Concerned about mortality, I flipped to the back page of the new book Beyond Biocentrism: Rethinking Time, Space, Consciousness, and the Illusion of Death to learn about its main author. Robert Lanza, MD, “is one of the most respected scientists in the world” and a U.S. News & World Report cover story called him a “genius” and “renegade thinker,” even likening him to Einstein. Deepak Chopra calls his new book “An enlightening and fascinating journey that will forever alter your understanding of your own existence.”
Cool. I flipped to Chapter 17: You’re Dead. Now What? to find out what’s going to happen. A few passages stood out:
So self-body identification is the first mistake we make when we’re trying to probe the nagging issue of mortality. . . . We could theoretically chop off all our parts until we’re only a grain in a bottle somehow kept alive with nutrients, yet we’d still feel, “Here I am. I’m still fully me!” And that “me” feeling endures regardless of how much of your body is gone. . . . What if the electrical swarm we call consciousness could be contained in some kind of futuristic plasma container. Would we not then totally realize that we really are not our bodies?
That seemed too much like the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the one who gets chopped into ever-smaller bits and keeps insisting, “It’s just a flesh wound.” Contained or not, Dr. Lanza’s electrical swarm of immortality didn’t sound like fun. I read on:
Animals have no trouble with this. Your cat has no idea what she looks like. She doesn’t even know she’s a cat. She doesn’t imagine she has a body of any sort. She’ll clean herself not because she’s body conscious but because that action comes naturally and instinctively; it feels like the thing to do. She may lick you too, if your hand gets in the vicinity.
Really? I called for Skittles, my old tabby, and he ran in from the living room. Skittles licked my hand because I recently ate a piece of smoked salmon, but I imagined it was because he likes me. He jumped in my lap and I read aloud.
The body dies. The real me does not. Or at least once you’ve seen clearly that you’re not your body, the issue of what happens to the “me” becomes an entirely separate matter.
“Sorry, Skittles,” I tell my imagined friend. “You’ve got no real ‘me’ in you. When you die, you’re just dead. I, however, am a real me. I’m going on.” I turn the page to find out what that looks like.
Once again, past and future are ideas relative to each individual observer. You know you had a grandmother who also had a grandmother. These are ideas, true, but it’s not a stretch to assume they each had their own bubble of spatio-temporal reality—just as you assume that the people around you each experience spheres of time and space realities, even if all are fundamentally one with nature and—in the deepest sense—indistinct from the whole.
Hmm. I know I had two grandmothers but I also thought I had a cat. Alas, Skittles isn’t conscious enough for his own spatio-temporal bubble, so I guess he’s only alive if I’m paying attention to him. “I do my best,” I tell Skittles. But I’m worried. The litter box is already a burden. As much as I like him, I don’t want his very existence to be my problem.
I read on.
There is no ticking matrix of “time” between these spheres because there is no such thing as time except as a concept in the mind of each individual observer. What’s most important to remember is that past, present, and future between these separate bubbles of reality have no meaning. So neither does any kind of death followed in time by rebirth. …
In short the very idea of death, or becoming nothing, is empty of meaning. … Because time doesn’t exist, there is no “after death” except the death of your physical body in someone else’s now. Everything is just nows. And because there’s no absolute self-existing space-time matrix for your energy to dissipate, it’s simply impossible to “go” anywhere. You will always be alive.
Skittles purred magnificently. He thinks he’s not conscious enough to be frozen forever in a timeless swarm of still-life reruns. I remind him, however, that he’s stuck in mine. Because he is conscious enough to notice that he is being observed by a human observer, he’s screwed too. I rub it in: “You’re an extra in my reruns. You won’t even get residuals.”
And that’s when Skittles came up with the solution to a problem that’s been bugging both of us. As you may recall, Erwin Schrödinger, the Nobel Prize laureate, put an imaginary cat in a closed box with a poison that would be released by an unpredictable radioactive source. According to quantum theory, the cat is both dead and alive at the same time until a human being opens the box and observes it. Skittles has always found the experiment offensive. He’ll admit that cat consciousness isn’t so far up the evolutionary ladder as most humans, but he maintains that he can observe whether or not he is dead as well as any genius.
I think he’s right, and now we can test it. Putting Skittles in the box would be unethical. He’s only 15 and can’t legally sign a waiver. But Drs. Lanza and Chopra could volunteer for the cat box. These true believers in eternal disembodied consciousness could swarm around simultaneously alive and dead and presumably tweeting about it until Skittles finishes his nap and needs to use the box.