How Life Creates Reality
what if it determines the very structureof the universe itself?
How Life Creates Reality
In “The Grand Biocentric Design,” Robert Lanza, one of Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People,” is joined by theoretical physicist Matej Pavšič and astronomer Bob Berman to shed light on the big picture that has long eluded philosophers and scientists alike.
By Robert Lanza
In all directions, the current scientific paradigm leads to insoluble enigmas, to conclusions that are ultimately irrational. Since World Wars I and II there has been an unprecedented burst of discovery, with findings that suggest the need for a fundamental shift in the way science views the world. When our worldview catches up with the facts, the old paradigm will be replaced with a new biocentric model, in which life is not a product of the universe, but the other way around.
A change to our most foundational of beliefs is bound to face resistance. I’m no stranger to this; I’ve encountered opposition to new ways of thinking my whole life. As a boy, I lay awake at night and imagined my life as a scientist, peering at wonders through a microscope. But reality seemed determined to remind me that this was only a dream. Upon entering first grade, students at my elementary school were separated into three classes based upon their perceived “potential”—A, B, and C. Our family had just moved to the suburbs from Roxbury, one of the roughest areas of Boston (it was later razed for urban renewal). My father was a professional gambler (he played cards for a living, which at the time was illegal—not to mention the dog and horse tracks) and our family was not exactly considered scholarly material. Indeed, all three of my sisters subsequently dropped out of high school. I was placed in the C-class, a repository for those destined for manual, trade labor, a class which included the students who had been kept back and those who were mainly known for shooting spit balls at teachers.
My best friend was in the A-class. “Do you think I could become a scientist?” I asked his mother one day in fifth grade. “If I tried hard, could I be a doctor?”
“Good gracious!” she responded, explaining that she’d never known anyone in the C class to become a doctor, but that I’d make an excellent carpenter or plumber.
The next day I decided to enter the science fair, which put me in direct competition with the A-class. For his project on rocks, my best friend’s parents took him to museums for his research and created an impressive display for his specimens. My project—animals—was made up of souvenirs from my various excursions: insects, feathers, and bird eggs. Even then I was convinced that living things—not inert material and rocks—were the subjects most worthy of scientific study. This was a complete reversal of the hierarchy taught in our schoolbooks—that is, the realm of physics, with its forces and atoms, forming the foundation of the world and thus most key to its understanding, followed by chemistry and then biology and life. My project won me, a lowly member of the C class, second place behind my best friend.
Science fairs became a way to show up those who labeled me for my family’s circumstances. By trying earnestly, I believed I could improve my situation. In high school, I applied myself to an ambitious attempt to alter the genetic makeup of white chickens and make them black using nucleoprotein. It was before the era of genetic engineering and my biology teacher said it was impossible; my chemistry teacher was blunter, saying, “Lanza, you’re going to hell.”
Before the fair, a friend predicted I’d win. “Ha-ha!” the whole class laughed. But my friend was right.
Once, after my sister was suspended, the principal had told my mother that she wasn’t fit to be a parent. When I won, that principal had to congratulate my mother in front of the whole school.
This is the certificate the author (Lanza) received for his C Class science project on “Animals.” It was co-signed by Barbara O’Donnell—his future junior high school science teacher—who nurtured his scientific growth, as she did for hundreds of other students during her 50 years as a teacher and guidance counselor. The book “Biocentrism” was dedicated to her on the occasion of her 90th year.
I did go on to become a scientist, and during my scientific career, I continued to encounter intolerance to new ideas. Can you generate stem cells without destroying embryos? Can you clone one species using eggs from another? Could findings at the subatomic level “scale up” to tell us something about life and consciousness? Scientists are trained to ask questions, but they are also trained to be cautious and rational; their questioning is often aimed at the incremental change, not the paradigm-toppling one. After all, scientists are no different from the rest of our species. We evolved in the forest roof to collect fruit and berries while evading predators and staying alive long enough to procreate; it shouldn’t come as any surprise that this skill set hasn’t always served us perfectly in understanding the nature of existence.
