Postmodern science proves eternal life

One of my friends describes HuffPo as “the Journal of Boobs and Woo,” and it keeps topping itself on both fronts.  Here’s another stupid lucubration designed to delude the casual reader.  Robert Lanza, M.D. (described as “scientist, theoretician, author”), has written a post called “Why you will always exist:  time is ‘on demand,” using quantum mechanics to prove that humans have eternal life.  Imagine the credulous reader who tunes in, only to be conned into thinking that science shows that he’ll go to heaven.

Here’s Lanza’s logic:

There is no reality external to humans.  Postmodern science!

Our entire education and language revolves around a mindset that assumes a separate universe “out there.” It’s further assumed we accurately perceive this external reality and play little or no role in its appearance.

However, starting in the ’20s, experiments have shown the opposite . .

You know where this is going: Quantum Mechanicsville!  Scientific experiments prove that observation affects reality.

The observer critically influences the outcome. The experiments have been performed so many times, with so many variations, it’s conclusively proven that a particle’s behavior depends upon the very act of observation. The results of these experiments have befuddled scientists for decades. Some of the greatest physicists have described them as impossible to intuit.

Yeah, our consciousness certainly created the ability of antibiotics to kill bacteria.  Surely every time we sequence the DNA of a human, we change the human genome.  And who can doubt that the act of watching Saturn with telescopes must surely have created its rings!

Ergo, we live forever because our finitude is simply a mental construct:

Amazingly, if we accept a life-created reality, it all becomes simple to understand, and you can explain some of the biggest puzzles of science. For instance, it becomes clear why space and time — and even the properties of matter itself — depend on the observer. Remember: You can’t see through the bone surrounding your brain. Space and time are simply the mind’s tools for putting everything together.

According to current scientific myth, all your struggles and tears are ultimately in vain. After you die and the human race is long gone, it’ll be as if nothing in your life ever existed.

Not so, says biocentrism [JAC: biocentrism is Lanza's Big Dumb Idea]: Reality isn’t a thing, it’s a process that involves our consciousness. Life is a melody so vast and eternal that human ears can’t appreciate the tonal range of the symphony.

Indeed, for what is true of electrons must surely be true of life itself.

Lanza’s peroration is a string of deepities:

“There’s no way to remove the observer — us — from our perceptions of the world,” said Stephen Hawking. “The past, like the future, is indefinite and exists only as a spectrum of possibilities.” You, the observer, collapse these possibilities, the cascade of events we call the universe.

Our consciousness animates the universe like an old phonograph. Listening to it doesn’t alter the record, and depending on where the needle is placed, you hear a certain piece of music. This is what we call “now.” The songs before and after are the past and future. In like manner, you, your loved ones and friends (and sadly, the villains too) endure always. The record doesn’t go away. All nows exist simultaneously, although we can only listen to the songs one by one. Time is On Demand.

I have more contempt for this kind of nonsense than I do for creationism, for Lanza uses his stature as a Genuine Scientist to sell complete garbage: the idea that because electrons sometimes seem to behave as waves, and sometimes as particles, we’ll one day be together with Jesus and our dead relatives.  (Granted, Lanza doesn’t mention religion, but of course that’s where this stuff is designed to resonate.)  Lanza is like a medical doctor who puts a homeopathic nostrum—or a Catholic cracker—in a vial labelled “tetracycline.”

Here’s part of his bio, which proves that all these qualifications and encomiums don’t keep someone from writing complete nonsense when they leave their day job.

Robert Lanza is considered one of the leading scientists in the world. He is currently Chief Scientific Officer at Advanced Cell Technology, and a professor at Wake Forest University School of Medicine. He has several hundred publications and inventions, and over two dozen scientific books: among them, Principles of Tissue Engineering, which is recognized as the definitive reference in the field. Others include One World: The Health & Survival of the Human Species in the 21st Century (Foreword by President Jimmy Carter), and the Handbook of Stem Cells and Essentials of Stem Cell Biology, which are considered the definitive references in stem cell research. Dr. Lanza received his BA and MD degrees from the University of Pennsylvania, where he was both a University Scholar and Benjamin Franklin Scholar. He was also a Fulbright Scholar, and was part of the team that cloned the world’s first human embryo, as well as the first to clone an endangered species, to demonstrate that nuclear transfer could reverse the aging process, and to generate stem cells using a method that does not require the destruction of human embryos.

