Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Case For Metaphysics

In addition to my work as a comedian and musician, I’ve collaborated on several YouTube videos exploring the theory of the biocentric universe. This is the radical proposition that the activity of our evolving biological superorganism produces the universe that we see — that a pre-existing universe of nonliving matter did not create the first living thing through chance, some ten billion years after a real and actual event we call the Big Bang. Instead, the theory says, the universe is effectively only as old as life itself. Some find this concept so outrageous, they think it must be a part of my satire, but it isn’t. I’m fascinated by this revolutionary, spectacularly godless cosmological view, in which the universe began as nothing in particular, the echoes of the Big Bang are the now-observed physical back-story for that beginning, and quasars undergo retrocausality through decoherence across billions of light years.

The basic idea is that nothing in the universe comes predefined; by default, the entire thing is but a swarm of probability, just like the “electron cloud” of an atom. We know that electrons are not little dots of electron-stuff that whizz around the atomic nucleus like tiny planets. Physics in the 20th century revealed that such electrons can be described only in terms of probability — the probability that a person, machine, etc., will find an actual electron at a specific location, if that location is checked. This is a well-known principle of quantum mechanics.

That principle of probability-by-default may extend to the entire universe; for a half-century, physicists have entertained that the whole thing is a quantum system. But for the purposes of this discussion, it comes down to the following question: Are the physical properties of all particles of matter independently predefined and absolute, possessed intrinsically by each individual particle? Or, are these properties relevant only with regard to the particle’s interaction with other things, such as other particles or living observers? Is there, for example, a specific beta-radiation particle with a specific momentum and charge traveling from the far side of the Alpha Centauri star system, right now?

Most science enthusiasts would answer yes without hesitation, because that’s the view of the universe we live with. In Western scientific tradition, we assume that the workings of the physical world occur on their own in the background, regardless of whether we happen to be there to watch or know anything. Observation and measurement are merely the process of discovering what’s already in predefined existence, we believe. But are we sure this is entirely true? To paraphrase the classic zen question: If a particle is emitted by Alpha Centauri and no one is around to see it, is it really there?

For those averse to anything philosophical-like, this is where the hackles go up. When we speak of the existence or nonexistence of an unobserved object, we’re making a distinction that’s metaphysical — we’re dealing with the fundamental nature of being, something that’s outside the realm of ordinary observation and measurement. Such a conjecture seems to offer no scientific value, because it can’t be directly tested in the laboratory. As a result, there seems to be a pervasive attitude that ideas involving metaphysics have no real value to the modern world at all. On the biocentric videos, many comments can be summarized thus: “This is just philosophy. You can say all you want that things don’t exist if we aren’t around to perceive them, but that’s bullshit. You’re only changing the definition of the word ‘exist.’ Things exist whether we’re there to perceive them or not.”

This is a naive argument. One cannot dismiss a metaphysical position on the grounds that it is “just philosophy,” because whichever side of the issue you come down on, there is no escaping metaphysics. To assert that an object does possess absolute properties — qualities that exist independently of its interactions with other things — is to take a metaphysical position as well. Chew on that idea awhile. The assumption of an absolute defined particle somewhere off in the galaxy is equally “just philosophy,” and equally “bullshit,” as the idea that it’s only potentially there, not actually there. Having been brought up in the tradition of Western thought, we all carry around this assumption of absolute physical characteristics, possessed intrinsically and independently by every last microscopic object in the universe, as if assigned on the day of Creation by an omnipotent God. In physics, this assumed principle is known as realism. But the brute fact remains, there is no evidence whatsoever supporting absolute realism. None! If you’re a thinking person, you should seriously ask yourself: How scientific is it to base an entire physical worldview on a metaphysical position, a possibly flawed fundamental assumption for which there is no supporting empirical evidence?

Now, here’s where it gets really interesting. Quantum mechanics has been baffling physicists and lay people alike for 80-odd years. The findings of decades of experiments, such as delayed choice and quantum eraser, are extremely difficult to square with the traditional metaphysical foundation of absolute, pre-existing properties of matter. This is partly why there are so many quantum-mechanics interpretations; those that try the hardest to accommodate absolute realism, such as Bohmian mechanics and the transactional interpretation, are complex, bizarre, and highly controversial. But, believe it or not, every finding from every quantum mechanics experiment ever performed is consistent with the alternative metaphysical framework, where the physical properties of matter are relevant only in relation to systems capable of measuring them somehow. This concept follows quite simply from a broad generalization of Einstein’s special relativity, which showed that velocity and simultaneity are never absolute and can be described only in relation to an observer’s frame of reference. (See our video titled It’s All Relative.)

