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Solipsism, Again

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An article forwarded to me by a friend brings up the old New-Age argument, this time dolled up in pseudoscientific garb.

Comes Robert Lanza, MD, a biologist, proposing to rip up the scientific frame in favor of his pet theory, “biocentrism.” He proposes that one day we will discover that time and space are both products of consciousness, and will be able to move through them at will:

Sometime in the future science will be able to create realities that we can’t even begin to imagine. As we evolve, we’ll be able to construct other information systems that correspond to other realities, universes based on logic completely different from ours and not based on space and time.

Immanuel Kant declared in 1781 that space and time were real, but only indeed as properties of the mind. These algorithms are not only the key to consciousness, but why space and time − indeed the properties of matter itself - are relative to the observer. But a new theory called biocentrism suggests that space and time may not be the only tools that can be used to construct reality. At present, our destiny is to live and die in the everyday world of up and down. But what if, for example, we changed the algorithms so that instead of time being linear, it was 3-dimensional like space? Consciousness would move through the multiverse. We’d be able to walk through time just like we walk through space. And after creeping along for 4 billion years, life would finally figure out how to escape from its corporeal cage. Our destiny would lie in realities that exist outside of the known physical universe.

Go read the whole article. It really doesn’t get any better. Just another breathless fantasy to help us escape from the reality that we have short lives, over which we have very limited control, and we must spend them on a small insignificant planet, and we die all-too-soon.

I find the article extremely vague and unconvincing–bordering on intellectually offensive. If this is true, let Dr. Lanza define the parameters of his new world so we can all take advantage of expanded awareness and “travel through time in three dimensions.” Until then, it’s just another fantasy conjecture by a “frame ripper” which distracts the gullible and muddies the waters of what we do actually know. It’s so nice that he’s laid it all out for us in one small essay, and destroyed our quaint little scientific understanding.

He’s as wrong as non-scientists about the implications of quantum theory. People think that it is conscious observation that changes the behavior of particles. This is wrong in two ways:

1) Even if thinking could affect the position of particles, any real-world object has so many particles that the effects of any number of conscious real-world observers would null out. For example, one gram of carbon has 12 x 602,214,150,000,000,000,000,000 carbon atoms (Avogadro’s number).

2) It is bombarding a particle with another particle or wave that changes its position or velocity. This is what Heisenberg meant when he said “observe.” It doesn’t mean consciously “look at.” It means “bounce another particle off of,” stealing or adding energy or momentum.

Lanza’s also wrong about dreams. Simply, they are simulations our brains create, very similar to the ones we create while awake. When we walk into a room, we mostly see a simulation of the room. The human visual system can only take in a very small amount of detail at once (from the tiny area of the retina called the fovea), which is why we often don’t notice small changes in our surroundings if they happen slowly.

So here we have someone who might as well be illiterate about both quantum theory and the nature of dreams proposing a new theory of time. Biocentrism? Huh?? He might as well be that medieval town crier (previous article) talking about how in the future announcements and music would travel thousands of miles through thin air. I wouldn’t have bought airtime from him, or invested in his radio station, would you?

There is an underlying reality, governed by energy and particle interaction, however incomplete may be our perception of it. That reality, even when we stop believing in it–as Philip K. Dick wrote–doesn’t go away.

Lanza is proposing basically solipsism, an old philosophical saw. If we create our own realities, why don’t we live in a perfect world of our own choosing? Why don’t all the men have harems and the women Prince Charmings? Why don’t we all live in castles like kings? Why do children in the Third World not get a say about whether they are killed by malaria or crushed by faulty and flimsy construction every time there’s an earthquake? Why don’t their minds create a better reality for them? Are we really to blame their faulty thoughts for their horrible predicament?

So much of this philosophical bollocks rests on a misunderstanding of the subjective-objective divide. In a subjective sense, we do create our own ‘realities’ and we can move through time and visit the past in our memories. But let’s not confuse that with the universe that is, and would continue to exist even if all consciousness and life on Earth were snuffed out by a giant solar flare. That universe is the one I’m interested in learning about (with all the people still in it, naturally). And it doesn’t care one whit about the fantastic mental contrivances of Robert Lanza, MD.

To really get where this is all headed, it’s interesting to note Deepak Chopra had the following to say: “Lanza’s insights into the nature of consciousness [are] original and exciting” and that “his theory of biocentrism is consistent with the most ancient wisdom traditions of the world which says that consciousness conceives, governs, and becomes a physical world. It is the ground of our Being in which both subjective and objective reality come into existence.”

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Comments (10 comments)

peter / February 11th, 2010, 6:02 am / #1

“his theory of biocentrism is consistent with the most ancient wisdom traditions of the world

ancient traditions that usually accompanied starvation, pestilence, shortened live spans, suffering in agony without
relief, ignorance, subjugation, slavery, child abuse, corruption, abuse of women…fucking ancient wisdom my arse.

What help was ancient wisdom with the plague, death in childbirth, pain relief, non existence of human rights?
Where was ancient wisdom when the the romans slaughtered about a million kelts in france, the mongols butchered
in europe, vlad the impaler butchered the turks, the christians butchered in the americas, the chines butchered each other with the aim to create an other for empire, the moghul invaders butchered in India.
What fucking monstrous lying and ignorant buffoons the likes of this shyster chopra are. An utter disgrace to any
thinking person, a fraud who apparently thinks there really ever was a golden age and a shangri la - maybe a lala land
in this idiots head.

