My head hurts, does yours?
I stood there wondering if my fellow-passengers had been created by me. I wondered if the friends that I’d seen in Nottingham this past weekend no longer existed now that I wasn’t actually seeing them. My son is arriving on Friday next week to spend part of his gap year with me. He’s in Cape Town at the moment, out of my sight. Does he exist?
I’d been reading this article (by Robert Lanza) in the office just before leaving for home. You need to read it to get a clear understanding of its implications but I’ve summarized it for you. I used to read a lot about this kind of stuff but, in recent years, my mind has got lazy, happy to read nothing more complicated than the Sunday papers. I think Lanza’s article manages to get a bunch of concepts across in 7500 words whereas it takes many other writers a book to get across.
Be prepared for a long, roller-coaster journey from ancient Greek philosophy to modern-day scientific reality. A scientific reality that, despite the theories of quantum mechanics, largely fails to recognize those special properties of life that make it fundamental to material reality. To recognise how the subjective experience relates to a physical process you need to take a biocentric world view.
In 1927, Werner Heisenberg discovered the Uncertainty Principle, a cornerstone of quantum mechanics. You can know either the velocity of a particle or its location but not both. If you know one, you cannot know the other. As an analogy, think of a film which is made up of many individual frames. To see the film, you need to see the frames in motion but once they’re in motion, you’re unable to see each individual frame. From a biocentric perspective, this makes sense: time is the inner form of animal sense that animates events—the still frames—of the spatial world.
Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle has its root here: position (location in space) belongs to the outer world, and momentum (which involves the temporal) belongs to the inner world. Time is not a feature of the external spatial world. In Heisenberg’s words: “A path comes into existence only when you observe it.” There is neither time nor motion without life. Reality is not “there” with definite properties waiting to be discovered but actually comes into being depending upon the actions of the observer.
Twenty-five hundred years later, the Zeno arrow paradox finally makes sense.
Before Heisenberg shook up the world of physics with the Uncertainty Principle, Einstein had already shaken I up with his theories on relativity. His theories rely on a core concept of discrete entities and spacetime. He held that the speed of light is constant and that events in one place cannot influence events in another place simultaneously. In the relativity theory, the speed of light has to be taken into account for information to travel from one particle to another. However, experiment after experiment has shown that this is not the case. In 1965, Irish physicist John Bell created an experiment that showed that separate particles can influence each other instantaneously over great distances. The experiment has been performed numerous times and confirms that the properties of polarized light are correlated, or linked, no matter how far apart the particles are. There is some kind of instantaneous—faster than light—communication between them. All of this implies that Einstein’s concept of spacetime, neatly divided into separate regions by light velocity, is untenable. Instead, the entities we observe are floating in a field of mind that is not limited by an external spacetime.
The experiments of Heisenberg and Bell call us back to experience itself, the immediacy of the infinite here and now, and shake our unexamined trust in objective reality. But another support for biocentrism is the famous two hole experiment, which demands that we go one step further: Zeno’s arrow doesn’t exist, much less fly, without an observer. The two-hole experiment goes straight to the core of quantum physics. Scientists have discovered that if they “watch” a subatomic particle pass through holes on a barrier, it behaves like a particle: like a tiny bullet, it passes through one or the other holes. But if the scientists do not observe the particle, then it exhibits the behavior of a wave. In short: If observed, particles behave like objects; if unobserved, they behave like waves and can go through more than one hole at the same time.
Dubbed quantum weirdness, this wave-particle duality has lead science to concede that quantum physics is incomprehensible outside of complex mathematics. How can quantum physics be so impervious to metaphor, visualization, and language?
A particle cannot be thought of as having any definite existence—either duration or a position in space—until we observe it. Until the mind sets the scaffolding of an object in place, an object cannot be thought of as being either here or there. Thus, quantum waves merely define the potential location a particle can occupy. A wave of probability isn’t an event or a phenomenon, it is a description of the likelihood of an event or phenomenon occurring. Nothing happens until the event is actually observed. If you watch it go through the barrier, then the wave function collapses and the particle goes through one hole or the other. If you don’t watch it, then the particle detectors will show that it can go through more than one hole at the same time.
Science has been grappling with the implications of the wave-particle duality ever since its discovery in the first half of the 20th century. But few people accept this principle at face value. The Copenhagen interpretation, put in place by Heisenberg, Niels Bohr, and Born in the 1920s, set out to do just that. But it was too unsettling a shift in worldview to accept in full. At present, the implications of these experiments are conveniently ignored by limiting the notion of quantum behaviour to the microscopic world. But doing this has no basis in reason, and it is being challenged in laboratories around the world. New experiments carried out with huge molecules called buckyballs show that quantum reality extends into the macroscopic world as well. Experiments make it clear that another weird quantum phenomenon known as entanglement, which is usually associated with the micro world, is also relevant on macro scales. An exciting experiment, recently proposed (so-called scaled-up superposition), would furnish the most powerful evidence to date that the biocentric view of the world is correct at the level of living organisms.
One of the main reasons most people reject the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum theory is that it leads to the dreaded doctrine of solipsism. The late Heinz Pagels once commented: "If you deny the objectivity of the world unless you observe it and are conscious of it, then you end up with solipsism—the belief that your consciousness is the only one."
Physical reality begins and ends with the animal observer. All other times and places, all other objects and events are products of the imagination, and serve only to unite knowledge into a logical whole. We are pleased with such books as Newton’s Principia, or Darwin’s Origin of Species. But they instill a complacency in the reader. Darwin spoke of the possibility that life emerged from inorganic matter in some “warm little pond.” Trying to trace life down through simpler stages is one thing, but assuming it arose spontaneously from nonliving matter wants for the rigour and attention of the quantum theorist.
Physicists believe that the theory of everything is hovering right around the corner, and yet consciousness is still largely a mystery, and physicists have no idea how to explain its existence from physical laws. The questions physicists long to ask about nature are bound up with the problem of consciousness. Physics can furnish no answers for them.
Space and time, not proteins and neurons, hold the answer to the problem of consciousness. Our thoughts have an order, not of themselves, but because the mind generates the spatio-temporal relationships involved in every experience.
We can never have any experience that does not conform to these relationships, for they are the modes of animal logic that mold sensations into objects. It would be erroneous, therefore, to conceive of the mind as existing in space and time before this process, as existing in the circuitry of the brain before the understanding posits in it a spatio-temporal order.
We are living through a profound shift in worldview, from the belief that time and space are entities in the universe to one in which time and space belong to the living. Think of all the recent book titles—The End of Science, The End of History, The End of Eternity, The End of Certainty, The End of Nature, and The End of Time. Only for a moment, while we sort out the reality that time and space do not exist, will it feel like madness.
Do you see what I mean about a sore head? Are you wondering if I actually exist? I’ve never seen most of the people who read this blog so I really can’t be sure if any of you exist. In fact, I can’t be sure that those I’ve actually met actually exist. Although I saw Mike last weekend and I’m sure that his collaborative book for Comic Relief, ‘Shaggy Blog Stories’, will be available to buy from tomorrow (BUY IT!!), I’m not sure if he exists right now.
This kind of sore head feels so different to the one I had on Sunday morning after a night out in Nottingham.