What they’re saying about “The Sun’s Heartbeat”

The Sun's Heartbeat, by Bob Berman

Berman’s pitch-perfect book goes a long way to answering the questions you thought were too dumb to ask, but it does much more than simply provide facts….Berman is a master storyteller, whose passion and enthusiasm for astronomy has served the public well for decades….Read this and you will never look at the sun in the same way again.”
(New Scientist )

A good read….light-hearted….[and] fun…Above all, the author’s enthusiasm for science shines through.”
(Wall Street Journal)

A deeply enjoyable book…[Berman] comes across as the world’s most enthusiastic science teacher….[who] writes ‘everything about the sun is either amazing or useful.’ It’s hard not to enjoy a book when someone says that and does their cheerful best to back it up.”
(Washington Post )

We won’t take the Sun for granted any longer if astronomy popularizer Berman…has anything to say about it….’Everything about the Sun is either amazing or useful,’ Berman writes, and then proves it, without a doubt.”
(Publisher’s Weekly )

A quick, smart and colorful biography of ‘yon flaming orb.'”
(Kirkus Reviews )

“An engaging consciousness-raiser that entertains as it informs about our neighborhood nuclear furnace.”
(Booklist)

Biocentrism:A New Way to See the Universe

Figuring out the nature of the “real world” has obsessed scientists and philosophers for millennia. In the past few decades, however, major puzzles of mainstream science have forced a re-evaluation of the nature of the cosmos. Starting in the 1920’s, scientists found that some experiments’ results totally depended on whether anyone was watching. The observer critically influenced the outcome. Since then, paradoxes accompanying the Big Bang theory (how can an entire universe pop out of nothingness?), and other major, intractable problems of cosmology (e.g. what is this dark energy that seems to be blowing the universe apart) suggest that our models require a seismic shift.

At this pivotal point in science, medical doctor Robert Lanza and I believe a more accurate understanding of the “real world” will require combining astrophysics and biology instead of keeping them separate, and putting observers firmly into the equation. This view is called biocentrism.

One critical key to many of physical science’s puzzles has been shunted out of the way simply because we didn’t know what to do with it. This – consciousness – is not a small item. It is not like anything else. Consciousness, meaning awareness or perception, in an utter mystery for biology and physics alike, has somehow arisen from molecules and goo. How did inert, random bits of carbon ever morph into that Japanese guy who always wins the hot dog eating contest?

The intractable problem of origins aside, human awareness is not just some pesky byproduct or irrelevant item, the way a buzzing mosquito might interfere with a biologist’s concentration. Rather, consciousness is the matrix upon which the cosmos is apprehended, and stands at the critical forefront of the role played by the observer. As we more fully understand this, several long-held puzzles immediately yield answers.

Undeniably it is the biological creature that makes the observations and creates the theories. For example, we observe the universe solely through the medium of light. But on its own, light doesn’t HAVE any color, nor any brightness, nor any visual characteristics at all. It’s merely an invisible electrical and magnetic phenomenon. So while you may think that the moon as you remember it is “there” when no one’s looking at it, nothing remotely resembling what you can imagine could be present when a consciousness is not interacting.

Now You See It. . .

Physicists say that the particles that make up our universe only take form when their individual “wave-function” collapses. 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 an object would collapse the wave function. This reality simply cannot be made clear in this short space, but in our book Biocentrism, we devote two full chapters to the actual, repeatable experiments showing that this is indeed the case.

Before these experiments of the past few decades, it was still considered possible that Einstein was right in thinking that “local realism” – an objective independent universe – could be the truth. And that physical states exist before they are measured. Before Bell’s work of the 1960s, it was still widely believed that particles have definite attributes and values independent of the act of measuring. And, it used to be assumed, if observers are sufficiently far apart, they can remain utterly unaffected by the goings-on elsewhere. All this is now gone for keeps.

No Time to Lose

Quantum revelations and the universe’s curious physical parameters (the fact that 200 physical parameters and forces are just perfect for life’s existence) strongly suggests a biocentric basis for the cosmos. Oddly enough, so do space and time. According to biocentrism, time simply does not exist independent of life that notices it.

The reality of time has long been questioned by an odd alliance of philosophers and physicists. The former argue that the past exists only as ideas in the mind, which themselves are solely neuroelectrical events occurring strictly in the present moment. Physicists, for their part, find that when people speak of time, they’re usually referring to change. But change is not the same thing as time.

Time is the animal sense that animates events. Everything you perceive – even this page — is actively and repeatedly being reconstructed inside your head in an organized whirl of information. Time can be defined as the summation of spatial states; the same thing measured with our scientific instruments is called momentum.

