Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Biocentric Multiverse - An Example of [Eroneously] Collapsing the Subjective and the Objective

A few years ago (2009), Dr. Robert Lanza published Biocentrism: How Life and Consciousness are the Keys to Understanding the True Nature of the Universe, a model he claims positions consciousness as foundation of the universe as we know it. In essence, he argues that our consciousness of the universe brings it into being, which is based on a faulty understanding of quantum mechanics.

Lanza, like Deepak Chopra and B Alan Wallace, relies on a misunderstanding of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle to suggest that observation is necessary to the determination of the state of a quantum system. But there is research that disproves this interpretation.

First, here is an excellent explanation of Heisenberg's model (Geoff Brumfiel, Nature News, Sept 11, 2012):
At the foundation of quantum mechanics is the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. Simply put, the principle states that there is a fundamental limit to what one can know about a quantum system. For example, the more precisely one knows a particle's position, the less one can know about its momentum, and vice versa. The limit is expressed as a simple equation that is straightforward to prove mathematically.

Heisenberg sometimes explained the uncertainty principle as a problem of making measurements. His most well-known thought experiment involved photographing an electron. To take the picture, a scientist might bounce a light particle off the electron's surface. That would reveal its position, but it would also impart energy to the electron, causing it to move. Learning about the electron's position would create uncertainty in its velocity; and the act of measurement would produce the uncertainty needed to satisfy the principle.
He then reports some research [Rozema, L. A. et al. 2012. Phys. Rev. Lett. 109(100404)] that supports the belief that measurement does not always introduce more uncertainty in a system:
The researchers made a ‘weak’ measurement of the photon’s polarization in one plane — not enough to disturb it, but enough to produce a rough sense of its orientation. Next, they measured the polarization in the second plane. Then they made an exact, or 'strong', measurement of the first polarization to see whether it had been disturbed by the second measurement.

When the researchers did the experiment multiple times, they found that measurement of one polarization did not always disturb the other state as much as the uncertainty principle predicted. In the strongest case, the induced fuzziness was as little as half of what would be predicted by the uncertainty principle.
This research doesn't do away with the uncertainty principle, but it does demonstrate that it is possible to measure some features of a quantum system without introducing noise into the system.

A related idea is the Shroedinger's Cat thought experiment, which is often taken as proof of the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics. This model proposes that the act of observing a system results in the collapse of all possible states into one state, the observed state. This is known as the wavefunction collapse. Heisenberg's uncertainty principle is one of the six basic tenets of the Copenhagen interpretation, a term that is actually a misnomer in that there was never any coherent interpretation associated with this model. The notion that there was a Copenhagen interpretation arose when Heisenberg used it in his refutation of David Bohm's model, a move he later regretted.

[Bohm's model, the implicate, explicate, and generative orders (via Wikipedia), proposes that
"things, such as particles, objects, and indeed subjects" exist as "semi-autonomous quasi-local features" of an underlying activity. These features can be considered to be independent only up to a certain level of approximation in which certain criteria are fulfilled.
Bohm, working with the then Stanford-based neuroscientist, Karl Pribram, extended this into a holonomic model of the brain.]

One of the more difficult aspects of the Copenhagen model, the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, was also known as the EPR paradox, developed by  Albert Einstein and his colleagues Boris Podolsky and Nathan Rosen. One of the issues Einstein noted with the then-standard model of quantum mechanics is that it allowed for a version of quantum entanglement that violates the general theory of relativity - i.e., that nothing moves faster than the speed of light. But Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle allowed for exactly that, so the EPR paradox was developed. Via Wikipedia:
Heisenberg's principle was an attempt to provide a classical explanation of a quantum effect sometimes called non-locality. According to EPR there were two possible explanations. Either there was some interaction between the particles, even though they were separated, or the information about the outcome of all possible measurements was already present in both particles.
The EPR authors (EPR combines the first letter of the three men's last names) preferred the latter of these two explanations, which allowed that the general relativity remained intact. The EPR solution to the problem was local hidden variables, but Bell's Theorem has since been accepted as a successful refutation of the hidden variables.

