Deleted Comment On Robert Lanza Nonsense

Posted the following on Psychology Today’s Robert Lanza article. The comment seems to have been accepted, in that another comment appeared that said something critical too, and acknowledged my comment. Both comments have been deleted. A favourable comment has been left on.

I commented on another Robert Lanza post earlier in the week (see my post). That vanished too, although at first I wondered if I’d actually posted the comment, or if, you know, the captcha bit had screwed up or something. I’m used to seeing unfavourable comments being deleted from the blogs of crazies. Does Psychology Today have any credibility? Who’s doing the deleting? I wouldn’t want to think it was Robert Lanza himself – unless of course it is.

I’ve not been following Psychology Today for long. My current impression of it is it’s a woo site geared very specifically to looking credible so that it can sell its crazier stuff to unsuspecting readers. Anyone else got any views on Psychology Today?

Anyway, this is what I wrote…

What incoherent nonsense. And such a misleading title. No evidence is offered.

“A string of new scientific experiments helps answer this ancient spiritual question.”…”As I sit here in my office surrounded by piles of scientific books, I can’t find a single reference to the soul”

Which experiments? Not any that are explained in science books, apparently. Certainly not any that are mentioned in this article (two-slit experiment).

“Recently, biocentrism and other scientific theories have also started to challenge the old physical-chemical paradigm…”

Which other scientific theories?

“This [two-slit experiment] and other experiments [which other, I ask again?] tell us that unobserved particles exist only as ‘waves of probability’…” – Okay, some experiments tell us this much. But that’s not really telling us the soul exists. Failed.

“They’re statistical predictions – nothing but a likely outcome. Until observed, they have no real existence; only when the mind sets the scaffolding in place, can they be thought of as having duration or a position in space.”

Depends what you mean by ‘observe’. It doesn’t require human consciousness, just any interaction. Human consciousness observes, after all, only after intermediate events have occurred: light emitted from observed object, reaction on the retina, transmission of chemical-electrical impulses along neurons,…

“Experiments make it increasingly clear that even mere knowledge in the experimenter’s mind is sufficient to convert possibility to reality.”

Which experiments?

“…showed that quantum weirdness also occurs in the human-scale world. They studied huge compounds composed of up to 430 atoms, and confirmed that this strange quantum behavior extends into the larger world we live in.”

Yes. But nothing to do with consciousness.

“Importantly, this has a direct bearing on the question of whether humans and other living creatures have souls.”

Really? well then it also has a bearing on whether a rock has a soul, because the quantum nature of matter applies to all matter, not just conscious humans.

Consider this. If consciousness is related to quantum nature of matter, then my consciousness has bits of consciousness of every living creature in the past that has shared the atoms that make up my conscious brain. And when I die and I’m buried, I will decay and contribute my atoms to bacteria, and then to plants, and then to insects, to mammals, to other humans, throughout the food chain – from my death to the end of human civilization. If I’m cremated and I go up in smoke the feedback of my consciousness will be breathed in pretty quickly and shared among many plants and animals and no doubt some humans.

If you want to detach the soul from this material quantum connection and insist it is something separate from matter, something spiritual, then all this quantum nonsense is totally irrelevant.

Get a grip man. Get a life. It would be generous to call this pseudo-science. But there’s no science whatsoever that applies to biocentrism. What there is is the massaging of current science that is still on the edge of human understanding to cherry pick the bits that are little understood but that sound spooky enough.

Where’s the science? Where’s the evidence?

Biocentrism – How life and consciousness are the keys to the universe?

[Part of a set on Consciousness]

Psychology Today continues to publish junk mixed in with some science. Biocentrism gets its turn. Robert Lanza peddles it in this article: Why Do You Exist? Don’t look to the sky and gods for answers. It lies deeper. (Not sure about deeper; more Deepak).

A few hundred years ago when they were trying to make gold from other elements many people would have wondered at the mystery of God’s creation and said it wouldn’t be possible, or even that we shouldn’t try to understand God’s creation.

But now we know you can make gold from other elements, if you have the right technology for constructing elements of gold from sub-atomic elements, because we now know how gold is composed of them.

It seems with the brain’s workings we are still in the dark.

There are two issues: ontological and epistemological.

Epistemologically it’s true we still don’t know enough about the brain to figure out how consciousness emerges within a brain to be able to say how that happens, or how to build an ‘artificial’ container of consciousness, AI.

But, ontologically, we have found nothing in addition to the basic physics that goes to construct atoms, molecules, proteins, cells, neurons, brains. Mind-body dualists have nothing to show for the mind or the soul as ontological entities. It appears to be physics all the way; but that we don’t yet understand how that works doesn’t count as evidence against that view.

