Biocentrism – A Bridge Between Science and Ancient Spiritual Teachings
[This is talk is extensively based on two books –
- Biocentrism by Robert Lanza, MD with Bob Berman
- A Grand Biocentric Design by Robert Lanza, MD and Matej Pavšič with Bob Berman
Many of the excerpts are taken as is from the two books. This presenter does not claim any authorship over this talk & ideas.]
Let me begin by saying that, this was a mistake! This summer I came across a book, “The Grand Biocentric Design” by Robert Lanza and Matej Pavsic and my initial excitement prompted me to want to share it with the Sangha. However, as I started to prepare for this talk, for the last 3 months, I realized, I have made a huge mistake. It turns out distilling 100 years of research on Quantum Mechanics and relating it to 2600 years of Buddhist teachings is no easy task! One would have to be a great fool to want to do this…Therefore, I must clarify the spirit with which this talk should be received.
First, I am not a Buddhist teacher and neither I am a skillful practitioner. Therefore, my understanding of Buddha’s teaching should be taken with a large grain of salt.
Second, I am not a Quantum Physicist. I am a chemical engineer. According to Sheldon Cooper, from the sitcom Big Bang Theory, “tedious menial jobs are to be performed by a monkey or worse, an engineer.” In fact, the Nobel-prize winning theoretical physicist, Richard Feynman, who worked on Manhattan project in 1940s that developed the atom bomb said, “I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.”
Third, this talk is not to be taken as an attempt to validate Buddhist or any other eastern religions. The Grand Biocentric Design is a science book. The coincidence with the eastern thoughts were not the aim of Dr. Lanza. The bridge I referred in the title of this talk is my own speculation based on my understanding of the Buddhist teachings.
Consciousness is not just an issue for biologists; it’s a problem for physics. In fact, consciousness is often described as the hard problem of science/physics. As many of you may be aware that mainstream science hypothecates that consciousness evolves out of the neuron’s activity in the brain. However, nothing in modern physics explains how a group of molecules in your brain create consciousness. The beauty of a sunset, the miracle of falling in love, the taste of a delicious meal – these are all mysteries to modern science….So, what path does an engineer like me have to understand who I am? Scientifically speaking.
Because this is talk is based on science, I will introduce you to a few physics problem that modern physicists are grappling with.
We’ve accepted that everything started with the Big Bang but what happened before the Big Bang? Physics says the universe is expanding but what is the expanding universe expanding into?
Why are the laws of physics exactly balanced for animal life to exist? For example, if the Big Bang had been one-part-in-a-million more powerful, it would have rushed out too fast for the galaxies and life to develop. If the gravitational force were decreased by a hair, stars (including the sun) would not ignite. In fact, there are over 200 of these universal constants that have seemingly life friendly values of physics built into the fabric of the universe.
This is where Biocentrism provides a new theory that attempts to resolve this. Biocentrism proposes that our current theories of the physical world don’t work and can never be made to work until they account for life and consciousness. Lanza says, “rather than a belated and minor outcome after billions of years of lifeless physical processes, life and consciousness are absolutely fundamental to our understanding of the universe”.
Let’s consider an age-old philosophical question, “If a tree falls in the forest, and nobody is there, does it make a sound?” How many of you think that there will be a sound? Please raise your hand.
Almost all of us will instinctively say that “Of course a falling tree makes a sound.” By taking this stand, what people are expressing is their belief in an objective, independent reality.
Let’s investigate this a bit more detailed then…What is the process that produces sound? Sound is created by a disturbance in some medium, usually air. Limbs, branches, and trunks violently striking the ground create rapid pules of air. A deaf person can readily feel some of these pulsations. So, what we have in hand with the tumbling tree, in actuality, are rapid air pressure variations, which spread out by traveling through surrounding medium at around 750 mph. If someone is nearby, the air puffs physically cause the eardrum to vibrate, which then stimulates nerves only if the air is pulsing between 20 to 20000 times a second. Air that puffs 15 times a second is not intrinsically different from air that puffs 30 times, yet the former will never result in human perception of sound because of the design of our neural architecture. In short, an observer, an ear, and a brain are every bit as necessary for the experience of sound as are the air pulses. The external world and consciousness are correlative. And a tree that falls in an empty forest creates only silent air pulses – tiny puffs of wind.
That takes us to the first principle of Biocentrism: What we perceive as reality is a process that involves our consciousness.
Because we do not have time to delve into each of the sense experiences – touch, sights, and so on – I will just tease you with this – Biocentrism says, when nobody’s there, there is simply no rainbow. Sorry.
The Second Principle of Biocentrism says our external and internal perceptions are inextricably intertwined; they are different sides of the same coin and cannot be separated.
I know Buddhist practitioners are skeptical in nature so you might be wondering what the basis of these claims is. To understand this, we will however need to examine a little bit of quantum mechanical experimentation that will help you feel the taste of this theory.
The most amazing experiment – Double Slit Experiment
The classic double slit experiment seems to suggest quantum objects such as electrons are sometimes particles, sometimes waves – and we decide which guise they take.
In the left-hand side of the picture, a stream of single electrons is fired at two slits and measured on a screen behind. An interference pattern forms, as if each electron were a wave that passed through both slits at once. Now, measure the electrons first at the slits, however, and you see individual particles passing through one slit or the other – the interference patterns on the screen disappears.
It doesn’t matter how we set up the experiment. Our mind and its knowledge or lack of it is the only things that determines how bits of light matter behave.
