A Critique of Robert Lanza
The eternal recurrence of the same. Robert Lanza is just one more biologist who wants to be philosopher instead of the philosophers, and claims his own discipline, biology, to be the final explanation of everything (yawn). These biologists seem to continually pop up as you are scrolling through the New Age catalogue. It´s probable because that the concept of “life” (bios) lies in the name Biology. From there it is tempting to go into the philosophical discipline “philosophy of life” (What is the meaning of life? What is the good life?) and the philosophical discipline “metaphysics” (what are the first principles of life?, etc.). It is called reductionism.
With his concept of Biocentrism Robert Lanza is the most outspoken biological reductionist I have met to date.
I have explained reductionism many times, and there are a lot of misunderstandings of it. Rupert Sheldrake for example, doesn´t understand it, and thinks that it only applies to mechanistic models of the Universe. It sometimes does, but sometimes it doesn´t. What is central in reductionism is that you reduce all philosophical questions to a single scientific discipline (physics, biology, sociology, history), and hereafter claiming this to be science. But reductionisms are philosophical worldviews, not scientific theories. Science can´t explain everything. In its nature it is concentrating about phenomena of a single type. And therefore reductionisms are ending up as philosophical shipwrecks, since they don´t use the philosophical virtue of the good argument, but instead are claiming the worldview to be true because it´s science.
Like Rupert Sheldrake Lanza is highly educated (see the Matrix Dictionary on Rupert Sheldrake). But in contrast with Sheldrake he seems to lead a kind of double life (double bios): one as a serious scientist, the other as a New Ager. These two characters seem very afar from each other. It shows in his two websites:
Robertlanza.com (the Scientist).
Robertlanzabiocentrism.com (The New Ager).
On the scientific website Lanza is presented like this:
Robert Lanza, M.D. is currently Head of Astellas Global Regenerative Medicine, and is Chief Scientific Officer of the Astellas Institute for Regenerative Medicine and Adjunct Professor at Wake Forest University School of Medicine. His current research focuses on stem cells and regenerative medicine and their potential to provide therapies for some of the world's most deadly and debilitating conditions.
Of course you can find links on his scientific website to his New Age work (it´s not because he tries to hide it, on the contrary), but this double life just made me curious.
His New Age website begins with a Wikipedia logo and the following description:
Biocentrism (theory of everything) from Greek: βίος, bios, “life”; and κέντρον, kentron, “center” — also known as the biocentric universe — is a theory proposed in 2007 by American scientist Robert Lanza, which sees biology as the central driving science in the universe, and an understanding of the other sciences as reliant on a deeper understanding of biology. Lanza believes that life and biology are central to being, reality, and the cosmos—consciousness creates the universe rather than the other way around. While physics is considered fundamental to the study of the universe, and chemistry fundamental to the study of life, Lanza claims that scientists will need to place biology before the other sciences to produce a "theory of everything". – From WIKIPEDIA Read More
If you click Robert Lanza you´ll be re-directed to a new New Age website on his new book Beyond Biocentrism / Rethinking Time, Space, Consciousness, and the Illusion of Death. If you click Read More you are being re-directed to another page on the same website where you get the whole Wikipedia description. Also here is the Wikipedia logo. I quote the description as a whole:
Biocentrism (theory of everything)
Biocentrism (from Greek: βίος, bios, “life”; and κέντρον, kentron, “center”) — also known as the biocentric universe — is a theory proposed in 2007 by American scientist Robert Lanza, which sees biology as the central driving science in the universe, and an understanding of the other sciences as reliant on a deeper understanding of biology. Lanza believes that life and biology are central to being, reality, and the cosmos—consciousness creates the universe rather than the other way around. While physics is considered fundamental to the study of the universe, and chemistry fundamental to the study of life, Lanza claims that scientists will need to place biology before the other sciences to produce a “theory of everything”
Critics have questioned whether the theory is falsifiable. Lanza has argued that future experiments, such as scaled-up quantum superposition, will either support or contradict the theory.
