The Vital Question — Part I

By Doug Marman

Nick Lane recently published a new book, The Vital Question: Energy, Evolution, and the Origins of Complex Life. It isn’t an easy book to read, but it is packed with the latest research about the evolution of early life, and it offers a number of provocative new theories.

The Vital Question by Nick Lane.

The Vital Question by Nick Lane.

Everything in Lane’s book fits perfectly with the theory of how life began that I presented in Lenses of Perception. However, Lenses fills in some important gaps in Lane’s story. That’s what I’ll be reviewing in this post.

Lane explains why we need to start looking at living organisms in a different way. The question we should be asking ourselves, he says, is not what is life, but how do creatures live? How do they extract energy from the world to keep them going? It’s an interesting perspective.

Lane then describes the process that all living things use to control energy. He even has a good story about where such a process probably began. But he can’t explain how living things gained the ability to intelligently control energy in the first place. This is where current science hits a wall. Fortunately, the Lenses of Perception theory shows a way to understand this missing key of life.

Lane’s book is filled with valuable insights. For example, out of date origin-of-life stories don’t work. The idea that lightning hitting the “primordial soup” (in the oceans) was able to create larger, more complex molecules, is a dead end. There is no way these molecules just arranged themselves into the right pattern and leaped the hurdle to life. Lane says the whole conjecture is misguided and should be forgotten.

The problem isn’t making complex molecules, he says. It is how to extract the energy needed to survive. Lightning can’t create the spark of life, because organisms need a continuous source of controllable energy to live. Lane believes the whole idea of the primordial soup is a big mistake that has led countless researchers in the wrong direction.

Lane then dives deep into describing how all life forms on Earth use energy:

“Essentially all living cells power themselves through the flow of protons… The energy we gain from burning food in respiration is used to pump protons across a membrane, forming a reservoir on one side of the membrane. The flow of protons back from this reservoir can be used to power work in the same way as a turbine in a hydroelectric dam… At the level of proteins, we now know how proton power works in detail. We also know that the use of proton gradients is universal across life on earth—proton power is as much an integral part of all life as the universal genetic code. Yet we know next to nothing about how or why this counterintuitive mechanism of energy harnessing first evolved.”[1]

In other words, even the simplest forms of life have a way of moving protons, one at a time, across a membrane, where they are stored like money in a bank. Later, they spend their proton loot to power everything they need to do, in order to survive. It’s an amazing discovery, but how exactly does the cell intelligently control this process? And how did the first life form learn this trick? Biologists don’t know.

That’s where the Lenses of Perception theory comes in. It proposes that the “all-for-one” bond is the secret of life we are looking for. This bond compels molecules of a cell to work in a coordinated way together for the cell’s survival. Outside forces can’t pull this off. The forces known to physics can’t make inorganic matter alive. Chemists and physicists haven’t found the right lens to see how this happens. But an understanding of relationships can explain it.

The process must start within the cell. The molecules must act in just the right way, to allow the cell to live. Why do they do this? According to Lenses of Perception, a special form of entanglement makes this possible.

The molecules in a cell are not only entangled with each other, forming a cohesive group, but they are also entangled with the cell itself. As a result, the molecules act as a team that is aligned to the cell.

This is admittedly a controversial theory, because most physicists believe that the unpredictable nature of quantum particles is, first of all, completely random, and second, it only happens at the subatomic level. Neither of these are true, however, since we see the same unpredictable behavior at the level of living cells, as well as at the level of complex organisms such as animals.

Lenses of Perception shows that the relationships between living creatures display all the same puzzles and paradoxes of quantum mechanics. This isn’t a coincidence. Fundamental particles are unpredictable because they, too, are conscious. This turns out to be a useful explanation because the spontaneous actions of quanta can’t be explained by outer forces.

If particles are conscious, then they should form relationships. This ends up being the true cause of attraction and repulsion between particles that creates the forces of physics. This might sound preposterous, but it’s completely consistent with quantum theory. (See Lenses of Perception for a detailed discussion.)

One type of relationship that forms naturally when beings come together is for them to work as a group. They form unified teams if they have good leaders. This bond, I believe, is the key to unlocking the secret of life. Once we realize the universal nature of what I call the “all-for-one bond,” we gain a new lens that shows us life in a completely different light.

For example, at the subatomic level, we see quarks coming together to form protons and neutrons. The units they form are so tightly bound together that they act as singular entities. They don’t spin like a group of quarks—they spin as one.

Protons and neutrons also bond together in the same way to form atoms. And this shows us one of the amazing results of this bond: It creates hierarchies. Not only do quarks combine to form protons, and protons combine to form atoms, but atoms also bind together to create stars, and stars form galaxies.

You might think that stars spin in galaxies only because of the force of gravity, but this is wrong. Scientists say that dark matter is needed to explain a strange problem: Why do the outer stars in galaxies spin as one? Gravity, alone, can’t explain this. The outer stars should spin slower, if only gravity is involved.