Lanza had a similar post three months ago, “Does death exist? New theory says ‘no’.”  It’s his theory, of course.

71 Comments

  1. NewEnglandBob
    Posted February 12, 2011 at 8:04 am | Permalink

    Amazing that someone with his education can go so far off the deep end. I would imagine that others at his university are running away from him due to extreme embarrassment.

    • locutus7
      Posted February 12, 2011 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

      My anecdotal experience is that medical doctors seem especially susceptible to quantum woo and other vague nods to the afterlife.

      Perhaps it is related to their daily confronting of mortality, and their patients’ fear of dying.

      My own doctor has similar new age tendencies.

      • lamacher
        Posted February 12, 2011 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

        I venture to say (and I am one) that most medical docs are poorly trained in hard science, but being reasonably intelligent, they get off on things like quantum states without understanding a thing about them. The same for a lot of theologians. No doubt the dinosaurs would have recognized that they did not live in a reality, since there were no humans around.

  2. Posted February 12, 2011 at 8:14 am | Permalink

    We shall live forever, this I already know … for Lynne McTaggart and Gary Schwartz hath told us so.

  3. stvs
    Posted February 12, 2011 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    “Our consciousness animates the universe”

    So true. For proof, we need look no further than Animal Kingdom’s new narrator, Randall. Here’s Randall on “The Crazy Nastyass Honey Badger”:

    Honey badger don’t give a shit—it just takes what it wants. … Eeew! How disgusting is that?

  4. Kudu
    Posted February 12, 2011 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    “There is no reality external to humans.”

    Even if reality was dependent on an observer, how do any of these nut-jobs figure it has to be a human observer? How would a sub-atomic particle, a black hole, or a sale at Best Buy know whether it was being observed by a human, a chimpanzee, or some other species? This “humans create reality” nonsense is even more egotistical than the belief that earth is the center of the universe. I think we have a new world record for ego.

    If some effect of our observations on reality means we live forever, then all species that can “observe” live forever. The small number of humans on the planet compared to, say, ants, and the comparatively long length of a human generation, means that far far more individuals of other species have existed than humans. Its therefore quite obvious that heaven will be jam-packed with the souls of other species, and the frequency of encountering another human as you wonder around heaven for eternity will be staggeringly rare indeed. Hope everyone likes the company of ants and bacteria!

  5. Posted February 12, 2011 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    I’ve actually become quite comfortable with the apparent result that observation (apparently) changes the result of the experiment. It’s far less spooky once you start to grok the idea of quantum decoherence.

    I have written about it (at length, but imprecisely) here. In a nutshell: Before you observe the particle, the possible universes with outcome A are very “close” to the universes with outcome B — they only differ by the position of one particle, after all! In order to get the weird quantum effects where a particle appears to interfere with itself, the possible universes have to be that “close”, or else it doesn’t work.

    As soon as you observe it, now there are bazillions and bazillions of particles that are different between the possible universes representing each outcome. They are no longer “close”, so you can’t have the quantum effects.

    It’s not the observation per se — it’s that observation by a conscious entity inherently requires a lot of different particles to do their thang. You get the same effect if you have a detector but you don’t actually look at the results (i.e. even though nobody is consciously observing the result of the experiment, even a very simple detector will cause a lot of particles to be affected, so you get quantum decoherence anyway)

    Once you understand that, it’s a whole lot less spooky.

    • Posted February 12, 2011 at 8:55 am | Permalink

      It’s actually much more of an artifact of language than anything else.

      “Observation” as used by quantum mechanics has turned out to be a poor choice of word. All it means is that the particle in question has interacted with the measuring equipment. There’s nothing visual about it, and certainly no implication of intelligence or consciousness in the observer.

      You know how “selfish” genes aren’t genes for psychological selfishness and don’t have any consciousness of their own with which to be selfish? Same thing.

      To abuse the language the way the Warriors of Woo do goes way beyond mere ignorance and into profound realms of either idiocy or mendacity. Either they’re incapable of understanding even the most basic principles of the fields they distort…or they do, and they’re willfully manipulating those who don’t.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Posted February 12, 2011 at 9:03 am | Permalink

        Sorry…that was supposed to be a reply to #4….

        b&

        • Posted February 12, 2011 at 9:12 am | Permalink

          Oh heh, okay, cuz I was gonna say, I felt like what I said was consistent with that.

