Biocentrism How Life and Consciousness May Lead Nowhere
Should science search for a Theory of Everything among the laws of physics, or within the mysteries of life and consciousness? Robert Lanza presents biocentrism as the key to this question, which will focus on life and consciousness (the conscious observer?) to ultimately solve the major riddles of science. With the focus of biocentrism on life and consciousness for an all-embracing theory of the cosmos, Lanza may be chasing a rabbit trail.
Life, which evolved from biochemistry, struggles to exist on a minor planet in the vastness of the cosmos. And, conscious observation remains the byproduct of a purely physical neural pattern recognition process, inextricably linked to nerve cell processes. The competencies of consciousness reduce directly in proportion to the destruction of the related nuclei. Neither does consciousness have any verifiable links into cosmic mysteries. It can no more provide an explanation of quantum physical theories of the universe than a camera, which photographs the skies.
The subjective quality of consciousness remains unexplained by science. Lanza draws a parallel between consciousness and the role of the observer in quantum physics. Deepak Chopra suggests that Lanza's insights into the nature of consciousness is “consistent with the ancient wisdom that consciousness conceives, governs, and becomes a physical world.” Lanza views consciousness as a mystic force.
Biocentrism is founded on the notion that the cosmos is a mental construct, observed by consciousness. Since the cosmos exists within the mind, a search for it must originate from the biological world. Biocentrism suggests that the proof that life and consciousness are at the source of the cosmos lies in the low probability that 200 odd precise physical parameters could randomly combine to make life itself possible. By bringing the observer into the equation, biocentrism will hopefully enable unification of the laws of the universe into a Theory of Everything.
Biocentrism – 200 Physical Parameters
Biocentrism stresses the pivotal importance of life and consciousness, suggesting that it is improbable that over 200 exact physical parameters necessary for life could occur within the laws of physics, unless it was central to the long sought Theory of Everything. Similar views have been expressed in the Anthropic Principle. The strong Anthropic Principle states that the Universe is compelled to evolve a conscious life, since that is the only way it can be observed.
The weak anthropic principle suggests that a universe, which was incapable of supporting conscious life would merely go unobserved. According to Douglas Adams, if a living puddle examines its own shape, the universe may appear to fit it perfectly, while the truth may be closer to the view that it fits the universe perfectly. In fact, every element in the universe could claim a pivotal role in a Theory of Everything, since the laws of physics perfectly suits its existence.
Biocentrism – QM Observer & The Uncertainty Principle
Neither the role of the observer in quantum mechanics nor the uncertainty principle point to a role for human consciousness in producing a Theory of Everything. Scientists have clarified that in some QM experiments even a single electron proved sufficient as an "observer," without the need for a conscious "observer." The QM Observer concept merely points to inaccuracies in scientific measurements of the environment.
In the concept of measurement in quantum mechanics, measurement causes a discontinuous change into a non-quantum state, which ceases to evolve. Alternately, for a particular wave function, a measurement will yield a state of the quantum system of one of the many possible values. Once measured, the current state stops it from being in one of its other states. The type of measurement that we do on the system affects the end state of the system. Another quantum state that would decay if left alone, would not decay because of the process of continuous observation. QM refers to the impact of measurement at the quantum level.
Heisenberg's uncertainty principle suggests that the precision in the simultaneous measurement of the position and momentum of a particle at the same time – an increase in the precision in measurement of one quantity reduces precision in measurement of the other. Inaccuracies in measurement do not point to a possibility that consciousness could be a mysterious observer, who could alter or modify the universe it observes.
Biocentrism – The
Emergent Quality Of Consciousness
Lanza suggests that consciousness was seen to be the principal entity by Descartes, Kant, Leibniz, Berkeley, Schopenhauer, and Bergson. Consciousness is the quality or state of being aware of an external object or something within oneself. The state includes subjectivity, awareness, sentience, the ability to experience or to feel, wakefulness, having a sense of selfhood, and the ability to make decisions.
Apart from subjectivity, all the competencies attributed to consciousness are carried out by the nervous system. The experiments of Benjamin Libet have demonstrated that conscious awareness trails neural decisions by over 250 milliseconds. The nervous system makes decisions and consciousness merely has an awareness of those decisions. Only the subjective quality of that awareness remains unexplained by science.
The subjective awareness of the neural process has not been explained by science and may be an emergent property. Libet's experiments have experimentally isolated conscious awareness from the acknowledged pattern recognition functions of the nervous system, including judgment, emotions, decision making and the identification of self. In the theory of complex systems, emergence is the effect, where new patterns arise out of myriad simple interactions.