Unfortunately, physicists have no idea what dark matter is. And they don’t know why the outer sheath of the sun spins faster than it should, as well. Plus, a similar situation exists at the level of protons and atoms, called the “mass gap problem.” All of these problems are resolved, once we see the role of all-for-one bonds. (While I’m trying my best to make this understandable to newcomers, I can’t possibly cover all of the background in Lenses of Perception, so this is understandably a very quick summary.)

All-for-one bonds always create hierarchies because the group is held together by following a higher level leader. This is exactly why cells work together to allow complex organisms to live, and are even willing to sacrifice their lives for the sake of the creature. We see the same thing on a human level, when parents make sacrifices for their family, and when people come together to work for a company or a cause larger than themselves.

If this theory is right, then it paints a new picture of how cells first formed. In fact, the LoP theory is quite specific about how this must have happened. It had to start with a group that formed behind a leader who was one of their own. In other words, one molecule stepped forward to lead, but this role was temporary.

Any leader that steps forward from a group can be replaced. Actually, the members of the group can be replaced as well. This is exactly what we see in companies. They might get started with an entrepreneur, but other leaders take over as they expand, and employees come and go.

This first step is called a weak all-for-one bond, according to Lenses of Perception. The group isn’t held together as tightly as a cell, an atom, or an organism. In fact, weak all-for-one bonds can easily split into separate groups that go off in different directions. This is exactly what we see with companies. It also shows that reproduction probably existed before the first true cells emerged.

But weak all-for-one bonds have one big advantage over strong all-for-one bonds: They can survive indefinitely, as long as individuals continue stepping in to keep them going. That’s not true with organisms. When an animal dies, the cells that form its body all fall apart and decompose. This shows how closely their lives are entangled.

So, the first stage in the emergence of life is a loosely formed group that follows a temporary leader. A major evolutionary leap was needed to transform this group into a cell with a will of its own, creating a strong all-for-one bond. But I’m not going to discuss that stage in this post. I’ll address it in Part II.

Back to the pre-cellular stage. It probably survived for a long time, replacing leaders and members, before making the leap to becoming a unified conscious cell. In other words, it started as a community of molecules, and it must have taken a long time to evolve the ability to keep the group going. How did this happen? you might ask.

Hydrothermal vents deep under the ocean, near the Marianas Trench. Photo by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Hydrothermal vents deep under the ocean, near the Marianas Trench. Photo by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Let’s turn back to Nick Lane. He tells an interesting story. Deep in the oceans on Earth are alkaline hydrothermal vents that offered exactly the right conditions for this process to begin. The vents are porous, with millions of tiny openings, making a perfect gathering place for molecules to settle and combine. The vents also supply a continuous flow of charged ions, while the rest of the ocean was much more acidic in those early days.

This allowed molecules to gather in the porous openings, creating something similar to membranes. And the vents supplied a natural source of protons, in the form of hydrogen ions, making a reservoir on one side. This created an electrical potential compared to the acidic ocean on the other side of the membrane. Therefore, there was a steady flow of energy that lasted for hundreds of millions of years. This is how long it took for a community of molecules to develop the ability to survive as a group.

This picture that Lane paints is consistent with the origin of life story in Lenses of Perception. It does seem like a realistic place for life to emerge. However, I don’t see how molecules could have evolved the ability to act as a group for its own self-preservation without the all-for-one bond. It can’t be created by external forces. That’s impossible. How could outside forces give creatures a will of their own? It must, by definition, come from within. This means that molecules must have first learned to keep the group going. Then the leap to cellular life was possible.

If consciousness exists first, and all particles possess it, then groups should naturally form, and the way they relate to each other should develop. In other words, they will gradually begin working as groups. That’s where molecules come from. But their abilities are very limited.

However, when molecules work together, they have far more flexibility (degrees of freedom). With a continuous source of energy and hundreds of millions of years, they could have learned how to work to preserve the life of the group, to keep the community alive. This makes sense if particles and molecules have some element of consciousness. And alkaline hydrothermal vents offer exactly the right environment, as Lane says.

The gaps in Lane’s story are where the Lenses of Perception theory shines. For example, he admits that he can’t explain how the first cells formed, or why molecules joined together to form genes:

“I was evasive on details such as how the genetic code arose, but focused on the conceptual argument that these conditions could theoretically have produced rudimentary cells with genes and proteins.”[2]

Unfortunately, when he tries to explain how this happened, he makes a common mistake. He says:

“Populations of cells were subject to perfectly normal natural selection.”[3]

Natural selection isn’t some kind of magic wand that we should wave to explain the things we don’t understand. Unfortunately, biologists do it all this time.

This doesn’t mean that natural selection isn’t real, but that we shouldn’t use it to paint over the things that we don’t know. Doing so stops us from looking for real explanations.

