Pharyngula

Nice debunking of biocentrism

Robert Lanza and Deepak Chopra (just the fact that he is associated with it should discredit it right there) have been peddling this bizarre notion of Biocentrism, the idea that the universe is the product of human awareness — it’s a kind of upscale version of The Secret, gussied up with more science vocabulary. The gang at Nirmukta have put together a long dissection of Lanza’s bad physics, well worth a read.

Comments

  1. #1 Andrew T
    December 15, 2009

    And no one there thought to ask how the universe came into being before there were humans around?

    I’m sure the details are in their “gussied up…science vocabulary.”

  2. #2 Free Lunch
    December 15, 2009

    Does this mean that the universe is expanding because there are more people?

  3. #3 t3knomanser
    December 15, 2009

    Hey, wait a second. The author gets down on idealism. I am a metaphysical idealist. Of course, I mean it in the sense that material objects aren’t material at all, but bundles of information, and physical laws are simply the rules for processing that information.

    There’s nothing inherently wrong with idealism. That doesn’t change the fact that Deepak Chopra is spectacularly wrong and his philosophy is revolting. But hey, don’t tar all us idealists along with him.

  4. #4 Celtic_Evolution
    December 15, 2009

    Oh, will I love referencing this little gem from the “conclusions” section every time the subject comes up around here (and other places):

    “Modern quantum theory, long after the now-discredited Copenhagen interpretation, is consistent with the idea of an objective universe that exists without a conscious observer.”

  5. #5 skeetar
    December 15, 2009

    The quotes at the end gave me a headache.

  6. #6 Free Lunch
    December 15, 2009

    Zeno’s Arrow? Really? I like the quote from Bertrand Russell in the Wikipedia article about this:

    Georg Cantor invented a theory of continuity and a theory of infinity which did away with all the old paradoxes upon which philosophers had battened. … Philosophers met the situation by not reading the authors concerned.

    The whole point of that group of paradoxes is that they are demonstrably wrong and the student’s job is to understand ways in which error could have been introduced into the problem. Lanza and Chopra have demonstrated only that they cannot think clearly.

  7. #7 Sigmund
    December 15, 2009

    Deepak also makes an appearance in the woo version of the Symphony of Science remix.
    http://sneerreview.blogspot.com/2009/12/symphony-of-pseudoscience.html

  8. #8 ConcernedJoe
    December 15, 2009

    Wow the “mysterious gods of sign in” finally have accepted my humble offerings and graced me with comment ability!! Praise be to TypePad!

    Andrew # 1 and FreeLunch #6 yup and yup — all this and more so obviously illustrates the deficiencies in their “logic” and “facts” that I was frozen by the stupid of these guys it is so chilling.

    But to be fair they probably are not THAT stupid at all methinks – rather they have a shtick and customers for it and they have mastered a way of making a fabulous living and getting adulation and perks without doing anything hard and useful like real science and facing reality. Just saying.

  9. #9 bgsmith42
    December 15, 2009
    Give a thermometer to a human and to an ass….

    Heck, give it to Deepak Chopra and you’ve done both.

  10. #10 aduzik.myopenid.com
    December 15, 2009

    The very act of debunking a fever dream like biocentrism grants it as much legitimacy as Bigfoot and Nessie. Expect FOX to air a special this spring.

  11. #11 https://me.yahoo.com/a_ray_in_dilbert_space#6e51c
    December 15, 2009

    OK, Chopra is a nut, but this guy has some very odd ideas about the Copenhagen Interpretation that are not at all consistent with what Heisenberg and especially Bohr said.
    The Copenhagen interpretation is in no way inconsistent with some of the other interpretations he mentions–including the Quantum Darwinistic and Path Integral approaches.
    There is certainly no requirement that the “observer” be conscious to cause wave function collapse. In fact, in Bohr’s complementarity, you couldn’t even draw a definitive line in any system between observer and observed without introducing contradictions.

    There is also no line where a system stops being quantum–indeed, there has been considerable headway applying the Schroedinger equation to mesoscopic objects.

