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.


  1. A good discussion can be found here.

  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.