About B Gourley

Bernie Gourley is a writer living in Bangalore, India. He is currently writing his first novel entitled CHASING DEMONS. He is a martial artist, yogi, and world traveler.

5 of the Coolest Places We Visited in 2018

It’s year-in-review time, and I thought I’d do list of the most interesting places we visited this year. We stayed in the US for six weeks for visa renewal, and so that ate a lot of travel time an energy. That said, we still visited more places than I had room for on the list. We had fun visits to Mumbai, Kodaikanal, and Galveston Island — not to mention a road trip that took us on a supremely scenic drive through West Virginia. But a few places stood out for various reasons.

 

5.) Lincoln Park: This sprawling city park along Lake Michigan hosts a free Zoo, a Conservatory, museums, beaches, and beautiful urban green space.

 

4.) City Palace: Udaipur offers one of the most scenic urban spaces in all of India. This palace was home of Mewar ruling dynasty, and, sitting upon Lake Pichola, is the heart of this historic city.

 

3.) Udvar-Hazy Air & Space Museum: This “annex” to the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum takes advantage of the wide open spaces of Chantilly, Virginia (near Dulles Airport) to house some huge exhibits such as Space Shuttle Discovery, a Concorde, an SR-71, and commercial aircraft.

 

2.) Neil Island: This small island to the northeast of Port Blair is beloved for its snorkeling, beaches, and laid-back atmosphere. Full disclosure: I’m including this island of faith as we won’t be visiting it for another week or so, but by the time we return from the Andamans it will be 2019. For those unfamiliar, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands form an archipelago that is governed by India, though geographically it is nearer to Myanmar (Burma.)

 

1.) Annapurna Base Camp: There were lots of places in our visit to Nepal that could have made this list, but, forced to choose a highlight of our trip to Nepal, ABC wins hands down. It was the culmination of a tea-house trek of the Annapurna Sanctuary that offered spectacular views and experiences throughout.

 

As for what to expect in 2019, I have a trip to Laos planned early in January, and we are tentatively considering a hiking trip to Central Asia (probably Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.) Of course, we are not so good sticking to long-term plans, so who knows where the winds will take us.

There remain plenty of awesome travel destinations in India, though our challenge is that the low hanging fruit has been partaken of, and we are left with many locations that are a challenge to get to when one only has a few days with which to work

DAILY PHOTO: Dharohar Folk Dance Show

Flaming pot dancer

Sword dancer

Puppeteer

Pot dancer laden with six pots dances on broken glass; Taken November 25, 2018

POEM: Avian Game Theory

a murder of crows harasses a hawk,

out to steal the meal that wriggles in its talons.

the hawk giving its all to fighting crow will lose its squirming prey.

no crow is match for a hawk,

but no hawk is match for the murder,

and so all birds go hungry.

POEM: Engines of Desolation

That stubble, once a forest full of trees,

now rides the hills down to the turd brown sea.

I’d heard the drumming coming from the banks.

An army of axe men formed into ranks.

Firing up engines of desolation,

scarring the earth in ragged ablation.

And down the river, those drums went silent.

Modern man wondered where the tribes all went.

 

In ancient temples they’d preached mysteries.

Lost to the burning of the histories,

by purists who’d gathered in mankind’s flanks

to massacre all of the mainstream cranks.

 

And they sang their songs of faith and nation

to the tune of engines of desolation.

BOOK REVIEW: Biocentrism by Robert Lanza

Biocentrism: How Life and Consciousness are the Keys to Understanding the True Nature of the UniverseBiocentrism: How Life and Consciousness are the Keys to Understanding the True Nature of the Universe by Robert Lanza
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Amazon page

 

This book argues for an understanding of the universe in which consciousness is key – the sine qua non of reality, i.e. without which there’s nothing. While Lanza emphasizes biocentrism is a scientifically-based conception, his argument will likely find more immediate traction with people of faith than with the scientific community. Skepticism is likely to arise among the scientific community because the history of science from the Copernican Revolution onward has indicated that we are a bi-product of the universe in action, and not the reason for its existence. Humanity, with our brilliant brains that are the most complex systems we know of in the universe, is neither the geographic center of the universe nor are we its center of meaning or purpose either. Looking at it another way, our annihilation wouldn’t even register as a blip to the universe. Lanza (along with his co-author Bob Berman), fairly uniquely among men of science, argues otherwise.

Lanza and Berman present seven principles of biocentrism over the course of the book. I won’t list these, but they essentially say that in the absence of an observer the world exists only as an unresolved probability function, and that time and space are meaningless in the absence of consciousness. Not to oversimplify the authors’ case, but the heart of their biocentric argument is that it’s consistent with, and could arguably solve, two of the biggest mysteries in science.

