Sunday, December 19, 2010
The cosmological theory of biocentrism proposed by renowned American scientist and doctor Robert Lanza is one of a number of theories stemming, in part, from the numerous conundrums posed by quantum physics. But despite its critics, the theory remains an interesting and relevant one that continues to attract significant attention.
Lanza, together with author and astronomer Bob Berman, expounded on the theory in the book, Biocentrism: How Life and Consciousness are the Keys to Understanding the True Nature of the Universe (BenBella Books, May 2009). Most recently, Lanza discussed his views in the article Is Death the End? Experiments Suggest You Create Time, published online by the Huffington Post.
In brief, the theory holds that human consciousness is the glue that holds all of existence together. Apart from the presence of a conscious mind, space, time and matter simply do not to exist. Biocentrism builds on the science of quantum physics, where things exist not as definite, absolute objects or entities at any given time, but lie instead within a state of undetermined probability until the moment they are observed.
The subject matter of biocentrism is reflected in a number of other well-known concepts, including the Boltzmann brain problem, the Fermi paradox, the Gaia hypothesis, the science of abiogenesis or biopoesis, autopoiesis, monistic idealism, neurophenomenology, solipsism, nondualism, and the quantum mind-body problem. See also the writings of Immanual Kant, Gottfried Wilhelm Leigniz, René Descartes, George Berkely, Arthur Schopenhauer and Henri Bergson.
"At each moment we're at the edge of a paradox described by the Greek philosopher Zeno. Because an object can't occupy two places simultaneously, he contended that an arrow is only at one place during any given instant of its flight. To be in one place, however, is to be at rest. The arrow must therefore be at rest at every instant of its flight. Thus, motion is impossible. But is this really a paradox? Or rather, is it proof that time (motion) isn't a feature of the outer, spatial world, but rather a conception of thought?" Lanza writes.
For a critique of Lanza's biocentrism, see Biocentrism demystified: A response to Depak Chopra and Robert Lanza’s Notion of a Conscious Universe, written by Vonod K. Wadhawan and Ajita Kamal in December of 2009.See Nirmukta.
For a shamefully unprofessional and hateful assault on Lanza and the theory of biocentrism—filled with more ad hominem attacks and logical fallacies than you can imagine—read what has been written by David H. Gorski (a.k.a. "Orac") on his "Respectful Insolence" blog. But beware, biocentrism isn't the only thing Gorski takes aim at. See: David Gorski, M.D.: The Worldwide Wanker of Woo.
Whether you agree with him or not, Lanza has introduced and defended his theory with clarity and respect in an attempt to provide a cohesive answer to the genuine paradoxes brought upon us by quantum physics and other scientific discoveries.
In the critique by Wadhawan and Kamal, the writers summarize their response to Lanza (and Deepak Chopra) in these five statements:
(a) Space and time exist, even though they are relative and not absolute.
(b) Modern quantum theory, long after the now-discredited Copenhagen interpretation, is consistent with the idea of an objective universe that exists without a conscious observer.
(c) Lanza and Chopra misunderstand and misuse the anthropic principle.
(d) The biocentrism approach does not provide any new information about the nature of consciousness, and relies on ignoring recent advances in understanding consciousness from a scientific perspective.
(e) Both authors show thinly-veiled disdain for Darwin, while not actually addressing his science in the article. Chopra has demonstrated his utter ignorance of evolution multiple times.
"Chopra’s brand of mysticism gets its claimed legitimacy from science and its virulence from discrediting science’s core principles. He continues this practice through his association with Robert Lanza. Both Chopra and Lanza seem to be disillusioned by the perceived emptiness of a non-directional evolutionary reality . . . . Our contention is that the theory of biocentrism, if analyzed properly, does not hold up to scrutiny. It is not the paradigm change that it claims to be. It is also our view that one can find much meaning, beauty and purpose in a naturalistic view of the universe, without having to resort to mystical notions of reality," Wadhawan and Kamal state.
Nevertheless, while there may exist some legitimate reasons to doubt the truth of biocentrism, Lanza's contribution is significant for at least one major reason: It draws attention to the role of the mind in the formation and/or interpretation of reality—a role which has been sidestepped by a large portion of society for centuries.