Biocentrism was first proposed in a 2007 article by Robert Lanza that appeared in “The American Scholar,” where the goal was to show how biology could build upon quantum physics. Two years later, Lanza published a book with astronomer and author Bob Berman entitled “Biocentrism: How Life and Consciousness Are the Keys to Understanding the True Nature of the Universe”, which expanded upon the ideas that Lanza wrote about in his essay for the “Scholar”.
Biocentrism argues that the primacy of consciousness features in the work of René Descartes, Immanuel Kant, Gottfried Leibniz, George Berkeley, Arthur Schopenhauer, and Henri Bergson. He sees this as supporting the central claim that what we call space and time are forms of animal sense perception, rather than external physical objects.
Lanza argues that biocentrism offers insight into several major puzzles of science, including Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, the double-slit experiment, and the fine tuning of the forces, constants, and laws that shape the universe as we perceive it. According to Lanza and Bob Berman, “biocentrism offers a more promising way to bring together all of physics, as scientists have been trying to do since Einstein’s unsuccessful unified field theories of eight decades ago.”
Seven principles form the core of biocentrism. The first principle of biocentrism is based on the premise that what we observe is dependent on the observer, and says that what we perceive as reality is “a process that involves our consciousness.” The second and third principles state that “our external and internal perceptions are intertwined” and that the behavior of particles “is inextricably linked to the presence of an observer,” respectively. The fourth principle suggests that consciousness must exist and that without it “matter dwells in an undetermined state of probability.” The fifth principle points to the structure of the universe itself, and that the laws, forces, and constants of the universe appear to be fine-tuned for life. Finally, the sixth and seventh principles state that space and time are not objects or things, but rather tools of our animal understanding. Lanza says that we carry space and time around with us “like turtles with shells.”
Lanza claims that biological observers actually create the arrow of time. In his papers on relativity (also published in Annalen der Physik), Einstein showed that time was relative to the observer; in their paper, Podolskiy and Lanza argue that quantum gravitational decoherence is too ineffective to guarantee the emergence of the arrow of time and the “quantum-to-classical” transition to happen at scales of physical interest. They argue that the emergence of the arrow of time is directly related to the way biological observers with memory functions process and remember information. They cite Lanza’s American Scholar paper on biocentrism, stating that the “brainless” observer does not experience time and/or decoherence of any degrees of freedom.
Synopsis of Lanza’s book “Biocentrism”
According to Lanza’s book, “Biocentrism” suggests that life is not an accidental byproduct of physics, but rather is a key part of our understanding of the universe. Biocentrism states that there is no independent external universe outside of biological existence. Part of what it sees as evidence of this is that there are over 200 physical parameters within the universe so exact that it is seen as more probable that they are that way in order to allow for existence of life and consciousness, rather than coming about at random. Biocentrism claims that allowing the observer into the equation opens new approaches to understanding cognition. Through this, biocentrism purports to offer a way to unify the laws of the universe.
David Thompson, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said that Lanza’s “work is a wake-up call.” Nobel laureate E. Donnall Thomas said, “Any short statement does not do justice to such a scholarly work. The work is a scholarly consideration of science and philosophy that brings biology into the central role in unifying the whole.” Wake Forest University scientist and professor of medicine Anthony Atala stated, “This new theory is certain to revolutionize our concepts of the laws of nature for centuries to come.” Richard Conn Henry, Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Johns Hopkins University, pointed out that Lanza’s theory is consistent with quantum mechanics: “What Lanza says in this book is not new. Then why does Robert have to say it at all? It is because we, the physicists, do NOT say it––or if we do say it, we only whisper it, and in private––furiously blushing as we mouth the words. True, yes; politically correct, hell no!” Indian physician and writer Deepak Chopra stated that “Lanza’s insights into the nature of consciousness [are] original and exciting” and that “his theory of biocentrism is consistent with the most ancient wisdom traditions of the world which says that consciousness conceives, governs, and becomes a physical world. It is the ground of our Being in which both subjective and objective reality come into existence.”
I haven´t been able to find this article on Wikipedia. When you on Wikipedia search “Biocentrism” you get two results: the one is Biocentrism (Ethics). Nothing related to Lanza; the other is Biocentric Universe. If you press this you will be re-directed to Robert Lanza on Wikipedia, which mainly is about his scientific work, and only briefly about Biocentrism.
