I don’t know that this is right, but it is my best guess, at this point in my investigations, both scientific and introspective.
Consciousness exists independent of space, time, and matter. Life is consciousness taking up residence inside a physical body.
Living cells have some resemblance to machines, but here’s one difference: human-designed machines are engineered for reliability, which means that quantum fluctuations are averaged over so many particles that the machine’s behavior is absolutely predictable. For example, silicon computers are miniaturized until they have a few thousand atoms in each transistor, which is as small as they can be without danger of quantum uncertainty causing unpredictable behavior.
Remarkably, the behavior of living cells is the opposite. They are “engineered” to be hypersensitive to quantum fluctuations, so that a single quantum event can be amplified to cause behavior changes in the cell as a whole. I don’t know that this is true, but there’s some evidence for it. Roger Penrose and Stuart Hameroff have argued that quantum events are important in microtubules that carry streams of charged particles in and out of cells. Most directly, Stuart Kauffman has studied the molecular structures of dozens of neurotransmitters, and he concludes that most exist in quantum superposition states, like a computer memory cell that is simultaneously 1 and 0. This is the behavior characteristic of qubits, which are the building blocks of quantum computers. This suggests that the human brain might be capable of a kind of information processing that no conventional computer (technically, a Turing Machine) can perform. But more important: it means that there is an opportunity for a conscious will to intervene behind the veil of quantum uncertainty, and still produce macroscopic effects through a living body.
In conventional understanding, physical behavior of quantum-scale objects has an element of pure randomness built into it. If my hypothesis is correct, then what is called “quantum randomness” is not really random, but it is a realm where free will may find an open window into the material world. There is experimental evidence that human intention can modify processes that quantum mechanics calls “random”. Robert Jahn, Dean of Engineering at Princeton University, performed experiments demonstrating exactly this phenomenon over a period of 30 years in the Princeton PEAR lab. And more recently, Dean Radin has compiled evidence that human intention can modify quantum interference fringes.
I am encouraged by this model, rudimentary as it is, because it is both fully consistent with all we know of quantum physics, and also suggestive of ways that we might explore understanding a broad and compelling body of psi research that the mainstream of science has categorically dismissed. (And Yes, this is a proposed solution to the Problem of Free Will, in either a classical, deterministic mechanics or a quantum mechanics that includes pure randomness.)
— Josh Mitteldorf