Does time, space and reality as a whole exist independently of the mind, as is customarily believed? Wadhawan and Kamal suggest that it does, though admitting its relative nature. But what precisely is different between something being relative and something being non-existent? Is it not Lanza's point, more or less, that time and space is relative to observation, to human consciousness? The phrase "relative to" and "dependent upon" are nearly one in the same, are they not?
Where Lanza gets my respect is in his overall disposition, his sincerity and the depth in which he approaches the subject. He does not rant. He doesn't take life for granted. And neither should we.
I urge you to read the online abridgement of Biocentrism: How Life and Consciousness Are the Keys to Understanding the True Nature of the Universe, made available by MSNBC here. See also the article, The Universe in Your Head.
Lanza is faulted for falling back on consciousness as the source of creation without ever fully explaining what consciousness is, but I don't see how this necessarily means he is wrong. If something is neither dead nor alive, neither here nor there—as quantum physics suggests—until it is observed, what is it really precisely that differentiates that uncertain possibility from pure nothingness? It's called an undetermined probability, one of an infinite number of mathematically probable events, a statistical prediction, a potentiality or something along those lines, but that hardly seems to qualify as something which is substantive or definitive.
Lanza shows that he understands the mystery and the history behind the debate.
"Could the long-sought Theory of Everything be merely missing a component that was too close for us to have noticed? Some of the thrill that came with the announcement that the human genome had been mapped or the idea that we are close to understanding the “Big Bang” rests in our innate human desire for completeness and totality. But most of these comprehensive theories fail to take into account one crucial factor: We are creating them. It is the biological creature that fashions the stories, that makes the observations, and that gives names to things. And therein lies the great expanse of our oversight, that science has not confronted the one thing that is at once most familiar and most mysterious — consciousness," Lanza writes in the above-noted abridgement of Biocentrism.
From what I read, Lanza doesn't claim to be able to understand the nature of human consciousness in all its mystery and strangeness. But who does? We're still very much in the process of discovery.
The following excerpt from Biocentrism is printed here with all due respect and reference to the book's publishers. The book is available on Amazon here.
The authors write: "There are many problems with the current paradigm — some obvious, others rarely mentioned but just as fundamental. But the overarching problem involves life, since its initial arising is still a scientifically unknown process, even if the way it then changed forms can be apprehended using Darwinian mechanisms. The bigger problem is that life contains consciousness, which, to say the least, is poorly understood . . . . Consciousness is not just an issue for biologists; it’s a problem for physics. There is nothing in modern physics that explains how a group of molecules in a brain creates consciousness. The beauty of a sunset, the taste of a delicious meal, these are all mysteries to science — which can sometimes pin down where in the brain the sensations arise, but not how and why there is any subjective personal experience to begin with. And, what’s worse, nothing in science can explain how consciousness arose from matter. Our understanding of this most basic phenomenon is virtually nil. Interestingly, most models of physics do not even recognize this as a problem."
The measurement problem in quantum physics provides us with another ongoing puzzle. How exactly do the infinite number of possibilities or quantum superpositions produce the apparent shared realty we seem to experience in our daily lives? And what about multiple observers?
"The Schrödinger wave equation, which so accurately described quantum reality as a superposition of possibilities, and attaches a range of probabilities to each possibility, does not include the act of measurement or its apparatus. There are no observers within the mathematics of quantum mechanics itself. Neither, therefore, does the wave equation describe the collapse of the wave function, that moment when possibility gives way to actuality," Ian Marshall and Danah Zohar write in Who's Afraid of Schrödinger's Cat? (Quill, William Morrow, New York, 1997).
Whether you think reality is all in your mind or merely perceived and altered by it in some way, it makes for fascinating reading. Becoming too judgmental or too absolutist in our thinking is the wrong path to take.
In the words of Lanza and Berman: "Biocentrism offers a springboard to make sense of aspects of biological and physical science which are currently insensible. Natural areas of biocentric research include the realm of brain-architecture, neuroscience, and the nature of consciousness itself. Another is the ongoing research into artificial intelligence. Though still in its infancy, few doubt that this century, in which computer power and capabilities keep expanding geometrically, will eventually bring researchers to confront the problem in a serious way."
For further reading about biocentrism, see: http://www.biocentricity.net/