So, the postulate that the above article is from Wikipedia is obvious fake (unless it has existed, but has been removed). Why Does Lanza attempt this easy transparent trick. He seems to be a respected scientist. It´s really puzzling me. You might could understand it if Wikipedia was to be taken as an authority. But anybody with just a small portion of scholar-ship ought to know that you shouldn´t. Many of the articles you find on Wikipedia are written by supporters of one or the other idea.
In their recent article in The Huffington Post, Evolution Reigns, But Darwin Outmoded Lanza and Deepak Chopra put forward their idea that the universe is itself a product of our consciousness, and not the other way around as scientists have been telling us.
In essence, they are re-inventing idealism, an old philosophical concept. According to the idealists, the mind creates all of reality. Many ancient Eastern and Western philosophical schools [seems to] subscribe to this idealistic notion of the nature of reality. In the modern context, idealism has been supplemented with a brand of quantum mysticism and relabeled as biocentrism. According to Chopra and Lanza, this idea makes Darwin’s theory of the biological evolution and diversification of life insignificant. Both these men, although they come from different backgrounds, have independently expressed these ideas before with some popular success. In the article under discussion their different styles converge to present a uniquely mystical and bizarre worldview. It is especially difficult to see, how you can combine idealism (reality is immaterial) with a concept such as Biocentrism, which claims that biology is the central scientific discipline (the science over all), since biology must be said to deal with the claim that the world and the human body are material (made up by matter). You might understand it better if you, like George Berkeley, supported subjective idealism, which is the monistic metaphysical doctrine that only minds and mental contents exist. An idea which has to rule out biology all together.
I have debunked idealism several places, but in relation to The Matrix Conspiracy, read my Matrix Dictionary entry on Simulation Theory. In relation to the misunderstandings of the idea that Western idealism fits well with the Eastern notion of Maya (life as an illusion), see my pop culture file on Star Wars (though there certainly are idealists in Eastern philosophy, then the main difference is that Western idealism hasn´t anything to do with spirituality and the concept of the enlightened consciousness. Western idealism only deals with the ordinary subject and consciousness).
So, apparently Lanza and Chopra have exclusive access to spreading their pseudoscience on Huffington Post. Probably because Robert Lanza appears to be a legitimate and accomplished physician [sic] and stem cell researcher, and Deepak Chopra a famous figure in popular culture. Unfortunately Lanza has decided to follow in the footsteps of Stephen Hawking in venturing outside his area of expertise into the world of pseudoscience (see The Matrix Dictionary entry on Stephen Hawking).
Lanza is promoting the idea of biocentrism, the notion that consciousness creates the universe, rather than simply being a physical phenomenon within the universe (in this I agree – I´m not a materialist). His ideas are remarkably similar to those of Deepak Chopra, which I have recently discussed (see The Matrix Dictionary entry on Deepak Chopra), but are stated in more coherent and less flowery prose. His views, however, are just as nonsensical.
Here is the abridged version of his arguments, which he lays out in his 2009 book. I found nothing new in Lanza’s ideas – he simply brings together now tired and long discredited distortions of physics and mystery mongering on the edge of scientific knowledge. I must point out that nowhere in his description of biocentrism is an actual scientific theory. He does not posit anything that results in testable predictions. His claim in the ”Wikipedia” article that future experiments, such as scaled-up quantum superposition, will either support or contradict the theory is utterly nonsense. It is a pseudoscientific trick which makes you believe that he accepts falsibility.
Rather, he seeks only to “explain” life, the universe, and everything, as if explaining is science. He is obvious, like Rupert Sheldrake, Stephen Hawkins, Gregg Braden, Joe Dispenza, etc., etc., etc., not aware that he is doing philosophy. Reductionism in a nutshell.
Similar to Chopra he builds his case on a number of arguments, all of which are either wrong or simply do not add up to his preferred explanation of biocentrism. They are:
– Scientists do not understand where the universe came from, and the Big Bang does not cover it [neither does Biocentrism].
– Quantum mechanics demonstrates that the universe only exists when being observed by a consciousness [a fatal mistake: see the Matrix Dictionary entry on Observer (Quantum Mechanics)].