A more recent model, the Relational quantum mechanics (RQM) model, developed by Carlo Rovelli in 1994, offers a way out of one of the more difficult aspects of the Copenhagen model, the EPR paradox. The RQM treats the state of a quantum system as being observer-dependent, that is, the state is the relation between the observer and the system.

Again, from Wikipedia:
The physical content of the theory is not to do with objects themselves, but the relations between them. As Rovelli puts it: "Quantum mechanics is a theory about the physical description of physical systems relative to other systems, and this is a complete description of the world".[2]

The essential idea behind RQM is that different observers may give different accounts of the same series of events: for example, to one observer at a given point in time, a system may be in a single, "collapsed" eigenstate, while to another observer at the same time, it may appear to be in a superposition of two or more states. Consequently, if quantum mechanics is to be a complete theory, RQM argues that the notion of "state" describes not the observed system itself, but the relationship, or correlation, between the system and its observer(s). The state vector of conventional quantum mechanics becomes a description of the correlation of some degrees of freedom in the observer, with respect to the observed system. However, it is held by RQM that this applies to all physical objects, whether or not they are conscious or macroscopic (all systems are quantum systems). Any "measurement event" is seen simply as an ordinary physical interaction, an establishment of the sort of correlation discussed above. The proponents of the relational interpretation argue that the approach clears up a number of traditional interpretational difficulties with quantum mechanics, while being simultaneously conceptually elegant and ontologically parsimonious.
The RQM model offers the best solution to the EPR Paradox, and it does so without relying on super-luminal information transfer (faster than the speed of light):
Thus the relational interpretation, by shedding the notion of an "absolute state" of the system, allows for an analysis of the EPR paradox which neither violates traditional locality constraints, nor implies superluminal information transfer, since we can assume that all observers are moving at comfortable sub-light velocities. And, most importantly, the results of every observer are in full accordance with those expected by conventional quantum mechanics.
Returning specifically the Biocentrism model of Lanza, (a condensed matter physicist) and Ajita Kamal (an evolutionary biologist) offered a great "debunking" of Lanza's model, noting that it is the philosophical stance known as idealism masquerading as science. The title of their article (2009) is "Biocentrism Demystified: A Response to Deepak Chopra and Robert Lanza’s Notion of a Conscious Universe," posted at Nirmukta.

Here is one small section in which they correct Lanza's misrepresentation of objective reality:
Lanza says “Space and time are simply the mind’s tools for putting everything together.” This is true , but there is a difference between being the ‘mind’s tools’ and being created by the mind itself. In the first instance the conscious perception of space and time is an experiential trick that the mind uses to make sense of the objective universe, and in the other space and time are actual physical manifestations of the mind. The former is tested and true while the latter is an idealistic notion that is not supported by science. The experiential conception of space and time is different from objective space and time that comprise the universe. This difference is similar to how color is different from photon frequency. The former is subjective while the latter is objective.

Can Lanza deny all the evidence that, whereas we humans emerged on the scene very recently, our Earth and the solar system and the universe at large have been there all along? What about all the objective evidence that life forms have emerged and evolved to greater and greater complexity, resulting in the emergence of humans at a certain stage in the evolutionary history of the Earth? What about all the fossil evidence for how biological and other forms of complexity have been evolving? How can humans arrogate to themselves the power to create objective reality?
Here is more from their long and erudite article, this section dealing with the many worlds model, another approach based on a dissatisfaction with the Copenhagen model:
Hugh Everett, during the mid-1950s, expressed total dissatisfaction with the Copenhagen interpretation: ‘The Copenhagen Interpretation is hopelessly incomplete because of its a priori reliance on classical physics … as well as a philosophic monstrosity with a “reality” concept for the macroscopic world and denial of the same for the microcosm.’ The Copenhagen interpretation implied that equations of quantum mechanics apply only to the microscopic world, and cease to be relevant in the macroscopic or ‘real’ world.