“One thing I have learned in a long life,” said Einstein, “[is] that all our science, measured against reality, is primitive and childlike—and yet it is the most precious thing we have.” Science must work with simple concepts the human mind can comprehend. But as the evidence for biocentrism mounts, science may prove the key to answering questions previously thought to be beyond its borders, those that have plagued us since before the beginning of civilization.
This may be the beginning of this book, but it is not the beginning of our story.
That’s because we are plunging into an ongoing odyssey. It’s a movie that has already started, and we are seating ourselves long after the opening credits have rolled.
As we will soon see, the Renaissance witnessed a transformation in the way humans attempted to understand the cosmos. But even as superstition and fear slowly lost their grip, the established view that emerged dictated a firm division between two basic entities—we observers glued to the surface of our small planet, and the vast realm of nature that constitutes a cosmos almost wholly separate from ourselves. The assumption that these entities are two entirely different balls of wax has so permeated scientific thought that it is likely still assumed by the reader even now in the 21st century.
However, the opposing view is hardly new. Early Sanskrit and Taoist teachers unanimously declared that when it comes to the cosmos, “All is One.” Eastern mystics and philosophers inherently perceived or intuited a unity between the observer and the so-called external universe, and, as centuries elapsed, were consistent in maintaining that such a distinction is illusory. Some Western philosophers, too—among them Berkeley and Spinoza—challenged the prevailing views about the existence of an external world and its separation from consciousness. Nonetheless, the dichotomous paradigm remained the majority consensus, especially in the world of science.
But the maverick minority got a major megaphone a century ago, when some of the originators of quantum theory—most notably Erwin Schrödinger and Niels Bohr—concluded that consciousness is central to any true understanding of reality. While they reached their conclusions by way of advanced math, in the course of developing the equations that would form the basis for quantum mechanics and its innumerable successes, they thus were also pioneers who helped set the table for biocentrism a century later.
Today, oddities of the quantum world like entanglement have moved the minority increasingly into the mainstream. If it’s really true that life and consciousness are central to everything else, then countless puzzling anomalies in science enjoy immediate clarification. It’s not just bizarre laboratory results like the famous “double slit experiment” that make no sense unless the observer’s presence is intimately intertwined with the results. On an everyday level, hundreds of physical constants such as the strength of gravity and the electromagnetic force called “alpha” that governs the electrical bonds in every atom are identical throughout the universe and “set in stone” at precisely the values that allow life to exist. This could merely be an astounding coincidence. But the simplest explanation is that the laws and conditions of the universe allow for the observer because the observer generates them. Duh!
This is also a story in progress because we’ve told some of it in two previous books on biocentrism—many of you may have already read one or both of these. If so, you won’t be faulted for wondering why this third book was necessary. The short answer is that this book both outlines biocentrism in a new way and also expands upon it.
In the first biocentrism books, we employed a wide spectrum of tools to show why everything makes far more sense if nature and the observer are actually intertwined, or correlative—using not just science but also basic logic and the assessments of some of the great thinkers through the centuries. Our multi-pronged approach to explaining and reinforcing our conclusions has been both persuasive and popular, as demonstrated by the great success of those first biocentrism books, which have been translated into two dozen languages, with editions published around the world. And yet some science-minded readers wanted more.
To some of them, biocentrism’s conclusions about consciousness skirted the category of “woo,” meaning scientifically dubious, New-Agey-type theorizing. Such comments gave us pause. Might our hard-won conclusions, though fundamentally based on cold logic and hard science, still amount to a mere “philosophical” interpretation of the experimental and observational results? Did biocentrism more properly fall under the rubric of philosophy than of science? We certainly didn’t think so. Yet we acknowledged that it would be nice to be able to seal the case for biocentrism on the physics alone.
What’s more, since the first two books were released, new research has emerged that makes the case for biocentrism stronger than ever, allowing us to explain formerly fuzzy aspects of how our biocentric universe actually works. As our understanding has grown, we’ve been able to refine our theory and build upon it, discovering new core principles that demand inclusion in any complete accounting of biocentrism. It was time for a newly comprehensive view of the grand biocentric design governing our cosmos.
