Clinical Work - Department of Anesthesiology

Stuart Hameroff, MD

Department of Anesthesiology

University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona

Director, Center for Consciousness Studies

Emeritus Professor, Department of Anesthesiology

Emeritus Professor, Department of Psychology

(520) 626-7999 - Main, Dept.of Anesthesiology
(520) 621-9317 - Center for Consciousness Studies
 
Banner – University Medical Center Tucson
 
 

Education

Medical School: 
1973: Hahnemann Medical College, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Residency: 
Anesthesiology, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona
 
 
Dr. Stuart Hameroff was born in Buffalo, New York and grew up in Cleveland, Ohio where he worked at Republic Steel and Cleveland Stadium. He earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Pittsburgh, and received his MD at Hahnemann in Philadelphia in 1973. He then moved to Tucson, where in 1975 he became the sixth resident in the Department of Anesthesiology at the University of Arizona. Joining the faculty in 1977, Dr. Hameroff has stayed ever since. Dr. Hameroff's research for 35 years has involved consciousness (how the pinkish gray meat between our ears produces the richness of experiential awareness). Studying anesthetic gas mechanisms, he focused on how quantum effects control protein conformational dynamics. Following an interest which began in medical school in the computational capacity of microtubules inside neurons, Dr. Hameroff teamed up with the eminent British physicist Sir Roger Penrose in the early 90's to develop a highly controversial theory of consciousness called ‘orchestrated objective reduction’ (Orch OR). Dr. Hameroff began the international, interdisciplinary biennial conferences on consciousness (Toward a Science of Consciousness) in 1994, becoming Director of the Center for Consciousness Studies at the University of Arizona. He has published five books and well over 100 research articles, and appeared in the film ‘What the Bleep do We Know?’ and numerous TV documentaries on the problem of consciousness.
 

RESEARCH INTERESTS

Consciousness studies, quantum mechanical/general relativity approaches to consciousness, protein conformational dynamics, molecular mechanisms of anesthetic gas molecules, information processing in cytoskeletal microtubules, quantum information science, essential features of living systems, nanotechnology, nanomedicine, philosophical pan-protopsychism, coherence and decoherence.

 

I divide my professional time at the University of Arizona between: a) Practicing and teaching clinical anesthesiology in the surgical operating rooms at University Medical Center b) Research into the mechanism of consciousness. My interests in the nature of mind began during my undergraduate days at the University of Pittsburgh in the late 60's, where I studied mostly chemistry, physics and mathematics. Later, during medical school at Hahnemann Medical College in Philadelphia I spent a summer research elective in the laboratory of hematologist/oncologist Dr Ben Kahn. While studying mitosis (cell division) in white blood cells under the microscope I became fascinated by the mechanical movements of tiny organelles (centrioles) and delicate threads (mitotic spindles) which teased apart chromosomes, pulling them to establish shape and architecture of the daughter cells. Both centrioles and mitotic spindles were called microtubules, cylindrical protein assemblies.

 

I began to wonder how these microtubules were guided and organized - could there be some kind of intelligence, computation or even consciousness at that level? The microtubules were actually lattices of individual proteins called tubulin, and the crystal-like arrangement of tubulins to make up microtubules reminded me of a computer switching circuit. Could microtubules be processing information like a computer?

 

At just about that time (early 1970's) the fine structure of living cells was being appreciated fully for the first time. It seems that the fixative agent for electron microscopy (osmium tetroxide) had for 30 years been destroying much of the internal structure, suggesting cells were merely membrane-bound bags of minestrone soup. However a new fixative (glutaraldehyde) began to reveal that cell interiors were complex scaffoldings of interconnected proteins collectively called the cytoskeleton, whose main components were the seemingly intelligent microtubules. Neurons, it turned out, were loaded with microtubules which were cross connected by linking proteins to form complex networks. I began to wonder if the abundance of microtubules in neurons was relevant to the problem of consciousness.

