Jul 18 2008

Deepak Chopra – More Woo from the Master

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Comments: 44

Writing for the Huffington Post (an online news outlet that regularly hosts pseudoscience and anti-vaccinationist ravings), Deepak Chopra seeks to inform us: Why the Paranormal is Normal. What he actually demonstrates is his ability to twist and abuse language in an attempt to distract and confuse his reader. At this verbal deception Chopra is truly the master.

Language is important- words matter. Anyone who has studied a technical field should appreciate the need to use precise and unambiguous terminology. Good writers will also carefully choose words to illuminate, rather than obfuscate, what they wish to convey. It is also true that humans generally think in words. Language is closely tied to conscious thought. We therefore need clear language in order to think clearly. Words are also handle-bars with which we can grab hold of concepts – therefore by expanding our vocabulary we can expand our intellectual horizons.

Those who wish to push a claim or point of view that is illogical, at odds with reality, or simply does not make sense will often use language to force-fit their ideas to reality. They will use ambiguous terms, or will shift the definition of terms as needed, for example. This is exactly what Chopra does in order to make his dubious point.

He writes:

In general, it’s fair to say that the popular belief in the paranormal falls outside the official picture of reality. The official picture is grounded in science, rationalism, and materialism. It takes a definition of “natural,” after all, before “supernatural” can exist. God was natural in the medieval world, and thus miracles, healings, apparitions of the Virgin Mary, stigmatics, and so on, were considered natural.

What exactly is the “official picture of reality?” Official according to whom? All we can infer from this statement is that it is not a popular vote. With the use of the word “official” Chopra is painting a picture of a conspiracy of sorts – vague “powers that be” who can dictate what is officially deemed “reality.” This degrades the position he is about to argue against into a dogma, rather than a rational position based upon logic and evidence. It is a strawman strategy.

Next he plays off two meanings of the word “natural.” The philosophical meaning of the word is anything rooted in the physical world, the laws that govern how the universe operates, that follows the rules of cause and effect. This is the meaning of “natural” he uses when he says that science “takes a definition of ‘natural.’” Then he says “God was natural in the medieval world…” using a different definition of “natural.” Here he uses natural to mean familiar, easy or comfortable. At least that is what I think he means. It certainly doesn’t make sense the other way – that God was physical and governed by the laws of the universe.

He continues:

Until the official picture changes, astrology is bogus, astronomy is legitimate. Ghosts are bogus, apparitions of the Virgin Mary are — well, that’s the rub. Religious people are allowed to cling to a different model of reality, tolerated by the official gatekeepers but not believed in.

Here he continues the false dichotomy of official vs popular – as if that is the only thing that determines that astrology is bogus and astronomy legitimate. How about the fact that astrology is made-up superstition that has no basis in reality. Astrology does not even make internal sense, it has no plausible mechanism of action, and it cannot produce reliable results. Astrologers rely upon sloppy thinking, magical thinking, and logical fallacies to arrive at their conclusions. When they have ventured into science to search for support for astrology – they have completely failed.

Astronomy, on the other hand, is an empirical discipline that has produced dramatically successful results. As an explanatory approach to the cosmos is has produced a steady stream of ever-improving explanatory and predictive models. Astronomers can predict solar eclipses, the return of comets, and the movements of planets.

Chopra then give us another false dichotomy – between religion and other forms of paranormal belief. It is true that various cultures view different paranormal beliefs differently. Most beliefs are accepted in one culture but thought of as silly superstitions in another. One person’s sacred religion is another person’s primitive delusion.

But Chopra would have us believe that such historically determined cultural beliefs are a matter of “official gatekeepers.” Again – who are these people. Of course, I am talking about the US and other open societies (as is Chopra). There are countries with state-sponsored religions, and therefore they do have belief gatekeepers. This is not what Chopra is talking about. He is vaguely referring to the scientific community.

He completely misses the real dichotomy – that between science and non-science. The scientific community can only determine what qualifies as science – and not through back room secret meetings, but in the open, transparent, and universal world of public science. Beliefs outside the realm of science are not science and are of no concern professionally to scientists – whether they are part of a popular religion, imported from the religion of another culture, or are recent or isolated paranormal beliefs. But Chopra apparently thinks that the powers that be officially tolerate certain religions but persecute his paranormal beliefs.