In this case, it is a serious mistake because natural selection doesn’t work with molecules. Chemical reactions, by themselves, can and do adapt to their surroundings, but they can’t evolve the ability to work together for the purpose of helping their group survive. It’s only wishful thinking to imagine that natural selection could magically pull this off. Something is clearly missing.

How did the first molecules gain the ability to work together as groups? Until we can answer this, we have no idea how genes first formed. Yes, we can see that genes play an important role in life, but what holds them together? How do they act at exactly the right times in synchrony with all the other genes to allow organisms to find food, excrete wastes, and reproduce?

Everything starts to make sense if consciousness is involved from the start. Then molecules will form relationships and groups. Over a billion years, it is possible for more complex combinations to form that allow individual molecules to work as a team, creating something that is larger than any of them individually. Once they experience the benefits, they will want to preserve the group by acting in a unified way.

Here’s another example of a big gap. In Chapter 3 of his book, Lane asks the question, why are proton gradients the source of power for all living things on this planet. Why not thermal or mechanical energy? Why not electrical discharges or ultraviolet radiation?

This deep sea hydrothermal vent is encrusted with tiny crabs and surrounded by life, which is a good sign that this is where life may have begun on planet Earth.

This deep sea hydrothermal vent is encrusted with tiny crabs and surrounded by life, which is a good sign that this is where life may have begun on planet Earth. Photo from Wikipedia by A. D. Rogers et al.

He goes on to suggest that the reason for this is that life began in these alkaline hydrothermal vents in the ocean. But this misses the real answer.

Thermal and mechanical energy, electrical discharges, and ultraviolet radiation, will never work because these are all classical forces based on cause and effect. Those forces only work at the level of masses of particles, not individuals.

We need a quantum process. We need to understand how forces themselves emerge from quantum fields and quantum interactions. That’s where the secret of life can be explained.

Mechanical and electrical forces all play roles in the lives of cells, but they will never explain how organisms act under their own volition or how they act to preserve their own lives. We need consciousness to begin with. Consciousness isn’t a byproduct, it is a necessary cause.

This becomes clear when we look at exactly how living things use proton gradients to power their lifestyles. Lane compares the flow of protons through the molecular structures in cells to shielded wires carrying flows of electricity. But this is wrong. A wire is one long conductor, with atoms lined up end-to-end. Electricity does indeed flow through copper like water through a pipe. Just add a voltage potential, such as a battery, and the current will flow.

This is not even close to what happens in cells. Lane shows this quite clearly. Proton gradients are constructed from 45 proteins, with each protein being made of hundreds of amino acids. This complex structure is needed for cells to move protons across a membrane and then use those protons to create the chemical energy needed to survive.

The protons are moved from one end of this chain to the other. Protons are moved one at a time through the structure, across a series of these landing spots. Each step is a carefully controlled distance from the next, because electrons must make quantum leaps to get from one to the next. In other words, protons are not moved like water or electricity. They’re moved one at a time through the structure with a quantum process guiding them.

A better analogy to what is happening here would be workers in a town, where farmers grow food, food preparers convert the food into usable forms, and movers bring the food to stores and restaurants where consumers can buy them. These consumers are the very same workers, food preparers, and movers. We have a functioning community.

We can’t just connect a battery to a circuit and make a town work. Food doesn’t flow through a pipe. It is passed along from one person to the next. It isn’t forced through the pipe by an external force. Yes, there is an exchange of money each step of the way, but it is the hunger of people that drives the process.

Money is not the cause. Cash flows through a town because there’s a need for food and other goods. In a cell, protons are the goods needed. Electrons are the money.

As electrons jump from one landing pad to the next, protons are handed off and routed to where they are needed.

This is a community effort. Everyone must work together to pull this off. In other words, all of the individual molecules must be aligned to a purpose, guided by common goals, and led by leaders to keep everything coordinated. These are relationships that make this work. Individuals helping each other and the group.

It seems hard to believe that molecules could act intelligently. I admit it. We’ve learned to look at matter as lifeless for so long that it is hard to buy this. But, as difficult as this is to picture, it does explain everything from the origin of particles to the origin of life. And after you get used to the idea, it makes sense.

There are no other solutions to the origin of life without huge gaps. Unless you want to believe that natural selection magically solved the problem, or that electrical currents somehow drive protons exactly to where and when they are needed for cells to survive.

In Part II, of this two-part series, we’ll explore a leap in evolution that is just as amazing as the origin of cellular life. This is the jump that cells took when they changed from being single cells to multicellular creatures such as plants, fungi, animals, and insects. In other words, all of complex life depends on this event when cells changed.

[1] Nick Lane, The Vital Question: Energy, Evolution, and the Origins of Complex Life (New York City, W. W. Norton & Company, 2015), p. 13.

[2] Nick Lane, The Vital Question, p. 149.

