The Impossibility of Being Dead
The key to immortality lies in how quantum physics applies to the everyday world
Posted Nov 11, 2020
Does death exist? It’s a question most everyone has asked at one time or another. It may not seem like the sort of thing science is most suited to shed light on, but in fact the question of whether death is the end is intimately related to the physics explored in the new book The Grand Biocentric Design.
Sure, that dead dog in the road isn’t going to get back up and again put his muddy paws on your pants. But in terms of awareness, you’ll never not experienced consciousness and its myriad sense impressions, nor will this parade ever cease. You can count on that.
To help understand this, let’s take a look at the mind-twisting thought experiment called quantum suicide, which can be used to explain why death has no true reality. We’ll see that life has a nonlinear dimensionality, like a perennial flower that always blooms. But first, we have to back up and examine a stumbling block which explains why one event happens rather than another.
With the advent of quantum theory, it became clear that an experimenter had equal chances of observing a particle whose spin was “up” as opposed to “down.” But determining why the experiment unfolded one way and not the other seemed impossible.
In the 1920s, the great Nobel laureate Niels Bohr, offered what became known as the Copenhagen interpretation, which essentially said that all possibilities hover invisibly in the form of a “wave function.” The act of observing, said Bohr, causes this wave function to collapse, which means that the multiple possibilities suddenly vanish in favor of one definite result. But for all its revolutionary insight this interpretation had no answer for why one reality should emerge instead of another.
Then, in 1957, Hugh Everett proposed a remarkable alternative in which no particular single collapse need occur—because in fact every option occurs. He posited that instead of wave function collapse, the universe branches into separate forks so that all possibilities unfold. The observer is part of the fork or branch in which he observes the particle with an “up” spin, but a separate copy of himself sees a “down” spin. You’ll recognize this as the many-worlds interpretation. Biocentrism offers an improvement on this interpretation providing the key to immortality.
Start with the self-evident fact that consciousness isn’t a tentative, on-and-off kind of thing. Consciousness, according to biocentrism, is fundamental to the cosmos and impossible to separate from it. We see this firsthand with our own experience of cognition, in that it never disappears. Some might ask, “What about when you die?” But experiencing “being dead” is a logical paradox—you cannot simultaneously “be” and also “not be.” One of the properties of consciousness is that it’s never subjectively discontinuous. You cannot experience nothing, since even the words “experience” and “nothingness” are mutually exclusive.
So now let’s look at the so-called “quantum suicide” scenario, in which a gambler playing quantum Russian roulette always feels himself surviving. Let us envisage this experiment: A professor gives his assistant a special quantum gun, and instructs her to fire successive shots at him. A given pull of the trigger will either instantly snuff out his existence or cause the gun to emit nothing but a “click.” If, instead of firing, the gun only makes a “click,” the assistant must shoot again, and so on until the gun actually discharges.
In this experiment, there are two perspectives. From the point of view of the assistant, after a few trials she’s horrified to see that she killed the professor. But from the point of view of the professor, the gun never fires. These two states are each branches of the superposed wave function, constituting two Everett worlds. The professor’s consciousness, by definition, cannot enter the world in which he’s dead, and so at every shot it jumps into the branch/world in which his brain is intact—that is, in which the gun did not fire.
In a way, each of us plays a version of quantum roulette every day, at every moment of our lives. Namely, wave function contains many possible outcomes or branches. From our first-person’s perspective, each time a choice of outcomes unfolds and wave function collapses to reveal a single result, we always find ourselves in an available world that supports consciousness.
The enigmatic issue of death should therefore be understood within the thesis that wave function, relative to an observer and representing her experiences of the world which she lives in, can never cease to exist, and that from an observer’s first-person perspective, there’s no death. The observer is always aware of something.
So what does all this mean? What is it like when you die? In a previous blog, I offered a metaphor for the closing of one life chapter, which I’ll use to close out this piece:
During our lives, we all grow attached to the people we know and love and cannot imagine a time without them. I subscribe to Netflix, and a few years ago worked my way through all nine seasons of the TV series Smallville. I watched episodes every night, day after day, for months. Night after night I watched Clark use his emerging superpowers to fight crime as he matured, through high school and then college. I watched him fall in love with Lana Lang and become enemies with his once friend Lex Luthor. When I finished the last episode, it was like these people had all died—the story of their world was over.
Despite my sense of loss, I reluctantly tried other series, eventually landing on Grey’s Anatomy. The cycle started over again, with completely different people. By the time I had finished all of the seasons, Meredith Grey and her fellow doctors at Seattle Grace Hospital had replaced Clark Kent et al as the center of my world. I became completely caught up in the swirl of their personal and professional passions.
In a very real sense, death within the multiverse described by biocentrism is much like finishing a good TV series, whether it’s Grey’s Anatomy, Smallville, or Dallas, except the multiverse has a much bigger collection of shows than Netflix. At death, you change reference points. It’s still you, but you experience different lives, different friends, and even different worlds. You’ll even get to watch some remakes—perhaps in one, you’ll get that dream wedding dress you always wanted, or a doctor will have cured the disease that killed a loved one.
At death there’s a break in our linear stream of consciousness, and thus a break in the linear connection of times and places, but biocentrism suggests that consciousness is manifold and encompasses many such branches of possibility. Death doesn’t truly exist in any of these; all branches exist simultaneously and continue existing regardless of what happens in any of them. The “me” feeling is energy operating in the brain. But energy never dies; it cannot be destroyed.
The story goes on even after JR gets shot. Our linear perception of time means nothing to nature.
As for me, as my own life’s wave function collapses, I still have season seventeen of Grey’s Anatomy to look forward to.
Adapted from The Grand Biocentric Design by Robert Lanza and Matej Pavsic, with Bob Berman (BenBella Books).
Lanza, R & Pavsic, M (2020) The Grand Biocentric Design. Dallas, TX: BenBella Books