here? Do we need to modify our ideas about irreversibility and 'time flow' in biological organisms?

(6) What are the right sort of experiments to demonstrate that we are dealing with genuine quantum superpositions or entanglement? And where should we look next, and with what experimental tools?

The purpose of this workshop is to address questions like these, and we are bringing biologists, chemists, and physicists, along with several people from other areas of inquiry. The meeting will consist of talks and extended and rather flexible discussion sessions, dealing with key points and questions coming from the participants. It will kick off in Vancouver on Thursday June 5th, with public lectures by Profs. Sir AJ Leggett and Sir R Penrose; and then will move to Galiano island for the rest of the meeting.