          I do think that until you have a lay understanding of the idea of quantum decoherence, the idea that interacting with the measuring equipment changes the result is still a bit spooky, even if observation is not strictly important. But looked at from the view of quantum decoherence, it’s not mysterious at all.

          • Thanny
            Posted February 12, 2011 at 11:47 am | Permalink

            I don’t think it’s the least bit spooky.

            Let’s say you want to know how heavy a bowling ball rolling down the lane is, so you put a force meter in front of it. It slams into the force meter, and stops rolling.

            Is that spooky? We have other ways we might measure facts about the bowling ball without getting in its way, but we don’t when it comes to subatomic particles. Watching the results of them slamming into things is pretty much all we’re able to do.

            Entanglement, if real, is definitely spooky, though. Unfortunately, every time I see something about an experiment that purports to demonstrate it, there’s always a light-speed information link involved, which means the whole “spooky action at a distance” didn’t take place.

            • steve oberski
              Posted February 12, 2011 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

              While entangled particles may be separated by a large distance in the 3 spatial dimensions that we can observe directly they are not far apart in the curled up hidden dimensions postulated by string theory.

              Based on my very non expert reading of mass market science books in this area.

              • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
                Posted February 12, 2011 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

                If those dimensions are curled up, they are local and exist in every “point” in space.

                I don’t think you can correlate entanglement with (small) hidden dimensions.

                Also, it is IMO easier to understand the “non-locality” as demonstrating the extent of the exclusion of the supposedly “local” hidden variables – the wavefunction isn’t actually always “local”. How could it be and remain a wavefunction?

            • Circe
              Posted February 12, 2011 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

              Entanglement is definitely real, and almost certainly exists.

              And it involves no “action at a distance”.

      • locutus7
        Posted February 12, 2011 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

        Ben is exactly correct. On the quantum level, we should replace “observation” with “measurement by poking at.”

        Because we are poking at sub-atomic particles with other sub-atomic particles (beams of photons or electrons), which perturbs their position.

        On a larger scale – the classical regime, or as Dawkins says, Middle World – photons bouncing off an object and entering our eye are far to small to perturb the object.

        An example would be, rolling a billiard ball against a brick wall will likely not perturb the wall because it is too massive. But roll the ball against another ball and it will move the other ball.

        Equating quantum behaviors with those in our everyday world is intellectually dishonest.

        • Dawn Oz
          Posted February 12, 2011 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

          Thanks for this quick clarity.

      • Posted February 12, 2011 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

        I thought this was the case, and an excellent case is presented for it in Quantum Reality, easily the best book I’ve read on the subject. The book presents numerous points of view on what’s really going on at the quantum level, but in my opinion the best are those that correct the notion that consciousness is a major factor in these interactions.ht

      • JS1685
        Posted February 12, 2011 at 8:08 pm | Permalink

        These kinds of equivocations abound in a variety of disciplines. That so many buy into them, or are hoodwinked by them, and therefore perpetuate them, is truly angering.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted February 12, 2011 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

      Not that I’m unsympathetic to the notion that precisely the electron self-interference and its dependence on the experimental apparatus state you describe is rather provocatively unintuitive. But it isn’t the best experiment to understand quantum correlations, as evidenced by your commenter tjluptak that starts to describe the properties of EM & particle fields.

      My preferred model for understanding (and I bet there are other, personal and/or better) is the correlation of play card values. For an analogous experiment to a Bell test, take two value pairs of cards, say two 2′s and two 3′s and put them in pairs of labeled envelopes “A” and “B”.

      Now let Alice send an “A” and a “B” to Bob. Then throw a coin deciding if the outcome of your quantum observation was “A” or “B”. Tell Alice and Bob that the other pair of envelopes are to be thrown away, they weren’t the outcome. When Alice open her remaining envelope to find a 2, she will quantum magically know that Bob will find a 2 as soon as he opens his.

      This analogy goes through also with later Bell test experiments that change the choice of possible outcomes during the experiment itself by picking choice of paths for the test particles, IIRC making it seem in non-realist quantum theories as if information is “non-local in time” in addition to “non-local in space” – the (interpretation of the) outcome is decided “after the experiment”. You just need to add another layer of envelopes and coin choice before the last.