The great physicist Richard Feynman once said that philosophy is as useful to physicists as ornithology is to birds. This is the “shut up and calculate” view, in which physics is employed only to predict the behavior of physical systems — the purely empirical approach that shuns any discussion of meaning or the “true” fundamental nature of things. But are numbers and calculations all we want to get out of science? After all, the Ptolemaic model of astronomy was surprisingly accurate at predicting eclipses and other events — but the reason we adopted the later Copernican model wasn’t only to improve the accuracy of astronomical calculations. Turns out, it’s quite useful to know that the planets really do orbit the Sun, and do not orbit the Earth while moving on an intricate system of invisible circles or “epicycles,” as was once believed. The Sun-centered model provides the basis for a more fundamental and elegant explanation of what’s really going on in the relationships between the Sun, planets, and Earth.

A fundamental explanation is exactly what some physicists are seeking from the increasingly legitimate theories of observer-centered realism, which profess that observation is an active and intrinsic element in the unfolding of reality. (The biocentric universe is one such theory. Here’s another.) Experiments may soon unlock numerous mysteries that have come on the heels of both quantum mechanics and cosmology. For example, why did the initial conditions of the Big Bang produce a universe that appears to be fine-tuned for life? To answer this question under the standard metaphysics, we either need to appeal to an intelligent God, or invoke multiple universes combined with the anthropic principle, a conjecture that I find unsatisfactory. Neither proposition is testable, so we’re back to basing our explanations on unsupportable assertions — which, I regret to say, is not a scientific endeavor, no matter how many shows about the multiverse are broadcast on the Science Channel. (Paul Davies has chimed in on this. For an exhaustive look at how contemporary science is becoming increasingly “faith-based,” read Lee Smolin’s The Trouble With Physics.)

I know what you’re thinking: Like the multiverse, a metaphysical position cannot be directly tested in the lab, so how can it ever be a part of science? Some theories do prevail despite not being directly testable. Evolution theory, for example, is accepted primarily because a huge amount of evidence, from multiple disciplines, is fully consistent with the theory, to the point where unforeseen details like the genetic code were predicted to exist, and subsequently confirmed. This is basically why multiverse theories are accepted as well: because the conjecture of multiple universes is consistent with the real observation of a seemingly fine-tuned universe. However, quantum mechanics is far more consistent with the metaphysical position of observer-centered realism, compared to the opposing metaphysical view of absolute realism. So if the entire universe is a quantum system, we need to think about what that means for cosmology and the universe’s initial conditions, which we have long assumed to be absolute. Indeed, Stephen Hawking theorizes that the universe may not have had a unique beginning — that its initial conditions existed in quantum superposition, just like the electrons of an atom’s electron cloud. In other words, the initial conditions were not fixed and singular, assigned either by God or by chance. Instead, they are relevant only in relation to today’s universe, in which physicists calculate them from the “top down,” i.e., working backward from the present conditions that we do observe. No intelligent God, or multiverse, necessary.

Personally, I believe that observer-centered realism will be confirmed, albeit indirectly. Just within the past month it was found that molecules of DNA are able to interact with quantum systems in ways that ordinary, non-biological molecules do not. Perhaps this is the first of many discoveries pointing to the fundamental role that biology plays in physics, which will then lead to a revolution in technology and medicine. But that will never happen unless we entertain alternative metaphysical viewpoints about our place in the world as observers. If we take that leap, someday soon we might see the real benefits of interpreting empirical science through a metaphysical lens — which at last will prove that metaphysics isn’t “just philosophy” after all.


  1. A great read, and compelling.

  2. The biocentrism stuff was interesting; however, it seems to imply that there is something qualitatively different between life and non-life. That part seems as made-up as any religious idea.

    Also, maybe I missed it, but I don't think it's falsifiable; therefore, not science. I remember the part about aliens but I think you couldn't rule out they were connected to life on earth somehow, like all the aliens and humans in Star Trek.

    It seems like another one of those "quantum mechanics is weird, therefore this weird thing too" ideas.

    Otherwise, I love every thing you say and do, almost. :-) I think I didn't believe that grass was conscious, but besides this, and that.