 

After medical school and internship in Tucson, Arizona I considered specializing in neurology or psychiatry to research the brain/mind problem. But the chairman of the Department of Anesthesiology at the University of Arizona, Professor Burnell Brown convinced me that understanding the precise molecular mechanism of general anesthetic gases was the most direct path toward unlocking the enigma of consciousness. He also gave me a paper showing that the anesthetics caused microtubules to disassemble. I became an anesthesiologist and joined Burnell's faculty in 1977 after my residency training. I researched a number of areas in anesthesiology but eventually focused on my primary interests: consciousness, anesthetic mechanisms and cytoskeletal microtubules. Sadly, Burnell died several years ago. I miss him, and am grateful to him for my career.

 

During the 1980's I published a number of papers and one book (Ultimate Computing-Biomolecular Consciousness and Nanotechnology, Elsevier-North Holland, Amsterdam, 1987) on models of information processing in microtubules, collaborating with Rich Watt, Steve Smith, Alwyn Scott, Steen Rasmussen, Jack Tuszynski, Djuro Koruga, Conrad Schneiker, Judy Dayhoff, Rafael Lahoz-Beltra, Alexi Samsonovich, Dyan Louria and others. We showed that the information processing capacity of individual cells at the level of tubulin and microtubules was enormous. But even if microtubules were actually computers, critics said, how would that explain the problem of consciousness?

 

In the early 1990's the study of consciousness became increasingly popular and I was strongly influenced by Roger Penrose's The Emperor's New Mind (and later Shadows of the Mind, Oxford Press, 1989 and 1994). Quite famous for his work in relativity, black holes, geometry, gravity and quantum mechanics, Roger had turned to the problem of consciousness and concluded the mind was more than complex computation. Something else was necessary, and that something, he suggested, was a particular type of quantum computation he was proposing ('objective reduction' - a self-collapse of the quantum wave function due to quantum gravity). He was linking consciousness to a basic process in underlying spacetime geometry - reality itself! It seemed fascinating and plausible to me, but Roger didn't have a good candidate biological site for his proposed process. I thought, could microtubules be quantum computers? I wrote to him, and we soon met in his office in Oxford in September 1992. Roger was struck by the mathematical symmetry and beauty of the microtubule lattice and thought it might indeed be the optimal candidate for his proposed mechanism.

 

Interest was bolstered by writings about the topic by well known authors including Roger Penrose, Francis Crick, Gerald Edelman and Daniel Dennett.  As the internet was expanding online discussion groups (e.g. Psyche-D, JCS-online) and the Journal of Consciousness Studies became available. Some of my favorite Journals include: Learning and Memory, Nature Reviews in Neuroscience PNAS, PLOS 1, Alz and Dementia Alz, R & T, Journal of Memory and Language Memory, Memory and Cognition, Journal of Cognitive Sciences C & Cog, BES Brain Research, Anesthesia, Psychology, P & A.

 

Having organized a NATO Workshop in 1991 on biomolecular processes, in 1994 and over the next few years through discussions at conferences in Sweden, Tucson, Copenhagen and elsewhere, and a memorable hike through the Grand Canyon in 1994,  I organized an international, interdisciplinary conference ‘Toward a Science of Consciousness’ with colleagues Alwyn Scott (Mathematics), Al Kaszniak (Psychology) and Jim Laukes (Extended University) and later David Chalmers (Philosophy).  The conference, held at University of Arizona Medical Center, was a great success, and led to the conference series held in even-numbered years in Tucson (and odd-numbered years elsewhere in the world) which has continued to the present.

 

Beginning in 1994 we have held every two years an international, multidisciplinary conference "Toward a Science of Consciousness" in Tucson Arizona, and have published several proceedings books through MIT Press. Alternate years we cooperate with overseas collaborators for an international TSC conference.  In April 2014, TSC-The biennial Tucson conference celebrated its 20th Anniversary. The Center has coordinated TSC. Special thanks to Arlene "Abi" Behar Montefiore.

 

I continued with my own research and began to develop a model for consciousness involving Roger's objective reduction occurring in microtubules within the brain's neurons. Because the proposed microtubule quantum states were 'tuned' or ‘orchestrated’ by linking proteins, we called the process 'orchestrated objective reduction' - 'Orch OR'

 

My research has enabled me to see a significant portion of the world and to meet many interesting people. I'm grateful to my current and past fellow faculty and residents in the Department of Anesthesiology at the University of Arizona, the surgeons, nurses and techs in the operating rooms, administrative staff and to the College of Medicine's UA BioCommunications for graphic and A/V support, Roma Krebs, Rita Ellsworth and in particular to graphic illustrator and artist Dave Cantrell who passed away in December, 2013.