Articles like this are two-a-penny. If you re-read you find that some basic statements of fact take up most of the article, while the final few paragraphs really just re-state the fact that we don’t know enough about the brain to understand consciousness. Of course it helps to wrap it all up in a bit of mystery – I gather some people like that.

“That’s why in real experiments, the properties of matter – and space and time themselves — depend on the observer. Your consciousness isn’t just part of the equation — the equation is you.”

But we are just properties of matter – space and time themselves. Or rather, there’s no evidence to the contrary. Your consciousness is part of the equation, as are you. Observers (you and me) are part of the system. As is any spider. As is a telescope. It’s all matter interacting – just that some matter interacts in a more complex chaotic way than others, depending on its formation. And some of that matter exists in a state of self-examination. And some of that matter imagines all sorts of mysteries to explain itself.

“The answer to life and the universe can’t be found by looking through a telescope or examining the finches of the Galapagos. It lies much deeper. Our consciousness is why they exist.”

I think we’ve found out far more about life by doing just those things than by all the mysticisms we have tried for millennia. On what scientific grounds can it be said that “our consciousness is why they exist”? Is the author descending into philosophical solipsism rather then science? (Well, yes – see later) All our senses and reasoning tell us that stuff exists, and that the tricky bit is that we don’t know how reliable our consciousness is, even with all of science at our disposal, at discerning the bedrock of reality – or even if there is such a thing.

Our biggest problems are epistemological, and that’s the route of our difficulty of establishing the ontological. The signs of the ontology of stuff are strong (a point Samuel Johnson made with “I refute it thus.”) – so strong we are convinced that we, our bodies, are actually here as containers of consciousness. As much as we might feel or want consciousness to be something special, something extra, there’s no evidence that it is.

“The answer to life and the universe…” – What pretentious nonsense. What’s the question? What does it mean, really, to suppose the you can form a specific question about life and the universe? There are many questions we may form about life, and about the universe, and about life in the universe – but the general ‘question’ of ‘life and the universe’ is incoherent. That someone’s consciousness can suppose it is coherent, and then go on to such incoherent drivel as this: “It unifies the thinking and extended worlds into a coherent experience and animates the music that creates our emotions and purposes — the good and the bad, wars and love.”

What unifies the thinking? Consciousness? Well it would wouldn’t it?

It unifies the thinking and *extended worlds*? What does this mean? To unify extended worlds, or to unify consciousness with extended worlds? What extended worlds?

And animates the music that creates our emotions? I thought biological processes animated our emotions.

…and purposes? OK, our consciousness, our self reflection, on our cultural life histories and on our memories and our emotional drives, animates, creates, our purposes in life – we construct purpose for ourselves.

“It doesn’t load the dice for you to play the game of life.” – What?

“But as Will Durant pointed out…” – Very good. Basically, we need to get on with life while we’re trying to figure it out. Bear in mind that many people, if not most, just get on with life without too much of this reflection of where we come from, what we are made of, how we tick.

“In whatever form it takes, life sings because it has a song. The meaning is in the lyrics.” – I suppose it helps to maintain the mysticism if you end on a bit of poetic prose. But really, what has this contributed to our greater understanding other than to cloud it in more mystery?

But, back to the top of the page:

“Biocentrism – How life and consciousness are the keys to the universe.”

OK, I could see how solipsism could be used to suppose everything we think is real is instead constructed by a mind. But then we wouldn’t be able to tell if there was one mind, or many. Is it my mind, my consciousness that’s constructing you, or are you constructing me? Is there just me, or just you? Or, are we really multiple consciousnesses? How does all that work?

But, how *life* and consciousness… this seems to presuppose life in order to create a universe that then creates life? What’s this all about.

Not surprisingly not everyone is impressed by biocentrism.

“Lanza believes experiments already in progress or recently completed could validate his idea”

Specifics would be helpful.

Don’t get me wrong, Robert Lanza may be a great cell biologist – that’s for his peers to evaluate. But he joins a bunch of other scientists who have gone off on flights of fancy supposing that they have the answer to life the universe and everything (which we all know is 42 – job done, he’s wasting his time).

Be warned, his book, Biocentrism, has this from Deepak Chopra on the cover: “Original and exciting”.

I will read the book. But I’ll wait for a cheap second hand copy. It’s always a problem trying to weigh up the pros and cons of buying these books. If you’re going to criticise the ideas it’s at least fair to give them a full read. On the other hand finding that it’s junk after you’ve increased the royalties and contributed to the promotion of pretentious tosh is a bit irksome.