Does the moon exist if there are no sentient beings to look at it?
In my last True/Slant post I explained why it is that quantum effects do not apply to the macro world because of the size difference between sub-atomic particles and (say) chemical reactions inside the neurons in your head, concluding:
During the debate Deepak claimed that the moon is nothing more than a soup of teaming quantum uncertainty. No. Subatomic particles may be altered when they are observed, but the moon is there even if no one looks at it.
Deepak wrote a thoughtful response to this blog (on his Blackberry while running on a treadmill with his agile thumbs no less!):
When you see an object, the moon being the example you chose, your eyes are not really “seeing” the moon. Your eyes are responding to photons that follow all the rules of wave-particle duality. The electro-chemical reaction in your rods and cones sends an electrical current to your brain, an action potential that goes to your occipital cortex where it is registered as a particular intensity and pattern of electrical firings in your synaptic networks. No image entered your eyes, no image enters your neural networks. Yet you see the moon in your consciousness. There was no moon till it was an experience in your consciousness. Your brain is not registering pictures of the moon. It is sensing a digital on-off code of photons or waves of electricity (same thing) The collapse of wave function that creates the moon is in your consciousness (that has no location because its non local) The moon exists in consciousness—no consciousness, no moon—just a sluggishly expanding wave function in a superposition of possibilities. All happens within consciousness and nowhere else. In fact, the sluggishly expanding possibility wave function is also within consciousness. The same principle applies to any macro object including your own body. That’s why I said on Larry King that you are not in your body, the body is in you. You are not in the world, the world is in you. You are not in your mind (thoughts are possibility waves till experienced in consciousness) the mind is in you. This “you” of course is not a person. It is what Stuart Hameroff (whom you quoted in your blog as generating heat but not light—alas they are the same thing—light and heat:)) says in an upcoming interview: “I think a fundamental field of protoconscious experience has been embedded all along—since the big bang—in the (quantum realm) and that biology evolved and adapted in order to access it and maximize the qualities and potentials implicit within it—this could be the basic fabric of the universe.” Take care.
I agree with nearly everything you say here, except that the moon would exist even if there were no humans to observe it. If all life on earth were instantly eradicated by a rogue asteroid, the moon would continue on its merry way about what would be left of the shattered earth. In fact, even if there were no life anywhere in the cosmos, all those galaxies of stars would still be there. Do you disagree with that position? That reality exists separate from us observers? Otherwise, wouldn’t that just be solipsism?
I disagree. Let’s take a simpler example. Let’s say your looking at a rose, a beautiful red one. What does it look like to a honey bee? The honey bee has no receptors for the usual wave lengths of light that you and I sense. It responds to ultraviolet so I don’t know what the experience of a rose to a honey bee but it has some experience, it is drawn to the flower and in fact makes honey out of it. What about a bat who can perhaps sense it as the echo of ultrasound. I don’t know what that experience is like either because I’m not a bat. What about a chameleon whose eyeballs swivel on 2 different axes? I can’t even remotely imagine what that object looks like to a chameleon. There are innumerable species who because of the nature of their sensory apparatus have a different experience of that rose. The senses do not see a rose. They register electricity! The neurons do not see a rose, they sense ionic shifts. What is the real look of the rose? There is no such thing! It depends on whose looking and also the instruments of observation—in this case the instrument of observation is the nervous system. (Of course that’s where you and I differ because you say you are your nervous system and I say you are the user of your nervous system.) Who is looking? A non-material observer. What is it looking at? It is looking at possibility waves that collapse as space time events in its own consciousness. That non-local observer is a single observer in all these different observations. Schroedinger: “Consciousness is a singular that has no plural.” You are the eyes of the universe looking at itself as a rose or the moon! Rumi: “Let the waters settle and you will see stars and the moon mirrored in your own being.” Every sentient biological entity is a singular consciousness looking at itself as a particular object. The observer and observed are the same being. The history of the cosmos is a history that is conceived in a particular way as if we were there or other biological organisms were there to observe it. But just as you cannot have an electrical current without a +ve and -ve terminal in place, you can’t have an object unless there is consciousness and a collapse of wave function to create that experience. There is now also a field called “time symmetric quantum mechanics” that says that information from the future fills in the indeterminacies of the present.” In other words the universe evolves teleologically.
Okay, Deepak, I think I understand the core of our disagreement: you are placing epistemology over ontology—how we know reality over reality itself. I think this is a result of your metaphysics and the worldview with which you begin. Since I privilege ontology over epistemology—reality over how we know reality—my conclusions will inevitably be different from your own.
On Larry King you stated: “There are traditions that say the in-body experience is a socially induced collective hallucination. We do not exist in the body. The body exists in us. We do not exist in the world. The world exists in us.” I wrote in my True/Slant blog that I didn’t understand this. Now I think I do after reading you more carefully. For you, the first-person “I” perspective is primary. As in your example with the rose, without rods and cones to transduce the photons of light bouncing off the rose into neuronal action potentials that register in a visual cortex, there is no rose. Of course, I could just as easily argue that without the rose there would be no photons to transduce into action potentials to register on a visual cortex.
So…which is the right perspective: reality first or I/self first? Reality takes precedence over self. Why? Here is one answer. Look at this photograph of the 36-inch Crossley reflecting telescope at the Lick Observatory, which I visited the day before our Caltech debate. It was through this telescope that the mysterious spiral nebulae were first imaged well enough for astronomers to conclude that they represent “island universes” (galaxies) far away from our own galaxy, and are not developing solar systems within the Milky Way. But the “imaged” nebulae did not register on anyone’s retina (or visual cortex): it was imaged on a spectrographic plate—a machine, not a brain. And those photons would register in that machine even if every human on earth disappeared that night.