– Scientists do not understand consciousness [true, science has not been able to explain consciousness, but Biocentrism doesn´t explain it either – on the contrary: it reduces consciousness to biology – it makes the same failure as another New Age biologist, Ken Wilber, who also promotes a theory of everything – see my article A Critique of Ken Wilber and his Integral Method].
– The laws of the universe are fine-tuned to allow life to exist, and scientists don’t understand why [Biocentrism doesn´t explain this either].
– Space and time are mysterious [Biocentrism doesn´t explain this either].
Lanza seeks to explain all these mysteries by making a huge and unwarranted leap – that consciousness creates reality. So, in reality he is just pulling an old philosophical idea up from his magic hat. Just like Rupert Sheldrake. This is then presented, not only as science, but as a “paradigm shift” in science.
He seems to think that because he can explain all these mysterious phenomena, that in any way lends weight to his ideas. However, he is simply substituting a deeper mystery – where did consciousness come from, what is consciousness, and how, exactly, does it create reality if reality is not out there?
Lanza is essentially making a “biocentrism of the gaps” argument. He might as well conclude that “goddidit” – that also would “explain” everything without actually presenting a testable hypothesis. One can invent an infinite number of such “explanations.” I think a giant pink turtle created everything. The GPT, as I like to call it, always existed and has whatever qualities are necessary to explain life, the universe, and everything. There, done.
It is precisely the same mistake the other Matrix Sophists do.
Where did the universe come from? This is without a doubt a scientific mystery. The Big Bang is not even an attempt to explain where the universe came from – it simply describes an event at the beginning of this universe. Whether or not the Big Bang emerged from “nothing” and exactly what “nothing” is, is an interesting question. If you are interested, I have made a philosophical suggestion in my article The Hero´s Journey and it´s pop culture variant Star Wars.
It is remarkable, however, that the “god-of-the-gaps” gurus who are trying to promote their own theory of everything by pointing to what is currently unexplained by science have to go all the way to the origin of the universe. I think that says something about where we are scientifically.
Lanza here is making a classic logical fallacy of the pseudoscientist – confusing currently unexplained with unexplainable. Just because we have not yet fully explained the origins of the universe, that does not mean that our current paradigms of physics and cosmology will not eventually provide at least a partial explanation. But consciousness will in my view never be explained since it, also in my view, is akin to the wholeness. In order to describe something you must be able to put the description in opposition to something else. What is good? This you know because you can put it in opposition to evil. You can´t put the wholeness in opposition to anything. Therefore the Taoists called it Tao, the inexpressible.
It’s not even a paradox – a conflict that cannot be resolved by current theories. Even paradoxes do not necessarily invalidate current theories, it could simply mean that they are incomplete. (I don’t want to get into the semantic argument about whether or not “incomplete” = “wrong.” Suffice it to say, that incomplete is a more accurate description.)
Lanza´s space and time arguments are essentially the same, although physicists are much further along in developing theories of space and time than about what happened “before” the Big Bang and where everything came from.
The core of Lanza’s argument rests on a misunderstanding of quantum mechanics. This is the most disappointing aspect of a generally disappointing argument, because it has so long been demolished by physicists. It´s even written in Lanza´s beloved Wikipedia. Lanza argues that nothing exists without an observer, and actually cites the double-slit experiments for support.
He is making two key mistakes here. The first is the confusion of “observer” with “consciousness” (actually his entire premise rests upon this fallacy). He states that when the physicist is looking, the light will go through the two slits as particles, making two clumps of light on the other side. If the physicist is not looking, however, the light will pass through as a wave and make an interference pattern.
This is wrong. The results of the experiment depend not at all on the presence or absence of an observer or a consciousness. What matters is whether or not there is a detector in each slit, detecting the presence of the photon as it passes through the slit. In other words, if the photon has to interact with any particle of matter, then the probability wave must collapse and it behaves like a particle. If the photon is not detected, however, then it continues to travel as a wave until it hits the film or photon detector on the other side of the slit, at which point the wave function collapses.
The only thing that matters is whether or not the photons are detected or interacted with in any way prior to or after passing through the slits. This has absolutely nothing to do with consciousness or an observer. What physicists call the observer in Quantum Mechanics, is the experimental devices, not the consciousness. This should actually be quite easy to contemplate, since everyone know that nobody can see the microphysical world with his senses alone. It takes a device to do it. This is the common misunderstanding shared by the quantum gurus.
