Considering life, quantum mechanically

What little I am able to comprehend and just wrap my mind around concerning quantum physics is so odd and interesting. And it is increasingly true that the implications for current theories on life and consciousness are equally interesting. This is particularly true with respect to current theories on consciousness such as Roger Penrose and Stuart Hameroff’s ORCH-OR. But at a simpler and more fundamental level even consider our ability to smell as is discussed in a recent issue of New Scientist:

…Take smell, Brookes’s area of interest. For decades, the line has been that a chemical’s scent is determined by molecular shape. Olfactory receptors in the nose are like locks opened only with the right key; when that key docks, it triggers nerve signals that the brain interprets as a particular smell.

Is that plausible? We have around 400 differently shaped smell receptors, but can recognise around 100,000 smells, implying some nifty computation to combine signals from different receptors and process them into distinct smells. Then again, that’s just the sort of thing our brains are good at. A more damning criticism is that some chemicals smell similar but look very different, while others have the same shape but smell different. The organic compounds vanillin and isovanillin, for example, smell differently but are two similarly shaped arrangements of the same molecule.

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