 

I am grateful for past research support from Pfizer-Roerig, National Science Foundation, Fetzer Institute, YeTaDel Foundation, Chopra Foundation, Bhaumik Foundation

 

Journals of Interest include:

Learning and Memory, Nature Reviews in Neuroscience PNAS, PLOS 1, Alz and Dementia Alz, R & T, Journal of Memory and Language Memory, Memory and Cognition, Journal of Cognitive Sciences C & Cog, BES Brain Research, Anesthesia, Psychology, P & A

 

Personal Statement:

I divide my professional time at the University of Arizona between: a) Practicing and teaching clinical anesthesiology in the surgical operating rooms at University Medical Center b) Research into the mechanism of consciousness. My interests in the nature of mind began during my undergraduate days at the University of Pittsburgh in the late 60's, where I studied mostly chemistry, physics and mathematics. Later, during medical school at Hahnemann Medical College in Philadelphia I spent a summer research elective in the laboratory of hematologist/oncologist Dr Ben Kahn. While studying mitosis (cell division) in white blood cells under the microscope I became fascinated by the mechanical movements of tiny organelles (centrioles) and delicate threads (mitotic spindles) which teased apart chromosomes, pulling them to establish shape and architecture of the daughter cells. Both centrioles and mitotic spindles were called microtubules, cylindrical protein assemblies.

 

Anesthesiologist, Professor and Researcher joined the faculty at University Medical Center in 1977. Dr. Hameroff's research for 35 years has involved consciousness (how the pinkish gray meat between our ears produces the richness of experiential awareness). Studying anesthetic gas mechanisms, he focused on how quantum effects control protein conformational dynamics. Following an interest which began in medical school in the computational capacity of microtubules inside neurons, Dr. Hameroff proposed in the early 1980's that microtubules functioned as molecular computers. Hameroff’s 1987 book Ultimate Computing suggested downloading consciousness into microtubule arrays. In the mid-1990s Hameroff teamed with British physicist Sir Roger Penrose to develop the controversial theory of consciousness called “orchestrated objective reduction” - Orch OR theory - in which consciousness derives from quantum computations in microtubules inside brain neurons, quantum computations connected to the fine- scale structure of spacetime geometry. Dr. Hameroff has published five books and well over 100 research articles, and appeared in the film ‘What the Bleep do We Know?’ and numerous TV documentaries on the problem of consciousness including BBC, Discover Channel, History Channel, PBS, OWN, Huff Post Live and the film “What the Bleep?” As Director of the Center for Consciousness Studies, established in 1997 at the University of Arizona, Hameroff co-organizes (with philosopher David Chalmers) the international, interdisciplinary biennial conference series ‘Toward a Science of Consciousness’ since 1994. For the past 20 + years TSC, CCS has been providing opportunities for researchers to meet in an international and interdisciplinary setting and has provided scholarships, grants, webcourses, seminars, symposiums. The Center is grateful for the past research support from Pfizer-Roerig, NSF, Fetzer Institute The Chopra Foundation, The Bhaumik Foundation, YeTaDeL Foundation, Google, Elata Foundation, Journal of Consciousness Studies, Journal of Cosmology, Monroe Institute, NIMS, and Mind Event AB, AOARD, EOARD, AFOSR.  Dr. Hameroff is grateful to his current and past fellow faculty and residents in the Department of Anesthesiology, surgeons and nurses and techs in the operating rooms, artist Dave Cantrell, webmeisters Ed Xia, Rita Ellsworth, graphic designers Roma Krebs, Darla Keneston; technical support of Scott Morgan, Michael Griffith and Ricky Bergeron; TSC conference manager and CCS assistant director, Abi Behar-Montefiore and Toward a Science co-director Philosopher David Chalmers as well as his numerous scientific collaborators including: Sir Roger Penrose, Jack Tuszynski, Anirban Bandyopadhyay, Travis Craddock, Sterling Cooley, John JB Allen, and Jay Sanguinetti,