Friday, January 1, 2010

"Science" "disproves" death by "disproving" all of observable existence

Now, back to business.
Here is an article from the Huffington Post (i.e. Pseudoscience Central) by one Robert Lanza, MD.  Why did I need so desperately to tear into it?  The title is the hilariously misleading but oh so provocative  "Does Death Exist?  New Theory Says 'No'".  You'll find the title to my post a bit more accurate.
Many of us fear death. We believe in death because we have been told we will die. 
We've been indoctrinated into believing that we are going to die!  We don't actually have any evidence for this absurd belief, obviously.  Not able to figure this out inductively from knowing that virtually every other living thing that isn't currently alive has died (by the very definition of "death").  But, yeah, it's a glorified superstition!  The life of an individual creature never ends, because of...I dunno...quantum physics.  (Let's see if I guessed that one correctly!) 
We associate ourselves with the body, and we know that bodies die. 
Such a foolish idea, associating our selves with our bodies.  Everybody knows that our essential "self" has no connection with our physical bodies whatsoever!  Just ask someone with massive brain damage.
But a new scientific theory suggests that death is not the terminal event we think.
That "new scientific theory" better be "new" and "scientific" in addition to being a "theory" in the scientific sense of the word, or I will blow a gasket.
One well-known aspect of quantum physics is that certain observations cannot be predicted absolutely. 
Holy shit....
"The uncertainty principle therefore ANYTHING GOES!!" theory, as popularized by virtually every New Ager to ever walk the face of the Earth.  Also, I did seriously predict this before reading past the first paragraph.  Oh quantum physics, is there any kind of inanity that you can't be invoked to add credibility to?
Instead, there is a range of possible observations each with a different probability. One mainstream explanation, the "many-worlds" interpretation, states that each of these possible observations corresponds to a different universe (the 'multiverse').
Apparently, many worlds interpretation is rather complicated stuff and is actually accepted at a moderate percentage by most leading physicists.  It's best described on the wikipedia  page  with this statement:
"many-worlds claims to resolve all of the correlation paradoxes of quantum theory, such as the EPR paradox and Schrödinger's cat, since every possible outcome of every event defines or exists in its own "history" or "world". In layman's terms, there is a very large—perhaps infinite[9]—number of universes, and everything that could possibly have happened in our past, but didn't, has occurred in the past of some other universe or universes."

In other words, quantum events split our time line and serve as a junction, and each chain of these events that has a different outcome at any given junction is considered different universe.  Of course, to be honest, this only seems like a nice little metaphor, giving you an ability to refer to an alternate timeline as an entirely different world.  But the idea that these different universes actually exist based entirely on this kind of extrapolation needs a hell of a lot more than "it's possible" to justify it.  On the subject of the unfalsifiable nature of those other worlds, wiki doth declare "MWI is considered by some to be unfalsifiable and hence unscientific because the multiple parallel universes are non-communicating, in the sense that no information can be passed between them. Others claim MWI is directly testable. Everett regarded MWI as falsifiable since any test that falsifies conventional quantum theory would also falsify MWI."  In response, I can only hope that Everett was incorrectly paraphrased, because his rebuttal to the claim that MWI (i.e. his interpretation of quantum theory) is unfalsifiable is that you can falsify it by falsifying quantum theory.  Akin to claiming that gravity is a repulsive force in Tartarus, and that this is falsifiable because you can falsify Newtonian physics.  So, in other words, this defense, much like the interpretation itself, is ever so slightly flawed unless I am gravely misunderstanding either situation.
A new scientific theory - called biocentrism - refines these ideas. There are an infinite number of universes, and everything that could possibly happen occurs in some universe. Death does not exist in any real sense in these scenarios.
This is Lanza's own "scientific theory,"  by the way.  Yes, biocentrism, the "New Theory" that says that death doesn't exist from this article's title is the article author's own creation.  How's that for journalism!

Also, that second sentence is actually still part of many worlds interpretation. 
 Although individual bodies are destined to self-destruct, the alive feeling - the 'Who am I?'- is just a 20-watt fountain of energy operating in the brain.
So, consciousness is energy operating in the brain.  Here's the problem with this:  this is giving the brain far too passive of a role in all of this.  Lanza seems to be suggesting that the brain is just the gathering place for all of this energy, which is the one doing the real work in regards to churning out consciousness (possibly trying to suggest that the energy involved in cognition is consciousness itself).  But it is in fact the brain itself that is the most relevant factor, the thing that is directing this energy (electrical and chemical, as opposed to magical or spiritual) in such a precise manner that altering specific regions of the brain alters behavior, emotion, and thought (though our knowledge about the specifics of the latter is limited).  

