Woo on Huffpo: Robert Lanza's theory of everything

Man, it's like the ink had barely dried on my last write-up of biocentrism when Robert Lanza penned an awful op-ed over at Huffpo hawking his pseudoscientific rubbish. I love physics and cosmology, so when I saw the link to an article that said, "Why are you here? A new theory may hold the missing piece." I excitedly clicked the link expecting to read some fascinating new theory from a reputable physicist. Instead, I got Robert Lanza, who knows absolutely nothing about physics, talking up his pet theory. Rather than rehash my criticisms of the theory itself (it's not even a proper theory in any sense of the word), I'm going to comment on a few statements that stood out to me for their face-palming stupidity.
Even setting aside the issue of being here and now, the probability of random physical laws and events leading to this point is less than 1 out of 100,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, equivalent to winning every lottery there ever was.
Actually no, the probability of us being here is exactly 1. It's already happened. And I'm sorry, but Lanza pulled this giant number completely out of his ass. It's impossible to retroactively calculate the innumerable cosmic and evolutionary variables that led to us being here over 13.7 billion years. What we do know is that no matter how improbable our existence may be, we know that some order had to arise from the universe. But the important thing to consider is that we didn't have to be here. The universe is not teleological, with some magical plan that reaches its apex with the rise of the human race. We know already that there are many other planets with Earth-like climates that could support life just within a galactic stone's throw, and our galaxy alone may well be home to millions of Earth-like planets teeming with life. Presumably, the creatures on those worlds would find that the conditions were "just right" for them to evolve as well.

The evolutionists are trying to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. They think we, the observer, are a mindless accident, debris left over from an explosion that appeared out of nowhere one day.
"The evolutionists"? Last I checked, evolution is the science of the diversity of life. Lanza clearly does not understand that cosmology, abiogenesis and evolution are all distinct scientific disciplines. We are indeed an "accident", but who said we are "mindless" or "debris", and who on Earth thinks the big bang was an "explosion" that occurred "out of nowhere one day"? This kind of equivocating is typical of pseudoscientific hucksters. The more dramatically you misrepresent science, the more compelling your alternate narrative will seem. But it's nonsense. For the record: the big bang was the expansion of the fabric of space-time, not an "explosion", and there was no such thing as a "day" prior to the big bang because time as we know it did not exist.
Cosmologists propose that the universe was until recently a lifeless collection of particles bouncing against each other. It's presented as a watch that somehow wound itself up, and that will unwind in a semi-predictable way. But they've shunted a critical component of the cosmos out of the way because they don't know what to do with it. This component, consciousness, isn't a small item. It's an utter mystery, which we think has somehow arisen from molecules and goo.
 If by "recently" he means up until about 3.5 billion years ago, yeah, the universe – at least our corner of it – was pretty lifeless (as is typical of his writing, the language "lifeless collection of particles bouncing against each other" profoundly oversimplifies the deep complexity of the universe). Other systems could have formed stars and planets a bit sooner than ours. But Lanza quickly retreats into an argument from ignorance, erroneously suggesting that consciousness is this Big Mysterious Thing that arose from "goo". Goo? Really? Really? I would love to learn about this scientific theory of goo. Last I checked, the compounds needed for life were synthesized in ancient stars, collected on our planet by the force of gravity, and uncountable chemical reactions over a billion years just to form basic RNA. Once cells became complex enough to replicate, life got a big kick-start. The laws of physics and chemistry are a long way from "goo", and Lanza should know this.
The story of evolution reads just like "The Story of the Three Bears," In the nursery tale, a little girl named Goldilocks enters a home occupied by three bears and tries different bowls of porridge; some are too hot, some are too cold. She also tries different chairs and beds, and every time, the third is "just right." For 13.7 billion years we, too, have had chronic good luck. Virtually everything has been "just right."
Well duh. We are here. If everything had not been exactly the way it was, we would not be here. So, who says we had to be here? Scientists will tell you that our existence is an outcome of the physical laws of the universe. But Lanza wants you to believe that you are so special that you are the reason there is a universe at all:
Indeed, according to biocentrism, it's us, the observer, who create space and time (which is the reason you're here now). Consider everything you see around you right now. Language and custom say it all lies outside us in the external world. Yet you can't see anything through the vault of bone that surrounds your brain. Your eyes aren't just portals to the world. In fact, everything you experience, including your body, is part of an active process occurring in your mind. Space and time are simply the mind's tools for putting it all together.
Theoretical physicists Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow recently stated:
"There is no way to remove the observer -- us -- from our perceptions of the world ... In classical physics, the past is assumed to exist as a definite series of events, but according to quantum physics, the past, like the future, is indefinite and exists only as a spectrum of possibilities."
The first of these paragraphs is a skillful exercise in inanity. But he's suggesting that instead of our minds interpreting and forming a model of reality, our minds actually create reality. The problem is that there's absolutely no reason to think the latter is the case, and every imaginable reason to think the former – not the least of which is the paradoxical question of how our minds could have evolved to their current state if space-time did not exist until we were clever enough to imagine it, or why we all view the same objective reality.

The second paragraph is a ridiculous quote-mine from Stephen Hawking's new book. Hawking maintains that there is no observer-dependent model of reality and that accordingly, we do not have an absolute understanding of reality but a contingent, provisional, model-based conceptualization. That's not quite so profound; it's impossible to take the observer out of reality if we want to observe it. But suggesting that the observer inevitably interacts with and interprets reality is a far cry from suggesting that the observer creates reality.

It's a good thing Victor Stenger writes for Huffpo. Maybe Lanza should leave the science to, you know... scientists.


Update: Steve Novella has posted his own critical response over at NeuroLogica.

Comments

Popular Posts