That’s what’s in front of you now. As you’ll see, this present volume tells our story in a way that relies solely on the hard sciences. We’ve confined the equations and such to the appendices, since we know that many readers will slam a book shut at the mere sight of a square-root symbol. Because while rigorously scientific, we want this to be a fun exploration for the general public too—after all, the questions this book answers are those every one of us has asked, basic questions about life and death, about how the world works and why we exist.
What follows is not an exhaustive treatment since we’ve omitted lengthy discussion of some things, like the double slit experiment, that were covered fully in the previous books. Nevertheless, we will recount the history of astounding physics discoveries that all lead inexorably to the bizarre but reality-shaking conclusion that the basic structure of the cosmos—things like space and time and the way matter holds together—requires observers. Though many physicists define the observer as any macroscopic object, we are among those who believe the observer must be a conscious one. More about why—and what that means—later on.
As our story unfolds, we will see how Newton’s laws not only determined how things actually move, but also how an object could have moved if it started out another way, bringing with them the first faint breezes of alternate universes and foreshadowing quantum theory.
We’ll visit the rise of that theory, and the discovery of the strange quantum behavior that challenged the idea that an external world exists independent of the perceiving subject—an idea debated by philosophers and physicists from Plato to Hawking. We’ll dive into what Niels Bohr, the great Nobel physicist, meant when he said “we’re not measuring the world; we’re creating it.”
We’ll untangle the logic that the mind uses to generate our spatiotemporal experience, and get insights into the so-called “hard problem” of how consciousness arises, exploring those quantumly-entangled regions of the brain that together constitute the system we associate with the unitary “me” feeling. We explain, for the first time ever, the entire mechanism involved in the emergence of what we experience as time—from the quantum level, where everything is still in superposition, to the macroscopic events occurring in the brain’s neurocircuitry. Along the way, we’ll see how information that breaks the light-speed limit suggests the mind is unified with matter and the world.
As we increasingly recognize life as an adventure that transcends our commonsense understanding, we will also get hints about death. We’ll look at the mind-twisting thought experiment called quantum suicide, which can be used to explain why we are here now despite the overwhelming odds against it—and why death has no true reality. We will see that life has a non-linear dimensionality, like a perennial flower that always blooms.
Throughout the book, we will find countless commonsense assumptions turned on their heads. For instance: “the histories of the universe,” said the late theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, “depend on what is being measured, contrary to the usual idea that the universe has an objective observer-independent history.” While in classical physics the past is assumed to exist as an unalterable series of events, quantum physics plays by a different set of rules in which, as Hawking said, “the past, like the future, is indefinite and exists as a spectrum of possibilities.”
And while we’re at it, we’ll look at physicists’ century-long frustration at that very fact: that quantum mechanics exists via a “different set of rules.” After all, making sense of gravity, among other things, requires finding a way to reconcile Einstein’s theory of general relativity, which accurately describes the macroscopic, large-scale cosmos, with the altogether different rules governing the quantum realm of the tiny. Why can’t science-at-large-scales communicate with science at the subatomic level? Astoundingly, this book arrives at a breakthrough in exactly that quest, a Holy Grail of physics.
That breakthrough comes in the final chapters, where we will encounter an astounding cover-story paper by one of the authors (Lanza) and Dmitriy Podolskiy, a theoretical physicist working at Harvard, that explains how time itself emerges directly from the observer. We will learn that time does not exist “out there,” ticking away from past to future as we’ve always assumed, but rather is an emergent property like a fast-growing bamboo stalk, and its existence depends on the observer’s ability to preserve information about experienced events. In the world of biocentrism, a “brainless” observer does not merely fail to experience time—without a conscious observer, time has no existence in any sense.
But this book is not merely an arrow targeted at the shocking revelations in the final chapters. Nor even at the full flabbergasting scientific evidence that there is simply no time, no reality, and no existence of any kind without an observer. Instead, it is an odyssey engineered to awe and inspire as it reveals the workings of the cosmos and our place in it.
So, yes, expect fireworks at the end, as the old paradigm is decisively replaced by the new. But watching this amazing story unfold is a journey that is its own reward, with surprises at every turn.
And it starts where we might least expect it, in the familiar if still-puzzling realm of simple everyday awareness.