The first mystery is the nature of quantum weirdness that has been shown true repeatedly through experiments such as the double slit experiment (which the authors discuss in some detail, but I will not.) I will mention a thought experiment designed make this subatomic strangeness clear in the world at our scale. It’s called Schrödinger’s cat. The idea is that a cat is in a box with a vile of poison that is released by a radioactive trigger. One can’t know when the radioactive decay will release the poison. (This is a bit of subatomic strangeness that can only be reconciled in the face of an observer.) It’s said that the cat would have to be thought of as being in a superposition, simultaneously both alive and dead, until the observer enters the picture. The reader also may have heard of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty principle, which states one can’t know both of a pair of measurements (e.g. position and momentum) with perfect accuracy. All of this says that at the infinitesimally tiny scale of the quantum, particle behavior seems erratic, baffling, and is influenced by observation. While it’s hard to relate to through the lens of our macroscopic experience of the world, it’s a notion that is completely accepted by physicists because it’s been validated by countless experimental observations.

The second truth that science struggles to make sense of that biocentrism presumes to eradicate is the conundrum of the “Goldilock’s universe.” Taken from the fable of finding the porridge that was “just right.” We live in a universe whose actions comply with a series of equations and constants that – were they slightly different – would make life in all the forms we can fathom completely impossible. Starting from the fact that our universe is so mathematically consistent (a feature that it’s commonly argued needn’t be) to the fact that turning the dials a little would make intelligent life impossible, it’s easy to start wondering whether the creationists aren’t on to something. Religion doesn’t have a problem with the Goldilock’s Universe because it presumes the universe was made this way purposefully. Biocentrism doesn’t have a problem because the universe can only exist where there are conscious beings. Of course, science hypothesizes its own solutions to the conundrum. These varied solutions generally revolve around the anthropic principle (we exist in a universe capable of supporting life because if we didn’t we couldn’t) and a multiverse of parallel universes (because the anthropic principle applied to a single universe isn’t intuitively superior to assuming a god, goddess, or gods magically “poofed” us into existence.) Under this idea, which appeals to the Copernican Revolutionary mindset, there will be many more universes where life doesn’t exist, and perhaps even ephemeral bubble universes that can’t even exist as a universe – let alone as a life supporting universe.

There’s a major challenge to biocentrism that results from the fact that we are fairly certain that the universe is 13+ billion years old and our planet didn’t come into existence until about 9 billion years after that (i.e. Earth is about 4.5 billion-years-old.) Even if one assumes the conscious life grew up elsewhere before us, it’s hard to imagine it having happened instantaneously with the beginning of the universe. Lanza’s end run around this can be found in his sixth and seventh principles of biocentrism which state that time and space are illusory in the absence of an observer. Of course, this raises questions of how this could be so and why we might believe it is so — because “it’s essential to my case” isn’t a good reason to believe anything. To be fair, there are all sorts of theories out there – many more mainstream than Lanza’s – that propose time and space aren’t what they seem – starting with Einstein’s well-proven idea that time and space are relative.

This book is oddly composed. It describes the principles of biocentrism largely in the first half to two-thirds of the book, with a few random digressions, and then it really goes off the rails. Most of the digressions are little biographical stories about Robert Lanza, many of which are interesting but completely irrelevant to the book’s proposed topic. I’m unsure which of three competing explanations account for these erratic digressions: a.) the publisher said, “this manuscript must be 200 pages or we aren’t publishing it.” b.) the author is getting up there in age, realizes there is no market for his memoirs, and thinks he can sneak the highlights into this book which is sure to have a following if a controversial one. c.) the author was concerned about being taken for a kook and wanted to establish his bona fides (note: many of the biographical digressions consist of name-dropping.) I should point out that these digressions are the main reason for my mediocre rating of this book, and not disenchantment with the case for biocentrism. (I think we know too little about consciousness and about it’s odd interactions at the quantum level to draw any firm conclusions in that regard.)

I found this book to be fascinating – even some of the digressions were interesting, though not helpful to discussion of the topic at hand. It’s a thought-provoking work. I have no idea whether it will prove to have merit as a description of how the world works. I’ll leave it to readers to determine whether they think it is a sound interpretation of observed reality or a physics-envy based attack on the stronghold of physics as the heart of science or an attempt to reduce the fear of death in a way consistent with science (i.e. time as we perceive it being an illusion makes us all immortal.) If you are interested in the big questions of why the universe exists and what is the nature of reality, you may want to give this book a read – not that it’ll answer all your questions, but it will provide an alternative to mainstream views that you may find useful.

View all my reviews