He goes on:

Any of us can hold conflicting viewpoints at the same time — it’s called compartmentalization. If the various compartments are tight enough and separated by thick walls, a whole range of phenomena can be believed in without making them consistent. I can imagine a cell biologist who is Catholic, has seen a UFO, reads the astrology column in the newspaper, and hopes to go to Heaven when he dies. It would be far better, however, to promote a consistent worldview, one that allows the walls to come down so that official reality might open up to unofficial reality.

It’s interesting that he seems to understand the nature of compartmentalization, but he derives the wrong conclusion from this understanding. I also encourage people not to compartmentalize their beliefs – to subject everything they believe to critical analysis, to logic and evidence. This way we can tell which of our beliefs are valid and which ones are the product of sloppy thinking or misinformation. If we keep beliefs separate, we miss the opportunity to compare them for internal consistency.

Chopra, however, concludes that we should reject compartmentalization and embrace rationalization. Rather than using sound astronomical knowledge and valid logic to conclude that astrology is probably a load of hogwash, Chopra wants us to blur the edges of reason, to make astronomy and other sciences so soft and our logic so squishy that we actually conclude in the end that both astronomy and astrology are valid in the same universe. I think he is trading down – he wants to go from merely deluded to utterly confused.

Chopra then offers us a way out of the confused world of official denial he thinks we live in.

The only consistent worldview that I’ve ever discovered places all phenomena, natural and supernatural, on the ground of consciousness. The noted Australian neurologist Sir John Eccles pointed out a truth that materialists, including both scientists and ordinary people, don’t remotely grasp. There is no sight or sound ‘out there’ in the world, Eccles declared, no touch or taste, no beauty or ugliness, no sensation of light or objects. All these things are created in subjectivity, which is to say, they exist only in consciousness.

You just knew he was going to throw consciousness in there, didn’t you. Next he’ll probably invoke some quantum woo.

First of all, I have a completely 100% consistent worldview based exclusively on materialism, thank you. This does not mean we have explained everything – it just means that there are no established phenomena that demand the rejection of materialism, despite the premature declarations of woo-masters.

Chopra then chastises materialists and scientists for not remotely grasping John Eccles’ view that everything we perceive is a subjective experience of our brains. That’s one high horse he needs to be knocked off of. The notion that our brains create an internal model of reality based upon sensory input and internal processing is the generally accepted paradigm. We don’t need Chopra to tell us this. What Chopra does is completely misinterpret the implications of Eccles – who is talking about “sight” and “sound” – he is not talking about photons and vibrating air molecules. In other words – Eccles is saying that our sensations are internal and subjective, not that there is no physical reality outside our brains.

Without further explanation of Eccles, Chopra writes:

The fact that your hand seems solid is an illusion. A neutrino passes through the entire Earth without encountering an obstacle. Every atom in your hand is 99.9999% empty space. Measured in proportion, the distance between the electrons and nucleus of an atom is greater than the distance between the Earth and the sun. At the next level of reality, atoms disappear into energy waves and then into pure potential, the ghostly state of so-called virtual reality. Only perception makes a hand solid. and perceptions are interlinked to create the world you and I inhabit, so that color, light, sound, smell, solidity, etc. all fit together.

Aha – I knew it (OK, I did read the whole article first – but I knew it anyway). What Chopra is doing is just trying to dazzle and confuse the reader with vague references to neuroscience and quantum mechanics. The universe is weird – therefore I can justify all of my own weird beliefs while simultaneously whining about the fact that they are not “officially” accepted. Wah!!!

Only perception makes a hand solid? Really? Chopra is borrowing a fact that scientist use to illuminate one aspect of nature at the atomic scale and then abusing it to confuse his readers and support his woo. What the emptiness of space at the atomic scale tells us about reality is that the everyday forces we feel from solid objects are not caused by actual physical matter touching, but rather by electromagnetic forces repelling each other. The atoms in your hand feel solid against the atoms in the top of your desk not because they are touching but because the electromagetic fields of all those atoms repel each other. Unconscious inanimate objects also interact in this way. When a rock tumbles down the side of a hill it bounces along the ground because of these forces – no perception is required.

