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?
Exhibit 2: The Fermi paradox. Human sentience at this point in the evolution of the universe is explainable only if life is commonplace. Yet there is a mathematically conspicuous absence of observable extraterrestrial life. So where are they?
Fortunately, science holds a built-in capacity for change as no other human institution. Surprising as it may seem now, fifty years ago the Big Bang was a just another red pill that the scientific establishment could not swallow.
In those days the steady state theory of the universe was the standard model for cosmology. Any notion that the universe had a "beginning" was just an idiocentric fossil of religious mythology. By the middle of the twentieth century, good scientists could safely dismiss "In the Beginning" as an obsolete metaphor.
Then in 1964 a couple of commercial astronomers came accidentally upon evidence that the universe did indeed have a beginning in time and space. And in 1978, Arno Allan Penzias and Robert Woodrow Wilson won the Noble Prize for discovering the microwave signature of the Big Bang.
Even so, the great Sir Fred Hoyle went to his death in 2001 still insisting on his trusted steady state.
But the minds of young scientists change quickly, and the oldsters die away as they should. So now the Big Bang is old news in modern cosmology.
What a mad, mad, mad, mad, world.
And now in Biocentrism, Robert Lanza has proposed a millennial reorientation of science in which reality is redefined as an outcome of consciousness.
In his book, Dr. Lanza identifies seven principles of biocentrism:
1. What we perceive as reality is a process that involves our consciousness. An "external" reality, if it existed, would -- by definition -- have to exist in space. But this is meaningless, because space and time are not absolute realities but rather tools of the human and animal mind.
2. Our external and internal perceptions are inextricably intertwined. They are different sides of the same coin and cannot be divorced from one another.
3. The behavior of subatomic particles -- indeed all particles and objects -- are inextricably linked to the presence of an observer. Without the presence of a conscious observer, they at best exist in an undetermined state of probability waves.
4. Without consciousness, "matter" dwells in an undetermined state of probability. Any universe that could have preceded consciousness only existed in a probability state.
5. The structure of the universe is explainable only through biocentrism. The universe is fine-tuned for life, which makes perfect sense as life creates the universe, not the other way around. The "universe" is simply the complete spatio-temporal logic of the self.
6. Time does not have a real existence outside of animal-sense perception. It is the process by which we perceive changes in the universe.
7. Space, like time, is not an object or a thing. Space is another form of our animal understanding and does not have an independent reality. We carry space and time around with us like turtles with shells. Thus there is no absolute self-existing matrix in which the physical events occur independent of life.
The Copernican revolution displaced the Earth as the center of creation, and placed it instead as a small blue planet circling an average star in a rather run-of-the-mill galaxy that we call the Milky Way. But Nicholas Copernicus's concept of a heliocentric universe was so shocking to society and the establishment of the time, that he could not safely publish his findings until he was on his death bed.
Now five hundred years after Copernicus comes another idea that's just as maddening for the righteous defenders of "scientific orthodoxy:" a phenomenological discovery that consciousness creates its own reality.
The signs of Jungian synchronicity appear everywhere over time and space, beginning with the Big Bang and ending with this improbable moment. Yet science today remains hyper-vigilant against any reasonable hypothesis that does not honor the vaunted principle of mediocrity.
Meanwhile, back on a reportedly uninhabited planet in the Omicron Delta region, Dr. Leonard McCoy has just witnessed the unexpected passage of a rather large but well-dressed white rabbit, followed quickly by little girl named Alice.
On witnessing the phenomenon, Dr. McCoy picked up his mobile phone to convey the story to Captain Kirk, still in orbit aboard the Enterprise.
Kirk took the call on speaker.
"On this supposedly uninhabited planet," McCoy reported in his dry Dixie tone. "I just saw a large rabbit pull a gold watch from his vest and claim that he was late."
"That's pretty good, Bones." Kirk laughed. "Alright. I've got one for you. The rabbit was followed by a little blond girl, right?"
"As a matter of fact, yes," said McCoy. "They disappeared through a hole in a hedge."
The captain didn't stop laughing until Dr. McCoy physically showed him the rabbit tracks and the girl's footprints.
Then Kirk became suddenly decisive. "You follow the rabbit," he ordered, frowning at the inexplicable marks in the soil. "I'll backtrack the girl. I'll meet you round the other side of the hill."
"Good," Dr. McCoy replied, rocking back a little on his heels. "I've got a personal grudge against that rabbit, Jim."
You said it, Doc. And Goldilocks, too.