A review of The Grand Biocentric Design: How Life Creates Reality by Robert Lanza, MD, and Matej Pavsic with Bob Berman
When I was a kid, I learned that dolphins and bats use sonar to see in the dark. Dogs see only in yellow and blue. Insects see ultraviolet light and snakes see infrared. Pretty standard fare for grade school science, but these facts nagged at me. If animals saw different worlds than we did, which world was real?
Later on, I read that neuroscientists had identified the place in the brain that projects optical images so that they seem to appear outside of us. Once again, the discovery posed a puzzle for me. If the outside was really inside and the inside appeared on the outside, then where are we? More to the point, why weren’t the smart people asking that question?
Perhaps all spiritual and scientific pursuits stem from the questions that stump a fourth-grader. Whatever the case, from then on I had a cynical hunch that we humans were half-blind, refusing to connect the dots staring us in the face.
Dissatisfaction with conventional thinking has propelled the life and career of Dr. Robert Lanza, the esteemed scientist, physician, and co-author of a now three-volume series of books expounding his radically rational theory of the universe. Biocentrism is the logical yet mind-blowing conclusion that we beings—including dolphins, dogs, bees and half-blind humans—create the universe and not the other way around. After coming across the first book in the collection, Biocentrism: How Life and Consciousness Are the Keys to Understanding the True Nature of the Universe (Benbella Books, 2009) written with astronomer Bob Berman, Nyogen Roshi began raving about it in his dharma talks, saying the author’s views mirrored his experience of zazen.
It wasn’t entirely surprising that Lanza actually appeared in the Hazy Moon zendo one night a few years later. As he might explain, anything can happen because “the quantum system that comprises the brain and its environment embraces many possible experiences of the observer, which are then actualized into one definite experience by collapsing the wave function.” To this, a Zen teacher might simply smile and agree, “There are no accidents.”
In his talk that evening, Lanza didn’t just answer my 40-year-old questions, he answered 1,500-year-old questions. He was intuitively answering koans, the Zen teaching stories that pierce duality and point directly to the awakened mind. He held up a water bottle, saying “Anyone can experience this!”
Ummon held out his staff, saying “This staff has swallowed the universe!”
Then he told us that the downstairs living room, where we had earlier gathered and which we could all picture quite convincingly in our heads, existed at that moment solely in a field of probability, since reality only manifested by the presence of an observer.
A monk asked, “Where can I enter Zen?” Gensha replied, “Can you hear the babbling brook?” The monk said “Yes, I hear it.” Gensha said, “Enter there.”
Lanza and Berman went on to publish a second book, Beyond Biocentrism: Rethinking Time, Space and the Illusion of Death (Benbella Books, 2016), and most recently, The Grand Biocentric Design: How Life Creates Reality, with a second co-author, physicist Matej Pavsic. While the early science behind Biocentrism came from “connecting-the-dots logic” (which more than satisfied me) the new book takes the reader through 400 years of science to arrive at hard proofs within mainstream physics. The algorithms are beyond me, so I approached the new book not as a scientific treatise, but rather a practice manual — a sutra, so to speak, of living Zen.
As I read it, I began to annotate, and then annotate my annotations, because so much of what was on the page echoed what was said by the old masters, appearing here in fresh expression to crack the skull and clear the mind of a timeworn Zen student.
Fundamentally, the hard science of Biocentrism establishes that nothing is outside of you. Individual separateness is an illusion. “Everything you experience is a whirl of information arising in your brain.” The universe is simply the complete “spatiotemporal logic” of the conscious self. You are not aware of the universe because you exist; the universe exists because you are aware of it. Furthermore, babies and buddhas have always known this.
On being born, the Buddha took seven steps in each of the four cardinal directions, pointed with one hand up and one hand down, and said, “Above the heavens, below the earth, I alone am the world honored one.”
Lanza calls reality “a curious process, continuously coordinated in your head. It is startling to realize that not only are objects mere appearance, but even their shapes are nothing but a form of the mind.” It’s the same startle you get when a koan suddenly opens right in front of you.
Two monks were arguing about a flag. One said: “The flag is moving.” The other said: “The wind is moving. The Sixth Patriarch happened to be passing by. He told them: “Not the wind, not the flag; mind is moving.”
Biocentrism establishes that space and time are simply the tools our mind uses to weave information into a coherent experience—”the language of consciousness.” The forward motion of time is not a feature of the external world but “a projection of something within us that ties together things we are observing.”
You may suppose that time is only passing away, and not understand that time never arrives. — Dogen
Along the way, the book tackles the reality of dreams, the quantum multiverse, and the enigma of death. Since one of the properties of consciousness is that it never subjectively disappears, there is no real death to experience—the observer is always aware of something. It’s the conclusion reached by Master Ikkyu more than 500 years ago when he wrote his death poem.
I won’t die; I won’t go anywhere. Don’t ask me any questions; I won’t answer.
It is delightful, even thrilling, to see the easy companionability of spiritual and scientific truth in Lanza’s latest work, but how can it be otherwise? Sometimes the laboratory is a zendo and sometimes the zendo is a laboratory. Wherever you are, it is always mind that poses the questions and mind that yields the answers. And it takes no time at all.