Now that the reader is sufficiently distracted and confused (Chopra hopes), he goes in for the coupe de grace:

In my view, paranormal events are neither fringe nor unreal. They are simply things not yet admitted into consciousness by our official belief system. Reality has this curious habit of keeping certain things under wraps until the human mind is willing to look at them, and then all at once they appear, changing the world when they do. Germs and gravity were once waiting in the wings but now stand center stage. In ancient India, astrology was center stage and now has retreated again, for the coming and going of phenomena works both ways.

Right – the only difference between astronomy and astrology is that the former is official and the latter isn’t. But never fear – reality has a consciousness of its own, and it will change once we are willing to accept the change. As evidence for this Chopra points to germs and gravity – because germs didn’t exist before we discovered them. All those plagues throughout history must have been caused by something other than germs, because germs were not yet part of official reality. And how did we ever get by without gravity before Newton?

But wait – is Chopra really saying this? I’m not sure. Does he really think that germs and gravity were being held “at bay” by reality until we accepted their existence? What does that even mean? And how is this in any way an argument for the reality of things that are not “officially” accepted? Does that mean that there is an ether, that illness is caused by miasms and the imbalance of humors, that the liver is the seat of consciousness, and that the earth is the center of the universe? No? Then does it mean that we should just accept Chopra’s superstitions without questioning them or subjecting them to critical analysis? I guess that’s what he means.

He concludes:

Even so, consciousness never retreats. In the darkest ages, people know that they are aware, and from that basic premise they create a personal reality, and when enough individuals agree, then collective reality comes about. Trying to base common reality sheerly on material objects has been wildly successful in the West, but that means little about ultimate reality, which transcends individuals and groups. In the ultimate reality there is only pure consciousness, which can be conceived of as the modeling clay or box of paints that Nature provides, adding the simple instruction: Use as you please.

This is The Secret meets the collective unconscious. But there is a glaring contradiction to Chopra’s tripe. He argues that belief in the paranormal is popular, but not official, Now he is saying that when such beliefs become popular enough they become reality. So if these beliefs are already popular why are they not manifest reality? Does that mean that the few chosen “official gatekeepers” can trump popular reality making? Wow – that’s power.

Then he makes a back-handed compliment to “base common reality sheerly on material objects” (hint – he’s talking about science) which he says is “wildly successful in the West.” He should have just stopped after “wildly successful.” He has to admit that science is a successful explanatory paradigm. The fruits are undeniable to all but the most self-deluded. So he denigrates science by another false dichotomy – West vs East. Science is successful enough – for you suckers in the West, stuck in “reality.” Meanwhile, we in the East can make our own reality with our universal consciousness.

This, of course, is anti-scientific nonsense. Science is not “Western,” it is universal. If scientists in Japan use the same methods as scientists in Canada to examine the same question, they will come up with the same answer. Reality is reality.

Chopra’s philosophy amounts to nothing more than sophisticated wishful thinking. He uses language to make his ideas seem like more than what they are – childish magical thinking. He seems upset that thousands of years of trying to change reality solely with the mind has not yielded anything tangible or verifiable – while a couple centuries of science has transformed civilization.

Science won, fair and square, but now Chopra wants to whine like John McEnroe – he would have us believe it’s all a conspiracy of the line judges.

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44 responses so far

44 Responses to “Deepak Chopra – More Woo from the Master”

  1. balksboxon 18 Jul 2008 at 11:07 am

    1. Awesome post. My loathing for Chopra is both intensified and justified by it.

    2. I usually don’t comment on typos, but in the 10th-ish paragraph what seems like an important point comes out a bit mangled (unless I’m missing something):

    “He completely misses the real dichotomy – that people science and non-science. ”

    3. Someone already in possession of a Huffington Post registration should post this, or a link to it, in the comments section of the original article by Chopra.

  2. Steven Novellaon 18 Jul 2008 at 11:46 am

    Balksbox – thanks. I had time to proofread the post. I corrected that and other typos.