New properties emerge at higher levels of complexity. Psychology emerges from biology and biology from chemistry. The whole completely differs from the sum of its parts. Consciousness may emerge into a non physical knowledge dimension as the complexity of a neural network increases. But, even then, the intelligent parts of the process are purely physical. If a ghost does exist within the system, it is inextricably tied the the material world.
Consciousness Is Not The Ghost Who Decides
Whatever may be the mystery concerning consciousness, there is experimental evidence that it merely mirrors the pattern recognition activities of the brain. Benjamin Libet studied subjects who voluntarily pressed a button, while noting the position of a dot on a computer screen, which shifted its position every 43 milliseconds. The noted moment of depressing the button was the moment of conscious awareness; the exact instant the subject thought the button was pressed.
Each time, Libet had also timed the beginning of motor neuron activity in the brains of his subjects. He discovered that awareness occurred 350 milliseconds AFTER the beginning of motor activity. Clearly, the decision to press the button had been made earlier by the nervous system. The actual observer is merely a neural pattern recognition entity, which evaluates sensory perceptions and makes a judgment. Experimental evidence presents conscious awareness as just a mirror, which reflects decisions made in a material network.
Biocentrism – The Nervous System Observes The Cosmos
Both the QM Observer concept and the Uncertainty principle suggest that observation changes the measured object. There is evidence that neural observation has virtually insignificant impact on the cosmos. The human olfactory sense observes smells in the environment by interacting with a few molecules in the air. About 50 million primary sensory receptor cells in the two nasal cavities evaluate these molecules to draw picture of the environment by distinguishing between a practically infinite number of chemical compounds at very low concentrations.
The observation modifies those molecules, which bind to receptor cells, causing further structural changes occur within the cell. These changes generate action potentials which send nerve impulses up through hierarchies of analytical networks to finally identify the impact of an odor on the objectives of the system. At the highest level of this interpretation, the nervous system visualizes the cosmos and consciousness receives that awareness. The observation of the cosmos by the nervous system does not significantly alter it. The suggestion that the final analysis received by consciousness is the source of the cosmos is like suggesting that the Theory of Relativity is the source of relativity. A search for a Theory of Everything within the concept of consciousness sounds far fetched.
Biocentrism – The Ghost In The Machine
Biocentrism seeks to explain the universe from the innate position that consciousness has mystic powers. It is perceived to be a ghost in the machine, which interfaces with an imagined cosmic intelligence. But, consciousness merely reflects the complex thoughts and perceptions of an ordinary human brain. Science has clearly established the links between conscious awareness and the patterns of firing by function specific neurons. Pattern recognition systems within it interpret sensory inputs to arrive at a complex understanding of the world. Consciousness is a part of a physical mechanism, which has intelligently interpreted the physical world. Consciousness disappears, when the neurons die. To suggest that the interpretation created the original is to suggest that a photograph created the landscape. The mechanisms of photography may not provide a key to understanding the landscape.
This page was last updated on 27-Jan-2016.
For my peace of mind, I earmarked 20 minutes for meditation on the terrace. With my eyes closed, I sense my hands on the chair and feel the numbness in my feet.
I feel my breath flowing through my nose, my throat, my chest and my stomach. I can hear the chirping of birds, the phut phut of auto rickshaws, the occasional roar of a truck and the insistent hooting of horns.
The wide sky and the treetops come to my attention, when I open my eyes, I see a pale moon over two hundred thousand miles away. I see the nuclear fires, blazing for millions of years in the pale globe of the setting sun. I see a single star millions of miles away in space.
I can see green shoots coming up on a tree, watch the dives and swoops of birds, the great circles of the hawks and flocks of birds flying home for the night.
Diffused light from the sun reflects off a parrot on the tree and enters my eye through a pinhole opening. I sense the bustling mood of the bird, even though it is smaller than a drop of water in my eyes.
All these things are seen and felt by me in a few brief minutes. In the distance, is the head of a man seeming to be no bigger than a pea. Yet, that head too sees and feels such things. Ten million people in this great city see and feel in ten million ways.
My mind wanders to a misty view of postwar London; an exciting glimpse of Disneyland. An awed view of Tiananmen Square. The looming Himalayan ranges. My mind takes me to distant galaxies.
It carries me into the heart of millions of invisible neurons, where electrical charges flash thousands of times a second powering my contemplation. I see the campaigns of Julius Caesar and Alexander. I feel the longings of Jehangir.
Already my mind has taken me to palaces, battlefields and even the stars. If I lost everything, but can just see and feel, in just a few brief minutes, my mind can travel the world, or imagine the cosmos.
While my thoughts wandered far and near, the thought "20 minutes is a long time" also kept floating in. And yet, life has already blessed me with over twenty million waking minutes! I have an infinity of time on my hands. Have I a right to expect more from life?
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