Anglican Samizdat

May 5, 2009

Mind games

Filed under: Science — David @ 5:21 pm
Tags: ,

A fascinating article in Discover Magazine makes the case for a biocentric universe: a universe that is brought into being by a biological entity – specifically, consciousness or mind – rather than the reverse. Both quantum theory, which has demonstrated that the behaviour of a particle is determined by observing it and relativity, which has proved that things like distance and time are not as absolute as common sense would dictate, make the case for a universe that is shaped by consciousness.

Figuring out the nature of the real world has obsessed scientists and philosophers for millennia. Three hundred years ago, the Irish empiricist George Berkeley contributed a particularly prescient observation: The only thing we can perceive are our perceptions. In other words, consciousness is the matrix upon which the cosmos is apprehended. Color, sound, temperature, and the like exist only as perceptions in our head, not as absolute essences. In the broadest sense, we cannot be sure of an outside universe at all.

For centuries, scientists regarded Berkeley’s argument as a philosophical sideshow and continued to build physical models based on the assumption of a separate universe “out there” into which we have each individually arrived. These models presume the existence of one essential reality that prevails with us or without us. Yet since the 1920s, quantum physics experiments have routinely shown the opposite: Results do depend on whether anyone is observing. This is perhaps most vividly illustrated by the famous two-slit experiment. When someone watches a subatomic particle or a bit of light pass through the slits, the particle behaves like a bullet, passing through one hole or the other. But if no one observes the particle, it exhibits the behavior of a wave that can inhabit all possibilities—including somehow passing through both holes at the same time.

Some of the greatest physicists have described these results as so confounding they are impossible to comprehend fully, beyond the reach of metaphor, visualization, and language itself. But there is another interpretation that makes them sensible. Instead of assuming a reality that predates life and even creates it, we propose a biocentric picture of reality. From this point of view, life—particularly consciousness—creates the universe, and the universe could not exist without us.

One of the consequences of this is that it creates a scientifically plausible case for both the origin of the universe being in God’s mind and for the idea that his mind alters the universe now: if our minds shape reality, how much more can God’s in what we call the miraculous.


1 Comment

  1. Intriguing article. I’ve heard about experiments involving particles apparently reacting together though far apart before, but not at 10,000 times the speed of light.
    Thanks for the tip, I have linked the article on my weblog “Evangelical Friends of Darwin”. It’s not rot really about Darwin, but interesting nonetheless.

    Comment by Brother Gregor — May 8, 2009 @ 4:48 pm

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