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Quantum link to memory

April 29, 2009

Quantum mechanics could be used to describe the way memory works and revolutionise the way we think about the human mind, a Queensland University of Technology researcher says.

Science and technology researcher Professor Peter Bruza is leading a study to explore the similarities between associations in human and the quantum correlations, also known as quantum entanglement.

Professor Bruza said entanglement was a bizarre phenomenon in which seemingly separate quantum systems behaved as one.

"In quantum mechanics, systems are physically non-separable, and this characteristic trait is called entanglement," he said.

"The key to our research is to consider non-separability as something applicable to the cognitive realm of memory."

Professor Bruza said like the systems found in quantum mechanics, words were inseparable from their associated words.

"Whenever a person recalls a word, associated words always come to mind, and, in fact, it is impossible to not recall those associated words," he said.

"For example, if I say the word 'bat' and ask you to tell me the next word you think of, it might be 'vampire'. Then if I ask you to do the same with the word 'boxer', you might reply 'dog'.

"In this case, we could speculate that the words 'bat' and 'boxer' are entangled in your memory because after associating bat with an animal, you also associated boxer with an animal instead of with sport.

"This would be significant because experiments show people are predisposed to associate the word 'boxer' with sport and are more likely to choose a word like 'gloves'.

"The way people associate words is very intriguing. It could revolutionise how we understand the workings of human memory.

"Ultimately we are hoping this theory will lead to a new genre of information processing technology that is genuinely aligned with human cognition."

Professor Bruza's team has joined with empirical psychologists at the University of South Florida, US, to undertake the Quantum mechanics of semantic space study, which has received an Australian Research Council Discovery grant.

"Fundamentally the study is about gaining an understanding of the intriguing connections between cognitive science and quantum theory," he said.

"We are investigating whether mathematical similarities between word associations and quantum theory could lead to totally new models of how humans process words and meaning."
Media contact: Rachael Wilson, QUT media officer, 07 3138 1150 or

Queensland University of Technology

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