The weaving together of these individual information frames occurs in the mind. So what’s real? We confront a here-and-now. If the next “image” is different from the last, then it is different, period. We can award that change with the word “time” but that doesn’t mean there’s an actual entity, as real as cheddar cheese, that forms a matrix or grid in which changes occur. That’s just our own way of making sense of things, our tool of perception. We watch our loved ones age and die, and assume an external entity called time is responsible for the crime.

The demotion of time from an actual reality to a mere subjective experience, a social convention, is evidence against the “external universe” mindset, because the latter requires a space and time gridwork. In biocentrism, space and time are forms of animal understanding. We carry them around with us like turtles with shells. There simply is no self-existing matrix out there in which physical events occur independent of life.

There is a peculiar intangibility about space, as well. We cannot pick it up and bring it to the laboratory. This is because, like time, space is neither physical nor fundamentally real. Like time, it is a mode of interpretation and understanding. It is part of an animal’s mental software that molds sensations into multidimensional objects. In modern everyday life, however, we’ve come to regard space as sort of a vast container that has no walls. But our notion of space is false. Shall we count the ways? 1. Empty space is in fact not empty. 2. Distances between objects can and do mutate depending on conditions like gravity and speed, so that no absolute distance exists between anything and anything else. 3. Quantum theory casts serious doubt about whether even distant individual items are truly separated at all, since entangled particles act in unison even if separated by the width of a galaxy, and 4) We often define separations and boundaries between objects in terms of language, convention, and utility. In truth, there is no self-existing space/time matrix in which physical events occur independently of life.

Now, space and time illusions are certainly harmless. A problem only arises because, by treating space as something physical, existing in itself, science imparts a completely wrong starting point for investigations into the nature of reality. Allowing the observer into the equation as the late Nobel laureate John Wheeler insists is necessary, would open the possibilities for new ways of cognition that might make everything work better. Without such symbiosis between physics and biology, attempts to truly understand the universe as a whole will remain a train to nowhere.

Adapted from Biocentrism: How Life and Consciousness are the Keys to Understanding the True Nature of the Universe by Robert Lanza with Bob Berman.

Space and time

The Experiment that Changed the Universe

The famous two-hole experiment goes straight to the core of quantum physics. It’s been performed so many times, with so many variations, it’s conclusively proven that if one “watches” a subatomic particle or a bit of light pass through slits on a barrier, it behaves like a particle, and creates solid-looking bam-bam-bam hits behind the individual slits, on a final barrier that measures the impacts. Like a tiny bullet, it logically passes through one or the other hole. But if the scientists do not observe the particle, then it exhibits the behavior of waves that retain the right to exhibit all possibilities, including somehow passing through both holes at the same time — and then creating the kind of rippling interference pattern that only waves produce.

Dubbed “quantum weirdness,” this ‘wave/particle’ duality has befuddled scientists for nearly a century. Some of the greatest physicists have described it as impossible to intuit, impossible to formulate into words, impossible to visualize, and as invalidating common sense and ordinary perception.

But the key question may be: waves of what? Back in 1926, German physicist Max Born demonstrated that quantum waves are waves of probability, not waves of material, as his colleague Schrödinger had theorized. They are statistical predictions. Thus a wave of probability is nothing but a likely outcome. In fact, outside of that idea, the wave is not there! It’s intangible. As Nobel physicist John Wheeler once said, “No phenomenon is a real phenomenon until it is an observed phenomenon.”

Until the mind sets the scaffolding of an object in place, until it actually lays down the threads (somewhere in the haze of probabilities that represent the object’s range of possible values) it cannot be thought of as being either here or there. Thus, quantum “waves” merely define the potential location a particle can occupy. When a scientist observes a particle it will be found within the statistical probability for that event to occur. That’s what the wave defines. A wave of probability isn’t an event or a phenomenon, it is a description of the likelihood of an event or phenomenon occurring. Nothing happens until the event is actually observed.

In our double-slit experiment, it is easy to insist that each photon or electron, since both these objects are indivisible, must go through one slit or the other. Thus it seems reasonable to ask which way a particular photon really went. Many brilliant physicists have devised experiments which proposed to measure the “which-way” information of a particle’s path on its route to contributing to an interference pattern. They all arrived at the astonishing conclusion, however, that it is not possible to observe “which-way” information and the interference pattern of a wave. One can set up a measurement to watch which slit a photon or electron goes through, and find that it goes through one slit and not the other. However, once this kind of measurement is set up, the photons instead immediately strike the screen in one spot, and totally lose the ripple-interference design.

Apparently, watching it go through the barrier makes the wave function collapse then and there, and the particle loses its freedom to probabilistically take both choices available to it instead of having to choose one or the other.

