Sunday, August 10, 2014


I have a fascination with consciousness, which is why I was excited to read Robert Lanza’s book,  Biocentrism.  The premise offered a tantalizing promise of further investigation into the nature of this mysterious aspect of the natural order.  And since Lanza and the co-author were recognized experts in their respective fields (biology and astronomy), a logical, analytical approach with strong supporting arguments was sure to follow.
Not so much.
Biocentrism is the idea that life and consciousness are fundamental aspects of reality, forces upon which the universe – and existence itself - depend.  That sounds intriguing.  Unfortunately, Lanza falls flat when it comes to offering any meaningful support for this concept.  While I didn’t expect a grand theory, it would have been helpful if the author had offered an opinion about the most basic questions the book presupposes, like “What is the nature of consciousness?”, “How does consciousness arise?”, “How does consciousness create reality?”   Instead, Lanza assumes all of these notions a priori, without offering any explanation whatsoever.

Lanza believes that quantum theory holds the key to understanding consciousness and he spends a great deal of time reporting on the results of quantum particle experiments.  He never manages to connect the dots, however, between these experiments and his general premise, instead making broad assumptions that one is necessarily correlated with the other simply because he wishes it to be so.

The one area of the book which holds promise is his treatment of the anthropic principle and a specific reference to physicist John (of "black hole" fame) Wheeler's concept of a "participatory universe".  But even here Lanza fails to use this to his advantage.  

Wheeler has stated that " every item of the physical world has at bottom—a very deep bottom, in most instances—an immaterial source and explanation; that which we call reality arises in the last analysis from the posing of yes–no questions and the registering of equipment-evoked responses; in short, that all things physical are information-theoretic in origin and that this is a participatory universe."

Yet this remarkable comment by a giant among scientists, which fully supports Lanza's thesis, appears nowhere in his chapter on the anthropic principle.  This kind of sloppy, colloquial approach quickly diminishes the book's authority.

Although passing itself off as a book based on the science of quantum theory, invoking Einstein’s name every third or fourth page, and repeatedly asserting that he has no interest in philosophy per se,  this is essentially a work of philosophy, not science, and poorly constructed philosophy at best.  Lanza’s premises are a superficial rehashing of George Berkeley’s Idealism, with a dash of Spinoza and (an apparently accidental) shot or two of Kant’s Transcendental views on space and time. 

All in all, Biocentrism is a muddy mishmash that left me completely dissatisfied and fails in its attempt to offer insight into the beautiful mystery that is consciousness and subjective experience.