  3. Dread Polackon 18 Jul 2008 at 11:55 am

    Great post. I’m not so familiar with Deepak Chopra, but I’m getting to know him a lot better through the skeptic blogs and podcasts. Are you familiar at all with a guy named Ken Wilbur? I know some people who are very much into that guy, and I have a suspicion that he’s similar in his brand of woo. Anyone?

  4. Niobeon 18 Jul 2008 at 12:00 pm

    Ah yes, Chopra-woo. Orac had a series on him last year.

    I was also reminded of the Secret. If it’s not their reality, it’s not accepted! The Secret even claimed the native Americans didn’t see the Columbus ships because big ships were not in their reality.
    One wonders how ANY human ingenuity took hold because neither the inventor nor the projected user knew the object and therefore cannot see it. Unless it’s invisible clothing.

  5. Michelle Bon 18 Jul 2008 at 12:49 pm

    Never heard of Chopra until I started reading skeptical blogs about a year ago. Recently saw him on Conan O’Brian’s show. Boy oh boy, what a slimy, patronizing, droning idiot–he effortlessly oozes the kind of suffocatingly obtuse inanity that makes gouging out my own eyeballs seem appealing rather than listen to his crapola.

  6. fontinalison 18 Jul 2008 at 1:06 pm

    Chopra, if nothing else, is a master at marketing. And his latest in the HuffandPuff Post sounds most like an attempt to crack into the postmodernist market. Probably planning on selling copies of his latest book at Burning Man this year.

    Hmm, is he selling books or merely sitting behind a table that appears to have book-like items on it…..hmmm, that darned reality can be so…well…subjective. I’m sure to him the money is real enough.

  7. DevilsAdvocateon 18 Jul 2008 at 1:08 pm

    Give me a blindfolded Chopra, one of his hands, and a hammer and let’s see if I can make that hand real for him.

    Chopra is my short list of woo-sters whom I literally cannot stomach, cannot listen to, so smarmy and ignorant are his emissions.

  8. DevilsAdvocateon 18 Jul 2008 at 1:09 pm

    Chopra is ON my short list of….

    Sorry. The hammer test prospect got me all excited.

  9. Niobeon 18 Jul 2008 at 4:21 pm

    Don’t worry DevilsAdvocate, if you manifest it, it will come into fruitation! You don’t even need a hammer.

    It totally explains the hunger in Darfur. People just can’t manifest food because it’s not in their reality, and held back by the gatekeepers.

    Whoa shit it totally makes sense. Dictators are manifesting their power and unmanifesting food sources and being supported by even more insidious gatekeepers… how would this tie into chemtrail and NWO?!

  10. jwittneron 18 Jul 2008 at 4:45 pm

    When I was in college, a technical institute called Digipen, we had this English professor who was absolutely in love with Deepak. He would try and force it down our throats and all I could think was, “I can believe I have to pay for this to graduate.” The worst part was the people in class who followed right along with it and would get mad when I called bullshit. If there is more of this going on in college level educational institutes it’s no wonder people believe in so much shite.

    He also thought his wife left him because he she was a psychic who couldn’t control her powers and got tired of hearing his thoughts.

    Great post Dr.

  11. Roy Nileson 18 Jul 2008 at 5:31 pm

    Lying for Krishna is perfectly acceptable.

  12. Steve Pageon 18 Jul 2008 at 5:55 pm

    Devil’s Advocate, I see nothing wrong with the sentence, “Chopra is my short list of woo-sters whom I literally cannot stomach.” When the list contains one as ignorant, smug, and willfully mendacious as Chopra, it is plentiful. :)

  13. JazzMac251on 18 Jul 2008 at 6:00 pm

    Dr. Novella,

    I’m a big fan of your work – and a huge critic of Chopra – but i must say I think you’ve missed the mark on this post. Yes, Chopra is advocating woo nonsense. It’s the same woo nonsense that he’s always advocating – this business of a “universal consciousness”. But i think many of your criticisms were unfair this time.

    I’m not going to take the time to address everything point-by-point, but I think you’re taking his words too literally. Chopra likes to use colorful language more suited to poetry to describe reality with this wide-eyed sense of awe that i think is extremely wishy-washy. You seem to be mistaking this for literal language.