What we just discovered is captured in the third principle of Biocentrism: The behavior of subatomic particles – indeed all particles and objects – is inextricably linked to the presence of an observer. Without the presence of a conscious observer, they at best exist in an undetermined state of probability waves.
If a nuclear bomb were watched intently enough, it would not explode, that is, if you could keep checking its atoms every million trillionths of a second.
When quantum theory implies that consciousness must exist, it tacitly shows that the content of the mind is the ultimate reality, and that only an act of observation can confer shape and form to reality.
That brings us to Fourth Principle of Biocentrism: Without consciousness, “matter” dwells in an undetermined state of probability. Any universe that could have preceded consciousness only existed in a probability state.
Question might arise if consciousness created reality, then where did consciousness come from?
This supposed chicken and egg problem does not exist. Quantum theory increasingly casts doubts about the existence of time as we know it. Time is not out there ticking away like a clock. In Biocentric view, time’s nature is seen for what it is – a biocentric fabrication. From a biocentric point of view, time does not exist in the universe independent of life noticing it, and really doesn’t exist within the context of life either.
At 98% of lightspeed, time travels at half its normal sped. At 99%, it goes one-seventh as fast. Travel in a rocket at 99 percent the speed of light and you’ll enjoy the consequential sevenfold time dilation. You have aged a decade in 10 years but upon returning earth you will find that seventy years have passed. If one could travel at lightspeed, one would find oneself everywhere in the universe at once. This indeed is what a photon of light must experience if it were sentient.
What does it all mean? It means before and after have no absolute meaning independent of the observer. Thus, the question of what came before consciousness is meaningless.
Now, you might ask, “we have very sophisticated machines, like atomic clocks to measure time. If we can measure time, doesn’t it prove it exists?”
Clocks are rhythmics things, meaning that they contain processes that are repetitive. People accept time exists as physical entity because we have invented those objects called clocks, which are simply more rhythmic and consistent that buds flowering or apples rotting, in reality, what’s really happening is motion, pure and simple. This motion is ultimately confined to the here and now.
The persistent human perception of time almost certainly stems from the chronic act of thinking – this is experientially verifiable through meditation practices. During deep meditative states, with one-pointed focus upon consciousness, time vanishes. It is replaced by an ineffably enjoyable feeling of freedom.
However, babies turn into adults. We age. They change. We all grow old together. That to us is time. It belongs to us.
An attachment to this animal sense perception leads us to be deluded and forget that everything is impermanent. We cling or desire, which causes suffering, as Buddha says.
Now, let’s look at space. Obviously, space exists, right? Because we live in it. We move through it. Drive through it. Build in it. Miles, kilometers, cubit feet.
At extremely high speeds travel makes intervening space essentially shrink to nothingness. To use real figures, if we headed toward star Sirius at 99 percent of light’s speed of 186,282.4 miles per second, we would find that it was barely one light-year away and not the 8.6 light-years our friends back on Earth measure it to be. If we crossed a living room twenty-one feet in length going at that speed, every instrument and perception would show that it was actually now three feet in length. Here’s the amazing thing: the living room and the intervening space from Earth to Sirius is not now at artificially shrunk by some illusion. The star is that far away. The living room is only three feet across.
What then is the true nature of this space? Empty? Seething with energy and therefore matter-equivalent? Real? Unreal?
Space, like time, is not an object or thing. Space is another form of our animal understanding and does not have an independent reality. We carry space and time with us like turtles with shells. They are conceptual, which means that space and time are of a uniquely subjective nature. As Zen saying goes, “Name the colors, blind the eye.”
Logic and verbal language are the wrong tools for the job of understanding quantum theory. The same is true of consciousness.
Because Biocentrism is claiming that consciousness, in other words, we the observers create reality, can we change the world around us with “mind powers”?
As we discover through our experience, we can’t decide that we want to jump off the roof and not get hurt. However much we want, we can’t violate the rules of the spatiotemporal logic. This spatiotemporal logic is what creates the illusion of time and space. If you go to the grocery store and buy a box of cornflakes or Grape Nuts, you will not find Froot Loops in your cupboard the next morning – no matter how much you may want them.
This fundamental logos or logic or in Buddhist terms, Dharma is what governs our reality.
The biocentric view of the timeless, spaceless cosmos of consciousness allows for no true death in any real sense. When a body dies, it does so not in the random billiard-ball matrix but in the all-is-still-inescapably-life matrix.
Why are you here now, perched seemingly by chance on the cutting edge of all infinity? The answer is simple – the door is never closed! The mathematical possibility of your consciousness ending is zero.
If time is an illusion, if reality is created by our consciousness, can this consciousness ever truly be extinguished?
Let’s do a few quick-fire questions on Buddhism & Biocentrism:
What was the big bang?
Buddhism: Irrelevant. Time doesn’t exist; the universe is eternal.
Biocentrism: Time is a form of animal sense perception.
What is the nature of consciousness?
Both: Unknowable through logic.
Does the experience of life persist after the body dies?
What is this universe?
Biocentrism: An active, life-based process. There is no separate physical universe outside of life and consciousness.
With this understanding we can see how Biocentrism or quantum mechanical interpretation is aligning well with Buddhist principles of illusory separate existence called maya or samsara.
In science terms, “space & time are doomed.” However, I do not encourage you to create an argument during the Thanksgiving dinner by declaring nothing is real and everything is illusory. We have to earn that right through achieving enlightenment or so it seems!