In a new post at his blog Why Evolution Is True, Jerry Coyne takes apart the work of yet another scientist with New Age leanings writing for the Huffington Post. Since I've spent the last two days going after the religious tendency to use subjective experience in dubious ways, it's only fair that I point to a more secular ideology based on the same thing.
The post Coyne is critiquing is nothing new if you've read even a paragraph of someone like Deepak Chopra. It's a mangling of quantum mechanics which takes the technical notion of "observers" to mean "humans looking at things" (see Sokal and Bricomont's Fashionable Nonsense for a more thorough discussion of this common mistake), then assumes that anything true of subatomic particles must be true of all sorts of macroscopic objects. It then concludes that since reality is a construct of (human) observers, there's no reason it can't go on indefinitely.
I once applied for a job at a "natural foods" grocery store, and while waiting on an interview there, I overheard a hilarious conversation. Two young hippies were sitting at a table drinking Naked fruit juice and loudly talking about how all disease is imaginary, and if you can stop believing doctors and "the government" when they tell you you're sick, you'll become immortal. The passion with which they were discussing this nonsense was funny, but I also have to admit that I was a bit envious. What must it be like to really and truly believe that we're in complete control of reality? Surely it's more than a little intoxicating.
I feel the same way when I read peddlers of quantum nonsense. I think that some of them are cynical, and just pushing this stuff on readers who don't know any better (and don't want to), but still, for those who do believe, what a different life it must be. Of course it will end the same way as mine--the inevitabilities of disease or old age will put a permanent stop to our continued observations, and no amount of positive thinking will be able to stop it.
But I confess that I sometimes wonder, in the meantime, which of us is having a better time.