Reversing the Copernican Principle

In his book, Farewell to Reality: How Modern Physics has Betrayed the Search of Scientific Truth, Jim Baggott sets out six principles that he believes should serve as criteria to judge a credible scientific theory.  One of these is the Copernican Principle, which he describes as follows: ” The universe is not organized for our benefit and we are not uniquely privileged observers.  Science strives to remove “us” from the centre of the picture  making our  existence a natural consequence of reality rather than the reason for it. ”

In my interview with Jim Baggott on October 21, 2013 (Conversations Beyond Science and Religion) we talked a little bit about the validity of this principle and I want here to expand on a few points I did not have time to make during the show.

As an initial matter, Copernicus did not invent the Copernican Principle.  Rather, he is credited for finding that the Earth revolved around the Sun, rather than the Sun around the Earth.  Metaphorically, Copernicus’s finding has led a long line of thinkers to conclude that what he really showed was that man is not the “crown of creation;” that we are not special in any way, but simply collections of organic molecules roaming around on a random planet circling the sun, which in turn is part of a galaxy that itself circles other star formations out among the vast, impersonal universe.   Where once we were the center of the universe, now we are leftover stardust.

Modern physics has taken this finding and turned it into a working principle of science.  Since Copernicus showed that humans are not the center of the cosmos, the thinking is that science must also be practiced with this principle firmly established. We are to treat the problem of existence as a puzzle that can only be solved if we assume that what we call “reality” is separate from “us,” and only answers using this framework will be considered scientific.

But this approach imposes a handicap upon our thinking that we don’t need and cannot justify.

It may be considered humble to take the position that we are a natural consequence of a reality “out there,” but it also leads to a lack of responsibility if this very same reality instead comes from “in here.”  It also leads to the foolhardy belief where we  imagine the world  — and our bodies — are machines operating beyond our control, when exactly the opposite is true.

The progress of science is steadily showing that the Eastern mystics were right: the world is a product of our internal states, or as Sir James Jeans said 100 years ago, the universe is looking more like a great thought than a great machine.  Quantum theory shows a connection between consciousness and the physical world.  Atoms are not things and have no existence outside of the mind.  To be is to be perceived.  Parapsychology studies show the power of the mind over the body and the external world,  The obvious fine-tuning of the universe and the “unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics” strongly suggest that a mind sits behind creation.  In dreams and hallucinations we witness the mind conjuring up an outside physical world mistaken for the world at large.

As we take a broader view of the evidence, the reality we thought was out-there draws closer to us — and then we realize it is us.

The Copernican principle is not science, but part of the holding pattern we sit in until we have time to study the reality we thought was out there.  We then realize, as shown by the evolving “new thought” movement, that the world is a product of the “in-here.”  The world is a reflection, a dream, of internal states.  It is time we recognize this unavoidable truth and finally accept responsibility for the world.  Copernicus was right about the Earth and the Sun, but wrong about the role of humans in the cosmos.  It will turn that we are the spiritual center — and hence the crown of creation — after all.




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