[3] Ibid.

This is Your Brain on Religion — This is Your Brain on Science

By Doug Marman

The main premise of the Lenses of Perception theory is that there are fundamental lenses—ways of seeing—and we can only perceive through one lens at a time. A recent series of experiments validates this idea.

Researchers from Case Western University and Babson College published a study three weeks ago titled, Why Do You Believe in God? Relationships between Religious Belief, Analytic Thinking, Mentalizing and Moral Concern.

Their test results show that when people think of religious matters, their brains suppress critical thinking. And when they focus on scientific topics, their brain suppresses religious thoughts.

“It suggests religious beliefs and scientific thinking clash because different brain areas are involved in both cognitive processes.”[1]

Thinking about science and thinking about religion requires two different brain networks, and both networks suppress the other. ("Say your prayer" photo by Joachim Bär. Eucaryote cell illustration from Wikipedia.)

Thinking about science and thinking about religion require two different brain networks, and both networks suppress the other. (“Say your prayer” photo by Joachim Bär. Eucaryote cell illustration from Wikipedia.)

In other words, the experiments showed clearly that working with science involves one brain network, while religion works with a completely different network. And the two networks interfere with the other, making it hard to use both at the same time.

The fact that these brain networks clash with each other is one reason we see conflicts between religious belief and science. However, lenses of perception theory suggests that this isn’t the underlying cause.

Our brains evolved these two networks for a reason: The world is governed by different ways of seeing. This isn’t just about the lenses that human beings use. It reaches all the way down to the level of subatomic particles.

Everything works this way because the world isn’t created by outer forces. It comes into existence through conscious experiences, at every level. That’s why perception plays such an important role.

For example, the scientific perspective uses a third-person lens. That’s the lens we use when looking at the world as if we’re outside observers. This turns out to be the best approach for studying mechanical reactions because particles go along with the outsider perspective. This is why, when trying to analyze a cause-and-effect process, third-person lenses give us the clearest picture of what’s happening.

But the world isn’t just mechanical. Relationships also hold groups together and connect beings to each other. These ties emerge from second-person experiences, created by common interests shared with others.

Second-person perceptions are the basis of all relationships. However, they come in two distinct forms.

First, there is a sense of empathy that allows us to relate one-on-one with another person or animal. We experience this with friends and our pets when we connect with them.

When someone we care about is in pain, we actually feel it. At the subatomic level this is known as entanglement. If two particles become entangled, they literally form an invisible alignment that reaches across time and space. This is one of the many mind-boggling features of quantum physics that make sense when we see them as relationships.

The second type of second-person perception gives us our moralistic sense of the right thing to do. Moral concerns emerge from connections to groups such as communities we belong to, companies we work for, or even our feeling for the human race or the whole of life. Working together with others shows us that we can create something greater as part of a group.

This is where our sense of responsibility comes from. We want to contribute. We want our lives to mean something. I call this the “all-for-one bond,” because it’s a special relationship that team members have with each other when working toward a singular goal.

At the level of fundamental particles, the same force holds atoms together. And in biology, cells bind to the organisms they belong to for the same reason.

So, our brain evolved ways of seeing these patterns of behavior because the world is shaped by these relationships.

The research paper, above, ran tests to see the difference between empathy and moral concern. They wanted to determine how each of these two types of relationship relate to religious belief. Surprisingly, they found that only the moralistic sense showed a strong connection. Empathy played hardly any role at all in the religious experience.

This is exactly what the lenses of perception theory predicts. Religion comes from our sense that there is a higher purpose to life and that a life with meaning comes from working with others for something beyond ourselves. This doesn’t belong to religion alone. Scientists also feel the sense of purpose that comes from working with others for the advancement of science.

This raises another interesting point reported by the above paper: There is no reason why we can’t move back and forth between religion and science, between our moral sense and an analytic perspective. We simply need to learn that they engage two different ways of seeing. Two different brain networks are involved. This means that we need to change lenses when shifting from one to the other.

“The study also points out that some of the great scientists of our times were also very spiritual men. ‘Far from always conflicting with science, under the right circumstances religious belief may positively promote scientific creativity and insight,’ says Tony Jack, lead author of the study. ‘Many of history’s most famous scientists were spiritual or religious. Those noted individuals were intellectually sophisticated enough to see that there is no need for religion and science to come into conflict.’”[2]

[1] http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/critical-thinking-suppressed-brains-people-who-believe-supernatural-1551233

[2] http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/critical-thinking-suppressed-brains-people-who-believe-supernatural-1551233

The Unfinished Revolution of Quantum Mechanics

By Doug Marman

Quantum mechanics has proven itself to be the most accurate scientific theory ever known. Plus, some 30% of the US gross national product is based on quantum mechanical inventions. They’re used in everything from computer chips and lasers to CD players and magnetic resonance imaging machines in hospitals.

