Does consciousness create the universe? A new book makes the startling claim

An interview with Robert Lanza, creator of the Biocentrism theory and co-author of the new sci-fi novel "Observer," written with Nancy Kress.
Paul Ratner
Artificial intelligence
Photo illustration: Artificial intelligence concept.

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A new cutting-edge sci-fi novel could well upend our understanding of what is truly behind the nature of reality.

Observer,” a thriller co-written by the scientist Robert Lanza and the leading sci-fi writer Nancy Kress, looks towards quantum physics and beyond in a provocative story of a brilliant neurosurgeon. 

The plot of “Observer: A Novel” concerns itself with the tale of Dr. Caroline (Caro) Soames-Watkins, a down-and-out neurosurgeon who, after accusing her superior of sexual misconduct, finds herself without work or money and having to support her sister, who as a single mother takes care of a severely disabled child.

Forced to accept an unusual job offer from her Nobel Prize-winning scientist uncle Sam Watkins, Caro travels to his medical facility in the Caribbean to carry out research on the nature of consciousness, looking into reality itself and questions of life after death. Caro’s uncle is working on a technology that could overcome mortality, drawing her into an intrigue involving murder, romance, and a mind-bending insight into our preconceived notions of reality. 

The Authors

Robert Lanza, an American scientist, and author, is a stem cell and regenerative medicine expert, who is famous for his theory of biocentrism. This proposes that consciousness is the force that’s responsible for the existence of the universe.

According to biocentrism, the physical world that we can perceive is not a separate entity from us but is actually conjured up by our minds during the process of observation. Taking it a step further, Lanza’s biocentric view suggests that both space and time are a result of the “whirl of information” within our heads. The theory argues that our minds pull together this information into a cohesive, engaging experience.

In a previous paper, Lanza contends that a network of observers is integral to the structure of reality. Observers like you and me reside in a quantum gravitational universe. Together we create the cognitive model of reality that is agreed upon globally as we exchange information describing the properties of spacetime.

“For, once you measure something,” Lanza said in an interview with Big Think, “the wave of probability to measure the same value of the already probed physical quantity becomes ‘localized’ or simply ‘collapses.’”

Lanza’s co-author on “Observer,” Nancy Kress, is a top science fiction writer. She has authored thirty-five books, winning six Nebula Awards, two Hugos, a Sturgeon, and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award. One topic she frequently comes back to, as in her novel Beggars in Spain, is genetic engineering.

The novel's take on biocentrism 

As Lanza and Kress state in the book, “Life as we know it is observer-determined, which seems to trap us in the universe we’re familiar with. But change the algorithms, and you can create a different ‘reality.’”

In another passage that harkens back to Lanza’s work on biocentrism, the character George Weitgert, a physicist, tells an interviewer that there have been instances when simple ideas shook the foundations of knowledge.

These included the realization that the earth was not flat and Einstein’s relativity theories, which overhauled classical physics. Understanding “the primacy of the observer” is another idea that can revolutionize conventional science.

“Switching our perspective on the universe from physics to biology shatters everything we have ever known about reality,” states Weitgert, adding that “if you add life and consciousness to the equation, you can explain some of the biggest puzzles of science.” These include such notions, for instance, as why space and time and properties of matter are dependent on the observer.

Further explaining his perspective, Weitgert shares that the dichotomy we experience between ourselves and the world outside of our bodies is more something that is taught to us rather than the reality.

Our "self" is defined by what we can control, like our eyes and fingers, but as the scientist points out, while we perceive the elements of the external world to be outside of us, everything we see and interact with is just information whirling inside the mind. What we see are mental constructions that "could not be present without consciousness."

Interview with Robert Lanza

To gain more insight into the novel’s provocative ideas and creation, Interesting Engineering (IE) reached out to Robert Lanza for more on his new book.

The following exchange has been lightly edited for clarity and flow.

Interesting Engineering: How did you collaborate with Nancy Kress on the writing of the book? It's such a mix of ideas and action.  

Robert Lanza: Our agent, Michael Signorelli, introduced us to each other. Nancy read all three of my books on biocentrism, which are the basis of Observer. She’s quite brilliant and understands the concepts better than most physicists.  In fact, she was married to the English-born mathematician, physicist, and science-fiction writer, Charles Sheffield.  

As far as the actual writing, there was a lot of back and forth between us for the plot and science.  But, of course, Nancy is one of the greatest science fiction writers alive (and has written 3 books on writing novels), so she obviously handled the lion’s share of the writing and characters. It was great working with her on the book—I couldn’t have asked for a better collaborator.  

IE: What was your intention in writing a fiction book? Do you see it as a way for the ideas of biocentrism to reach wider audiences? 

Yes, although I’ve written peer-reviewed scientific papers and nonfiction books on the topic, I wanted to introduce the ideas to a broader audience in a fun, entertaining way—and through storytelling, bring to life the science behind the astounding fact that time, space, and reality itself, all ultimately depend upon us, the observer. 

IE: How important is it for you to use "hard science" in your writing? 

It was extremely important—our goal was to convey as much of the actual cutting-edge science and experiments as possible. We wanted the reader to come away with a scientific understanding, not only of quantum mechanics, but of how the world really works—from the very structure of space-time itself at the microscope level to the very large spatio-temporal scales at the level of planets and stars.

IE: Is there going to be a continuation?

 I hope so—in fact, there is already some interest in bringing it to the screen.