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Bob Berman

Bob Berman’s Strange Universe

Where is the Universe?

Are You The Universe?

Obviously, nothing can be cognized that is not already interacting with your consciousness. Since perceived images are experientially real and not imaginary, they must be physically happening in some location. Human physiology texts answer this without ambiguity. Although the retina absorbs photons that deliver their payloads of bits of electromagnetic energy, the actual perception of images physically occur in the back of the brain, augmented by other nearby locations, in special sections that are as vast and labyrinthine as the hallways of the Milky Way, and contain as many neurons as there are stars in the galaxy. This is where the actual colors, shapes, and movement “happen.” This is where they are perceived or cognized.
If you try to consciously access that visual part of the brain, it’s easy. It’s not subjectively dark and mushy. You’re already effortlessly perceiving it with every glance you take. Custom has told us that what we see is “out there,” outside ourselves, and such a viewpoint is fine and necessary in terms of language and utility, as in “please pass the butter that’s over there.” But make no mistake: The butter itself exists only within the mind. It is the only place visual (and tactile and olfactory) images are perceived and hence located.
Some may imagine that there are two worlds, one “out there” and a separate one being cognized inside the skull. But the “two worlds” model is a myth. Only one visual reality is extant; it is the one that requires consciousness in order to manifest. Now, this “one universe” model may seem like a bit of dorm-level philosophy. But it explains otherwise bewildering experimental results.
Quantum mechanics describes the tiny world of the atom with stunning if probabilistic accuracy. Since quantum theory tells us that everything in nature has a particle nature and a wave nature, and that the object’s behavior exists only as probabilities, no small object actually assumes a particular place or motion until a particular moment when it suddenly manifests as an actual entity in a real place. Physicists call this moment of materialization “the collapse of the wave function.” What accomplishes this? Messing with the electron or photon. Hitting it with a bit of light in order to “take its picture” would instantly do the job. But starting in the 1920s, and accelerating with John Bell’s work in the 1960s, it has became increasingly clear that any possible way the experimenter could “take a look” at the object would collapse the wave function. In a sense, the experiment has been contaminated. But as more sophisticated approaches were devised, it became obvious that mere knowledge in the experimenter’s mind is sufficient to cause the wave function to collapse.
That was freaky, but it got worse. When entangled particles are created, the pair share a wave function. When one member’s wave function collapses, so will the other’s – even if they are separated by the width of the universe. This means that if one particle is observed to have an “up spin” the act of observation causes the other to instantly go from being a mere probability wave to an actual particle with the opposite spin. They are intimately linked, and in a way that acts as if there’s no space between them, nor any time delay in conveying the “news.”
Experiments from 1997 to 2007 have shown that this is indeed the case, and prove that Einstein’s insistence on “locality” – meaning that nothing can influence anything else at superluminal speeds – is wrong. Rather, the entities we observe are floating in a field — a field of mind, we believe — that is not limited by the external spacetime constraints Einstein theorized a century ago. Bell’s Theorem of 1964, shown experimentally to be true over and over in the intervening years, does more than merely demolish all vestiges of Einstein’s hopes that locality can be maintained. Before Bell, it was still considered possible (though increasingly problematical) that local realism – an objective independent universe – could be the truth. Before Bell, many still clung to the millennia-old assumption that physical states exist before they are measured. Before Bell, it was still widely believed that particles have definite attributes and values independent of the act of measuring. And, finally, thanks to Einstein’s demonstrations that no “information” can travel faster than light, it was assumed that if observers are sufficiently far apart, a measurement by one has no effect on the measurement by the other.
All of the above are now finished for keeps. In addition, three major, separate areas of quantum theory make sense if the universe is understood as a “field” but are bewildering otherwise. In all these ways, the behavior of the “external world” is inextricably linked to the presence of an observer.

The above is adapted from my new book, co-authored with Robert Lanza, MD, Biocentrism, which will be available in bookstores in early May. Excerpts also appear in the current Discover Magazine.

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19 Responses

  1. adam says:

    Woa!

    Great article Mr. Berman. I really enjoy this subject matter, which is why I just placed my order for your book. You Mr. Berman are the reason i lay in bed at night pondering the universe and all her secrets. Thanks for continuing to push my brain harder and harder each day.

    Do we understand WHY the wave function of a particle collapses upon being observed? If the wave only collapses when being observed by us, does it really collapse or is that just how our brain perceives it? Is it the light that hits it that causes the wave to fall apart or is it just our weak brain trying to make sense of a process far beyond the brains computing power?

    Regarding the butter analogy, maybe I’m missing something or relating two different things. If the butter only exists within the mind, wouldn’t the same go for other things such as stars? But stars formed, burned, died out and exploded long before there was life to observe it happening, but it DID happen.