      In essence what you have is classical correlations, causally observed and without carrying hidden variables as the making of correlations are part of the experiment set up. They are “just” transferred to the quantum realm, which offers more insight into the physics (no hidden variables, no “counterfactual definiteness” (i.e. no entertaining the “what if’s” of the thrown away envelopes).

  6. Posted February 12, 2011 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    <sigh />

    Drop a feather and a hammer at the same time. As you expect, the feather slowly wafts down while the hammer goes “klunk.” This is as you expect, and perfectly in accordance with human intuition.

    Do the same thing on the moon, and, contrary to all intuition, they both fall at the exact same rate. And that rate is much too lazy to be easily believable.

    In other words, human intuition is very finely honed to a very narrow band of potential experiences. Go just a couple hundred miles above the surface of the Earth — about the distance between Boston and New York — and the environment of low orbit is radically different from anything you’ve ever experienced in your whole life. You’ll need hundreds of millions of dollars in life support equipment unless you want to die a fast and unpleasant death, for starters….

    And that’s just in our own backyard.

    Yet, there’s this overwhelmingly-common expectation that human intuition should be universally applicable.

    All these people who get so worked up about quantum woo and relativistic bullshit don’t understand that those tools are designed to explain parts of the universe far more radically different from everyday experience than the moon or LEO. Quantum effects don’t manifest themselves until the sub-microscopic realm, and relativistic effects aren’t even noticeable at stellar scales without careful measurement. (Side note: the Great Red Spot on Jupiter is bigger than the Earth, and the Sun is as much bigger than Jupiter as Jupiter is bigger than the Earth.

    So, of course our intuitions fail us, and of course all sorts of weird and wacky things happen in other environments — even weirder and wackier than a hammer and a feather falling together.

    It’s what you should expect…yet (almost) nobody does.

    And then, they really go off the deep end when they re-extrapolate backwards. Using the same “logic” as the Warriors of Woo, Galileo’s laws mean you can drop a hammer on your bare foot with impunity. After all, Galileo “proved” that hammers and feathers fall just the same, and we know there’s no harm in dropping a feather on your toe.

    Idiots. Complete, blithering idiots.

    Cheers,

    b&

    • Posted February 12, 2011 at 9:05 am | Permalink

      Side note: the Great Red Spot on Jupiter is bigger than the Earth, and the Sun is as much bigger than Jupiter as Jupiter is bigger than the Earth.

      So we take my son to this toddler music class called Music Together. It’s actually pretty cool. Anyway, they have a mix of public domain songs and songs that have been written specifically for this class. One this semester, which I believe to be the latter, goes like this:

      Great big stars, way over yonder
      Great big stars, way over yonder
      Great big stars, way over yonder
      All around the world, gonna shine, shine

      Okay. So. Is this supposed to be a geocentric, poetic viewpoint? Or is it supposed to be a realty-based viewpoint?

      Contrast “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” (emph. added, of course) vs. They Might Be Giants’ “The Sun is a Mass of Incandescent Gas”. Both are quite clear on their perspective. TMBG is trying to give a little children’s astronomy lesson. “Twinkle Twinkle”, on the other hand, is clearly taking a poetic view of stars as perceived by a naive observer on Earth. There is nothing wrong with either approach. Both are quite natural ways of expressing wonder at the cosmos.

      The thing is, though, “Twinkle Twinkle” refers to little stars, because goddamit, when you look at them from Earth, they appear like little points of light. They do not appear to be “Great Big Stars”, now do they?

      So does that mean the song from Music Together is attempting to refer to stars as they actually are, rather than how we perceive them? If so, then I think it does a lousy job. First of all, “All around the world, gonna shine” is a rather geocentric view. I have no problem with “Twinkle Twinkle” observing that stars are “Up above the world so high”, because it is clearly speaking in appearances — it looks like the stars are all “above” the Earth, even though that’s a silly way of describing their actual position (It is strictly true that, as I type this, Los Angeles is some 2500 miles to my left, but if you asked me “Where is LA?” and I said, “Oh, about 2500 miles to the left of my dining room table”, I suspect that would not be a satisfying answer).

