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addabook - Biocentrism
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How Life and Consciousness are the Keys to Understanding the True Nature of the Universe
Robert Lanza
read on July 1, 2013

This book starts off very strong but then totally goes off the rails. After the first quarter I was ready to recommend it to friends, but now, not so much. The main idea here is that the universe is not anything like the standard physical model that we all more-or-less understand it to be. The universe isn't a thing that exists, but rather it's a framework that is created by our conscious mind. The first 80% of this I can actually buy. Lanza actually kicks things off in a really accessible way talking about how what we see and hear doesn't actually exist the way that we perceive them to. Those things are just sensations based on a very narrow and particular set of circumstances (vibrations from 20-20K decibels, light in 400-800nm wavelengths). While these sensations are (by definition) observable elements of the universe, they are an extremely narrow band in terms of what might be observable overall, to beings with other senses. It's crazy to think that we observe the universe as it is. Our senses evolved to help us find bananas, basically - not to observe the nature of the universe. 

Most of the ideas were very interesting, and merited good discussion. For me, I lost it because 1) every third chapter or so covers his past and personal life experiences, and has absolutely nothing to do with the message of the book at all - and 2) by the end of the book he's arguing that biocentrism is the only possible right answer, which seems... closed-minded.

I particularly liked the ideas he had about time - it just being a structure for how humans observe change, and not necessarily the two dimensional march forward that we seem to perceive it as. He said time was like playing a record. The entire record exists the whole time, but you can only hear/experience it one note at a time. That's not an easy concept to wrap your head around - and annoyingly it's pretty much an impossible one to try to prove or discuss with others, but I think it's an interesting concept, and I've been thinking about it lately. It's just interesting to think about the entire continuum of time existing all at once. I think it actually makes life much more salient. What if every decision you made, every single action you ever take, doesn't just affect the present... but what if it's written in stone, forever? What if the record gets played over and over? It's just kind of odd. (And, well, you'd need to get over the fact that if this actually were a record, almost by definition free will would need to be an illusion). Anyway, I've always thought of life as an orchestra performance. Something that happens once, live. thinking of it as a record kind of changes things.

Lastly, for a book entirely centered around consciousness, he never bothered to define it! That drove me crazy. Are cats conscious? Are cows? Ants? Plants? Rivers?

Lanza outlines his case throughout the book using his following principals, which also act as a good summary.

  1. What we perceive as reality is a process that involves our consciousness, an external reality, if it existed, would by definition have to exist in space, but this is meaningless because space and time are not absolute realities but rather tools of the human and animal mind.
  2. Our external and internal perceptions are inextricably intertwined. They are different sides of the same coin and cannot be divorced from one another.
  3. The behavior of subatomic particles indeed all particles and objects, is inextricably linked to an observer. Without the presence of a conscious observer, they, at best, exist in an undetermined state of probability waves.
  4. Without consciousness, matter dwells in an undetermined state of probability. Any universe that could have preceded conciousness only could have existed in a probability state.
  5. The structure of the universe is explainable only through biocentrism. The universe is fine tuned for life, which makes perfect sense, as life creates the universe, not the other way around. The universe is simply the complete spacio-temporal logic of the self.
  6. Time does not have a real existence outside of animal sense perception. It is the process by which we perceive changes in the universe.
  7. Space, like time, is not an object or a thing. Space is another form of our animal understanding and does not have an independent reality. We carry space and time around with us like turtles with shells. Thus, there is no absolute self-existing matrix in which physical events occur independent of life.

Author Bio:

Robert Lanza (born 11 February 1956) is an American medical doctor and scientist. He 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.