Everett offered a new interpretation, which presaged the modern ideas of quantum decoherence. Everett’s ‘many worlds’ interpretation of quantum mechanics is now taken more seriously, although not entirely in its original form. He simply let the mathematics of the quantum theory show the way for understanding logically the interface between the microscopic world and the macroscopic world. He made the observer an integral part of the system being observed, and introduced a universal wave function that applies comprehensively to the totality of the system being observed and the observer. This means that even macroscopic objects exist as quantum superpositions of all allowed quantum states. There is thus no need for the discontinuity of a wave-function collapse when a measurement is made on the microscopic quantum system in a macroscopic world.

Many worlds
Wave function bifurcation

Everett examined the question: What would things be like if no contributing quantum states to a superposition of states are banished artificially after seeing the results of an observation? He proved that the wave function of the observer would then bifurcate at each interaction of the observer with the system being observed. Suppose an electron can have two possible quantum states A and B, and its wave function is a linear superposition of these two. The evolution of the composite or universal wave function describing the electron and the observer would then contain two branches corresponding to each of the states A and B. Each branch has a copy of the observer, one which sees state A as a result of the measurement, and the other which sees state B. In accordance with the all-important principle of linear superposition in quantum mechanics, the branches do not influence each other, and each embarks on a different future (or a different ‘universe’), independent of the other. The copy of the observer in each universe is oblivious to the existence of other copies of itself and other universes, although the ‘full reality’ is that each possibility has actually happened. This reasoning can be made more abstract and general by removing the distinction between the observer and the observed, and stating that, at each interaction among the components of the composite system, the total or universal wave function would bifurcate as described above, giving rise to multiple universes or many worlds.

A modern and somewhat different version of this interpretation of quantum mechanics introduces the term quantum decoherence to rationalise how the branches become independent, and how each turns out to represent our classical or macroscopic reality. Quantum computing is now a reality, and it is based on such understanding of quantum mechanics.
And, finally, if one is to deal with Lanza's model, then one must deal with the definition of consciousness, a definition that is largely not agreed upon by an two theorists, it seems. Here is the refutation of Lanza's model on the grounds that he hopelessly muddles the definition of consciousness:
One criticism of biocentrism comes from the philosopher Daniel Dennett, who says “It looks like an opposite of a theory, because he doesn’t explain how consciousness happens at all. He’s stopping where the fun begins.”

The logic behind this criticism is obvious. Without a descriptive explanation for consciousness and how it ‘creates’ the universe, biocentrism is not useful. In essence, Lanza calls for the abandonment of modern theoretical physics and its replacement with a magical solution. Here are a few questions that one might ask of the idea:
  1. What is this consciousness?
  2. Why does this consciousness exist?
  3. What is the nature of the interaction between this consciousness and the universe?
  4. Is the problem of infinite regression applicable to consciousness itself?
  5. Even if Lanza’s interpretation of the anthropic principle is a valid argument against modern theoretical physics, does the biocentric model of consciousness create a bigger ontological problem than the one it attempts to solve?
And this:
Consider this statement by Lanza:
Consciousness cannot exist without a living, biological creature to embody its perceptive powers of creation.
How can consciousness create the universe if it doesn’t exist? How can the “living, biological creature” exist if the universe has not been created yet? It becomes apparent that Lanza is muddling the meaning of the word ‘consciousness.’ In one sense he equates it to subjective experience that is tied to a physical brain. In another, he assigns to consciousness a spatio-temporal logic that exists outside of physical manifestation. In this case, the above questions become: 1. What is this spatio-temporal logic?; 2. Why does this spatio-temporal logic exist? and so on…

