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Apparently, according to biocentrism, the living organism came first, and its perception brings the universe into existence. But then how did the living organism come to exist in the first place?

I think in this theory, everything is an uncollapsed probability function until the "probability" for a conscious observer occurs and then the wave function collapses and you have a universe with consciousness in it. But it doesn't explain how the first wave function collapses without consciousness. Therefore I think you are correct when you write:

But if they were to drop the materialist assumption that consciousness must be grounded in physical or material systems (e.g., the nervous system), they might have a more elegant theory.

I agree, this is a better approach. I don't see how they can believe in materialism and at the same time say consciousness brings the universe into existence. How can they think biological matter is different from non-biological matter to the extent that some arrangement of mere atoms can instantiate an entire universe while other arrangements of atomes can't?

Their book sounds like a good argument for non material consciousness.

From my perspective, the theory might be more persuasive if the emphasis were placed not so much on living organisms -- biological entities -- but instead on consciousness as such

This is the key point. Placing biological entities before physical entities (when biological organisms are physical too) is like to put the cart before the horses. It seems to be self-refuting.

Physics is more basic or foundamental than biology, since biological organisms are composed of physical entities and processes (but the reverse is not truth). So biological organisms, as such, are physical; but physical entities are not neccesarily biological (e.g. atoms or my shoes are physical things, but they are not biological organisms)

If this is true, then the following commentary of the authors don't make sense "Biocentrism offers a more promising way to bring together all of physics... Until we recognize the essential role of biology, our attempts to truly unify the universe will remain a train to nowhere"

But is the role of biology essential to the unification of the universe? It seems exaggerated.

Maybe the authors are refering to the epistemic role of our mind in the construction of the knowledge about reality. If this is their proposal, then it is not original, since that Berkeley, Kant, Giambattista Vico and others have argued exactly that.

And currently, radical constructivist philosopher Ernst von Glasersfeld has defended that idea too.

But to defend such ideas you don't need to put the emphasis in biological organisms as primary entities, you need only put the emphasis in the structure of the human mind. Assuming that the human mind is a exclusive product of our biology is assuming the truth of a materialistic neo-darwinism regarding the origin consciousness (consciousness as an product of a evolved brain); and such assumption is open to dualistic (and other non-materialistic) objections. Also such assumption assumes philosophical materialism, and this is not centered in biology, but in physics (physicalism)

But we need to read the book to be sure of the authors' theory and how they address the objections.

P.S. The title of this post is the Latin version of Berkeley's dictum, "To be is to be perceived." You know a blog is sophisticated when it uses Latin

I love the originality of many of Michael's post titles (for example, the "killing me SOFT-ly" made me laugh out loud).

I really enjoy them.

The criticism that Berkeley is open to is this:

Because things exist in my mind as ideas when they are perceived does not mean they do not exist outside of my mind not as ideas TOO.

Berkeley's hunch may be essentially correct, but his arguments do not get him to the conclusion he wants to make.

In my view the authors treat an effect as a cause. The author is a biologist and that may explain this confusion. Much of my research suggests that biological systems have an underlying reality that provides these life forms with an intelligent vitality. I.e. animation.

The vehicle that “allows” these life forms to exist and progress is consciousness but even beyond consciousness is what some call the evolution of consciousness process or Law of Progress. Now beyond consciousness is what can best be described as infinite or perfect awareness that many would refer to as God.

But of course any attempt to define this pure awareness is inaccurate because any effort to define infinite limits infinite. Maybe the best we can do is attempt to define the attributes of this infinite awareness. From my point of view the two best attributes to define this infinite awareness would be: divine intelligence and love. And from those attributes of divine intelligence and love would be traits such as creativity, simplicity, compassion, bliss, joy, etc.

It appears the authors have allowed their materialistic paradigm to influence their views of the true nature of the universe. This paradigm effect can lead to paradigm paralysis and is a common phenomenon in our world. We all have it but most will not admit to it. But of course without paradigms societies could not exist, as complete chaos would reign.

Now what I find I interesting is that this infinite perfect awareness (God) must create imperfection not in the perfection of the evolution of consciousness process but unawareness within the consciousness of life forms that have a perception of a separate self and other. I.e. humans.

Without this unawareness there is no unique us. Just Isness.