No, the universe gives a shit about us, we are here on our own ans if you think you can ignore hard physical
boundaries you won't even wake up again to wonder what happened when you tried to think the oncoming car
away.

darkeros / February 11th, 2010, 11:23 pm / #2

What you wrote sums it up perfectly!
"So much of this philosophical bollocks rests on a misunderstanding of the subjective-objective divide. In a subjective sense, we do create our own ‘realities’ and we can move through time and visit the past in our memories. But let’s not confuse that with the universe that is, and would continue to exist even if all consciousness and life on Earth were snuffed out by a giant solar flare."

Thank you for clarifying this ONE vital point.. which is continually abused: the subjective/objective creation of 'reality'.
Of course after we are aware we need to make this differentiation, then the hard work begins! When are we truly 'fooling' ourselves through the drives of our fears, for one??? and thus why 'trying the spirits' through the scientific process… peer review, etc., is so imperative… though shunned by some who misunderstand its value. sighhhhhhhh…

great piece! I actually think we are getting there slowly… bit by bit, deconstructing these fallacies. There has been no rebuttal for years… now we have these forums.
Keep it up!

STG99 / March 23rd, 2010, 9:33 pm / #3

According to his Wikipedia entry, Dr. Lanza seems to be a well-qualified biologist and cell researcher. Why do these MDs grab on to quantum physics and go all loony. I am very annoyed by anyone, trained scientist, psychic fraud or otherwise, bastardizing quantum theory to sell something. It's like a psuedoscience version of the Gish gallop. The average reader isn't going to be able to sort the fact from the crap. He sounds like a Deepak Chopra wanna be. I'm also completely not surprised this was in the HuffPo.

Elder Scientist / March 28th, 2010, 5:08 am / #4

Although atheism is rigorously logical, the moral assumptions upon which a society is built are not; indeed, they are, as set forth in the first sentence here, assumptions. The Golden Rule may be useful and practical, but it cannot be logically proven to be true.
For this reason, Dr. Lanza, like many other scientifically trained persons, looks to other constructs by which confidence in the moral principles of a society and of its individuals can be affirmed. Such affirmation can be provided by a group narrative, by a group set of moral postulates, or by (God forbid) a rejection of moral reality and degenerating into moral relativism and opportunism. It's hard to provide one's self with ongoing validation of one's moral commitments; much easier to let those in leadership in one's community to provide the narratives, the homilies, and the affirmations that one believes in to begin with. Of course, if one doesn't like one's community's moral substructure, it's time to look around for a different community.

Amaterasu / March 28th, 2010, 7:57 pm / #5

http://www.ted.com/talks/sam_harris_science_can_s...
Science can help us to validate what is harmful; I recommend this talk by Sam Harris as he presents an argument in support of science as being the basis for a moral society.

BlackSun / May 22nd, 2010, 10:40 pm / #6

Ron Shafer,

And you didn't read the direct quote from Lanza where he says "we'd be able to walk through time just like we walk through space":

Sometime in the future science will be able to create realities that we can’t even begin to imagine. As we evolve, we’ll be able to construct other information systems that correspond to other realities, universes based on logic completely different from ours and not based on space and time.
Immanuel Kant declared in 1781 that space and time were real, but only indeed as properties of the mind. These algorithms are not only the key to consciousness, but why space and time − indeed the properties of matter itself - are relative to the observer. But a new theory called biocentrism suggests that space and time may not be the only tools that can be used to construct reality. At present, our destiny is to live and die in the everyday world of up and down. But what if, for example, we changed the algorithms so that instead of time being linear, it was 3-dimensional like space? Consciousness would move through the multiverse. We’d be able to walk through time just like we walk through space. And after creeping along for 4 billion years, life would finally figure out how to escape from its corporeal cage. Our destiny would lie in realities that exist outside of the known physical universe.

I said "he's as wrong as non-scientists about the implications of quantum theory." And Einstein would agree with me. He famously wrote that if there appear to be unexplained connections between particles, that we should posit the existence of additional methods or variables.

Look, Lanza may be an expert biologist, but he should stick to his field. What makes him an expert in QM? He's been very successful in convincing a lot of non-scientists, but he refuses to submit his work on "Biocentrism" to peer review. That should strike anyone, scientist or not, as fishy.

Ron Shafer / May 23rd, 2010, 5:27 am / #7

This "review" of Robert Lanza's book "Biocentrism" is unbelievably ridiculous. I don't think the reviewer has read the book. Lanza is about as far from New Age as one can get. He makes that clear in the book. He also deals with the charge of circular reasoning. "Traveling through time"? There's nothing in the book about traveling through time.Solipcism "The belief that only I exist"? Lanza? How on earth could anyone read the book and arrive at this absurdity? Lanza a "non-scientist"? Where is this guy's head? He's a M.D., a biologist, who has written scientifice textbooks. I actually stumbled on this website while I was looking for something else. I won't be back if this is the kind of intellectual charade you usua;l;y publish.

TehHawt / May 27th, 2010, 7:13 pm / #8

Wow, you said it! That someone with a proper education in science is so willing to peddle this nonsense is appalling. And ditto on the Huffpost thing. I absolutely cannot believe the crap they post there.

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Simon / December 8th, 2011, 6:00 pm / #10

peace of crap with ur missleading logic, and projections of ur science conserwatism or better ignorance

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