Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Biocentrism: A New Way?

I recently completed Robert Lanza's Biocentrism: How Life and Consciousness Are the Keys to Understanding the True Nature of the Universe and I have to say that my mind is thoroughly blown. Even though I am by no means well-versed in quantum physics or neuroscience, Lanza provided me access to and commentary on some of the most puzzling aspects of the limits of our understanding of the world around us:

Schrodinger's Cat Alive and Dead at the Same Time

Also, his “play-by-play” chapter on the two-slit experiment finally provided me a basic understanding of the issues at stake after many years of struggling to grasp the concepts involved! I have even seen a demonstration of the experiment in my hilariously inappropriate science class in college: Science as Art in Contemporary Theater in which a noble attempt was made to teach wave-particle duality to English majors and actors. As ridiculous as certain aspects of the class were, it demonstrated the deep substance of Tom Stoppard's work by showing the detailed and nuanced philosophical understanding of incredibly complicated topics. As a result, I immediately run to Stoppard when I read about the wonders of science to interpret the human condition. And after reading Lanza, it seems that there is much to be shared between the philosophies of the scientist and the playwright.

The most powerful part of Lanza’s treatise for me comes in his creation of a Grand Unified Theory of sorts built around consciousness and reality. Or put differently, his suggestion that consciousness is necessary in order not only to observe reality, but for reality to exist. Lanza dissects the Zen koan about a tree falling in the forest and says that it never really makes a "sound," regardless of whether someone is there or not. It is the mechanical parts of the ear that interpret energy as sound that our mind tells us we are hearing. Building on this, I think he really blows some holes in assumptions made by contemporary scientists that completely ignore our brains' limitations and programmed functions. The limits then become obvious: what was there before the big bang? If the universe is expanding, what is it expanding into? We can keep trying to answer these questions with ever increasing and complex theories like string theory or the possibility of infinite alternate universes, but at some point we hit the limit and realize that our brain isn't equipped to grasp the answer to those questions just like our eyes rods and cones aren't equipped to see infrared light.

I can see how this could lead to a solipsistic or even nihilistic response, but I think Lanza is doing the opposite. To him, the tenets of Biocentrism he posits are revolutionary because they, in many ways, liberate us from binding rules. (I note the irony of rule
s liberating from rules here.) If we can see the limits of our understanding, we can then begin to understand ourselves better. Lanza posits that we are all part of a system of energy and that our tools of perceiving the structure of the universe are incredibly nuanced and impressive. Rather than fully exerting ourselves in the pursuit of answers to the questions that will only open the doors to more questions we should instead turn, at least some of, that energy inward and focus on why and how we go about getting those answers.

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