See this paper on consciousness by neuroscientist John Smythies:

He defends the following hypothesis "the
Universe consists of three fundamental entities — space-time, matter and consciousness, each with their own degrees of freedom. The paper pays particular attention to three areas that impact on this theory: (1) the demonstration by neuroscience and psychophysics that we do not perceive the world as it actually is but as the brain computes it most probably to be; (2) the need to delineate between phenomenal space-time and physical space-time. Recent theories in physics that suggest that the Universe has more than three spatial dimensions are relevant here; (3) the role of consciousness in the block Universe described by Special Relativity. The integration of these topics suggests a new physical theory of the nature of consciousness

Using Feynman diagrams as a model for physics, I see the connecting lines as the wave propagation process and their junctions as the particle interaction process. At the junctions, one wave becomes two, a single state splits into two incompatible possibilities (or vice-versa, two become one). The junction, interaction, particle is all that distinguishes between the incoming and outgoing states. No outside agency besides the junction between the states can do this distinguishing between the incoming and outgoing states, otherwise the theory would have to explain how this outside agency distinguishes not only the incoming and outgoing states from each other but also how it distinguishes itself from the junction as well, leading to an infinite regress. This fundamental ability to distinguish one thing from another is the only possible basis of all higher discriminative abilities, including consciousness.

Or, as I outlined it a few years ago:

Theories, measurements are just information

Distinguishable states must differ by >=1 bit

No outside agency besides the 2 minimally differing states can do the distinguishing between themselves.

Otherwise the theory would have to explain how the 3rd thing distinguishes not only the 2 original entities from each other but also how it distinguishes itself from the other two as well.

This requisite ability to distinguish is logically part of every distinguishable entity.

This logical nature, this ability to distinguish information, is not just the basis for consciousness but a basic form of consciousness itself.

Therefore, particle interactions are the basis for consciousness, the universe of such interactions is consciousness, and the subjects of consciousness are the wave-propagating possibilities distinguished by conscious particle interactions.

Lanza published an>outline of his concept of biocentrism in The American Scholar a couple of years ago. In reading the article, it doesn’t seem to me that he’s granting a materialist or physicalist premise. On the contrary, he directly challenges the mainstream throughout the piece.

As far as the chicken or egg problem, it seems this is only an issue if one grants the premise of time and space as absolute. But if time and space are mental constructs, so is everything contained within what we perceive as time and space, which necessarily includes chickens and eggs. It also necessarily includes whoever is observing the chickens and eggs.

I do think Lanza makes a mistake when he writes, “Consciousness cannot exist without a living, biological creature to embody its perceptive powers of creation”. I think it’s more accurate to say that living biological creatures are among the essentially endless manifestations of Consciousness. Later though, referencing Bell’s experiment, Lanza makes this comment: “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”.

If the entities we observe are “floating in a field of mind that is not limited by external spacetime”, then so are we, as the entities doing the observing. A field of mind which is outside of space and time cannot have been created, because the term ‘creation’ suggests an event occurring within linear time. The field of Mind is instead the cause of causation itself. From the perspective of the foundational Mind, the cosmos was never created in the first place – from that perspective, Mind is just busy manifesting the cosmos at every moment.

Lanza published an outline of his concept of biocentrism in The American Scholar a couple of years ago.

Come to think of it, I read that. I even blogged on it. But I'd forgotten it was Lanza who wrote it.

I do think Lanza makes a mistake when he writes, “Consciousness cannot exist without a living, biological creature to embody its perceptive powers of creation”.

This is where I think the materialist/physicalist premise comes in.

At any rate, I'm sufficiently intrugued that I went ahead and ordered the book.

In the article quoted by Michael H, there is some interesting things said by Lanza, for example:

Our science fails to recognize those special properties of life that make it fundamental to material reality. This view of the world—biocentrism—revolves around the way a subjective experience, which we call consciousness, relates to a physical process.

In this point, one could think the author is freeing himself from materialism. Consciousness related to physical process seem to imply that they're two different things (and therefore, consciousness being non reducible to the physical, implyn non-materialism). Also, if subjective experience is the essential, then material processes alone are not.

But look in this passage:

The conclusions I have drawn place biology above the other sciences in the attempt to solve one of nature’s biggest puzzles, the theory of everything that other disciplines have been pursuing for the last century

If consciousness is different of the physical, why does he considers biology as the key of the problem (he is making consciousness dependent on biology)? Why he didn't put the emphasis in consciousness itself? (The possible answer is that for him consciousness doesn't exist without biological organisms)

This suggest that he doesn't consider consciousness an ontologically primery entity or reality, but a secondary manifestation of biological evolution (but as a primary function regarding epistemic activities, like explaining the universe). And this is fully consistent with materialism (in fact, it's entailed by contemporary materialism, at least regarding the dependence of consciousness of biological organisms).

