Book Review: Biocentrism: How Life and Consciousness Are the Keys to Understanding the True Nature of the Universe
by Robert Lanza and Bob Berman
Hardcover: 213 pages
Publisher: Benbella Books (May 5, 2009)
A third of the way through this book the authors say: “Quantum theory has unfortunately become a catch-all phrase for trying to prove various kinds of New Age nonsense.” And they refer to film “What the Bleep Do We Know?” as an example of the misuse of quantum mechanics. This might suggest the book’s message is similar to Stenger’s “Quantum Gods,” which argues against quantum mysticism and quantum theology? But it turns out to be the complete opposite.
Mind you, the authors do have credentials. The dust jacket describes Bob Berman as “one of the best-known astronomers in the world.” And Robert Lanza as “one of the most respected scientists in the world.” There is the problem of self-promotion in dustcover bios and personal webpages – even though written in the third person.
Lanza has a good publication record – in cell biology and stem cell research. But, this book is in a different field. It bases itself on a particular interpretation of quantum mechanics. An interpretation of the meaning of the “two-slit experiment.” And, strangely for a book written by scientists, it refers to little other experimental evidence. Lanza even appears to denigrate the role of evidence. Pointing out that he isn’t much of a reader he commented: “I think this was absolutely critical to the development of [my theory of] biocentrism. It was important not to have too many preconceptions.” (http://discovermagazine.com/2008/sep/31-robert-lanza)
The whole idea of Biocentrism rests on an interpretation of the “measurement problem” as seen in the two-slit experiment. The standard presentation of the problem is that it is impossible to define the position and momentum of a subatomic particle precisely and so the quantum world is indeterministic. However, we can describe quantum phenomena using the Schrödinger “wave” equation. This will provide a statistical or probabilistic description.
However, when a particle interacts with objects we can replace the formerly probabilistic description with an actual history of the interaction. In a popularly used jargon the “wave function collapses”.
Because experimenters have described this in terms of measurement and observers a myth has developed that a conscious observer causes the probabilistic quantum world to evolve into a real deterministic world. Hence the idea that consciousness creates reality.
Consciousness creates reality
Biocentrism’s basic idea is that consciousness creates reality. Despite lack of evidence, or consideration of any data, the book manages to come up with seven principles. Briefly these are:
1: “What we perceive as reality is a process that involves our consciousness;”
2: “Our external and internal perceptions are inextricably intertwined;”
3: “The behavior of .. all particles and objects .. is 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 sate of probability. Any universe that could have preceded consciousness only existed in a probability state;”
5: “The universe is fine-tuned for life, which makes perfect sense as life creates the universe, not the other way around;”
6 & 7: Time and space do not have a real existence outside of animal-sense perception. “Thus there is no absolute self-existing matrix in which physical events occur independent of life.”
Despite the lack of evidence or good logic the authors are nevertheless anything but humble in their assessment of their own great idea. They claim biocentrism “offers far-and-away the best explanation for why things are as they are.” They also claim that biocentrism offers the most logical explanation of the strange results of quantum theory. And that biocentrism’s time may be upon us very soon.
They consider everything is so obvious:
“Biocentrism, however, explains why one view and not the other must be correct. The converse is equally true: once one fully understands that there is no independent external universe outside of biological existence, the rest more or less falls into place.”
The book alternates between justifications of biocentrism as the best possible explanation of all the mysteries in the universe and snapshots of (presumably) Robert Lanza’s childhood. Mystical speculation and personal reflection. I couldn’t help feeling that Lanza’s childhood experience of deprivation and abuse have contributed to an “I’ll show them” attitude – something I can sympathise with. But, perhaps the third person promotion of his website and book reflect this.
Lanza and Berman are clear they are not promoting religion. They say: “science and religion make odd bedfellows whose off-spring is usually deformed.” However, their mysticism comes close to religion.
Lanza reacted to the deaths of a close friend Alan and his own sister Christine with biocentric thoughts similar to contemplation of a Christian afterlife. On Christine’s death he writes: “I thought about . . . . how every creature consists of multiple spheres of physical reality that pass through space and time like ghosts through doors. I thought about the two-slit experiment, with the electron going through both holes at the same time. I could not doubt the conclusions of these experiments: Christine was both alive and dead, outside of time, yet here in my reality I would have to deal with this outcome and no other.”
And: “I know Christine is going to look fabulous in them (her diamond earrings) the next time I see here . . . . in whatever form she and I and this amazing play of consciousness assume.”
So the two slit experiment gives us heaven?
Other reviewers point out that biocentrism comes close to solipsism. The authors also come close to the criticisms of honest science which we have come to expect from creationists and similar people. For example, they promote a the mystical fine-tuning idea. And the sneering contempt for “cosmologists, biologists, and evolutionist (who) do not seem at all flabbergasted when they state that the universe – indeed the laws of nature themselves – just appeared for no reasons one day” has all the earmarks of creationist “logic.”
Some idea of the mysticism of the biocentrism promoted by this book is evidence in the following quotes:
“The animal observer creates reality and not the other way around.”
They set out “to question the standard view that the universe would exist even if it were empty of life, and absent any consciousness or perception of it”. “Certainly, great earlier thinkers have insisted that logic alone is all that’s needed to see the unverse in fresh light, not complex equations or experimental data using $50 billion particle colliders. Indeed, a bit of thought will make it obvious that without perception, there can be no reality.”
“Your brain animates the universe. You can imagine the brain as being like the electronics in your DVD player.”
Then there is the kitchen:
“Take the seemingly undeniable logic that your kitchen is always there, its contents assuming all their familiar forms, shapes and colors, whether or not you are in it. At night, you click of the light, walk through the door, and leave for the bedroom. Of course it’s there, unseen, all through the night. Right?”
“But consider: the refrigerator, stove and everything else are composed of a shimmering swarm of matter/energy. Quantum theory… tells us that not a single one of those subatomic particles actually exist in a definite place. Rather they merely exist as a range of probabilities that are unmanifest. In the presence of an observer, that is, when you go back in to get a drink of water –each one’s wave function collapses and it assumes an actual position, a physical reality. Until then it is merely a swarm of possibilities” ….. “So while you may think that the kitchen as you remember it is “there” in your absence, the reality is that nothing remotely resembling what you can imagine could be present when a consciousness is not interacting.”
In his book Cosmic Code Heinz Pagels comments on claims similar to those made in this book. He said: “That is rubbish; the quantum theory and Bell’s inequality imply nothing of this kind. Individuals who make such claims have substituted a wish-fulfilling fantasy for understanding.”
I think Lanza and Berman are substituting a wish-fulfilling fantasy for true understanding in this book.