      Far worse to me, though, is the “Way over yonder” line. Way over yonder? Way over yonder? If they are talking perceptions, then fine, but I suspect they aren’t, because no star is perceived as “big” from Earth (except the Sun, but there’s only one of those, i.e. not plural as in the song). And if you are talking about reality, referring to dozens of light years as “way over yonder” seems rather impotent. I might as well describe Bill Gates as being “fairly financially secure”, or describe the ongoing war in Iraq as “a heated argument”, or describe the massive databases maintained by Google as “quite a few bytes”. Except all of those descriptions are far more apt.

      Alas, nobody seems to like my version:

      Unimaginably big stars, an absolutely inconceivable distance over yonder
      Unimaginably big stars, an absolutely inconceivable distance over yonder
      Unimaginably big stars, an absolutely inconceivable distance over yonder
      All around the galaxy in no particular relation to the Earth, gonna shine, shine

      Harumph.

      • JS1685
        Posted February 12, 2011 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

        lol

        You really know how to get your curmudgeon on!
        :)

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted February 12, 2011 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

      and relativistic effects aren’t even noticeable at stellar scales without careful measurement.

      If you are arguing that general relativistic effects modulo newtonian gravity are weak at most scales, no argument there.

      Funnily, and I think it supports your argument, everyday magnetism is (and this always awe me:) a low-velocity relativistic effect! You can extract the magnetic Lorentz force from a consideration of relativity as applied to the E field – and it scales with v, not relativistic gamma.

      However, people have stopped considering magnets as displaying the non-mundane and instead may woo-fish them for religion: “how do you explain magnets, there is a gap therefore Jebus rulez”,
      “magnets are pulled out and then clicks back, there is communication therefore pedophiles rulez”.

      [In the case of permanent magnets and the rather unknown physics of their crystal domains they may have a point. :-D]

    • Brian
      Posted February 12, 2011 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

      I’m gonna have to take marks of Ben’s post. No mention of a Zombie asking followers to feels his intestines. You’re slipping Ben.
      I’ll give you a B+ for this.

  7. Woof
    Posted February 12, 2011 at 8:41 am | Permalink

    “Lanza’s logic” could be used as a siren for emergency vehicles: WooWooWooWooWoo

  8. Filippo
    Posted February 12, 2011 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    ” . . . has several hundred publications and inventions.”

    The frequency of this sort of commentary in the media and in general discourse has greatly increased in Amuricuh in the last twenty or more years. Is it rude to opine that this is – what’s the word – - “bloviation”?

    Exactly how many is “several hundred”? Of those several hundred items, exactly how many are “inventions”? Why not include the twenty books in the “several hundred”?

    Yea, verily, bloviation. Once seen on the side of a van: “Interior Environmental Maintenance Systems.” Translation: the throw rug rental man.

    • Marella
      Posted February 13, 2011 at 12:05 am | Permalink

      People rent throw rugs? Weird.

  9. Hempenstein
    Posted February 12, 2011 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    “Our consciousness animates the universe like an old phonograph… The record doesn’t go away. All nows exist simultaneously…”

    This seems to have a certain [chemically induced?] Om mani padme hum to it.

    Alternatively, the guy lost his calling as a writer for Firesign Theater.

  10. Posted February 12, 2011 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    Loved the Honey Badger – some colleagues and I once came up with a new religion based on the Holy Honey Badger (also known as the Ratel), and we called ourselves Ratelians. The code was something along the lines of do unto others as you would have them do unto you, then if they piss you off, rip their scrotum off. Or something like that. The ethics needed a bit of work.

    Where Lanza and his ilk really earn their descrotification is in this notion that because we are embedded in reality, therefore reality is an illusion. That is simply shite. There is a reality all right – just that we are *part* of it; however it so toadally does not follow that we therefore create it as we go along.

    Just because we don’t fully understand how quantum shit works (although we can work with it and predict its behaviour to an extraordinary degree of accuracy, which suggests we know *something* pretty important), that does not mean “anything goes”. Our universe is a mathematically well-behaved system, and we’re a part of it. That in no way means that the Magic Space Pixie has any goodies for us when our particular subsystems become deaggregated and reincorporated into new subsystems. Indeed, Tegmark’s Mathematical Universe Hypothesis might just be the ultimate proof that God does not exist.

    The Great Honey Badger is another matter however. He is Necessarily Existent.

