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
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
(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