Is Biocentrism Debunked? Maybe, But It Still Has Value for the Environment.

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Is Robert Lanza’s biocentrism theory debunked? Not exactly, but the bigger question might be: does it have merit for the environment?

Biocentrism, the belief that all life and the universe itself are interconnected and that it’s life that creates the universe rather than the other way around, has been gaining momentum in recent years.

The idea posits that life and biology are central to understanding the nature of the universe. However, despite its appeal to many, it’s crucial to scrutinize these concepts from a scientific and philosophical perspective, as they can be challenged on several grounds.

What is biocentrism?

At the core of biocentrism is the viewpoint that extending the notion of moral responsibility goes beyond human beings to encompass the entirety of the natural world. The term was first coined in the 1970s by biologist and environmentalist Dr. Richard Sylvan, but its philosophical roots reach back much further, tracing lines through Aldo Leopold’s land ethic, Albert Schweitzer’s reverence for life, and even Eastern philosophies that uphold respect for all life forms.

Starting with a core concept in biocentrism — the principle that life creates reality asserts that the physical world only exists because a conscious entity observes it. The philosophy borrows heavily from the quantum mechanical idea of “observer effect,” where the act of observation affects the phenomenon being observed. When applied to the macroscopic universe, this idea leads to the biocentric assertion that the universe exists only because it’s being observed by conscious life.

organic cotton
Courtesy Outerknown

Dr. Robert Lanza, a renowned scientist and stem cell researcher, later expanded upon Sylvan’s concept, offering a more profound interpretation of biocentrism in the context of understanding the universe. Lanza’s “Biocentrism Theory” suggests that life and consciousness are fundamental to understanding the nature of our reality — and that they create the universe, rather than the other way around.

Biocentrism’s core principles revolve around the inherent value of all living things, regardless of their species, complexity, or utility to humans. This means that every living organism, from the smallest microbe to the largest mammal, has intrinsic worth.

Furthermore, biocentrism suggests that humans are not superior to other life forms but are merely part of the intricate web of life. It challenges anthropocentric viewpoints that place humans at the center of the moral universe, instead advocating for a more egalitarian perspective where all life is viewed as equal.

Biocentrism also promotes the notion of interconnectedness, arguing that all life forms are interconnected in a complex network of relationships, with every organism playing a vital role in maintaining the balance and health of the planet. It compels us to consider our actions’ implications on the broader ecological community, thus fostering a more profound respect for nature and all its inhabitants.

Does biocentrism promote environmentalism?

Biocentrism is an environmental ethics philosophy that posits that all living organisms possess intrinsic moral value — not just human beings. In its more refined form, it champions the rights and inherent worth of all living entities, advocating for the prioritization of individual organisms’ survival. This outlook is fundamentally an ethic of individualism.

Conversely, holistically-oriented environmental ethics, such as “land ethics,” often identified as ecocentrism, argue that species and ecosystems as a whole carry greater significance. These holistic ethics advocate that species and ecosystems should take precedence in moral considerations.

The Great Migration of wildebeest across the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya
Photo courtesy Harshil Gudka

Though these two schools of thought — biocentrism and ecocentrism — have divergent theoretical foundations, a convergence in environmental ethics is both feasible and necessary over time. The ultimate goal should be establishing an ethical framework that promotes harmonious development between humanity and nature. As both philosophies concur on the necessity to broaden the human moral compass to include all living beings and the natural world, a universal environmental ethic could be achieved by integrating their shared reasonable notions.

Biocentric thought asserts that all life forms have their own inherent “good,” thereby suggesting an expansion of moral recognition to include non-human life forms. This includes various strands of thought, such as Schweitzer’s ethic of reverence for life, Peter Singer’s animal liberation ethics, and Paul Taylor’s ethics of bioegalitarianism.

Three primary tenets underpin this philosophy: Firstly, all living entities possess an inherent drive to resist the increasing process of entropy to preserve their own organization and sustain their survival and life’s wholeness. Secondly, self-preservation is a universal goal for all life forms and is thus an intrinsic value and “good.” Lastly, despite different life forms having unique methods of organization and survival, their intrinsic values are fundamentally equal. Therefore, they should be accorded equal moral rights, warranting moral recognition, consideration, and protection.

Biocentrism’s loopholes

Biocentrism claims that space and time are constructs of the mind. Advocates of biocentrism propose that our perceptions of space and time are merely tools of animal understanding, not realities that exist outside the mind. However, this claim conflicts with the scientifically observed phenomena and the theories that successfully describe them.

iceland puffins
Photo courtesy Yves Alarie

For instance, Einstein’s theory of relativity, which gives us our modern understanding of space and time, has been confirmed by numerous experiments and observations, such as gravitational lensing and time dilation. Furthermore, space and time continue to exist even in the absence of observers, as demonstrated by cosmic events that occurred before life emerged.

Another point where biocentrism falls short is its claim that life and consciousness are fundamental to the universe. While life and consciousness are indeed remarkable phenomena, asserting them as fundamental forces akin to gravity or electromagnetism is unsupported by evidence. Unlike forces such as gravity, which can be quantified and whose effects can be observed universally, consciousness remains a subjective experience. It’s not something that can be measured or quantified in the same way physical forces can be.

Biocentrism debunked?

While biocentrism is an appealing philosophy for many, it appears to be built on misunderstandings of scientific principles and unsupported claims. Current empirical evidence and theoretical understanding point towards a universe that exists independently of life and consciousness, not one created by them. But, because the theory has not been able to make testable predictions — a critical component to scientific theories — biocentrism hasn’t been fully debunked. But enough evidence does exist to suggest it is implausible.

A fundamental misunderstanding of the observer effect lies at the heart of biocentrism’s argument. The observer effect in quantum mechanics doesn’t imply the need for a conscious observer. Instead, it refers to any interaction between quantum particles and their environment, including unconscious measurement devices.

butterfly
Photo by Britt Gaiser

The universe as we understand it was present for billions of years before the emergence of conscious life. Theoretical physics and cosmology, supported by empirical data like cosmic background radiation, show that the universe’s existence is independent of observation.

Biocentrism also often neglects the second law of thermodynamics, which states that the entropy, or disorder, in an isolated system will always increase over time. This fundamental principle has been repeatedly confirmed and is the basis of the arrow of time. But if life and consciousness were indeed fundamental to the universe and created reality, one would expect them to have an impact on this principle, which is not the case.

Moreover, biocentrism seems to ignore Occam’s Razor, a principle that, in its simplest form, states that the simplest explanation is often the best. It adds a layer of complexity to our understanding of the universe that seems unnecessary and unsupported by evidence. Instead of explaining the universe through well-established physical laws, it postulates the existence of a reality created by consciousness without providing empirical support.

It’s essential to state that questioning biocentrism doesn’t negate the importance of life and consciousness. Life is an incredibly complex phenomenon that we are only beginning to understand, and consciousness remains one of the biggest mysteries in science. However, the weight of current scientific understanding suggests that life and consciousness are emergent properties of the universe, not the other way around.

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