Is reality theory-laden? Read the Vedas

15 March 2007

Whether you can observe a thing or not depends on the theory which you use. It is the theory which decides what can be observed.

Without delving too deeply into the application of Einstein’s critique of Heisenberg’s lecture on quantum mechanics, it seems relevant to the lede used by Arts & Letters Daily for Robert Lanza’s new article about biocentrism. USA Today, of all places, has a summary by Dan Vergano of some responses to Lanza.

Deploying quotes from rock star physicists, Lanza explicates a universe created by the sensory perceptions of living things within it. He links this to qualitative descriptions of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle and Zeno’s paradox of the Arrow.

I have two immediate reactions to Lanza’s article. First, I don’t know enough philosophy to discuss his premise intelligently, but I suspect that a thorough debate threads through many tomes from around the world, a concern which doesn’t really seem to trouble him.

Second, haven’t we seen enough theories constructed entirely out of qualtitative descriptions? Viable scientific descriptions of reality, or for that matter philosophical or pragmatic ones, don’t spring into being simply by rearranging connotations of words in superficial quotes. Inclusive of a debate about the power to define and own words and phrases, a qualitative description does not a theory make.

While I am certainly not condemning Lanza’s premise as wholly embodied by that article, and he certainly has establishment recognition to back up his point of view, I’d be interested to see the full theory, whatever form it exists in. And I certainly can’t fault his choice of epigrams–this zinger by Loren Eiseley is such a great metaphor I’ve reproduced it below.

While I was sitting one night with a poet friend watching a great opera performed in a tent under arc lights, the poet took my arm and pointed silently. Far up, blundering out of the night, a huge Cecropia moth swept past from light to light over the posturings of the actors. “He doesn’t know,” my friend whispered excitedly. “He’s passing through an alien universe brightly lit but invisible to him. He’s in another play; he doesn’t see us. He doesn’t know. Maybe it’s happening right now to us.


2 Responses to “Is reality theory-laden? Read the Vedas”

  1. Roberto Says:

    i’m quite drunk so i have no idea what you’re talking about. all i can say is that astronomers (us observers) have a problem with the theorist who only do simulations. we always tell them to have a look and notice how the universe NEVER does what you expect it to do.
    last week at my conference joss bland-hawthorne (an observer) told ben moore (a very famous theorist and the organizer of the conference) that there was “no science” in his simulations; in front of everyone!! it was quite the moment. anyway, long live observing.

  2. Elle Says:

    thank you for pointing out that that concept has been around for a while. Like 10s of thousands of years. Wow, these scientist guys have really figured everything out for us huh.

    I wreak havoc on blowhard scientists (including Roberto at times). Take that!

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