Tuesday, June 21, 2011

#227: Robert Lanza

Robert Lanza is an American Doctor of Medicine, scientist, Chief Scientific Officer of Advanced Cell Technology (ACT) and Adjunct Professor at the Institute for Regenerative Medicine, Wake Forest University School of Medicine. He’s got his credentials in order, and – as his Wikipedia article also emphasizes (exclusively) – he has done some important research on and development of stem cell technology. He is, in other words, one of the good guys.


In his spare time, however, Lanza likes to fight reality – he seems to be something of a megalomaniac – by writing tripe for – you guessed it – Huffington post and by developing his own, shall we say controversial, ideas about how the universe hangs together (his book “Biocentrism” received some attention). In these he deploys the worst kinds of quantum woo and bad math and enters into a problematic relation with mereology (the fallacy of division seems to be one he never quite managed to grasp). A good example is the, uh, fascinating and dubiously coherent “What happens when you die? Evidence suggests time simply reboots”.

Humans never die, you see, because we are only energy, and our constituents only get rearranged (in other words, Lanza got stuck on Goodman-style extensional mereology and hardcore nominalism – he also seems to gleefully adopt while failing to recognize the solipsistic element of his view). He backs this up by – of course – further babble about how reality works at the quantum level. More here.

You’ll read gems like “Biocentrism tells us space and time aren't objects -- they're the mind's tools for putting everything together” or “Quantum theory ended the classical view that particles exist if we don't perceive them.” Knowing nothing about the literature on consciousness, Lanza asserts that consciousness is a mystery to physics and draws, from that assertion, the conclusion that the universe is (at least in a sense) created by the mind. More here. Thing is, you need this idea to understand why the physical constants are so fine-tuned for life (ah, the anthropic principle so beloved by creationists, but Lanza does at least not go down that road): “At the moment, there are only four explanations for this mystery. One is to argue for incredible coincidence. Another is to say, "God did that," which explains nothing even if it is true. The third is to invoke the anthropic principle's reasoning that we must find these conditions if we are alive, because, what else could we find? The final option is biocentrism pure and simple, which explains how the universe is created by life. Obviously, no universe that doesn't allow for life could possibly exist; the universe and its parameters simply reflect the spatio-temporal logic of animal existence.” I hope anyone with a background in probability theory or critical thinking can spot the delightful plethora of fallacies invoked in that paragraph.

He also reacts to dismissals in a fairly typical crackpot manner.

Yup. Respectable scientist Lanza’s alter ego is a mixture of Deepak Chopra and Denyse O’Leary (and Lawrence LeShan) – without the religious insanity, admittedly, but with enough crackpottery to not sustain a perpetual motion machine. It is, frankly, not a completely uncommon situation for otherwise respectable scientists.

Diagnosis: Crackpot, and as cranky as they come (despite his real and respectable daytime job). Seems to have gained some prominence in the Chopra-inspired community.

6 comments:

  1. A good discussion can be found here.

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  2. Your simply showing your inability to think of the world in this paradigm. It is the close minded fool that holds humanity back from its true potential.

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  3. Double-slit experiment quantum woo? Its understandable that is what Einstein thought. The mere act of observation can completely change the outcome of an event and it isn't the instruments. Figure this out you are doing better then anyone including Einstein. Until the quantum woo is physics quantum mechanics.

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    1. Double-slit experiments are not themselves quantum woo (where on Earth did you find anything suggesting that?), but claiming that "The mere act of observation can completely change the outcome of an event and it isn't the instruments" is definitely misleading at best. Double slit experiments show that matter can exhibit characteristics of both particles and waves; that's all - it's not as if *observation* changes the outcome (different ways of observing the outcomes change what we *observe*), or in any sense affects what in fact goes on at the quantum level. The Wikipedia article explains it rather decently in layman's terms: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Double-slit_experiment

      Of course, after bullshit like the pseudo documentary "What the bleep do we know" there are plenty of physics illiterates who say things like Lanza: "Quantum theory ended the classical view that particles exist if we don't perceive them." No. Reality is still not mind-dependent. It behaves the way it does, regardless of whether it is perceived or not. I don't really know what problem people have with quantum physics here. Is it a failure to distinguish observation process from the event observed? Or is it just wishful-thinking-of-the-gaps?

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  4. At present Science states matter before consciousness Now that is loony that's like,putting the cart before the horse...nonsense. Lanza states its the other way round, consciousness before matter. Lanza and people on our side of the pond like Sheldrake are moving in the right direction. Consciousness before matter is not loony, its the way forward.

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  5. Agree with J.F. Have any of you had your mind open long enough to actually read the book? Isn't that what science is? Enquiry? Who's more likely to have the right idea? One of the most published, prolific and respected scientist in the world, or this blog author? Modern day science is papering of the cracks of GAPING holes in all it's fundamental theories. Perhaps if you read this book you you mind the actually filler?

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