QR1.6.4 The Ego Barrier

Throughout history, science has fought not only superstition but also the human ego:

Since our earliest ancestors admired the stars, our human egos have suffered a series of blows.” (Tegmark, 2007)

When Galileo challenged the paradigm that the Earth is the center of the universe he also challenged our ego. We now know that we are on a little planet circling a small star, two-thirds of the way out of an average galaxy that has a hundred billion stars, in a universe of at least that many galaxies, i.e. we aren’t the physical center of the universe as was once thought.

When Darwin challenged the paradigm that we are the pinnacle of a biology built for us he also challenged the human ego. We now know that humans have only existed on this planet for about three million years and were a minor species for most of that time. In contrast, dinosaurs ruled the earth for two-hundred million years before being wiped out sixty-five million years ago, apart from the birds. As 99.9% of all species that have ever lived are now extinct, our chances of dominating the earth for any length of time aren’t high. Even today, insects and plants exceed us in biomass, often have more genes and are much more likely to survive a disaster. We are almost certainly not the last evolutionary word. If the evolutionary tree had a “top”, we wouldn’t be it, so we aren’t the biological center of life either.

Today, neuroscience again challenges the ego belief that we have a unitary “self”, as it sees the brain as a set of autonomous neural assemblies that interact to maintain the convenient fiction of a self. The brain has no CPU (Central Processing Unit) because if the cortical hemispheres are surgically split, each takes itself to be “I” (Sperry & Gazzaniga, 1967). The conclusion is that even the ego self is an illusion, as we don’t have a psychological center either.

The trend is clear. The ego repeatedly makes us see ourselves at the center of things and science repeatedly finds that we aren’t. We see that every generation thinks itself smart – until the next one discovers that it isn’t. So is now, finally, the end of the line for ego fallacies? Do we at last see true, thanks to science, or is ego still operating? Is it that surprising to find one last ego fallacy blinding us – the idea that we see reality as it is. Think for a moment, what qualifies us to define reality? Isn’t it ego to say that reality is what we see because we see it? What makes us the existential center of the universe?

Quantum realism shocks the ego but fits the physics as the Summary Table given next suggests. It isn’t the Matrix brain in a vat, or that life is a dream, or that we live in a fake SimCity world. It is that life is real but what you see isn’t. Kicking a rock hurts because pixels are real to pixels in a local reality. The shock is that if the physical world is virtual, we fight, hoard and die for pixels not things, and we can no more change this than a goldfish can change the bowl of water it lives in. It is a sobering thought, but if this really is our situation, isn’t it better to know than to not know?