Could the long-sought Theory of Everything be merely missing a component that was too close for us to have noticed? Some of the thrill that came with the announcement that the human genome had been mapped or the idea that we are close to understanding the “Big Bang” rests in our innate human desire for completeness and totality. But most of these comprehensive theories fail to take into account one crucial factor: We are creating them. It is the biological creature that fashions the stories, that makes the observations, and that gives names to things. And therein lies the great expanse of our oversight, that science has not confronted the one thing that is at once most familiar and most mysterious — consciousness. As Emerson wrote in “Experience,” an essay that confronted the facile positivism of his age: “We have learned that we do not see directly, but mediately, and that we have no means of correcting these colored and distorting lenses which we are, or of computing the amount of their errors. Perhaps these subject-lenses have a creative power; perhaps there are no objects.”
For several centuries, starting roughly with the Renaissance, a single mindset about the construct of the cosmos has dominated scientific thought. This model has brought us untold insights into the nature of the universe, and countless applications that have transformed every aspect of our lives. But this model — failing us now in a myriad of ways — may be reaching the end of its useful life.
The old model proposes that the universe was until rather recently a lifeless collection of particles bouncing against each other, and obeying predetermined rules that were mysterious in their origin. The universe is presented as a watch that somehow wound itself and that, allowing for a degree of quantum randomness, will unwind in a semi-predictable way.
There are many problems with the current paradigm — some obvious, others rarely mentioned but just as fundamental. But the overarching problem involves life, since its initial arising is still a scientifically unknown process, even if the way it then changed forms can be apprehended using Darwinian mechanisms. The bigger problem is that life contains consciousness, which, to say the least, is poorly understood.
Consciousness is not just an issue for biologists; it’s a problem for physics. There is nothing in modern physics that explains how a group of molecules in a brain creates consciousness. The beauty of a sunset, the taste of a delicious meal, these are all mysteries to science — which can sometimes pin down where in the brain the sensations arise, but not how and why there is any subjective personal experience to begin with. And, what’s worse, nothing in science can explain how consciousness arose from matter. Our understanding of this most basic phenomenon is virtually nil. Interestingly, most models of physics do not even recognize this as a problem.
But even putting aside the life-and-consciousness issues, the current model leaves much to be desired when it comes to explaining the fundamentals of our universe. The cosmos sprang out of nothingness 13.7 billion years ago, in a titanic event facetiously labeled the Big Bang. We don’t begin to understand where the big bang came from even if we continually tinker with the details. Indeed, every theorist realizes in his bones that you can never get something from nothing, and that the Big Bang is no explanation at all for the origins of everything, but merely, at best, the partial description of a single event in a continuum that is probably timeless.
It’s one thing to acknowledge that theoretical physicists are brilliant people even if they do tend to drip food on themselves at buffets. But at some point, virtually everyone has thought, or at least felt: This really doesn’t work. This doesn’t explain anything fundamental, not really.
Robert Lanza, M. D. is considered one of the leading scientists in the world. He is currently Chief Scientific Officer at Advanced Cell Technology, and Adjunct Professor at Wake Forest University School of Medicine. He has hundreds of 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 former President and Nobel laureate Jimmy Carter), and the “Handbook of Stem Cells” and “Essentials of Stem Cell Biology,” which are considered the definitive references in stem cell research.
Abridgement of "Biocentrism: How Life and Consciousness are the Keys to Understanding the True Nature of the Universe" by Robert Lanza with Bob Berman, published by BenBella Books. Copyright 2009 by Robert Lanza with Bob Berman.