The Cartesian Theater
The Cartesian Theater

Daniel Dennett’s criticism of biocentrism centres on Lanza’s non-explanation of the nature of consciousness. In fact, even from a biological perspective Lanza’s conception of consciousness is unclear. For example, he consistently equates consciousness with subjective experience while stressing its independence from the objective universe (see Lanza’s quote below). This is an appeal to the widespread but erroneous intuition towards Cartesian Dualism. In this view, consciousness (subjective experience) belongs to a different plane of reality than the one on which the material universe is constructed. Lanza requires this general definition of consciousness to construct his theory of biocentrism. He uses it in the same way that Descartes used it – as a semantic tool to deconstruct reality. In fact, Lanza’s theory of biocentrism is a sophisticated non-explanation for the ‘brain in a vat’ problem that plagued philosophers for centuries. However, instead of subscribing to Cartesian Dualism, he attempts a Cartesian Monism by invoking quantum mechanics. To be exact, his view is Monistic Idealism - the idea that consciousness is everything- but the Cartesian bias is an essential element in his arguments.
Lanza's model relies on a form of dualism that is disguised as idealistic monism.

Furthermore, his denial of any scientific understanding of consciousness is a straw man argument and it is empty, considering that Lanza proposes no useful mechanism for consciousness, nor a definition, but still gives it a central role in his theory of the universe.

For me, the Relational quantum mechanics model offers the best solution to many of the problems of quantum theory, including the role of consciousness. It is an essentially postmodern model of physics, while much of earlier quantum theory is still bogged down in an mechanistic model.

All of that is simply my way of saying that the article below, a defense of the Biocentric model from Jonathan Lyons at Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies is sadly misguided.

A Biocentric Multiverse

Jønathan Lyons

Ethical Technology

Posted: Mar 24, 2014

I’ve been thinking of ways in which Biocentric Universe Theory and multiverse theory could both be true. What if our nature as conscious beings inhabiting a multiverse of endless possibilities, where we are quantum-superposition beings, actually all adds up to us creating the multiverse, while perceiving time and space only within the limitations of our immediately observable, three-spatial/one-time-dimensional universe?

Down the rabbit hole!

Big Guns in the physics community are embracing multiverse theory more and more. One interpretation of this theory is that everything that can possibly happen, does happen, in one universe or another.

Background: Robert Lanza’s Biocentric Universe Theory

Robert Paul Lanza is an American medical doctor, scientist, Chief Scientific Officer of Advanced Cell Technology and Adjunct Professor at the Institute for Regenerative Medicine, Wake Forest University School of Medicine. (For more on Dr. Lanza, and for some fascinating essays and articles containing further insight into Biocentric Universe Theory, visit his Website:

  • At subatomic level, everything exists in an undefined state until observed
  • Example: Double-slit experiment
  • The Observer Effect
  • Because of this evidence, holds Biocentric Universe Theory, it is consciousness that creates the universe as we know it, and not the other way around.
Each but the last of those statements is experimentally proven; the last is a tantalizing possibility, and one I wish to continue to learn about.

A multiverse — that is, an infinite number of universes — could be stacked one on top of the other in even a tiny, single, spatial dimension in addition to the three spatial dimensions and single time dimension we experience. And in an eleven-dimensional multiverse, there are plenty of dimensions left to go around after we account for the four we can perceive.

al outcomes. Next, consider the observer effect: That the universe does not become solid until it is observed is demonstrated by the dual-slit experiment and the observer effect. What this means is that at the subatomic level, the entire universe exists as a colossal Schroedinger Probability wave, existing only as potentialites.

Until, that is, it is observed.

At that point the wave function collapses from whatever probabilities were possible to the single, actual outcome. Before it is observed. the universe exists in a superposition:
Quantum superposition is a fundamental principle of quantum mechanics that holds that a physical system—such as an electron—exists partly in all its particular theoretically possible states (or, configuration of its properties) simultaneously; but when measured or observed, it gives a result corresponding to only one of the possible configurations (as described in interpretation of quantum mechanics).”
In Biocentric Universe Theory, as I mentioned, consciousness thereby gives rise to the universe, and not the other way around. It does so through the act of observation. In observing the universe, we cause the collapse of the Probability Wave to its single outcome. In our universe, anyway.