  3. Biocentrism does imply that life is qualitatively different from non-life. Bear in mind, though, that we are talking about the property of life, not the matter bearing this property (the atoms of which are the same). Matter possessing the property of life is different from "dead" matter, just as a particle bearing the property of charge, or mass, or nuclear instability is different from one that is neutral, massless, or stable. And like a particle's mass or charge, life doesn't seem to be something that we can trivially inject into matter, unlike, say, heat. If biologists ever figure out a way to assemble even a minimally homeostatic, autonomous, and responsive (living) system from off-the-shelf inorganic compounds -- they've been trying to do this for about 60 years -- maybe I'll change my mind about that.

    I don't think any particular hypothesis should be abandoned just because there isn't a clear way to falsify it at present. How would the Ptolemaic model of epicycles be definitively falsified against the Copernican model? That certainly couldn't have been done in 1550 -- but I venture to say that astronomers at the time were wise not to dismiss the model for want of an obvious experiment. Even today I don't believe we can say for certain that the planets don't move on some intricate system of invisible circles that just happen to produce the exact same observations. The Copernican model does not prevail because experiments have falsified the alternatives; they haven't. It prevails because it is more parsimonious, internally consistent, and predictive than alternative models, and that's legitimate in science (see: evolution theory).

  4. "Biocentrism does imply that life is qualitatively different from non-life..."

    Most of the time, we easily recognize alive and dead when we are talking about an organism, but the exact moment of death of an individual organism is harder to define. Practically, it means that a particular organism is not going to continue in an intact way, but all the cells of its body don't "die" (quit metabolizing) at the same time. Is this life-property something that the whole organism has, or the individual organs, or the individual cells, or the individual organelles of the cells, or what? Below that we get to atoms and molecules, which obviously are turned over all the time and as you say are the same as those in non-life.

    When something (whatever level you stop at) dies, where does this life-property go? Maybe conservation of life-property is not a problem, but it sounds suspiciously like spirit or soul in that case--an unmeasurable property that interacts with matter in an unknown way, going in and out of matter from an unknown place, but basically not needed to explain anything.

    What about the problem of defining what is alive? (Sort of the same as above, I know, but that was about matter that is easy to define as life; this is about what things have life-property in the first place.) What about viruses? Does biocentrism consider them to be alive? Some of them can be crystallized and stored indefinitely. They have some of the properties of life, but not all. What about prions? Even less worthy of being considered to have life-property. There is no good dividing line of life matter from non-life matter. Maybe those don't count, like all the other stuff that life sheds as it goes, but those reintegrate themselves into life, escape again, back and forth, and maybe aren't so different than those fuzzy first life forms like in the video. Bacterial DNA is floating around, other bacteria pick it up and use it, the oceans are full of viruses, the human genome is a large percent virus-derived...I'm not sure where I'm going with this, other than "life" is hard to define and there is nothing we can measure and say for sure something has or doesn't have life-property, therefore life doesn't seem very special, when it comes down to it. (Despite the fact that humans haven't created it.)

    I've heard all life on earth described as a a big, ongoing chemical reaction that started a few billion years ago. What is there to distinguish life from other chemical reactions? Entropy will be increased at the end of the reaction. It isn't breaking any laws of physics.

    I did read the thing about DNA doing something to the spin of particles, and I am totally out of my area here, but I was reminded of polarized light going one way or another when it is shown through solutions of enantiomers...but I don't know anything about QM, other than it's weird, and I doubt those two things are anything alike other than I had the impression that the effect might be due to the shape of the molecule.

    Even if people can't understand how or why, like the human mind can't understand how or why electrons get from one place to another without traveling in between, that's OK; we don't have to understand to be able to use it to build scanning-tunneling electron microscopes. I know how there are very strange things that suggest that human consciousness (or measurement by anything, including mechanical devices, as in QM experiments showing wave/particle duality) is making up the world as we discover it, and biocentrism is an extension of that. It's the concept of "life" (whatever that includes) having a special property that non-life doesn't have that is a very hard one for me accept. In QM experiments, the detector doesn't even have to be a life form for it to change the outcome.


  5. "I don't think any particular hypothesis should be abandoned just because there isn't a clear way to falsify it at present..."