    • Posted February 12, 2011 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

      Sadly, I think you’ll have to deep-six that religion because of this (my emphasis):

      And woe befall all those male assailants! According to popular folklore (that is also backed by some very concrete evidence), honey badgers are said to go for the scrotum first when attacking other animals (like Wildebeest, Buffalo, Water Buck, Kudu and even man!) that dare to offer real or even imagined provocation. In some places in the Kruger Park, reports have show that an adult male buffalo, a water buck and Gnu have all been found dead due to loss of blood after honey badgers attacked them in the scrotum.

      • Posted February 12, 2011 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

        Sure, a gnu, but NOT a “Gnu Atheist” – A Ratelian would never do that to such a respected beast!

      • Tim Harris
        Posted February 12, 2011 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

        ‘a honey badger in pursuit of a Greater Honeyguide will generally answer it by making grunting noises, growling sounds or a slight sibilant chuckling or hissing sound.’ One wonders what sounds it makes when it is after a scrotum; I’ll vote for that blood-curdling, scrotum-tightening ‘slight sibilant chuckling’, a phrase which seems to come from some particularly horrifying Gothic novel.

  11. BradW
    Posted February 12, 2011 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    Isn’t the human brain just absolutely fascinating? This, just one more example of how even otherwise brilliant people can have some bioelectrochemical problems.

  12. Posted February 12, 2011 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    The other thing that’s silly about this is that what could make a legitimate argument based on the Many Worlds interpretation that, although none of us will subjectively experience eternal life, our existence is effectively eternal, since from each moment of our lives there are an inconceivable number of future selves branching out from it.

    (though I think now that the mental picture of it being a bunch of discrete branches is somewhat misleading, but that’s not particularly important for the purposes of this comment)

    Of course, one could make a counter-argument that, since there’s no real reason to say that this “self” at time X in a particular possible universe is the same “self” at time Y in a particular possible universe, the continuity of consciousness is therefore an illusion — and from that perspective, not only do we not have eternal life, our lives are instantaneous.

    It’s like that thought experiment with the teleporter — if a perfect quark-for-quark copy of you were reconstructed elsewhere, and your original self simultaneously destroyed, would the copy be “you”? Would it carry your thread of consciousness? Or would the copy be an usurper, who had all of your memories and every sensation of being you, but was actually a different consciousness? I think the correct answer is that every instant of every day of our lives, we have found ourselves on the other end of this teleporter. We are all usurpers of our one-instant-before selves, carrying all of that person’s memories and having every sensation of a continuing stream of consciousness — even if it’s all an illusion.

    The existential ramifications of quantum mechanics are both fascinating and complicated. It makes a mockery of most of the Big Questions, while enabling some truly shocking and unexpected interpretations to emerge. (I have heard the argument made that, if one subscribes to the Many Worlds interpretation, the number of people who have ever lived is astronomical, essentially infinite — and therefore the number of people alive in any given universe is irrelevant, only their average happiness is relevant. I don’t personally subscribe to this view, but I also have trouble refuting it convincingly… I think ultimately we are asking the wrong question somehow, but it’s fascinating to think about nonetheless)

    Unfortunately, “Ergo Jesus” has always been far more lucrative. Fucking Lanza…

  13. Erp
    Posted February 12, 2011 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    I note he didn’t write “One World” but was instead the editor (it is a collection). He is also an editor of “Principles of Tissue Engineering” and the other books mentioned not author.

    Given he is now in his mid-50s, I would expect someone ‘considered a leading scientist in the world’ to have been, say, elected to the National Academy of Sciences. Apparently the phrase originated on Lanza’s own web page.

  14. Graham Martin-Royle
    Posted February 12, 2011 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    Woo Woo.
    Is it a train, is it a plane? No, it’s just some more bullshit coming down the line.

    Think I’ll become a Ratelian, I think the ethics are just fine as they are.

  15. Matt Penfold
    Posted February 12, 2011 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    Oh good, a solipsist. That means I get to explain the way I treat solipsists.

    I punch then in the face. It makes me feel better, and the solipsist must put it down as a self-inflicted injury.

    • Microraptor
      Posted February 12, 2011 at 11:20 am | Permalink

      Ah, I see I’m not the only one who’s come up with that solution.

      • Matt Penfold
        Posted February 12, 2011 at 11:39 am | Permalink

        I lay no claims to originality for the thought. Indeed it is a rather obvious response to the irritation of solipsists.