    I would contend that complementarity is still the most economical framework for interpreting quantum mechanics. It is about as free of woo as anything out there.

  12. #12 mothra
    December 15, 2009

    Dan Simmons should sue- he already explored this idea in “Vanni Fucci is alive and well and living in Hell.’ A GREAT short story from his ‘Prayers to broken stones’ collection.

  13. #13 jbeck.myopenid.com
    December 15, 2009

    I wish Chopra had read up a little on Bhadrabahu and Kanaada, Jain philosophers of the 5th BCE who made short shrift of infinity paradoxes and producing a smart articulation of the idea of infinity. Anthropo/biocentrism is all but alien to the philosophies that Chops claims to lean on. Ken Miller too has said more than once that he does not consider that the human being is the pinnacle of creation, it could have been an invertebrate, for which he has taken not a little flak from the creationists.

  14. #14 The Guy
    December 15, 2009

    Actually their theory is not far from the truth, but instead of the perceptions of humanity as a whole, the universe is really formed from the perceptions of a single Japanese high school girl.

    Praise be to Haruhi.

  15. #15 Dezn
    December 15, 2009

    I mean I appreciate the effort of a good debunking but the author of the article is providing too much speculation and a lot of opinion into the piece. Especially with his conclusion that somehow the Copenhagen interpretation is now discredited. What was that? I understand that decoherence is gaining ground, many are looking at the MW interpretation, quantum computing, and there is a matter of the superconducting quantum interference devices unveiling Schrodingers cat….. but the Copenhagen interpretation is far from “discredited.” Losing its favor, sure, but it is not discredited. I am a physics student so I have access to the professors that are researching this field, I will ask them what they think about the articles “debunking” Copenhagen. I will be back with an update with in a few hours. As far as I know, I was taught and we are still teaching that interpretation..though I am no expert on the matter.

  16. #16 MetzO'Magic
    December 15, 2009

    @The Guy #14

    …the universe is really formed from the perceptions of a single Japanese high school girl.

    Well, that’s a relief. I thought it had only formed last Thursday.

  17. #17 https://me.yahoo.com/a_ray_in_dilbert_space#6e51c
    December 15, 2009

    “…the universe is really formed from the perceptions of a single Japanese high school girl.”

    She’s single?

  18. #18 JBlilie
    December 15, 2009

    Deepak Chopra is a financial success. Thus is proved Barnum’s Law: There’s a new one born every day.

  19. #19 Anri
    December 15, 2009

    I was just glancing over the Wiki article on the paradoxes, and I think I have found some special pleading inherent in the setup:

    If one is willing to assume that there are an infinite number of point to pass in moving any given distance, why would one be unwilling to assume ‘equally infinite’ opportunities for action in the same space to arrive at those points?

    In other words, why is concept of an infinite number of distances adding up to a finite distance (how far to overtake the trutle) any more acceptable than an infinite number of periods of time adding up to a finite period of time (the time required to catch up to the turtle)?

    It really seems as though there is an assumption that you can have an infinity of some things, but not other things.

    Maybe I’m utterly off base here.

    Anyway, yeah, it’s becoming an increasingly safe bet that if Deepak says something, anything, immediately contradicting him is more likely to get you on the side of reality.
    If the dude said he’d had lamb shanks for lunch, I’d expect to find a lobster bib still hanging around his neck…

  20. #20 Sastra
    December 15, 2009

    If quantum physics actually did confirm that the material world is the product of consciousness, then why are physicists not promoting and endorsing this as the mainstream consensus? Once again, someone is both claiming solid scientific support while simultaneously denigrating the entire scientific enterprise as a closed-minded cabal of unimaginative misfits.

    You can’t have it both ways. These guys are still ‘gurus’ looking for people who want to believe in them, so that they can believe in themselves.