This interpretation is confirmed in this following point:

"Most of these comprehensive theories are no more than stories that fail to take into account one crucial factor: we are creating them. It is the biological creature that makes observations, names what it observes, and creates stories"

But what created the world and the physical phenomena before "biological creatures" appeared?

If we put the creative emphasis in the cognitive function of biological organisms, we can't explain the phenomena previous to them.

A possible reply to that obvious objection would Michael H's consideration: "As far as the chicken or egg problem, it seems this is only an issue if one grants the premise of time and space as absolute. But if time and space are mental constructs, so is everything contained within what we perceive as time and space, which necessarily includes chickens and eggs. It also necessarily includes whoever is observing the chickens and eggs"

The problem is that Lanza's theory is not based alone in the idea that space and time are mental constructs, but in the idea that such mental constructs are a product of biological organisms (this is the materialistic premise granted by the author). And these organism had a beginning (which implies that mental constructs didn't exit before the appearence of such organisms).

If we follow that thesis to its ultimate implications, we have to assert that, ontologically, nothing existed before biological organisms (since that space and time didn't exist either).

In a simplified for, the argument would be like this:

1)Space and time are mental constructs of biological organisms

2)Biological organisms had a beginning in time (i.e. they have not existed forever)

3)Therefore, space and time (as mental constructs) had a beginning in time.

The conclusion shows that a space and time can't be explained by themselves (since they assume an outside temporality as part of their beginning). In addition:

-The fact that space and time are mental constructs for biological organism, don't imply that space and time only exist as mental constructs (they could exist outside of biological organism too)

-If space and time are only mental constructs, and biological organisms had a beginning in that space and time, then how we could explain the origin of such biological organisms? If they weren't created, then they have always existed. But if they were created, then they were created in a space and time (previous and different of the mental constructs of the organisms being created, since such mental constructs are consequence of the creation of biological organisms and the emergence of consciousness)

So, it could be argued that the author' theory actually entails an space/time also existing outside of the mental constructs of organisms.

Moreover, science explain the origin of biological organisms, and Lanza agrees that "The laws of physics and chemistry can explain the biology of living systems, and I can recite in detail the chemical foundations and cellular organization of animal cells: oxidation, biophysical metabolism, all the carbohydrates and amino acid patterns. But there was more to this luminous little bug than the sum of its biochemical functions"

But the physical laws which operated in the construction and current functioning of biological organisms, then they were somehow previous to biological organisms. Saying that the concept of "previous" doesn't make sense since space and time didn't exist (because biological organisms didn't exist) is not a reasonable reply, since that conceding that the causal role of physical processes in the formation of living organisms is conceding that a non-biological process existed before biology.

In my opinion, the author is challenging thew view known in philosophy as "realism" (that idea that an external reality exist with independence of the perception of it), not materialism.

In this sense Lanza writes: "Without perception, there is in effect no reality. Nothing has existence unless you, I, or some living creature perceives it, and how it is perceived further influences that reality"

One could ask how the author knows that "there is in effect no reality" if it's not perceived by a living (biological) organism. What about a reality perceived by a non-biological God (if he exists). What about a reality perceived by pure (non-biological) consciousness? What about a reality perceived by a discarnated (post-biological, since it survived biological death) soul?

Limiting perception to biology, excludes perception of non-biological origin. And unless we acccept Lanza's theory, we could argue that his theory, being dependent of biology, is fully consistent with ontological materialism and physicalism.

Not having read his book, my opinion is only provisional. But here's my summary about the problems I see in his theory:

1)He commits a fallacy of equivocation regarding the term of "creation".

He uses that term both in a ontological and epistemic sense, without drawing any clear distinction between them. Epistemically, we could agree that reality is "constructed" by the mind (i.e. we know only the reality as we perceived)

But ontologically, that above fact doesn't implies that an external reality doesn't exist. It could or couldn't exist; but the argument doesn't entail the conclusion that it doesn't exist.

Even Kant and Schopenhauer didn't deny the existence of an external reality (they were conscious that their arguments didn't prove such thing); they only denied the knowledge of it (because knowledge is essentially a cognitive function of the mind)

2)Putting the emphasis in biological organisms as conditions to the perception (and existence) of reality, excludes non-biological entities with powers of perception (God, non-physical souls, etc.)