  16. stvs
    Posted February 12, 2011 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    Though the best way to address bullshit like this is with mocking contempt rather than correcting facts (because the bullshitter doesn’t care about the facts), I just can’t help myself. Here’s the basic error:

    “starting in the ’20s, experiments have shown the opposite: The observer critically influences the outcome.”

    No. This conflates experimental outcomes with their interpretation. Weinberg’s comments on Copenhagen are relevant here:

    Bohr’s version of quantum mechanics was deeply flawed, but not for the reason Einstein thought. The Copenhagen interpretation describes what happens when an observer makes a measurement, but the observer and the act of measurement are themselves treated classically. This is surely wrong: Physicists and their apparatus must be governed by the same quantum mechanical rules that govern everything else in the universe. But these rules are expressed in terms of a wave function (or, more precisely, a state vector) that evolves in a perfectly deterministic way. So where do the probabilistic rules of the Copenhagen interpretation come from?

    In Lanza’s world, he’s always half masturbating depending on whether ceiling cat observes him or not.

  17. Ludo
    Posted February 12, 2011 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    Wasn’t it Wittgenstein who said something like us being immortal because we never experience being dead?

    • MrLokiNight
      Posted February 12, 2011 at 10:26 am | Permalink

      I dunno about that, but he was Ludwig was a miserable sod: “I don’t know why we are here, but I’m pretty sure that it is not in order to enjoy ourselves”

      He also made this claim, but didn’t achieve it: “A serious and good philosophical work could be written consisting entirely of jokes” :)

      Michael

      • Tim Harris
        Posted February 12, 2011 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

        I wonder how much the miserable sod bit was a pose. I seem to recall that he was an admirer o P.G. Wodehouse.

        • MrLokiNight
          Posted February 12, 2011 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

          Well Wodehouse is funny. So..

          • Tim Harris
            Posted February 12, 2011 at 7:53 pm | Permalink

            LW seems to have had a sense of humour and so wasn’t necessarily a miserable sod.

            • MrLokiNight
              Posted February 13, 2011 at 9:42 am | Permalink

              ###
              Tim I found this:

              http://greatwarfiction.wordpress.com/2006/07/10/wodehouse-and-wittgenstein/
              “Wittgenstein named Wodehouse’s Honeysuckle Cottage as the funniest thing he’d ever read”

              I think you can have a sense of humour AND be a miserable sod at the same time. Numerous comedians & writers were both

              ###
              I admit however I formed my opinion of Wittgenstein based on my prejudices…

              I find his writings turgid, joyless & not in the least illuminating. No meat that I could find. Perhaps part of my problem with him is he’s not a natural English writer & it shows. I don’t know if what I read was a translation or originally in English by his own hand.

              ###
              I do struggle with philosophers though ~ the bloody obscure language !

              I like these two, but I don’t find them particularly ‘readable’ either:
              1] Russell
              Partly because he insisted [in contrast to L.W], that philosophy must deliver substantial results: theories about what exists, what can be known, how we come to know it
              2] Popper
              Because his work is ‘grounded’ & useful [scientific method]

              Michael

  18. Bilbo
    Posted February 12, 2011 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    Lucubration? Where’s a dictionary when I need one?

    • Posted February 12, 2011 at 10:46 am | Permalink

      It’s right there on your Firefox navigation toolbar! According to Merriam-Webster on-line:

      “LUCUBRATION: laborious or intensive study; also: the product of such study”

      It goes on to say that the word is derived from the Latin “lux”, meaning “light”, in the sense of late-night study by lamplight. I did not know that!

      • Diane G.
        Posted February 12, 2011 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

        I think another meaning suits Jerry’s use better: “2. A piece of writing, typically a pedantic or overelaborate one”

  19. Posted February 12, 2011 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    Reminds me of the late Lewis Carroll’s proof that all triangles are isosceles, except that in his case it was merely an exercise in whimsy.

    “I used to think that the brain was the most wonderful organ in my body. Then I realized who was telling me this.”
    —Emo Phillips

  20. Myron
    Posted February 12, 2011 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    “‘There´s no way to remove the observer — us — from our perceptions of the world,’ said Stephen Hawking.”

    But there is a way to remove the observer from the world. For from the truism that there is no perceiver-independent world perception it doesn’t follow that there is no perceiver-independent world.