However, the theory has yet to make its way into the understanding of the general public. As a result, the scientific revolution of quantum mechanics is unfinished.

Prague Astronomical Clock. Photo by Vera Kratochivil

Prague Astronomical Clock. Photo by Vera Kratochivil

Yes, we’ve all heard the term ‘quantum.’ But few understand the science and what it means, even in a simplified way. Scientists aren’t any better off. They know how to use the equations, but they don’t understand what it means either.

Since the modern age of science began, this has never happened before.

Isaac Newton published his book that explained gravity and the laws of motion in 1687. People struggled with the idea at first, that a force could reach across space from the sun and pull the Earth. However, after a couple generations, the idea was accepted by almost everyone. People could picture the universe as a giant clockwork, driven by cause and effect.

Michael Faraday and James Clerk Maxwell launched the electromagnetic revolution in the mid 1800’s. Within fifty years, electrical inventions were springing up everywhere. The term “force field” became widely used and most people intuitively understood what it meant.

Einstein’s principle of relativity also created problems at first. How can the speed of light look the same when speeding toward a beam of light or away from it? How can the measurement of time be relative to our reference frame?

It’s still a challenge for most people to fathom why the world is this way. However, the underlying principle is simple enough: Everyone’s experience is relative. There is no perspective that is truer than any other.

It takes time for major breakthroughs to filter into the understanding of the public. When they do, they literally change the way we perceive the world. In other words, they give us a new lens—a new way of seeing.

But now, for the first time in history, a revolutionary scientific discovery has failed to reach a general understanding. A hundred years after quantum theory was discovered, it still doesn’t make sense, not even to physicists.

This creates a problem. An intuitive understanding isn’t a part of our social wisdom, but something else has filled the void. It happened unintentionally. The void has been filled with a conclusion that many scientists have reached: Life doesn’t make sense. There is no meaning to quantum uncertainty; that’s just the way it is.

This idea is creating a wedge between science and other fields, such as philosophy and religion, because many people don’t accept it. Einstein hit the nail on the head when he said, “God doesn’t play dice with the universe.” In other words, the world isn’t just a bunch of random pointless events. It means something.

Einstein, in a letter to Max Born, 4 December 1926. Often quoted as "God does not play dice with the universe."

Einstein, in a letter to Max Born, 4 December 1926. Often quoted as “God does not play dice with the universe.”

As a result, there’s been a change in the public’s perception of science. Scientists have noticed the shift in attitude. Some believe that this is a sign that our society is sliding backwards towards superstitious thinking, but I don’t think that’s the case. Most of those claiming that something is missing from science are highly educated.

I think a big underlying cause of this growing rift is that we don’t yet understand one of the biggest breakthroughs in science. A deeper understanding of quantum mechanics can heal this problem.

It’s important to realize that this idea—that life is just ‘probabilistic’ and ‘unpredictable’ at the level of fundamental particles, and the best we can do is accept it—is a false conclusion. Physicists haven’t learned this scientifically. They simply don’t know how else to interpret the data.

In other words, this isn’t a lesson of quantum mechanics. It’s simply a sign that physicists don’t know what it means. It isn’t a conclusion. It’s a reminder that the quantum revolution is incomplete.

I say this because it is now clear to me, after I found a way to explain the quantum mystery. I didn’t expect to uncover a simple intuitive explanation. It was an accident. But looking back, it’s now easy to see the huge void, like a dark cloud, that has kept the real lesson of quantum mechanics from our doorstep.

Quantum theory now makes sense to me, and I think that it is simple enough that most people can understand. More importantly, the underlying principles don’t just apply to the subatomic world. They play a vital role in our everyday lives. That was the biggest surprise for me.

My wife, Karen, was my first litmus test. She never studied physics in college. She doesn’t read science books. She didn’t know anything about quantum mechanics. But after reading chapter 13, “The Spooky World of Quantum Physics” in my book, Lenses of Perception, she shocked me and said, “That was fun.” She actually enjoyed reading it.

She even asked me to get her a T-shirt that says, “I sorta understand quantum mechanics.”

Of course, she realized that a lot of the science was over her head. She could see that, but it still intuitively made sense to her.

This might seem like a small thing, but it is something that leading physicists say is impossible: They claim that no one understands it.

More importantly, Karen began seeing the principles everywhere. The world now makes more sense and is easier to understand.

For example, we experience unpredictable effects in our lives everyday, because we never know for sure how others, or even how we, will act in a situation we’ve never faced before. These are true quantum effects. They are an important part of life, because they show us that life isn’t completely driven by outside forces. It also emerges from within.

Karen’s reaction isn’t unique. Another person recently wrote to tell me that he was watching a show on the history channel about Thomas Jefferson, when he suddenly realized it was a perfect example of the scientific lens influencing Jefferson’s perceptions.