3)The above implies that if all the biological organisms are destroyed, the universe dissapears (and the spiritual universe too?).

4)If follow to its ultimate logical implications, it implies solipsism (that idea that only "I" exist)

If (ontological) reality depends on perception, then I can only be sure of MY perception (not of other biological organisms perceptions)

And since that I'm not perceiving Michael H, MP or dmduncan, I can reasonably conclude they don't exist.

Actually, I've only perceived here letters and words written by a note saying "posted by Michael H, or MP, etc.", but I haven't perceive them. So, if consistent, I should conclude they don't exist.

Since I've never perceived the spiritual world (like Sandy or Zerdini have done), then following Lanza I can conclude the spiritual world doesn't exist.

If consistent, I have to conclude that only I, and my perception of reality, exist. Any other person exist if I perceived it.

But look how Lanza addresses the solipsist objection: "What I would question, with respect to solipsism, is the assumption that our individual separateness is an absolute reality"

The problem with that reply is that we actually perceive individual separateness! (if you don't believe me, ask Art!... just kidding Art). It is not only an assumption, but a consistent perception of most people. But if perception conditions reality, and we perceive individual separation, then an actual individual separation in reality can't be discarded (in fact, it seems entailed in the author's own theory).

Also the author say "And although we identify ourselves with our thoughts and affections, it is an essential feature of reality that we experience the world piece by piece"

But according the author reality doesn't have essential feature independent of our mind. So appealing to reality's essential features to explain our experience is reversing the sequence developed by the author. (The essence of reality, including its existence, is created by the mind; not the reverse)

5)Finally, the theory seem hard to refute, because any objection you can raise against it would be explained by the relative nature of the mental constructs of biological organisms.

6)The author challenge epistemic and ontological realism, but ontologically consciousness is dependent of biological organisms, which are physical things. Hence, his theory is arguely physicalist.

The author would object this saying the physical world depends on consciousnes, since that reality doesn't exist without it. So, he's not granting physicalism. But such reply assumes his theory is right (and as seen in point 1, his argument doesn't warrant that conclusion; and as seen in point 5, any objection is explained in a way consistent with his theory since it is self-referentially constructed)

Look in the fact that the author says one thing here, another there, but when you critically analyze it and put into a logical picture, or draw all its logical implications, they seems contradictory and self-refuting.

As said, my comment is based only in Michael H's link and MP's post. I can't say my comment makes full justice to the author's theory. My opinion about it is only provisional.

If I read his book, I'll probably change my opinion (if he addresses satisfactorily the above questions)

For the record, unlike Kant, Schopenhauer didn't deny the knowledge of an external reality in itself. In fact, he argued that the "thing in itself" (or reality as such, independent of our perpeption of it) is the will.

This is why his book is entitled "The world as will and representation" (the will correspond to the reality in itself, and the representation to how we perceive it)

He considered himself the discover of the will as the essentia of reality, and the basic superation of the kantian philosophy.

"Mind is just busy manifesting the cosmos at every moment."

Busy minds aren't clear minds ;-)

I think the process of manifesting is done by the will as ZC says, by using Time (vibational differences in the "Self"). Time precedes space.

“A field of mind which is outside of space and time cannot have been created, because the term ‘creation’ suggests an event occurring within linear time.”

The atheists and ultra skeptics often ask if God in intelligent then where did God get its intelligence from or something to that effect. This question reveals their lack of doing much in depth research into the paranormal and their lack of understanding of the concept of infinite. My point being that they are asking an illogical question.

“The field of Mind is instead the cause of causation itself.”

Would you care to elaborate on this Michael H?

“Time precedes space.”

No time no space as time and space are due to the unawareness of our consciousness.

An interesting (trippy even) thought experiment is to try and postulate what 'consciousness' is, if there isn't really a thing such as time. That is, all of creation from the beginning of time to the end, is one thing. But consciousness appears to dictate the outcome of future events. Does this argue against free will - that is, our consciousness is simply 'the code' running in our machines which facilitates the correct construction of the cosmos from beginning to end? Or is our consciousness apart from that cosmos in some way, and yet tied to the inevitable future?

Far too early in the morning for me to ponder any further on that...

(Thanks Michael for mentioning my NDE article in Darklore as well).

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