    Yes, of course going with the over-all better idea is fine, even if the original one isn't outright falsified yet, but that's beside the point. Not knowing much about astronomy, I don't know exactly what has falsified the the Earth-centric model off the top of my head, but I can think ways that could be done, such as getting off the Earth and looking at it from a different perspective. I don't think you can tell me that there is nothing that anybody could say to you or show you that would convince you that the Earth-centric model is false.

    There are an infinite number of discoveries that could falsify evolution; many thousands of chances have occurred as new discoveries in biology and other fields were made. It hasn't happened, but that doesn't mean it can't. "Rabbit fossils in the precambrian" [/quote], a message from god written in the DNA of the next genome that is sequenced, aliens come and show us that it was a hoax, etc. Extremely unlikely, sure; that's why it's a fact, but the possibilities of falsification are endless.

    Once you say that you know something that can't be falsified, and you say that there is nothing that anybody can show you or tell you that could change your mind, then it's faith; not science, not rational. I like to think of it as belief vs. opinion: I don't have beliefs, I have opinions which can change with the evidence. I don't have any opinion which I won't change with the right evidence. That wouldn't be rational.

    Maybe that's not what you are saying regarding biocentrism. It might be a disservice to suggest that it can't be falsified, causing people to throw it out as irrational before giving it a chance. Last night I woke up and I thought of some ways to (possibly) falsify it, besides what you mentioned about humans creating life. I thought also of the creation of intelligent machines (non-life?) which go on to make discoveries beyond what life has, the discovery of non-carbon based life which would be very unlikely to be originally connected to life on earth, the discovery that it's not based on special life-force but some property of consciousness which may even be shared with conscious non-life, etc. I don't think biocentrism has to be thrown out because it can't be falsified, in the way that peoples' claims that an invisible magic man speaks to them telepathically can't be falsified, and therefore can be ignored as irrational. It's still pretty weird, but it seems as if the falsification thing is a separate issue. Biocentrism itself seems to me to be two separate issues: did observation create the universe, and does life have a special poperty. Either of those can be true or false without the other having to be, I think.

    I do want to understand. You make extremely hilarious "Checkmate, Atheist!" videos, plus the kick-ass "Possum Kingdom" cover, therefore you've already convinced me about 99%, AND I have no preconceived beliefs that prevent me from accepting anything with the right evidence, so if you can't explain it to me, I don't know, I'm pretty easy. In any case, thanks for introducing me to the concept; I hadn't heard of it before.


  6. RK -- I think that "life as we know it" -- e.g. metabolism on the organism or even cellular level -- is a complex phenomenon that emerges from basic processes of life. The DNA experiment suggests that these basic processes happen at the molecular level.

    Think of a living cell as being like a functioning car: If we think of "life" for the car as the ability to transport people from here to there, then we probably wouldn't recognize that property in a spark plug or a fuel injector. But, those things are critical to the car's ability to get us from A to B. Similarly, a Euglena's photoreceptor molecules triggering an electrochemical cascade does not by itself constitute what most of us would call life, but if we could coordinate several hundred molecular-level processes like this, we might get something resembling life as we know it.

    It is this coordination of basic processes that produces "familiar" life, in the way that coordination of neuron firings in the brain produces familiar consciousness. That's how I'd answer your question about where life goes when something dies: It goes to the same place that consciousness goes when you're under anesthesia, or where the coordination of a tree full of synchronized fireflies goes if you shake the tree: nowhere, really. The complex relationships among the many parts are simply lost, even though the parts are all still there. Nothing mystical or religious about that.

    You make a good point about viruses. Maybe a virus has only a few basic living processes (for example the ability to select for specific proteins on a host cell membrane), but not enough for us to recognize it as being "alive."

    Regarding falsifiability, I didn't mean that biocentrism is unfalsifiable. I just meant that (presently apparent) falsifiability should not be a dealbreaker too early in a hypothesis's history. We have no idea what experiments will be performable in 10 or 20 years, so it's short-sighted to say today that such-and-such will never be testable. The point of this essay is that there can be a place in science for what presently seems to be only a metaphysical proposition, at least until such time that definitive experiments can be developed.

  7. Lol wait it seems like you are switching sides. You're making the argument I would have made if I had thought of it. I think life is an emergent property too. I thought when you said that life is a property like mass or charge that you were saying it is a basic property of some kinds of matter, not an emergent property. That's why I was asking you at what level it was at, and if it was conserved, etc. Emergent properties don't need explanations like that, obviously. That also makes the problem with viruses being alive or not go away--sometimes they are, and sometimes they aren't, depending on what they are doing at the time.