Another person told me that she was reading a book on spirituality that she had read many times before, but now she understands it more deeply because she can see how lenses of perception are involved.

Finding a deeper understanding of life—that is the part of the quantum revolution that we’ve been missing.

We’ve been told that quantum shenanigans only exist in the subatomic world. If this were true, then most people could easily ignore it, since it has little to do with their daily lives. However, it turns out that quantum theory is more important to people’s personal lives than any of the other great scientific discoveries.

Why? Because once we see how to understand it, it clarifies so much of what makes life mysterious. This doesn’t mean it ends the mystery in the way that objective analysis often does. On the contrary, it heightens the enigma and pulls us in.

"Single Water Drop" by Petr Kratochivil

“Single Water Drop” by Petr Kratochivil

Here’s an example: We connect with other people through our work, communities, friendships and families. Relationships expand the horizons of our individual lives. These bonds change us and give meaning to our existence. But none of this can be understood with a third-person lens, because it exists between people. It can’t be seen by outside observers. We have to experience it.

This is exactly what it means to be entangled. And this is exactly what quantum entanglement—perhaps the greatest mystery of quantum mechanics—is about. Relationships are real, but they only exist in between. They don’t belong to one person or another, they’re a connection between them.

When two particles become entangled, they are tied together in an invisible way. When something affects one, it affects the other as well. We experience the same thing. When a friend suffers or has a success, it affects us as well.

This isn’t just a similarity. These are examples of true quantum entanglement.

Once we find the right lens, we can see that our lives are woven into the universe.

Think of how this understanding would change your perception of science if this was a recognized lesson of quantum mechanics. Doesn’t it build a bridge between science and philosophy and religion?

It’s been more than a century since the revolution started. I’d say it is high time for quantum behavior to finally make sense, and for our culture to absorb the meaning of this great breakthrough.

The Lens of Science and Its Flaw

By Doug Marman

Our scientific way of looking at the world as outsiders was pioneered by Isaac Newton, over three hundreds years ago. People found it so effective at helping them understand mechanisms and mechanical reactions that it sparked the Industrial Revolution and our modern technological age.

It soon spread across the globe and is now used in almost every field. We use it so often that it’s almost invisible to us. It has, more than any other lens, shaped our ways of seeing. The problem is that it has a flaw that limits our perceptions.

To understand what this flaw is, we need to go back to Newton’s time and see how he first discovered his “laws of motion” and set down the fundamental principles of science. (For a more complete discussion of this subject, see chapter 3 in the book Lenses of Perception.)

Isaac wanted to know why the planets in our solar system circle around the sun. He had a hunch that gravity, the same force that causes apples to fall from trees, is the cause, but how could he prove it?

Newton wanted to understand the force that keeps the planets in orbit around our sun. Illustration by NASA.

Newton wanted to understand the force that keeps the planets in orbit around our sun. Illustration by NASA.

Newton invented a new type of math, called calculus, to describe the changing motion of the planets. Unfortunately, the general formula for changing rates of motion is infinite—it never ends. It looks like this:

The distance an object moves over time = V + ba2 + ca3 + da4 . . .

The three dots at the end means that it goes on and on forever. That makes it way too complicated to use.

Fortunately, Isaac knew what the formula was describing, so he saw a way to make it simpler. For example, if we’re studying an object moving through space at a constant speed, then the infinite equation reduces to this:

The distance an object moves over time = V

V” in this formula stands for the velocity of the object—in other words, how fast it is moving.

This became Newton’s first law of motion. It says that all things continue moving in the same direction, and at the same speed, unless they’re changed by a force. Until a force acts on them, their own momentum keeps them on the same path, moving at a steady pace.

This idea seems obvious to us today because we’re so used to thinking this way. But it was only sixty years before Newton that Galileo first proposed the idea. Galileo claimed that the Ancient Greek philosophers, who said that a force was needed to keep an object moving, were wrong. Newton showed that Galileo was right and this is a fundamental law of our universe.

To describe the movement of Earth around the sun, however, Isaac needed a different approach, since our planet is continually changing its direction. He couldn’t use the infinite formula produced by calculus, but he could reduce the equation to something simple if he once again limited his study to a special case. This time he focused on the change of motion produced by a single force. If that is all we care about, then the formula produced by calculus is:

Force = (m) x (a)

This is Newton’s second law of motion: Force is equal to the mass of an object (m) times the rate at which it accelerates (a). It tells us that acceleration is the direct result of the magnitude of the force. If a force is twice as strong, the object will accelerate twice as fast. It also says that, any time an object speeds up, slows down, or changes its course, a force must be driving it.

So, the impossibly complex formula for movement was reduced to two simple equations: One that describes steadily moving objects, where motion continues because of momentum, and the other describing a single force causing objects to accelerate.

This is the tool Newton discovered. It describes cause and effect and shows us how to study forces, one at a time, by seeing the changes they produce.

