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It sounds a bit naive to say this, but I don't really hear about many physicists attempting to relate their discoveries in particle/quantum physics with the brain (perception, memory storage, etc...). To me, an undergrad physics major, this sounds enormously interesting, but alas, all my physics colloquiums are about dark matter, the Big Bang, neutrinos, etc...(not that those topics aren't interesting, of course).

Is there anything a physicist could contribute to the brain? What about brain-computer interfaces?

Update:

Reworded to be less philosophical and vague and to find more precise answers.

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    $\begingroup$ The last paragraph is veering into philosophy. In any case it depends on what interpretation of QM one adopts, which itself veers into philosophy, at least IMO. $\endgroup$ – paisanco Oct 18 '16 at 2:53
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    $\begingroup$ I've heard that a part of Einstein's brain is keeping in some laboratory, and neuroscientists have studied (and analyzed) it. Perhaps this is also a way that physicists can contribute in the area of neuroscience! $\endgroup$ – user.3710634 Oct 18 '16 at 7:14
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Physicists have contributed, and are presently contributing, a lot to neuroscience. Essentially none of this, however, relates to "particle/quantum physics." Even "normal" quantum mechanics, and certainly anything related to particle physics, is irrelevant to how neurons function, interact, and given rise to complex phenomena, except in the trivial sense of the chemical bonds making up molecules being governed by quantum mechanics. The operation of neurons is controlled by the fascinating interplay between statistical mechanics and electrostatics that gives rise to propagating voltage pulses, for example, something physicists contributed to in terms of both theory and measurement. In more contemporary work, one figures out how, e.g., networks of neurons can recognize things like shapes in a visual field by considering interacting networks of excitable objects. (Both of these are over-simplifications, of course.) Phil Nelson's "Biological Physics" is a good place to get a little glimpse of neurons and physics.

I very strongly caution against making the mistake of thinking "quantum mechanics is mysterious, the brain is mysterious, therefore quantum mechanics must be relevant to consciousness!" It leads to all sorts of nonsense that's both bad physics (imagining quantum coherence in warm, dense materials) and bad biology.

Finally, if you'd like to read good things about the topic of free will, I recommend Daniel Dennett's work.

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    $\begingroup$ I echo this answer. For more specific examples, you can contribute in atomic clocks, squids and hyperpolarisation to improve on fMRI and MEG. You can use your mathematical and programming skills to improve upon or introduce new approaches for filtering, preprocessing or analysing data. For example, you can look at connectivity with graph theory or modelling any brain sources with differential equations. Finally, leave any philosophy out of it and treat the brain as a stochastic, nonlinear mechanical system. Then apply your favourite spherical egg approximations and have at it. $\endgroup$ – Reti43 Oct 18 '16 at 9:43
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Actually, there are lots of things that physicists do that could relate to neuroscience. One obvious example comes from applications of Chaos Theory concepts to electrical activity in the brain. Another example involves simple models of human decision behavior that rely on brain models with fractal mathematical characteristics. Google Reflexive Modeling or consult V Lefebvre's book "The Algebra of Conscience" for more details on this. As for free will, the uncertainty of quantum physics can be considered as an argument for its existence. I'm sure there are other examples that could be cited.

Here is a link to a paper that I presented at a Military Operations Research conference in 2001 that involves both of the examples discussed above: http://oai.dtic.mil/oai/oai?verb=getRecord&metadataPrefix=html&identifier=ADA468189

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Here's a recent example of a physicist applying quantum information theory to the brain, which should be understandable if you've had an introductory course on QM.

The basic idea is that if the brain makes use of quantum information processing there must be a way for it to store long-lived coherent states, and the paper presents a potential way it could do this using the nuclear spin-states of phosphorus atoms in a particular molecule.

I should note that the paper is very speculative and that physicists do a lot of research in neuroscience which has nothing to do with quantum computation (see the other answers), but I think this example is maybe closer to what you were originally thinking of.

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  • $\begingroup$ I would like to say that human brain does not work on quantum mechanics, instead it's a classical computing system. The recent development of deep learning based AI reveals this point clearly. There are some researchers trying to connect AI with physical laws (for example the relation between deep convolutional neural network with renormalization group). So it's true that brain works in a clever way exploring the physical law (or some special laws of the world), but it's not a quantum information processor. $\endgroup$ – XXDD Oct 22 '16 at 15:19

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