[Also of note is that watt is a unit of power, which would be energy per unit time and is not actually a measurement of energy itself.  In fact, due to this, the wattage of our energy would be irrelevant outside of the confines of the bodily systems which produce this energy change, whereas the amount of joules that this energy represents would be the thing that remains consistent and is the measurement that is of relevance in conservation of energy. ]
 But this energy doesn't go away at death. One of the surest axioms of science is that energy never dies; it can neither be created nor destroyed. But does this energy transcend from one world to the other?
This is how you know when someone is being dishonest. Conservation of energy means that energy is never destroyed (energy doesn't die, nice continuing attempt to suggest that energy=life though) in much the same way that conservation of matter and mass means that those are never destroyed. And we know how matter and mass of organisms are conserved after death, don't we?  Either through decay, or due to being digested by other lifeforms, their molecules are essentially dispersed throughout the environment over time.   Presumably, the energy that was once within the body, aiding the functions of various biological systems, would just gradually be released, probably in the form of heat, over time.  The energy certainly would not be leaving the body in a discrete, intact packet like the organism was some kind of massive particle releasing a super-photon.
Consider an experiment that was recently published in the journal Science showing that scientists could retroactively change something that had happened in the past. Particles had to decide how to behave when they hit a beam splitter. Later on, the experimenter could turn a second switch on or off. It turns out that what the observer decided at that point, determined what the particle did in the past. Regardless of the choice you, the observer, make, it is you who will experience the outcomes that will result.
That's a real mindfuck.  Assuming that it was a blinded experiment (i.e. that the experimenter did not know the particle behavior when deciding which switch to flick).  But, Lanza provides no easy way to find the article he is mentioning (no citation) so I can't really know for sure if they took such an obvious precaution (blinding is rarely relevant, and thus rarely used, in most physics experiments, so it may not have been that obvious).
The linkages between these various histories and universes transcend our ordinary classical ideas of space and time. Think of the 20-watts of energy as simply holo-projecting either this or that result onto a screen. Whether you turn the second beam splitter on or off, it's still the same battery or agent responsible for the projection. he suggesting that a battery (i.e. the energy) being used in one machine and then later in the other is the same as not dying?  I guess that works if you are assuming from the outset that the entirety of your being is defined by the energy (or energy source, as the case may be).  A battery in a remote control or a battery in a talking doll is a battery in either case, so obviously this makes sense.  But when you put a battery from a remote control into a talking doll, does that make the doll now into a remote control?  I ask this because our body affects our consciousness in a way that makes a comparison to a machine and its interchangeable batteries quite dishonest.  Even more so given that we have no reason to believe that consciousness is energy, or that this energy is transferable in any meaningful way (or, in other words, that the energy could leave the body in such the way that its relationship to the original source has any clear relevance).
According to Biocentrism, space and time are not the hard objects we think. Wave your hand through the air - if you take everything away, what's left? Nothing.
In fairness, I don't think that time is a hard object (or any kind of object for that matter).  
Yes, that was an attempt at humor.  And I hope that his profound revelation that "everything minus everything equals nothing" is the same.
The same thing applies for time. You can't see anything through the bone that surrounds your brain. Everything you see and experience right now is a whirl of information occurring in your mind. Space and time are simply the tools for putting everything together.
And now's the part where you say that we're all just brains in vats, right?
Death does not exist in a timeless, spaceless world. 
Very nice.  Time and space are concepts that help to explain the world as we experience it.  It is hardly out of bounds to suggest that our experience of it may be flawed.  But to say that time and space are not merely inaccurate concepts, but that nothing even analogous to them even exist, is to say that everything is an illusion.  Doing that is to deny everything beyond yourself.  To say that death wouldn't exist is trivial, because nothing  exists aside from your own illusory experience itself. It is solipsism, a denial of anything that we could even begin to call reality, and it is something that needs to be dismissed for entirely practical purposes in order to function at all in the world as we experience it.
In the end, even Einstein admitted, "Now Besso" (an old friend) "has departed from this strange world a little ahead of me. That means nothing. People like us...know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion."
I assume that it is a testament to the persistence of this particular illusion, and to the limits of the human imagination as well, when I say that I simply cannot understand what exactly a universe with no distinction between past, future, and present would look like.  I can only imagine a single point in time, and thus stasis.  
Immortality doesn't mean a perpetual existence in time without end, but rather resides outside of time altogether.
Residing outside of time is a meaningless statement.  Without time in which to actually go about actually doing things, immortality in that respect would be merely existing and nothing else. 
This was clear with the death of my sister Christine. After viewing her body at the hospital, I went out to speak with family members. Christine's husband - Ed - started to sob uncontrollably. For a few moments I felt like I was transcending the provincialism of time. I thought about the 20-watts of energy, and about experiments that show a single particle can pass through two holes at the same time. I could not dismiss the conclusion: Christine was both alive and dead, outside of time.
Because, clearly, energy is the same thing as a person, and this energy/person now exists in another dimension because everything is uncertain.
Whether it's flipping the switch for the Science experiment, or turning the driving wheel ever so slightly this way or that way on black-ice, it's the 20-watts of energy that will experience the result. In some cases the car will swerve off the road, but in other cases the car will continue on its way to my sister's dream house.
Christine had recently lost 100 pounds, and Ed had bought her a surprise pair of diamond earrings. It's going to be hard to wait, but I know Christine is going to look fabulous in them the next time I see her.
 "The next time I see her"?  Try harder to make this seem like it's more than a bunch of wishful thinking with the science added on after the fact when you make your next self-admitted "theory of everything".

I wish I knew more about the Almighty Quantum to better rebut the idea of parallel universes, and wish I knew enough about time and space to say that it is most likely that time and space actually exist.  But, I know enough about "it's all an illusion!" handwaving and have a rough idea of how the brain works and what energy actually means in science (hint: it's not qi) to know that the rest of what he is saying is a crock of shit.