This idea was quickly adopted by every field of science. Even sociology, when it was first founded as a scientific study, used the principle to study the social forces that move people. Around the same time, Freud began describing the psychological forces that are motivating factors in human beings. And economists started seeing the economy as a closed system where prices were driven by the external forces of supply and demand.

What happens when a tool is used so often that it becomes common? It strongly shapes our way of seeing the world. (See What Are Lenses of Perception? for more information.) And this is exactly what happened, since everywhere we look today we see causation at work. Forces move objects, people, and economies.

In fact, within a hundred years after Newton published his laws of motion, it became common to talk about the universe and everything in it being driven by forces. All the stars, galaxies, planets, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, and the whole world of nature was nothing but a giant clockwork.

Unfortunately, there’s a flaw in this lens. Can you see where it comes from?

The movements of creatures aren't driven by outside forces. Their actions spring from within. Scientists haven't been able explain this spontaneous behavior. Photo by Davy Siahaan.

The movements of creatures aren’t driven by outside forces. Their actions spring from within. Scientists haven’t been able explain this spontaneous behavior. Photo by Davy Siahaan.

Remember, Newton picked a special case to simplify the formula for motion. He looked at forces acting on objects from the outside. What about living creatures that change direction from within themselves? Can we apply Newton’s approach to see where the autonomous actions of organisms come from? Can we reduce the self-driven movements of plants and animals down to mechanisms? No, we can’t.

“Okay, we may not have the answer today, but every day we get smarter and smarter, learning more and more through new scientific discoveries. Surely, one day we’ll be able to understand the building blocks of life.

“But the problem isn’t a lack of intelligence. We’ve been running into this wall for hundreds of years. Brilliant people have tried solving it. We don’t need more brain power. We’re missing something basic.

“What if we can’t reduce life down because it’s impossible? The question staggered me. I had to think about it over and over. Could this be true? Finally, the realization hit me: Newton’s principle of cause and effect can’t help us answer this question because it tells us nothing about causes originating from within. It applies only to external forces.

“Does this mean that science will never, ever, be able to explain the secret of life? Never? No, but it suggests that we need a different approach. We need new tools and a fundamentally new lens to show us how powers can originate from within.”

From Lenses of Perception, page 28.

The lens of perception that formed from using Newton’s approach to study cause and effect is based on the idea that forces act on objects from the outside. In other words, it is a third-person perspective, as if we were standing outside of the action and looking in as observers. This is the lens of science. It’s a way of seeing that dominates scientific research today, even though it has a number of limitations.

For example, third-person lenses can’t see where forces originate, the intentions behind actions, or the purposes of those action, to name a few of the smaller issues. Most scientists treat these as pesky mosquitos. They’re easily ignored. And if you are dealing with mechanical reactions, they can be overlooked because they play no role.

However, if you only look for truth through third-person lenses, then these three little issues change your whole perspective. Reality no longer seems to have a purpose. You can’t see any meaning to life, since everything is just the result of a chain of reactions. One domino knocks over the next.

This is where the “post-modern” view of life comes from. It has infiltrated every aspect of society, especially our schools. This is the result of seeing only through third-person lenses.

Recently, the problem has grown much bigger, however, since we find ourselves faced with the paradoxes of quantum mechanics and the bizarre behavior of sub-atomic particles. And leading biologists have come to the conclusion that we not only can’t explain the origin of life, we don’t even know where to start looking for an answer.

Plus, physicists discovered a serious problem with the way our universe evolved. For some reason it seems to be exactly designed for life to exist. They don’t know why. This is made worse by the fact that science doesn’t know why life exists in the first place.

Living things possess a spark that cannot be explained by mechanical reactions. Their actions cannot be predicted by any laws. The lens of science can't make sense of it, but other lenses can. Photo by Davy Siahaan

Living things possess a spark that cannot be explained by mechanical reactions. Their actions cannot be predicted by any laws. Third-person lenses can’t make sense of it, but other lenses can. Photo by Kristof Degreef.

And how do our minds move our bodies? Science is no closer to answering this question today than it was two hundred years ago. We simply don’t know. Or how does consciousness emerge from brains, as most biologists believe? No one can explain it.

It turns out that all of these issues, plus many more, originate from the flaw in the lens of science. We need a new approach—a new way of seeing to make sense of these mysteries. A new lens that helps us see things not only from the outside, but from the inside as well.

“Don’t fall for the story that organisms are complicated, as if this explains why reducing them down is difficult. What if life is irreducible? What if we’ve been missing something? What if a new lens could reveal the problem? Then, as Rosen says, “the consequences are profoundly revolutionary.”

“Imagine finding new principles as simple as Newton’s laws of motion that can fill in the missing picture and explain life. If Isaac’s laws of motion changed our world dramatically, imagine how these new principles will transform our ability to see and understand.”

From Lenses of Perception, page 40.

