The Afterlife Delusion

Is there an afterlife? The science of biocentrism can prove there is, claims Professor Robert Lanza

Biocentrism is a theory of everything, developed by Robert Lanza and Bob Berman, which makes biology the central driving science in the universe. At the simplest level biocentrism it suggests that life creates the universe by observing it, rather than a random series of events leading to life. Central to the idea is the observer effect popularized by quantum physics; the idea that a particle/object will act differently when it is being observed. This is extrapolated to say that if the universe needs to be observed to act in a certain way then the observer must have arrived before the universe. Therefore consciousness must have created the universe.

I do not intend to pass comment on Robert Lanza’s scientific research– which is excellent. There are two things I would like to discuss that are mentioned in the Independent article: 1) The idea that biocentric theory proves that there is an afterlife and 2) that an observer is required to make the universe work.  I have not read the book so I cannot comment on the theory as a whole and I am only commenting on the description from the article in the Independent. In this article I would like to explain why biocentrism doesn’t prove anything about the afterlife and also try to explain the why the universe does not need an observer.

Just to clear the afterlife thing up right at the beginning. This theory does not prove there is an afterlife. The theory is talking about our perception of the world. According to the theory (as I understand it), the universe only exists because we observe it, or perceive it. The idea of death has always preoccupied us and humans have created hundreds of explanations for the biological phenomenon. Thus, since we have created the concept of death there must be an afterlife because we have made it so. Another interpretation could simply be that when our consciousness ends the energy contained in our bodies does not just disappear but returns to the universe. This is known as the law of conservation of energy. In a way our energy will continue to live on (by feeding micro-organisms etc..) just without our knowledge of it. Neither of these explanations tie-in with the normal life-after-death ideas and is not really relevant to biocentrism as a theory.

So, let’s get down to some real science. The Independent article explains that Robert Lanza’s theory can be proven with quantum physics. Now, we’re not the types to be wowed with some scientific jargon, what does this actually mean?  It does not mean that the theory has been proven by experiment. It means that using quantum physics theories, such as the observer effect, you can discuss the philosophical possibility that we create the universe by our perception of it. It hinges on the idea that in order for quantum physics to work there needs to be an ‘observer.’ This is explained with the double slit experiment.

The Double Slit Experiment

A screen is set up with two gaps in it. If you imagine the screen is a harbour wall and a wave is travelling towards it from the ocean, what happens when the wave hits the screen? The wave cannot pass through unheeded, instead when it hits the gaps only some of the wave can pass through and that part will be distorted from hitting the edge of the gaps causing new concentric ripples radiating from the gaps. The two different sets of waves will interact and in some places they will join together to make bigger waves and in other places they will cancel out. When the wave reaches the shore the pattern it makes is known as a diffraction pattern.


What happens when a wave hits a wall with two gaps in it? The wave ‘bends’ and ripples out from the two gaps, the two sets of ripples will interfere with each other and create a ‘diffraction pattern.’

Now, if you had a beach ball and threw it at the wall it will go through one of the slits (or bounce back). It cannot be split into a diffraction pattern like the wave can. This is how particles can be differentiated from waves except sometimes things we think are particles can act like waves. If you do the experiment with an electron you can either see the wave-like pattern or particles depending on how you observe the results. The misinterpretation in the Independent article is that the particle is being observed and that it will act differently when someone is watching. This is not the case at all. In reality, we just don’t have a way of observing both results at the same time so we can only see it acting like a wave or a particle, not both. The electron is actually neither a beach ball-like particle nor a sea-like wave, it is something different. The particle does not need to be ‘observed’ at all, therefore we don’t need to be observing the universe for it to exist. We just happen to be looking at the resulting universe in a certain way and trying to explain it.

Knowing now that the universe does not depend on a conscious observer, the biocentric universe theory- as described by the Independent- still needs some work. However, in their infancy many theories have seemed fanciful but have gone on to change our perception of reality. We need people who will challenge our preconceptions otherwise we can never advance; equally we need people who are willing to test those ideas by experiment. Biocentrism is a very new idea, all we can do it wait and see if it will last.

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