    • Myron
      Posted February 12, 2011 at 11:47 am | Permalink

      The world qua perceived world is perceiver-dependent, but the world qua world is not.

  21. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted February 12, 2011 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    For instance, it becomes clear why space and time — and even the properties of matter itself — depend on the observer. Remember: You can’t see through the bone surrounding your brain.

    If there ever was a bone-headed argument, this must be it! So now it isn’t the eyes that observe the impinging photons, it is the Ultimate Observer? Enter the quantum mind woo.

    That aside, I kind of like the formulation of this deepity. I think I will use Lanza’s Ultimate Observer Argument from now on:

    “If that dress makes you fat, hon? Remember: You can’t see through the bone surrounding your brain.”

    “If this experiment is a fail? Remember: You can’t see through the bone surrounding your brain.”

    “Why evolution is a fact? All you need is to remember: You can’t see through the bone surrounding your brain.”

    As for realism of quantum mechanics, I just went on at length here in the “Dawkins: a protestant atheist” thread. Short version: “We can haz reality. For realz!”

    • Posted February 12, 2011 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

      Yes, that line somehow reminded me of narrator Criswell’s line in Plan 9 from Outer Space, “Future events will affect us in the future!” It’s not wrong, but who cares?

  22. Posted February 12, 2011 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    Why IS he standing in that pond?!

    • MrLokiNight
      Posted February 12, 2011 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

      My best guess

      ROBERT LANZA EXTRACT FROM HERE:
      http://www.robertlanza.com/judgement-day-is-coming-science-suggests-justice-is-inescapable/

      [Warning ~ before reading have a vomit bag at hand]

      … consciousness which was behind the youth I once was, was also behind the mind of every animal and person existing in space and time.

      “There are,” wrote Loren Eiseley, noted anthropologist, “very few youths today who will pause, coming from a biology class, to finger a yellow flower or poke in friendly fashion at a sunning turtle on the edge of the campus pond, and who are capable of saying to themselves, ‘We are all one − all melted together.’”

      Yes, I thought, we are all one. I let the fish go. With a thrash of the tail, I disappeared into the pond

      You can find the original pic of Lanza being a numpty here:
      http://hubpages.com/hub/Robert-Lanza

      Michael

      • Diane G.
        Posted February 12, 2011 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

        So, being one with the leeches, then…

        • Marella
          Posted February 13, 2011 at 12:18 am | Permalink

          Poor leeches, they really don’t deserve that.

  23. Microraptor
    Posted February 12, 2011 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    Hey, was anyone else reminded of “The tide goes in, the tide goes out. Never a miscommunication.”

  24. Posted February 12, 2011 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    Oh the lolz! Is Robert Lanza the reincarnation of Bishop Berkeley?

    • Brian
      Posted February 12, 2011 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

      Good point! I was thinking had Lanza been fondling his ‘Critique of pure Reason’. Kant makes claims about a type of idealism. But it could have been Berkeley instead. Didn’t think of that, too busy kicking rocks was I to prove there was reality…..

    • Dawn Oz
      Posted February 12, 2011 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

      Wonderful point – thank you!

  25. bjornove
    Posted February 12, 2011 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    He is publishing stuff together with spin doctor Deepak Chopra. I guess that says about everything about this Lanza guy

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/deepak-chopra/evolution-reigns-but-darw_b_309586.html

  26. Posted February 12, 2011 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    The title–and entirety of its contents–of the counterargument would be, ‘Old Theory Says You Are Dead When You Die–Deal With It.’

  27. Diane G.
    Posted February 12, 2011 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    Also, for a leading scientist, he seems to have a problem with the scientific sense of “theory.”

  28. Posted February 13, 2011 at 3:46 am | Permalink

    Lanza got one thing right. We are eternal.
    “We ourselves are made of stardust”

    • Diane G.
      Posted February 13, 2011 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

      Which makes us just a temporary concretion…

  29. Posted February 13, 2011 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

    Jerry, perhaps you or another person could exume that blog Subvesive Thinking as it combines the twin superstitions – the paranormal and the supernatural, what Paul Kurtz call ” The Transcendental Temptation.”
    The blogger sure goes after us!

  30. JBlilie
    Posted February 14, 2011 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    My worst (wurst?!) movie: What the Bleep Do We Know. A vile circus of talking heads and bad live action dedicated to promoting the same kind of nonsense as the article you cite in this post.


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