The Copenhagen interpretation, born in the 1920s in the feverish minds of Heisenberg and Bohr, bravely set out to explain the bizarre results of the QT experiments, sort of. It was the first to claim what John Bell and others substantiated some 40 years later: that before a measurement is made, a subatomic particle doesn’t really exist in a definite place or have an actual motion. Instead it dwells in a strange nether realm without actually being anywhere in particular. This blurry indeterminate existence ends only when its wave function collapses – meaning the moment of its materialization into an actual entity. It took only a few years before Copenhagen adherents were realizing that NOTHING is real unless it’s perceived.

If we want some sort of alternative to the idea of an object’s wave-function collapsing just because someone looked at it, and avoid that kind of spooky action at a distance, we might jump aboard Copenhagen’s competitor, the “Many Worlds Interpretation” (MWI) which says that everything that CAN happen, does happen. The universe continually branches out like budding yeast into an infinitude of universes that contain every possibility no matter how remote. You now occupy one of the universes. But there are innumerable other universes in which another “you” who once studied photography instead of accounting did indeed move to Paris and marry that girl you once met while hitchhiking. According to this view, embraced by such modern theorists as Stephen Hawking, our universe has no contradictions and no spooky action: seemingly contradictory quantum phenomena, along with all the personal choices you think you didn’t make, exist today in countless parallel universes.

Which is true? Experiments of the past decade point increasingly toward confirming Copenhagen. And this strongly supports the idea that there is no independent universe outside the act of observation. Or, put another way, the universe and consciousness are correlative.

The above has been adapted from my book Biocentrism, written with Robert Lanza, MD, and published by Ben Bella in May. It is also excerpted in the current Discover magazine.

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.

Absolute Zero

Absolute Zero

Life is full of gray areas, so it’s refreshing to have some absolutes, things we can count on. One excellent take-it-to-the-bank certainty in this uncertain universe is absolute zero.
Heat is simply the motion of atoms: Something feels hot because you sense the frenzied movement of those little critters. At 98.6 degrees all your body’s atoms are jiggling at about 1,000 miles per hour. They’ll jiggle even faster when you run a fever during your next flu. At the coldest place on Earth (the Antarctic, where a frosty -129 registered in 1983) there’s still plenty of atomic motion. Atoms stop moving only at 459.67 degrees F below zero. Since nothing can go any slower than “stopped,” this is indeed the coldest possible temperature — Absolute Zero.
Until the mid-60s, most astronomers thought that far from any stars, thermometers would register absolute zero throughout the cosmos. Now we know that the heat of the Big Bang, cooled by expansion, produces a five-degree warmth, or 2.73 degrees on the Kelvin scale. (And the universe keeps getting colder all the time: Its background temperature was twice as warm eight billion years ago.)
The universe’s coldest place, its ultimate Minnesota, is right here on Earth, in research laboratories where temperatures less than a BILLIONTH of a degree above A.Z. were created during the past few years. This technological dive to ever-chillier temperatures takes us into an Alice-in-Wonderland realm of bizarre conditions.
As things get cold they can lose all resistance to electrical flow, creating superconductivity. Strange magnetic properties also arise (the Meissner effect) which makes magnets levitate like Hindu swamis. Then there’s superfluidity, where liquid helium defies gravity and flows up the sides of its container, escaping like some resourceful weasel by simply scampering up and out. But with all that, the very weirdest thing that happens as materials approach A.Z. requires a quick rewind to 1924.
Back then, Albert Einstein’s collaboration with Indian physicist Satyendra Nath Bose led to their prediction that if temperatures ever reached A.Z, a new, totally unknown state of matter should appear. This odd consequence of quantum theory was quickly dubbed the Bose-Einstein condensate.
Just a few years earlier, Werner Heisenberg had created his uncertainty principle, which set strange limits on what we can ever know about small particles. We cannot, for example, precisely figure out an electron’s motion AND its position. Pin down one and the other instantly becomes fuzzy.
But what if you chilled those particles to absolute zero where all motion stops? Wouldn’t that do the trick? You’d then know it’s motion (zero) and you’d also see it right in front of you: Voila, position and momentum both revealed. So a good enough freezer should be able to fool quantum laws. Bose and Einstein said: No way. They believed nature would still manage to disguise itself by creating something we’ve never seen before — a new state of existence.
Just ten years ago, researchers succeeded in cooling atoms to within 20 billionths of a degree of A.Z. Sure enough, like magic, the atoms merged into a single blurry blob, a sort of super-atom never before encountered. We still couldn’t know the atoms’ separate qualities because their individualities had vanished into a single quantum state, a new kind of reality. The material wasn’t solid, liquid, gas, or plasma. It had become something else. The Bose Einstein Condensate.
Amazing technological applications usually follow the discovery of a novel configuration of matter or energy. If we could glimpse future household devices utilizing the condensate, they might seem like magic to us now. Their development is held back for the moment only because reaching those ultra-cold temperatures is still so demanding.
Yes, most of the universe, like the Catskills in December, is freezing cold. But stay tuned: Pockets of even greater cold are about to change our lives for the better.