    I don't think there is anything mystical or religious about consciousness; it's also emergent. Obviously if I think life is a chemical reaction, then I think chemical reactions can be conscious, and no further mystical or life-property explanations are needed (definition of consciousness notwithstanding). Not the usual way to put it; but that's what it is. It makes more sense to say that I think machines can be conscious, because we have many examples of biological machines that are.

    So if life-property is just the emergent property of life, I think that part of my problem with biocentrism goes away, and I think adding "special life-property" to biocentrism is an unnecessary distraction. Maybe it's in there because people get stuck on why "life" if special, if that is not thrown in. You could add a disclaimer there for people who get stuck on that like I did.

    When you said that people haven't created life and you didn't think it would be done, would you include a conscious computer program as life, if that were created? IIRC from one of your other essays you said consciousness was any ability to react to stimuli. (Apologies if that is not entirely right. I don't really think that is all consciousness is, but I don't have a great definition off the top of my head ATM. Dogs and frogs have it, grass doesn't, IMO.) So it follows that the creation of life is not just the creation of consciousness, in your opinion. Would it have to be organic life then for it to count? (I don't know which is more likely to happen first, a conscious computer or a created organic life-form; I think both are possible, maybe even likely, but I wouldn't bet a whole lot on it to happen at any particular time.) This matters for the biocentrism stuff. Say the Terminator scenario occurs, and the machines carry on without us. (I think that is the most likely end result for all intelligent civilizations, one way or the other, if they exist. The machines may not kill their creators, but if they were at a level of self-preservation when their creators go away, they will end up inheriting it, as circumstances change and living things die off, as they always do.) Does biocentrism say that the universe end for the machines if organic life went away?

    RE falsifiability: I don't think what you are saying is right at all, if you are talking about the scientific method. I am not an expert in philosophy of science or epistemology or rules of logic or whatever discipline discusses this, so I don't know how to say it the right way. Like I said in the god example--if a person has a belief that cannot and will not be changed (falsified) with any evidence that could potentially be provided, that is an irrational belief. How is what you are saying different than that? How is this not a Russell's Teapot thing?


  8. The life-property I have been describing is not an emergent phenomenon. The emergent phenomenon is "familiar life," which I think is what you are calling life (life as we recognize it). I am saying that familiar life emerges out of less recognizable life processes. The DNA experiment suggests that these basic life processes, from which familiar life emerges (in this case an unexpected ability to selectively interact with electrons) occur at the molecular level. And that this basic property is "special" insofar as it hasn't been observed in any generic non-biological molecule.

    If life or consciousness is built from scratch in the biology or computer lab, it will be manmade. But to me, a geiger counter or computer built by humans is in the same category as a Euglena photoreceptor built by a Euglena. Technological systems modeled on (and built by) biological systems are ultimately biological systems. So in this theory, a universe with biologically derived technology, but without organic life, would carry on just fine.

    As far as I know, there is presently no way to falsify any of the dozen-odd interpretations of quantum mechanics. But check the literature and you'll find hundreds of recent papers on, say, Bohmian mechanics. Fair to say it's considered a scientific theory. The idea is that future experiments are expected to support one interpretation over the others, and in the meantime, we theorize with the specific aim of devising such experiments. This is how I view biocentrism. But, by all means, go on the Physics Forums and ask the Bohmian guys why they are irrationally chasing after a Russell's teapot. They may have a thing or two to say about that.

  9. "And that this basic property is "special" insofar as it hasn't been observed in any generic non-biological molecule....So in this theory, a universe with biologically derived technology, but without organic life, would carry on just fine."

    So life-property is in nucleic acids, therefore nonbiologic things don't have life-property, but biologic beings can transfer life-property into the non-biologic things they build? I'm not getting it. I'm back to thinking life-property seems magical.

    I've heard for a long time how consciousness is making up the universe as we go along, how substances once crystallized are then easier to crystallize everywhere, how ideas and discoveries occur to people at the same time in different places, like when the universe is "ready", and then there is of course QM and consciousness collapsing the probabilities into reality; then recently I read that these phenomena may not only occur with things as we go into the future, but also with the past, and the past may be also be "made up" as things are discovered, and that seemed crazy, but why not, if the other is really happening?

    So biocentrism is like the ultimate culmination of all of those things that are suggested in other ways, but I don't get why it has to depend on this life-property, instead of just consciousness. I guess because consciousness hasn't been around long enough, but it it's retroactive, that should be I don't know. I'll have to read more about it before asking anymore questions.


