Apr 16, 2009
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.