When You Die, Do You Wake Up in the Morning?

Photo of sun setting below clouds

All past generations, a scientist once observed, have lived and died in a world of illusions. Prophetically, this was said before Einstein’s relativity theory, quantum mechanics, and the discovery of atoms and DNA.

We, in the twenty-first century, are no different. We wake up in the morning and think we’re just magically here. Yet, when we examine the stuff we’re made of with our matter-microscopes, scientists have discovered that the particles seem to spring into existence with real properties only when we observe them. “It will remain remarkable,” said Nobel physicist Eugene Wigner, who laid the foundations for the theory of symmetries in quantum mechanics “in whatever way our future concepts may develop, that the very study of the external world led to the conclusion that the content of the consciousness is an ultimate reality.”

The world, it turns out, isn’t the hard, cold place we imagine waking up to in the morning. We think we’re made up of dead, little balls of material bouncing around like billiard balls on a pool table. Werner Heisenberg, the Nobel laureate whose uncertainty principle showed this wasn’t the case, once commented “Contemporary science, today more than at any previous time, has been forced by nature herself to pose again the question of the possibility of comprehending reality by mental processes.”

Scientists once thought that the experimental results of quantum theory (such as matter existing simultaneously in different states) were confined to subatomic objects. This spared us from having to accept the logical conclusion that living beings, such as you and me and Schrodinger’s cat, could be both alive and dead at the same time. But alas! Now scientists at the University of Vienna have carried out an experiment (Nature Communications 2, 263, 2011) showing that this quantum weirdness enters the larger world. Markus Arndt and his colleagues studied mammoth organic molecules composed of over 400 atoms, and confirmed that this strange quantum duality (matter existing as both particle and waves of probability) extends into the human-scale world we live in.

But we scientists are only beginning to pierce the surface of reality. Like the rest of humanity, we awake every morning in the present. There are stairs below us that we appear to have climbed; there are stairs above us that go upward into the unknown future. But our mind stands at the door by which we entered and gives us the memories by which we go about our day. Everything is ordered and predictable. We’re like cuckoo birds who appear through a door each morning. We fancy too the clockwork set in motion at the beginning of time.

Over a century ago, Einstein showed that space and time aren’t absolute realities. But since that time, there has been a remarkable and unprecedented burst of discovery, including the two-slit experiment, quantum entanglement, and the observation that all the laws, forces, and constants of the universe seem to be fine-tuned for life. Biocentrism takes things the next step, bringing our worldview up to date with the facts. Space and time aren’t only relative to the observer, but are merely the mind’s tools for putting everything together—they are the language of consciousness.

Many years ago, Einstein carried out a thought experiment, and tried to imagine what it would be like to ride on a beam of light. In the spirit of this tradition, I carried out my own thought experiment last night while I lay in bed with my eyes closed. A few blotches of light appeared somewhere in my mind. As I concentrated, I noticed that I could turn them into very vivid, three-dimensional structures. And without much more effort, I was able to make them move in time, and even swirl in kaleidoscopic fashion. This confirmed what I already knew as a doctor—whether in dreams or schizophrenia (or drug use), that the mind has the capacity to create spatio-temporal realities as flesh-and-blood as the one you’re experiencing right now.

And this brings me back to the central point of this article—that all the experimental facts point to the conclusion that spatio-temporal reality is an observer-determined phenomenon. As John Wheeler, the great physicist who coined the terms “black hole” and “wormhole,” once put it “No phenomenon is a phenomenon until it is an observed phenomenon.”

It’s here at last, where we approach the imagined border of ourselves, the wooded boundary where in the old fairy tale the fox and the hare say goodnight to each other. At death, we all know, there is a break in consciousness, and so too, a break in the continuity in the connection of times and places. Without space and time, Newtonian conceptions of order and secure prediction have no meaning. In reality you can take any time, past or future, as your new frame of reference, and estimate all other events relative to it.

Where then, will you find yourself when you die? On stairs that, like Emerson said, can be intercalated anywhere, “like those that Hermes won with the dice of the moon, that Osiris might be born.” We think that the past is past and the future the future. But as Einstein realized, this simply isn’t the case.

When you die, you will wake up in the present—just like you did this morning.

Biocentrism” (BenBella Books) lays out Lanza’s theory of everything.

View this article on Psychology Today