  10. "As far as I know, there is presently no way to falsify any of the dozen-odd interpretations of quantum mechanics."

    Falsification is easy, if what we are talking about is real. The unchanging permanence of gravity could be falsified tomorrow, if we all start floating. Using the solar system example, we don't even know for sure that the sun is going to come up tomorrow. I think it probably will, but if it doesn't, we will have to change our ideas about how the solar system works. Any of our basic assumptions could be shown to be wrong at some point. We think we can make accurate measurements, but we assume that rulers stay the same length from day to day. What if we find out that a basic assumption we have made is wrong?

    So how is QM different? I don't know much about it, but I think it's science; it can be used to predict things, and the properties are used in technology. If double-slit experiments suddenly no longer show wave-particle duality, something in QM would be falsified, if only that we thought that nothing would change and that property would continue indefinitely, but now it has gone away. Electron microscopes use the tunneling property of particles. If all the EM's stop working because no particles are getting through anymore, or if they start working only every other day or months without an R, some idea that we have about tunneling will be falsified.

    I don't even know what it means to talk about something that can't be falsified; do you get to make up anything you want, since there is nothing that anybody can say to disprove it? Then it's religion, not science. It may be fun to talk about or whatever, but I don't think it needs to be taken seriously.

    "But, by all means, go on the Physics Forums and ask the Bohmian guys why they are irrationally chasing after a Russell's teapot. They may have a thing or two to say about that."

    Lol, I don't normally hang out at physics forums, and I don't know any Bohmian guys, but you're telling me that there is nothing that anybody could show them that would change their ideas? Nothing at all? I don't even know what Bohmian is, but I could probably think of something that would falsify it; for example, if some physical principle that they are basing their ideas on is falsified. The only things that can be proven and not be falsified are math and logic. If this Bohmian thing is purely mathematical, it might not be able to be falsified, but it might not describe the real world either.

    I've reread the 6th paragraph of your essay. I can't figure out what I'm missing. I know we have to start with assumptions. I know assumptions can be wrong. That seems like the place that could always falsify anything. If an assumption was wrong, everything that follows could be wrong.

    Ed I don't want you to think I'm hassling you, I think you're totally cool, and you are doing great things, so I would feel terrible if I came to your blog and got on your bad side. I don't mean that if some little thing doesn't fit a hypothesis that you have to throw the whole thing out; it may just give you new information to take into account. And I don't mean that every idea from the very beginning has to be completely filled out and able to explain everything. I just mean that any rational opinion is subject to change with new evidence. Including what I'm saying right now.

    I'll stop asking stuff and read more on the topic. I've learned more from arguing on the internet than in years of school. Love ya. Keep up the good work.


  11. Sorry RK, I am not always as clear as I think I am. Technology could "carry on" the universe because it has the capacity to continue the making of observations or measurements. That is all that biocentrism requires. But in nature, the only systems that can make proper measurements are biological systems. (The realists say that any atom or even an electron can serve as an observer, but that is a whole other ball of wax relating to decoherence which I won't get into here.) Biological entities have the unique ability to self-assemble into systems complex enough to selectively measure specific features of the environment, this ability being an emergent function of what we've been calling basic "life property," which seems to operate at the molecular level. Some of the really complex systems -- humans -- create technology that performs proper measurements, too. W.H. Zurek calls these "information gathering and using systems"; they can be either biological like a Euglena, or technological (and therefore ultimately biological) like a heat-seeking missile. I swear, there is nothing magical about it.

    In the other discussion, we seem to be thinking in two different directions. The quantum physicists really do expect someday to have experiments that falsify certain interpretations. To me, that expectation is enough to make it good science. I don't believe that we have enough information to declare outright that any particular interpretation is unfalsifiable, even though at present they may appear to be metaphysical reinterpretations of the math. QM experiments need to be very sophisticated to reveal anything new these days, and finding out which interpretation is actually the "real one" is asking a lot. They say we're maybe 10 or 20 years away.

    I predict that the realists will lose, and we'll learn that the only real things in the world are observations. This is exactly in line with biocentrism, and it's much closer to the original Copenhagen interpretation than many realize. To that end, check out Richard Conn Henry's essay in Nature called "The Mental Universe." He writes, "Someone who has learned to accept that nothing exists but observations is far ahead of peers who stumble through physics hoping to find out 'what things are'." He's also one of the few mainstream physicists to positively review Lanza's book.