  2. spacedawg says:

    I was wondering about Bell’s Theorem. If indeed the universe and all that is in it essentially exists in our minds, how is it possible that I can’t have what I want when I want it? Or, put another way, if I know where a particular object is (because I remember distinctly where I set it down) and another person comes along and moves it without my knowledge, why can’t I just “imagine” the object back to that place? Or is the pencil no longer real to me because I cannot observe it? I hope this question doesn’t come across as facile, but we obviously live in a world where others’ realities act upon and against our own. Haven’t we as humans, therefore, created an external (and therefore objective and measureable) reality in which we all participate?

  3. Gunnar Berg says:

    You are walking down a train track. You hear a train approaching from behind you, feel the vibrations through your feet, and turn around just in time to witness the train running you over and the total collapse of your personal wave function. Or-you are able to jump out of the way in the nick of time. Or-some other variation between death and a safe escape.

    Now you are on the train tracks inside a perfectly insulated and isolating pod-no sound, no light, no vibration reaches you. The train comes along and runs you over, killing you instantly.

    Now, how to explain this in the context of Biocentrism. Or even the pencil that was moved without your knowledge. The most basic explanation is to say that whatever you experience, whether it’s the silent interior of the pod or the terrifying approach of the train is the only reality that you observe, therefore the only reality that “really” exists. What does this imply about a reality that exists independently of your observation? Obviously not too much since you have no knowledge of it, but is it “proof” that a universe has no independent existence apart from what you perceive it to be? That appears to be a question that any individual observer can’t answer.

  4. Tom Doane says:

    Is it life that creates reality or is it consciousness? Does a bacterium create reality? Does a carrot? Both are alive but is either of them considered conscious? Does either of them create reality or does reality require at least a human level of consciousness?
    Was there no reality prior to the existence of life (or perhaps consciousness)? It seems there must have been “something” between the Big Bang or the clash of Branes or whatever and the first life (or consciousness). Whatever that “something” was, it was not reality? It was all a sort of not-real “something” until an observer came along to collapse the probability waves?

  5. Bob Berman says:

    From Bob B: As John Wheeler said, no phenomenon is real unless it is observed. Consciousness and the universe are correlative. They exist together. So there was never a time of no consciousness. And if that sounds bewildering, then how much more bewildering to explain the arising of consciousness from inert dead matter. As for carrots and things, I cannot answer this. Many things remain mysterious — including whether there is fundamentally one consciousness that appears as many, or simply one. E Pluribus Unum. Bottom line: This view does not pretend to answer all questions posed by the dualistic, rational mind. It only claims to have a better framework (meaning more consistent with what we know) than the existing models.

  6. David Rogers says:

    Saying “no phenomenon is real unless it is observed” leaves way too narrow a definition of reality. The philosopher Berkeley proposed that things only exist when they are perceived; when asked how things in a dark closet continue to exist without anyone observing them, he was forced to say, Oh, well, God is always watching them, so they exist. I think we need to draw a distinction between what exists and what is known to exist, and admit the possibility that things we have not observed may in fact exist–like the moons of Jupiter before Galileo turned his telescope on them. Surely we don’t want to be in the position of making God into an amateur astronomer, keeping the rest of the universe real until we got around to inventing telescopes.

  7. David Rogers says:

    P.S I think the problem with the “no phenomenon is real unless it is observed” idea is that, while it may be true in some sense at the quantum level, we can’t expect the rules of the quantum level to apply equally well in all respects to the macro universe. To refer to the “butter that’s over there” example, it works well enough to say the butter exists only in the mind–as long as we’re all looking at it. But if the butter is in the refrigerator, we have to imagine it popping in and out of existence each time someone looks at it, or disappearing entirely if it’s put in the refrigerator and no one ever opens the refrigerator again. And if the butter (or the train, or the moons of Jupiter) are going to disappear that way, the whole notion of the conservation of matter and energy goes by the way. On the quantum level, perception may be reality. Not on the macro level.

  8. Bob Berman says:

    Good reasoning. But, there is no reason why nature should be fundamentally different on the macro versus micro levels, except statistically (probabilities). Moreover, once we agree that the butter has no color (since photons are neither bright nor colored) when not observed, etc etc, we then must ask exactly what is there absent any observer. This becomes the crux, here. Uncollapsed wave functions? Probability waves? Any way to visualize these? It may make more sense to say that nature and consciousness are correlative.