See also the next in this series: A New Foundation for Science

What are Lenses of Perception?

By Doug Marman

Lenses are ways of seeing. They frame everything we perceive. They make sense of the situations we find ourselves in, the people we meet—even the ways we see ourselves. They allow us to understand everything from science and art to relationships and teamwork.

We can recognize drops of water on a window because we have a lens that shows us what they are. Photo by kappachan.

We recognize drops of water on a window because we have a lens that shows us what they are. Photo by kappachan.

For example, the image of a plane flying across the sky makes sense because we have a lens that shows us what it is. We learned what planes are as children. We know that there are people inside, they aren’t as tiny as they  look, and they move faster than they seem.

We also learned to recognize when someone is angry or when a mother is worried because she lost track of her child while shopping. Lenses gives us the ability to bring the world into focus, to put things in perspective.

We literally can’t fathom anything without lenses. Psychologists call them “perceptual sets” because they bundle our comprehension of events, people, and situations.

Why Do Lenses Matter?

Because they subconsciously shape our perceptions and and limit what we see. Lenses also play deep roles in the foundations of our physical world. They define time and space and explain how our universe came into existence.

A deeper understanding of lenses of perception gives us new insights into the foundation of science itself—why science is distinct from other fields. And it shows us how to expand the reach of science to understand the origin of life and the paradoxical nature of quantum mechanics. (For more on this see The Lens of Science and Its Flaw.)

Lenses allow us to focus and see clearly, but they also limit what we see. Photo by g baden.

Lenses allow us to focus and see clearly, but they also limit what we see. Photo by g baden.

Why are lenses so powerful? Because they are formed from using tools. The more a tool changes our life the more it shapes what we see.

For example, the introduction of cars, trains, and planes gave people the chance to visit and see far away places for the first time. Their lives changed. The feeling of being rooted to a place gave way to a sense of freedom and the desire to explore. Children began moving away from their families as they grew up. Ties to their communities became weaker. People today see the world differently.

The invention of television had a similar impact. The generation who first grew up with TV began picturing the events of their lives as if they were watching a screen in their minds. Visual images became more important. They know more about the whole world, but have lost touch with their next-door neighbors, as sitting on a front porch together was replaced by TV.

A similar change took place two thousand years earlier when the written word became popular. According to Plato, the wisdom that had been passed down from generation to generation through audible stories was lost. It was replaced by a false sense of truth found in books. Plato was right about this change, however, it also created a boom in linear thinking. Mathematics and philosophy blossomed. In fact, we only know about Plato because of the books he wrote.

All great leaps in civilization come from the use of new tools. Spoken language, the written word, the cultivation of crops and livestock—all changed us and the way we see life.

In other words, beliefs and thoughts are secondary. We got it backwards. Our beliefs don’t define the way we see. Lenses are the true source. They shape our beliefs. Our ways of seeing emerge subconsciously. We learn, first and foremost, from our experiences.

We have a saying: You need to walk a mile in another person’s shoes to know them. Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple. Accountants and actors have different lenses. Artists and scientists are so different that they rarely cross paths. The gap that separates generations can be significant, even between people who have lived with each other for years.

Modern world has become fragmented because we have become a society of specialists. Photo by g baden.

Our modern world has become fragmented because we have become a society of specialists. Photo by Benjamin Earwicker.

We see breakdowns in communication because we use different tools and have different experiences growing up. We are often baffled by people. How can some be so cruel? Why don’t they see humor in a situation the way we do?

Our modern civilized world is more divided than ever. We have fragmented into a growing number of special interests for a simple reason: We have increasingly become a society of specialists. Specialized skills make us more valuable, but they also distance us from each other. We are like ships passing in the night. This is the problem of our times.

It isn’t just our understanding of each other. The same obstacles making it “impossible” for physicists to understand the quantum world, or to crack the puzzle of organic life.

There is an answer. We simply need to find different lenses.

Unfortunately, this isn’t as easy as it sounds. We have to let go of our way of seeing before we can switch to another lens. This is often unsettling. It means losing our sense of who we are and how we fit in the world. Next, we must pass through a zone where it feels as if something is seriously wrong. Only then can we truly understand another lens.

That’s the psychological barrier standing in our way. It’s a significant one. And this is why people fight so hard to hang onto their ways of seeing, pitting themselves against others.

It all happens because letting go of our lens feels threatening at an unconscious level. This single problem has held us back in countless ways. It stunts our ability to grow and understand. Sometimes we can’t see what is even right before our eyes.

The root of the problem is that we keep trying to see all of life through one lens.

Rational thought and logic isn’t the answer. Belief isn’t the problem. We need to learn how to change lenses and see in new ways. We need to realize that these uncomfortable feelings are normal and they are signs that we’re growing. Once we do, the world makes a lot more sense—even the unpredictable behavior of sub-atomic particles.