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The origin of consciousness is one of the greatest mysteries of science. One proposed solution, first suggested by Nobel Laureate and Oxford mathematician Roger Penrose and anesthesiologist Stuart Hammeroff, at Arizona State University, in Tucson, attributes consciousness to quantum computations in the brain. This in turn hinges on the notion that gravity could play a role in how quantum effects disappear, or "collapse." But a series of experiments in a lab deep under the Gran Sasso mountains, in Italy, has failed to find evidence in support of a gravity-related quantum collapse model, undermining the feasibility of this explanation for consciousness. The result is reported in the journal Physics of Life Reviews.

"How consciousness arises in the brain is a huge puzzle," says Catalina Curceanu, a member of the physics think tank, the Foundational Questions Institute, FQXi, and the lead physicist on the experiments at INFN in Frascati, Italy. "There are many competing ideas, but very few can be experimentally tested."

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