  9. David Rogers says:

    I have no idea what’s there in the butter dish in the absence of observation, and I don’t think anyone does. We only talk of wave functions because we have perceived them, or we have perceived experimental results we interpret to mean something about wave functions. If nothing is real without being observed, we can’t say that even wave functions exist in the absence of perception. I will assume that something exists, waiting to be perceived as color or wave functions, depending on how you want to look at them. My assumption is based on the law of conservation of matter and energy, which seems to hold true based on experience (although where the matter and energy for the Big Bang came from seems to be an open question. Did they always exist in a previous universe, or did they spontaneously erupt?). The relationship between observation and existence is one of the basic questions that have been around at least since the philosopher Kant, when what we now call science was a branch of philosophy and metaphysics. I merely point out that Wheeler’s saying nothing is there unless it is observed is just as much an unjustified conclusion as saying what must be there, in the absence of observation. If there’s no observation, nothing or something are equally possible. In other words, what observation could I possibly make to prove that when I close my eyes, the world disappears? If I’m not observing, I can’t say nothing is there. Once something is observed, we must assume some kind of logical precursor if we are to make any sense of it at all. We may not know if Schrodinger’s cat is alive or dead, and maybe it’s both alive and dead in some sense, but everyone seems to trust that something is in the box. What we perceive as nature is indeed correlative to consciousness–though I’m not sure this means anything more than saying we perceive nature how we perceive it. That doesn’t mean we can assume nothing would exist if we did not perceive it.

  10. Respect to Bob B. says:

    A major problem in discussing consciousness is that we are equivocal in our definition of consciousness and even more unenlightened concerning when it developed (or if it is eternal as Berman noted). The idea of a wave function is perfectly logical but so is the idea of object permanence. Would it matter that an object ceases to exist when humans don’t see it so long as it does appear (or reappear) when humans are seeing it? And for that matter what would be so deleterious in imagining things existing without our human eyes espying them? We already are accustomed to that phenomenon- (knowing that somebody somewhere is watching a Britney Spears video for instance). Going back to the wave function- it is akin to dissecting a human body. Once the skin is penetrated in dissection, the inner form is lost or warped beyond the shape it had previously been in. The only way to see inside the form without influencing its manifestation is to use a different method of viewing (such as an x-ray, CAT scan, or MRI). One can see the differences and similarities between a noninvasive scan result and the observation of actual epithelium-they both change perspective of what is going on inside the body but only one is physically manipulating the material (the incisions). If we go by recent hypotheses it shouldn’t matter though; either the incision or the visual viewing will render the object changed. Such is individual point of view. Thus I prematurely conclude that the wave function is both relevant for some and irrelevant for others. This conclusion is purely speculative and in need of contradiction.

  11. Gunnar Berg says:

    It seems that the wave function is of utmost importance at the atomic level, but looses its importance as you move up to the macro level. It’s almost as if the wave functions are additive as you move up the size scale. In other words, the wave function of the twin towers is built on so many smaller wave functions that are interdependent that it appears the same to everyone who observes it, until it all collapses of course by the injection of supercharged free will. I could never wrap my head around the paradoxes of scale.

  12. Steve Philipp says:

    If a universe was void of all consciousness/awareness from start to finish, what would be the difference between this “situation A” and a “situation B” where there never was a universe at all – I.E. no space or time or awareness or consciousness? It is not even possible to conceive of either without injecting your own consciousness into the thought experiment. Without consciousness/awareness it is not whether or not there is something or nothing, but rather what would the difference between something and nothing be?

  13. Matthew Ota says:

    Biocentrism may becoming more popular with the general public, since we have had a whole generation being labeled the “Me” generation.

    I am comfortable with my position on where the universe is centered. Since it all came from a singularity, the center is everywhere.

    Personally, I am not comfortable with biocentrism.

  14. Jim McElwain says:

    So – life is but a dream? My mind warped about halfway through the post! However, in the past, I have theorized (about non-science discussions) that many philosophical differences between people can be pinpointed to subjective differences between those people, rather than to objective facts and arguments. So, maybe I “get” what you’re saying after all!

  15. Jay says:

    Hmmm, maybe along with PP Jim, I lost my mind meld about halfway through the thread. Lately, the ‘perceived’ notion of reality, as told through the eyes of a physics lesson on string theory tells us that we live in a universal hologram. And that every thing is witnessed or seen from an observers pov. Unfortunately, the observer is not us! Think of the Russian dolls within dolls. We, humans on earth, experience life and all we know as the inner most doll, whereas the ‘true’ omnipresent observer is the god or alien or perhaps little Jimmy in his room playing with the ‘sims’ universe game on his version of a computer playing us all and our universe.

