QR1.6.4 The Delusion of Omniscience

Scientific progress has always contradicted the hubris that we already know, hence:

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

Medieval Christianity taught that God put the earth at the center of the universe and then created us. No-one asked “Where is earth in the universe?” because it was assumed to be known. When Galileo challenged the axiom of earth centrality, he also challenged the idea that we are the physical center of the world. We now know that we live on a little planet circling a small star, two-thirds of the way out of an average galaxy of a hundred billion stars, in a universe of at least that many galaxies. Mankind is like a species of bacteria dominating one leaf on one tree in a vast forest, which somehow hurts! Yet the ego blow that we aren’t the physical center of things was the price of new knowledge of astronomy.

Even so, it was believed that humans were created apart from animals, so no-one asked “How did mankind arise?” because it was again assumed known. When Darwin challenged the axiom of human creation, he also challenged the idea that we are the biological center of the world. We now know that modern humans have been on the planet for less than a million years and were a minor species for most of that time. In comparison, dinosaurs ruled the earth for two-hundred million years before being wiped out sixty-five million years ago by the meteor event that let mammals evolve. It is estimated that 99.9% of all species that have ever lived are now extinct, so our chances of dominating the earth for long aren’t high. Our state is so fragile that even a little virus can disrupt it! It is easy to forget that bacteria, insects and plants all exceed us in biomass and many species have more genes. Yet the ego blow that we aren’t the biological center of life was the price of new knowledge of biology.

Modern neuroscience now challenges the ego itself, the idea that we have a center from which all our actions originate and to which all sensations go. The question not asked this time is “Who am I?”, again because it is assumed to be known but studies of the brain find that it has no processing center equivalent to the CPU (central processing unit) of a computer. The highest processing of the brain, the cortex, is divided into two hemispheres and if they are surgically disconnected, each acts like a brain in itself, taking 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.

Chapter 6 addresses the mystery of consciousness, how two hemispheres can generate one “I”, but the trend is clear: our egos repeatedly see us at the center of things and science repeatedly finds that we aren’t. Is the last ego delusion that the ego itself is a delusion? It seems unlikely, as every generation thinks it has all the answers – until the next generation finds that it doesn’t.

Quantum realism challenges the oldest centrism of all, that the physical world is the center of reality. We assume that reality is what we see because we see it but who are we to define reality? The fact that we see reality as physical doesn’t make it so. Is it not hubris to assume that what we see is what is? The idea that physical reality is generated by quantum reality shocks the ego but fits the facts, as Table 1.1 shows. There is nothing illogical about the idea that a reality we don’t see creates the reality we do, and at the same time provides a basis for what science can’t explain – the observer.

It is ironic that scientists who fought the church’s dogmas for so long now push the dogma of physical realism. The Scientific Delusion is that science knows everything about reality but for some loose ends. The Delusion of Scientific Omniscience, the myth that science knows everything or is about to, led to the dream of a Theory of Everything (TOE), an equation that defines the future and ends science. A little humility would reveal that we can’t put the universe in an intellectual box because we are a part of it, and a part can’t contain the whole. The hubris of physical realism is to treat physical reality like a God.

It is for this reason that quantum realism is a query of everything not a theory of everything. The price of scientific progress this time is to abandon the delusion of scientific omniscience.