    I've enjoyed our conversation and would be glad to continue it by e-mail (

  12. There is no theory to prove that "Truth is Truth" because Truth is always truth.

  13. Yes but is that true? Oh wait a minute. Never mind.

  14. I find biocentrisn as a very interesting and reasonable idea, thanks for sharing.
    However I think that the idea of "nothing exists but observations" that seems so new here is really nothing new at all. Some phillosophies like Buddhism have worked this idea since long ago. Let's think in something, we take maths as the ultimate truth, anything that can be mathematicly demonstrated is true, but let's take the more basic and more simple part of the maths, the natural numbers, 1, 2, 3... the rest of the maths are based on them. What are really the natural numbers? Do they exist in the nature appart from human mind? Would 1 and 2 exist if there were not humans? The natural numbers are a tool of our mind, they do not exist by themselves and are subjective, therefore the maths and the physics we use to validate reality are also subjective, its our way to deal with what our senses perceive, so in the end, yes, only observation exist, but what observes? Our consciousness do, and as you have stated, every living thing has consciousness. So our biocentric universe could be limited by the way our consciousness has to deal with reality (our brain and senses.
    Anyway I think philosophy is more useful than science to deal with this issues, science has its purpose and place and philosophy has its own one, they can touch themselves often though.
    Now an interesting question, if observation, which we could also call "interaction of consciousness with surroundings" is really the ultimate answer, can there be ways of validating reality based on personal perception or observation if they cannot be explained by the current state of science?

  15. While Robert Lanza's qualifications (or lack thereof) don't disprove the 'theory', I can't help but be a little extra skeptical when a theory purporting to resolve all of the major problems in physics and overturn a century of progress in cosmology is being proposed by someone with no formal training in mathematical physics or cosmology.

    Then there are problems like:

    - If the universe is a projection of consciousness, how does consciousness arise from the universe in the first place? The universe can't just go from a "spectrum of quantum probability" to what we see today without a host of intermediary steps. Stars have to cook light elements into heavy elements, explode, form new stars with planets orbiting them, and then those heavy elements have to gradually become more and more conscious over billions of years. How can that possibly be reconciled with the idea that consciousness has to come first?

    - Why do we all observe the same reality? If consciousness gave rise to reality as we know it, then since there are billions of consciousnesses, there's no reason why we should be able to do science at all – which requires an independently verifiable, objective reality. Each observer would simply exist in their own reality.

    I also think the hoopla over measuring a system is being distorted a bit here. While we can't remove the observer from the system, that's simply because to measure one particle, we have to shoot another particle at it. There's nothing mysterious about that.

  16. Mike -- I agree with most of what you say and I don't particularly subscribe to Lanza's viewpoint. I would direct you to, a website that I collaborate on and which tries to answer your questions.

    Your last bit about observation, though, isn't quite right. That's how I was taught the uncertainty principle in high school, but it's far more subtle. Experiments have shown that a system can be measured indirectly, without shooting any particles at it. Basically any act of carrying away information constitutes measurement, even if the system is perturbed hardly at all. Interesting stuff.

  17. Here I will say something about multiverse theory only. If total energy of the universe is zero, then multiverse theory is probably not true. This is because total energy being zero, its equivalent mass will also be zero due to mass-energy equivalence. Scientists have shown that anything having mass will always occupy some space. So anything that fails to occupy any space for some reason or other cannot have any mass. Our universe perhaps fails to occupy any space, and that is why its mass is zero. If our universe is the sole universe, and if there is nothing outside it, no space, no time and no matter, then in that case it will fail to occupy any space, because there will be no space for it to occupy. But if multiverse theory is true, then our universe will definitely occupy some space within the multiverse, and thus in that case its mass cannot be zero. But as this mass is zero, therefore multiverse theory cannot be true.

    However, if total energy of the universe cannot be taken to be zero, then in that case multiverse theory may be true, but we cannot say whether it will be necessarily true.

  18. This is my favorite blog post that I've read here so far. It has totally mind fucked me and changed the way I view physics! I was reading Einstein's Cosmos by Michio Kaku and it covered some of this, starting with the Schrodinger's cat idea. For a proponent of the String theory, I think Kaku gave some fair weight to ideas similar to these and mentioned that they are still being heavily debated.