    String theory tells us today, that there are several parallel universes, ours is a hologram and that particles can exist in an ‘on’ & ‘off’ state at the same time. The only perception is of our own creation, what we imagine collectively AND independently at the same time. This is the signature of a higher order at work, ie: a hologram manifested by a higher authority. We can make independent assumptions about things within the grander context of our ‘waiting’ reality.

    Really what we are working towards is knowing the known. String theory is on the verge of discovering what we have known since the dawn of time, a universal understanding, (read gut feelings & common sense), that guide us intrinsically towards our destiny if joining the collective consciousness. For centuries, indigenous peoples on this earth have tapped into a universal knowledge that defies compartmental scientific bounds and firmly places us in the unisphere, a collective consciousness whereas all is now, past, present and future. What you see is what you get.

    Without the hippy dippy new age spiritual zen geist, think of this way;
    Is humanity’s lot in this universe to live in a box and work for slave wages in perpetuity making assertions about his place in the universe?

    I believe it is our evolutionary destiny to elevate our awareness, consciousness and join our family in the cosmos, physically, emotionally and more importantly, selflessly.

  16. David andrews says:

    Thinking that mere knowledge of, or thought can collapse wave function, it occurs to me – there is the fundamental mechanisim for mind over matter or telekinesis / “miracles”

  17. Mathew Ota is correct. The center of the universe is everywhere. Since the center of the universe is everywhere, it doesn’t matter where we start. We should be able to travel in a straight line and eventually return to the starting point from the opposite direction without making a single turn. This distance could be measured, giving us the actual size of the universe. The straight line theory would work in any direction. It would also solve the question “If the universe has an end, what is on the other side?” Also, continuing to theorize out of the box, the size of the universe? 20, 30 billion light years? Please. This is based only upon our feeble science and the Hubble telescope. We really don’t know how large the universe is. Suppose the KNOWN OBSERVABLE universe is just a regular galaxy located in a super galaxy containing the billions of galaxies we call the total universe? Suppose that the distance between these super galaxies is so great that the others cannot be detected by our science. There could be billions of these super galaxies. And suppose the billions of super galaxies were contained in another entity called a mega-galaxy. There could be billions of those. It could go on and on. The mind has now created a universe that is quintillions of times larger than what is now accepted by science – yet what the mind has created is just as logical as what science has developed over the last few hundred years. So, the imagination is even greater than consciousness or even pure knowledge.

  18. Sam Naumnan says:

    Hi Bob,
    Your article is very interesting but there are concepths in it that I have problems with. I also have problems with the idea of the existance of God and for that matter with the Big Bang theory. My mind goes around in circles, we use logic to explain things and then we are told to accept the illogical. We were told that God created everything but no one explains how God came to be there in the first place. Time was defined as equal increments and then we are to accept that these equal increments are not the same from one set of refrence to another. No one can give us a reasonalble explanation for the Big Bang, which supposedly happened 13.7 Billion years ago. Astronomers see galaxies at 12.6 Billion light years away and tell us that we are seeing them when they formed shortly after the Big Bang. In my mind there are a few confusing issues here. First, if we were part of the Big Bang then then we too were close to what happened and not sitting 13.7 Billion light years away waiting to see the first explosion! Two, we assume that the speed of light is constant over the whole distance that light transversed from there to here. With every thing that has been proven to be not what it was thought to be, how can we be sure that the speed of light is not different over there. Or, is over there only in our minds? To sum it all, why is the univerese here? Why are we here and what are we. I can really see why people in many cultures have needed a God or gods. it is just too much for the human mind to fathom and having a God makes it all much simpler for them.
    Again thanks for a good article.

  19. Bob Berman says:

    Sam, Of course your head is spinning. Everyone’s head spins, who contemplates these things. Part of the trouble is that our human brain/logic system is not the right tool for all cosmological inquiries, which is why no one can visualize the universe as a whole, since such an “outside” perspective is nonexistent. As for God, I scrupulously avoid discussing this since I don’t feel it’s right for me to advance my own beliefs; I’m paid for science articles, not to use them as platforms to proselytize. Finally, as for where galaxies exist given an expanding universe and such, please check out my column on this topic, about 2 years ago.

Bob Berman’s schedule

Every Sunday Morning, 9:34 AM: Berman's Strange Universe on WAMC.org, live streaming, or 90.3, 90.9 FM.
  • November 20: Mohonk Mountain House, "Romance in the Sky."
  • December 4: Live one-hour radio appearance, WAMC-FM, 2-3 PM
  • December 5: Talk, "Where is the Universe?" for the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Ottawa
  • March 17 and March 24: Two Northern Lights Tours (see Bermanastronomytours.com)
  • November, 2015: Join Us in Chile! Bob's favorite Tour!