Lanza’s second mistake (which all the Quantum Gurus also make) is to extrapolate from quantum experiments, in which conditions are very carefully controlled, to macroscopic conditions. He actually makes the analogy to your kitchen, as if your kitchen is not really there unless you are there to observe your kitchen. This shows the inspiration from postmodernism, where postmodernists extrapolate from quantum experiments to politics, especially left-wing politics (see my articles Constructivism: the Postmodern Intellectualism behind New Age and the Self-help Industry and The Sokal Hoax). The idea that the world doesn´t exist when you´re not there to observe it, is purely subjective idealism; that is: metaphysical solipsism. Metaphysical solipsists maintain that your own mind is the only existing reality and that all other realities, including the external world and other persons, are representations of that mind, and have no independent existence. It´s an incredible easy idea to debunk (again: see my Matrix Dictionary entry on Simulation theory). Moreover: it is an extremely frightening thought, which can be compared with the short stories of the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges. It is a vision of Hell that wants something: you yourself have to simulate infinity each and endless moment in an infinite past and infinite future. You have no family, no friends, no other humans to support you, and no other existence at all, except yourself and your Sisyphean mind-work. Ergo: there is no reason at all to share the idea because there is no one to share it with.
But of course, Lanza hasn´t got the philosophical training to even consider the consequences of his thoughts.
Nothing in quantum mechanism justifies such a macroscopic extrapolation. Particles interacting with each other collapse all the wave forms and once you get up to something like a kitchen all the quantum weirdness disappears and essentially classical physics predominates (there may be some really subtle effects around the edges, but the kitchen certainly does not disappear).
Lanza has a fundamental misunderstanding of quantum mechanics and the details and implications of experiments like the double-slit experiment. This alone obliterates his entire notion of biocentrism.
It is sad to see a mainstream scientist like Lanza give in to such rank pseudoscience, and then use his credentials to sell that pseudoscience to the public. Take a look again at his website – I don’t like to speculate too much about a person’s psychology or motivations, but I do think we see the telltale signs of an ego a bit out of control (see my article The Ego-inflation in the New Age and Self-help Environment).
This is consistent with the act of stepping outside one’s area of genuine expertise and expounding on grandiose theories that explain everything and seek to topple our understanding of reality, even over the heads of the actual experts in the relevant field.
Iznogoud (pronounced "he's/is no good" with a French accent) is a French comics series featuring an eponymous character, created by the comics writer René Goscinny and comics artist Jean Tabary. After the death of Goscinny in 1977 Tabary continued with writing the character. The comic series chronicles the life of Iznogoud, the Grand Vizier and second in command of Baghdad, at an undefined period in the past. His greatest desire is to replace the Caliph or Sultan of Baghdad Haroun El Plassid, leading him to repeatedly utter the phrase, "I want to be Caliph instead of the Caliph", a phrase that has been adopted in the French language to indicate overly ambitious people. Iznogoud is supported by his faithful servant, Wa'at Alahf.
On the page header of Lanza´s website, notice how he places his picture alongside Darwin and Einstein. Meanwhile, biocentrism is not even science. It is bad philosophy (Iznogood).
What is wrong with his “philosophy”? Besides the obvious distortion of science and philosophy in popular culture, then we know from history that the mix of biology and romantic religious mysticism based on idealism and feelings, is an explosive cocktail. The tendency is towards Fascism. And that is precisely what is happening (see the Matrix Dictionary entry on The Matrix Conspiracy Fascism).
Related in The Matrix Dictionary:
The Matrix Conspiracy Updates
The Matrix Conspiracy Fascism
Anti-intellectualism and Anti-science
Bridge between Science and Spirituality
The Matrix Conspiracy
The Fascism of Theosophy
A Critique of Ken Wilber and His Integral Method
A Critique of Richard Dawkins and the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI)
Time Travel and the Fascism of the WingMakers Project
A Critique of the Human Design System
The New Feminism and the Philosophy of Women´s Magazines
The Matrix Dictionary