It's a New Age cliche: "we create our own reality."
Almost always people who claim this are talking non-sensical gibberish. If this were true, there'd be a racing green Mini-Cooper S in my driveway instead of a silver Prius (see here and here for my long-running attempts to manifest a more exciting ride).
However, there is much more than a grain of scientific truth in those words, when understood correctly. As noted in my previous post about quantum theory, in the realm of the very small how an observation is made determines what is observed.
In accord with wave-particle duality, an experimenter can find that photons of light manifest wave-like or particle-like behavior depending on how his/her apparatus is set up.
But this is a far cry from demonstrating that someone can magically bring photons into existence through awareness or consciousness alone. What we look for may be what we get, but what we get seemingly is a product of impersonal laws of nature, not individual choice.
As I was reading a speculative book about the meaning of quantum theory, "Biocentrism," I found that I could follow the trail of "we create our own reality" up to a point. However, I encountered a wall of skepticism and incredulity quite a ways before the authors did.
Because this is a big subject -- reality -- in this post I'll focus on where I could go along with Robert Lanza's and Bob Berman's biocentric arguments, saving a discussion of where I had to jump off their philosophical ship for another blogging moment.
Here's some excerpts from "Biocentrism" that elicited a right-on from me. They point to a seemingly unarguable fact: our human conception of reality is just that, human. The universe appears the way it does to us because our brains are fashioned to produce that appearance.
Most people, in and out of the sciences, imagine the external world to exist on its own, with an appearance that more or less resembles what we ourselves see. Human or animal eyes, according to this view, are mere windows that accurately let in the world.
...Absent the act of seeing, thinking, hearing -- in short, awareness in its myriad aspects -- what have we got?
We can believe and aver that there's a universe out there even if all living creatures were non-existent, but this idea is merely a thought and a thought requires a living organism. Without any organism, what if anything is really there?
Now, I had to struggle a bit to find some quotations that didn't edge overly much into the "we create reality" position which is the core of "Biocentrism" (and which I take issue with).
But I've got no problem with "we create our perception of reality." This strikes me as an eminently defensible position that hardly needs saying, since it is so obvious. Yet as Lanza and Berman point out, we humans intuitively imagine that the cosmos is a certain way -- our way.
We don't see the universe as it is. We see the universe as it appears to us through the filter of a Homo sapiens consciousness.
Bats, snakes, monkeys, salmon, dogs, and every other sort of sentient creature see things differently, as does, in a non-conscious sense, a radio telescope and other devices that enable us to perceive aspects of the cosmos beyond our natural capacity.
However, since no one has ever had a non-human experience of reality, both our individual and collective view of How Things Really Are is inextricably biased toward anthropomorphism.
We need to scratch the "Really" in both science and spirituality.
All we can say is, "this is how things are" -- knowing that whatever we believe we know, it is a statement limited to the experience of a single species on a single planet in a single star system in a single galaxy out of an unimaginably vast cosmos that likely includes forms of consciousness far different from ours.
Which, or who, would see things in their own way.
In Stephen Hawking's new book, "The Grand Design," he talks about a goldfish bowl.
A few years ago the city council of Monza, Italy, barred pet owners from keeping goldfish in curved goldfish bowls. The measure's sponsor explained the measure in part by saying that it is cruel to keep a fish in a bowl with curved sides because, gazing out, the fish would have a distorted view of reality.
But how do we know that we have the true, undistorted picture of reality? Might not we ourselves be inside some big goldfish bowl and have our vision distorted by an enormous lens? The goldfish's picture of reality is different from ours, but can we be sure it is less real?
The goldfish view is not the same as our own, but goldfish could still formulate scientific laws governing the motion of the objects they observe outside the bowl... Their laws would be more complicated than the laws in our frame, but simplicity is a matter of taste. If a goldfish formulated such a theory, we would have to admit the goldfish's view as a valid picture of reality.
Note, though, that Hawking speaks of goldfish coming up with "scientific laws" -- not spiritual, religious, or mystical nonsense. Later in the chapter he lists criteria for a good model of reality:
1. Is elegant
2. Contains few arbitrary or adjustable elements
3. Agrees with and explains all existing observations
4. Makes detailed predictions about future observations that can disprove or falsify the model if they are not borne out.
If goldfish could come up with a theory of How Things Really Are that met these criteria, that'd be an acceptable viewpoint. For goldfish. From inside a goldfish bowl.
Likewise, we have a human perspective of the universe. We've created an understanding of reality through the human brain/mind/consciousness. This is different, though, from creating reality itself -- which is a tenet of Biocentrism that I can't accept.
(Reasons to be given in a forthcoming post.)