Recently I was introduced to the work of Robert Lanza, a respected biologist and researcher in stem cell therapy who is also an executive with Advanced Cell Technology, a biotech company in Massachusetts.
Although he may not refer to his concept as “biophysics,” Lanza effectively opens the floodgates to a scientific discussion of the main obstacle facing science, philosophy and psychology today:
“There is nothing in modern physics that explains how a group of molecules in a brain creates consciousness. The beauty of a sunset, the taste of a delicious meal, these are all mysteries to science — which can sometimes pin down where in the brain the sensations arise, but not how and why there is any subjective personal experience to begin with.
And, what’s worse, nothing in science can explain how consciousness arose from matter. Our understanding of this most basic phenomenon is virtually nil. Interestingly, most models of physics do not even recognize this as a problem.”
Deepak Chopra refers to such aspects of experience as “qualia”, and echoes Lanza’s remarks in terms of conventional science’s reluctance to address the subject of consciousness – or the ground level of our actual experience.
Interestingly the TED conferences, where Lanza has also spoken, recently removed two lectures by other speakers who speculated about the nature of human consciousness in ways their colleagues deemed “unscientific.”
Of course, even a cursory knowledge of Quantum Physics tells us that experiments on a molecular level have shown that our measurement or observation of a phenomenon is an integral part of its manifestation – we cannot take ourselves out of the process and view it “objectively.” (Lanza discusses the famous “slit experiment” also seen in “What the Bleep” that demonstrated that an electron can act as a particle in one situation, and as a wave in another, depending upon observation).
I addressed this issue in a blog I wrote some time ago proposing, lightheartedly, a new theory of “Bio-Relativity” where reality is based on a formula such as M = C/P – where Mind is a function of consciousness based on physiology. I made the point that it is easy to speculate on the different reality experienced by a dolphin, that “sees” through sonar, or a dog, that “sees” through nostrils thousands of times more sensitive than our own.
Dr. Lanza uses the term “Biocentrism” and argues eloquently for an opening within the scientific community to accept the obvious fact that our own consciousness is the lens through which we see everything – so that the religion of scientific objectivity is unfortunately revealed as flawed.
Everything is truly open to question when this reality “lands”, as my friend Michael Jeffreys likes to say.
Michael goes so far in “deconstructing” what we think we “know” by showing that all we really see are colors and shapes—calling something a “pen” for example already introduces “an overlay” of conceptual judgment that the pen itself is not.
In fact, what IS really out there, or “in here”? Michael tells the story of watching a video of a young boy singing “Amazing Grace” on YouTube, as a tribute to his mother who died of cancer, and how it brought tears to his eyes.
When he “came back” Michael realized that the “reality” of what had happened, and evoked such emotion, was the movement of a set of pixels on his computer monitor—nothing more.
All of the emotional content was really supplied by himself. Someone else might have reacted to the video completely differently or not at all.
I recently had a similar insight through a different set of pixels. Financial advisors have convinced me that without taking a bit of risk in the stock market, I will die poor if I live past a certain age. So, I have made some small speculative investments in companies represented by letters like “AAPL” and now, every morning, I can watch how my mood can be affected by seeing the numbers next to those symbols—if the color is green I am happy. Red, not so much.
In this way it becomes obvious that we literally (and I say that deliberately because language is such a key part of it) – we LITERALLY create our own word and the judgments about it that form our “qualia” or experience.
In therapy I began to understand my conditioning, for example, around money being safety, such that a set of numbers on a computer screen could make me feel secure or anxious.
If I pulled back, and observed my “Self”, I quickly realized that my day to day (or present) experience is no way reflected by that number on a computer screen – just as Michael Jeffreys had us realize that we our “selves” shaped our own reaction to a set of pixels moving on a screen.
Taken to a logical conclusion, everything and I do mean EVERYTHING is truly “us” – or our “Consciousness.” This is what mystics mean when they “merge” with the All – by deconstructing their selves they are left with only one Mind or Intelligence that is EVERYTHING.
The common reaction to this is, “but how can you live like this?” To me it is enormously helpful to objectively begin to witness how my conditioned “I” shapes my experience, like the suffering I can endure if AAPL goes down. But the world itself has not changed one iota. If I hug my cat and put my attention on her, the stock market is no more.
A famous quote that gives context to these realizations is “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” – T. S. Eliot – from his work, “The Wasteland”.
That is the problem for this kind of work – when we begin to see the “overlay” we begin to lose interest in what is “out there” and like Dr. Lanza, focus our attention on our “Selves”.
Others may see this is self-absorbed; often they want us to take great trips or go on adventures, but to us, the greatest adventure is to discover, as Eckhart Tolle says, the “structure” of our thoughts instead of working with their “content.”
Some have called Dr. Lanza one of the great scientific minds of our time, and with his impact on biological research, and the work of others in the area of neuroscience, I do believe that inroads can be made in truly understanding “the nature of Consciousness” – even from the “inside.”
In the meantime it is helpful, when stressed, to remember the immortal words of the comic strip Pogo, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”