What if the act of observation is the tool by which new universes are created?

Comic Interlude: An actual product you can buy over at ThinkGeek: “$20 kit produces trillions of universes."

Are you willing to take on the responsibility that comes with bringing trillions of universes into existence, each teeming with sentient life? That's something to ponder before plunking down $20 for this make-your-own-universe kit, created by <artist Jonathon Keats.

If two events are possible, quantum theory assumes that both occur simultaneously - until an observer determines the outcome. For example, in Schrödinger's famous thought experiment, in which his cat may have been killed with a 50 per cent probability, the cat is both alive and dead until someone checks. When the observation is made, the universe splits into two, one for each possible outcome. For example, Schrödinger's cat would be alive in one universe and dead in the other universe.”

Quantum physicists say that this is exactly what happens. The ongoing, infinite production of the multiverse would, therefore, be an ongoing act of creation caused by observation continuously collapsing probability wave, continuously forcing subatomic particle from a quantum superposition representing all possibilities open to them, not to a single outcome, but to a single outcome in a single universe; it would also cause every other possibility represented by the probability wave to occur in every universe where the same event is being observed.

Enter time:
​If all time is simultaneous, than our nature as conscious beings could also be described as our nature as quantum-superposition beings; consider the Scrodinger’s Cat thought experiment:
“One can even set up quite ridiculous cases. A cat is penned up in a steel chamber, along with the following device (which must be secured against direct interference by the cat): in a Geiger counter, there is a tiny bit of radioactive substance, so small, that perhaps in the course of the hour one of the atoms decays, but also, with equal probability, perhaps none; if it happens, the counter tube discharges and through a relay releases a hammer that shatters a small flask of hydrocyanic acid. If one has left this entire system to itself for an hour, one would say that the cat still lives if meanwhile no atom has decayed. The psi-function of the entire system would express this by having in it the living and dead cat (pardon the expression) mixed or smeared out in equal parts.

It is typical of these cases that an indeterminacy originally restricted to the atomic domain becomes transformed into macroscopic indeterminacy, which can then be resolved by direct observation. That prevents us from so naively accepting as valid a "blurred model" for representing reality. In itself, it would not embody anything unclear or contradictory. There is a difference between a shaky or out-of-focus photograph and a snapshot of clouds and fog banks.

—Erwin Schrödinger, Die gegenwärtige Situation in der Quantenmechanik (The present situation in quantum mechanics), Naturwissenschaften (translated by John D. Trimmer in Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society)”
While I would argue that the cat’s consciousness would probably play some role in the timing of the wave’s collapse, the main point is this: by this reasoning, when we enter a period in which the cat may or may not be dead, then its living or dead status has not been observed, and the cat herself exists in a superposition — that is, if you will, neither zero (dead) nor one (alive), but both, simultaneously.

If all time is simultaneous, then we humans are simultaneously one (alive) during our lifespans and zero (dead) outside our lifespans. Meaning that we, and all forms of life, are beings who exist in superposition, spread out across time and the multiverse, expressing every potentiality that could ever be — indeed, creating every such potentiality.

Because if our nature is that of conscious beings inhabiting a multiverse of endless possibilities, where we are quantum-superposition beings, all of this actually adds up to us creating the multiverse by observing parts of it, while perceiving time and space only within the limitations of our immediately observable, three-spatial/one-time-dimensional universe.

Jønathan Lyons is an affiliate scholar for the IEET. He is also a transhumanist parent, an essayist, and an author of experimental fiction both long and short. He lives in central Pennsylvania and teaches at Bucknell University. His fiction publications include Minnows: A Shattered Novel.

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