Is Reality Predicated on Perception?

First Star Trek predicted the normalization of racial diversity. Then it was cell phones. Now it's a "theory of everything."

Is there anything Star Trek can't predict?

In an episode called "Shore Leave," first broadcast in 1966, Kirk and Spock visited a planet where any thought -- even an idyll one -- would cause its physical creation. So whenever somebody had a dangerous idea -- of a hungry tiger, for instance -- an advanced computer acted instantly to manifest the thought into a physical reality. Trouble was, the crew of the Enterprise were not aware that they needed to control their thoughts, and as a consequence, hilarity ensued.

Now, in a new book called Biocentrism: How Life and Consciousness are the Keys to Understanding the True Nature of the Universe, author Robert Lanza proposes that physical reality is a process in which observation and perception dynamically precede the presence of time and space.

If your knees are jerking on reading this thesis, it's fair to point out that Dr. Lanza's credentials are impeccable. U.S. News & World Report has called him a "renegade thinker" and a "genius." He's been interviewed by Discover magazine and has been widely published in prestigious scientific and medical journals. President Jimmy Carter wrote the forward to his book One World: The Health & Survival of the Human Species in the 21st Century. Dr. Lanza is also an adjunct professor at the Institute of Regenerative Medicine, Wake Forest University School of Medicine. In 2005, as the vice president of Medical and Scientific Development for Advanced Cell Technology, Inc., Dr. Lanza appeared before a Senate subcommittee to speak in favor of the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act. Some of Dr. Lanza's books are required reading for students of biomechanics, including Principles in Tissue Engineering, recognized as the definitive reference in the field.

Dr. Lanza writes Biocentrism autobiographically, but also as a straight-up synthesis of his formative experiences and professional drive to solve the puzzle of life -- evolution and everything.

Biocentrism was written with the help of Bob Berman, a veteran astronomer and journalist. Berman edits the astronomy section of The Old Farmer's Almanac. He is a former Discover magazine columnist and is currently the editor of Astronomy magazine's  "Strange Universe" column. As the reader discovers, modern cosmology strongly reinforces the implications of biocentrism.

Dr. Lanza begins his book with its denouement: "The world is not, on the whole, the place described in our schoolbooks."

The world appears to be designed for life, not just at the microscopic scale of the atom, but at the level of the universe itself. Scientists have discovered that the universe has a long list of traits that make it appear as if everything it contains -- from atoms to stars -- was tailor-made just for us. Many are calling this revelation the "Goldilocks Principle," because the cosmos is not "too this" or "too that," but rather "just right" for life. (p. 83)

"Goldilocks" is a recognized natural phenomenon covered under the anthropic principle -- a term first coined by Australian physicist Brandon Carter at a 1973 symposium in Kraków to honor the 500th birthday of Nicholas Copernicus.

Nowadays science identifies this phenomenon as the observation selection effect, wherein a "selection bias" must be factored in to cosmological measurements.

The gravitational constant is perhaps the most famous [example of the Goldilocks Effect], but the fine structure constant is just as critical for life. Called alpha, if it were just 1.1x or more of its present value, fusion would no longer occur in stars. (p. 87)

The Rare Earth hypothesis narrows the field of habitation down again, until the possibilities become too extreme to believe. In fact, the long odds against your reading this article are so remote as to be practically impossible. Yet, here we are, evidently snug inside the safe wave of the physical present.

You can look it up: "the Goldilocks phenomenon."

By the late sixties, it had become clear that if the Big Bang had been just one part in a million more powerful, the cosmos would have blown outward too fast to allow stars and worlds to form. Result: no us. Even more coincidentally, the universe's four forces and all of its constants are just perfectly set up for atomic interactions, the existence of atoms and elements, planets, liquid water, and life. Tweak any of them and you never existed. (p. 84)

The trouble with the Goldilocks principle is that it ultimately infects any sample that may be subjected to the scientific method. And according to the authors, scientific observation is simply not immune to the indirect effects of the observation selection effect or to its quantum cousin, the uncertainty principle. As it turns out, the upshot for science is that when a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, as a matter of fact it makes no sound at all.

Thus, when the scientific community chooses to ignore the impact of the OSE on practical puzzles like the theory of evolution, a fateful choice is made.

But science is a limber beast, and ignoring Occam's Razor is not a long-term solution to the dilemma posed by the OSE. In fact, at least two problems in evolutionary biology could be informed by selection bias:

Exhibit 1: Abiogenesis. To this moment, there is no standard biological or mechanical theory to explain life's origin. There is factually no mechanism known to science that could explain how living things could have formed through random mechanical processes. Famed biologist Francis Crick and the astronomer Fred Hoyle favored the theory of panspermia, where extraterrestrials are credited with seeding earth with its first life. But Panspermia merely passes the buck. How did life begin?