  21. #21 Didac
    December 15, 2009

    I’ve lost my previous message thanks to Movable Type. More or less said that: “All of you are spikes on my neural networks. But it’s not true that you are ‘only’ spikes on my neural networks. I’m pretty sure about my existence as a spike in some of your neural networks. And I’m pretty sure about the existence of a external reality to both me and you.” It was better, but Movable Type has prefered this version. (Fourth Try)

  22. #22 IanW
    December 15, 2009

    Well, it was a good and informative article, and I’m certainly no Lanza sympathizer in any way. Just a couple of points, however:

    1). He does not really get around the objectivity problem, or provide an explanation of how subjectivity can exist in an objective physical context. Some feel that the eliminativists have, some don’t. I’m one of those who don’t – you can’t sneak subjectivity in the back door with philosophy, when there is no place for it in current physics.

    2). Regarding the idea of “objectivity is all there is”, consider a universe where there is no subjective awareness. There would be plenty of biological automatons carrying out “objective” processes. But if nothing would ever be aware (in the conscious sense) of the universe’s existence, it might as well not exist at all. Makes you wonder about the definition of existence.

    3). Regarding temporal objectivity: I don’t see any adequate explanation for the present, or how a unique, moving “now” can exist in our experience.

    4). The problem of spatial objectivity is poorly addressed. Let’s say you’re having dinner with some people – they could even be PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins. You notice that each of you has some interesting properties. You’re wearing a cool tee-shirt, PZ has a scraggly beard, and Dawkins has an elegant british accent. All of these properties have understandable explanations (well, maybe not the beard). But there is one property that doesn’t: the observation that reality is being experienced from your perspective instead of one of theirs – that is an asymmetry with no conceivable physical explanation. Why you? Why not Dawkins just a meter away, or the dog laying on the floor, or the fly on the ceiling, or an alien in another galaxy? There may be an immense number of conscious beings in this universe, so why earth, and why you? What’s so special about your collection of atoms, and why is your perspective so obviously preferred? That is simply what is being observed. You may reply that many other beings are indeed experiencing reality, but that is still technically an assumption (although an excellent one), since their subjectivity is not an observable property of their bodies, and is not a true observation like your own experience. There is still an observed asymmetry, whether they experience reality or not.

    Your own perspective is actually the most fundamental observation possible and all other observations occur within its context. Everything that you think you know – all the science, math, art, philosophy, religion, politics, etc – none of it has ever actually been separated from your perspective and experience. Perspective would not be a problem for an automaton, since it does not experience reality in any way, although other beings with subjectivity may experience the automaton. And in the more general case, why should reality be experienced from any specific perspective at all? In objective physics, there is only one imaginary God-like, birds-eye perspective (imaginary is the key word). And from that perspective, the universe should behave like one big objective machine, with no preferred perspectives inside it. But that model is contradicted by your own unique observation. Why? No physical answers are possible. An easy philosophical answer would some kind of absolute idealism (solipsism), but that creates many more problems than it solves.

  23. #23 nic nicholson
    December 15, 2009

    I think, from now on, instead of calling him “mystic Deepak Chopra”, he should be referred to as “Charlatan Deepak Chopra”.

    That will make things a little more accurate, don’t you think? Does he really believe his BS?

  24. #24 truck boat truck
    December 15, 2009

    As soon as I saw that article up on HuffPo I face-palmed.

    The dreadful crud that Arianna Huffington allows to go out under her banner is shameful.

  25. #25 SmilingSkeptic
    December 15, 2009

    What is the sound of one hand slapping?

    (facepalm)

  26. #26 Fred
    December 16, 2009

    I think it was Peter Medawar that wrote that if it’s a subjective universe, a rocket would hit the moon no matter how it’s launched.

  27. #27 Jesse
    December 16, 2009

    It seems to me the same old “brain in a vat” problem.

    We can’t prove that we aren’t brains in the Matrix. There really isn’t (strictly speaking and assuming a sufficiently clever Matrix design) a good way to do a scientific experiment to prove the question one way or the other.

    But it seems to me that since we can understand the universe around us as presented, so to speak, and the assumption that objective reality of some kind exists sees to work, let’s go with that. The question of whether we are brains in a vat or the dream of a butterfly doesn’t seem to me relevant to the problems at hand, you know? Or rather, it isn’t scientifically even addressable, by definition.

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