I always thought the world was a solid place. Objects existed and I was aware of them. If a snowball hits you in the face, it hurts. The experience of life teaches that things are there and they get in your way.
This was what I thought chemistry, physics and biology was about: the study of an objective reality.
But now that I am a first year biochemistry student, granted longer in the tooth than most first-year students, the idea of an objective reality is becoming confusing. Not that what I am writing about is in the syllabus, but the syllabus has got me thinking.
It's almost as though the Plato-Aristotle argument has never been resolved. Plato thought that the imagination created the objects we saw around us; Aristotle taught that our perceptions tell us about the objects we see. Democritus taught that atoms were indivisible and that everything was made up of such tiny things. Newton thought that all matter was solid.
Quantum theory gives us the idea that matter has both mass and a wave form. Only when you are looking at an elementary particle does it presume one or the other form, either matter or energy. It takes an observer.
Biocentrism takes the revolution a little further. Nothing exists without an observer. Not just that the measurement is dependent on the observer, but that the item being observed does not exist without an observer. Moreover, that observer has to have a conscience to be able to observe. Without consciousness there is no observer, without an observer, nothing exists.
I see this as an attempt to rationalize quantum mechanics with macro physics. At the quantum level all is probability. There is a finite probability that an electron will be at one instant an electron, and the next a wave function. There is a finite probability of particles springing into existence out of nothing. There is a finite probability, admittedly infinitesimal, of a snowball vanishing into electromagnetic waves before it hits you.
In some sense what happens at the micro and nano level of existence, influences everything else. This is the idea of reductionism. Then comes the idea of emergent function, function that is nevertheless determined by functionality at an underlying level. Thus the behaviour of DNA in a cell determines the externally observed behaviour and function of the cell, whether it is a heart cell or a brain cell, which in turn determines the performance of an individual. You can’t describe the behaviour of an individual directly in terms of his or her DNA, but there is a deep relationship.
But the idea that without an observer nothing exists, I find hard to accept. There is in my experience, albeit governed by my own observations and consciousness, a physical solid reality, independent of my existence. If a tree falls in a forest on a distant planet, there may be no one to hear it, but it still causes a disturbance in its environment. I like the old physics.