    I read the article before i read your post and i came out with an entirely different view. I think he is claiming that the paranormal is merely one of those things we haven’t been able to find a scientific explanation for yet.

    State of knowledge now : Paranormal :: Medieval Understanding : Germ Theory – meaning that just because medieval thinkers were unaware of the existence of germs didn’t change the fact that they were there. Similarly, just because the paranormal doesn’t fit into the accepted materialist worldview doesn’t mean that these experiences are illegitimate.

    Being a skeptic I disagree, of course, on the grounds that taking the paranormal for granted is a mistake. I think you are nitpicking what is supposed to be poetic language and taking him to task on points that i don’t think he’s trying to make.

    Chopra needs to be taken to task not for saying that perception literally creates reality, because if you listen carefully, he rarely makes that claim on those terms (rarely being the key word). He does need to be taken to task for attempting to bring nebulous philosophical concepts into the realm of science. I think he is trying to co-opt the philosophical notion that without a person to conceive of a hand, the CONCEPT of a hand would not exist, which is just common sense. He is trying to turn that idea into “because we are a necessary condition for the idea of a hand to exist, in a way, the hand exists because we perceive it.” He takes vague thought experiments and tries to transcribe them into real epistemological frameworks (e.g. scientific realism) – which is usually an exercise in futility. This is similar to individuals who criticizing the Drake equation for it’s lack of credibility. It is at this point, after already having confused the realms of thought experiment with experiential reality, that he manipulates the language to conflate the two.

    Ambiguous language, biased presuppositions about the nature of reality, this woo about universal consciousness, inconsistent use of language – yes

    conspiracy theories, the whole **”high horse” idea, purposely trying to confuse people to support his worldview, whining about how his own views aren’t accepted, overtly favoring rationalizing ways of understanding the universe that have already been cast as inferior in previous paragraphs of his own article – no, at least not this time.

    I think when one is criticizing an article by an individual such as Chopra, one needs to stick to the topics within the article. He may very well have a history legitimizing all of Dr. Novella’s charges, but i don’t think this article demonstrates it. For Chopra, this article is rather benign. Going at him with such a sharp blade makes it easier for Chopra-woo fans to dismiss skeptics as virulent, close-minded assholes.

    ** I do think Chopra is frequently on a “high horse” – but not with the Eccles example. I think he is just saying that people frequently misunderstand that point, which i think is fair.

  14. Steven Novellaon 19 Jul 2008 at 12:03 am

    Jazz,

    I appreciate your take on this, but I do not agree with it. First – in multiple places I plainly said that I do not know what Chopra is actually saying, and many of my comments were phrased as questions. This was not being facetious – it was meant to point out his ambiguity.

    I do not know how much of his ambiguity is deliberate and how much is just sloppy thinking. It is likely a chaotic mix of both. But his insight or lack thereof is irrelevant to my points.

    I also do not see any justification for your exceedingly favorable interpretation of his statements.

    For example – his statement about atoms being mostly space – he throws that out there and then fails to explain what that actually means. This is sloppy at best, and mystery mongering at worst. He then follows directly from that with vague statements about virtual reality. What are we to make of that?

    If I had never read Chopra before I might have bought the notion that the whole thing was a metaphor – in which case I would just think the guy is a terrible writer. But probably I would have had to read it a few times to try to infer what he really meant. In the end he says: “In the ultimate reality there is only pure consciousness,”

    He gives us the answer in the end – and it is consistent with Chopra’s woo. This is not just perception or metaphor – it is “ultimate reality.”

    And finally, since Chopra is so vague and ambiguous that someone might be tempted to generously assume he is using metaphor – it is perfectly reasonable to use the rest of Chopra’s writings to help put this article into context. It is not an island. We do not have to pretend we don’t know Chopra’s philosophy. We have a guide to sort out the ambiguity.

    ** – and he doesn’t just say “most people” don’t get Eccles. I would agree with that. He specifically says materialists (hint, hint – he’s not one) and scientists don’t remotely grasp the concept. Materialist scientists don’t understand the subjective nature of perception. Right.

  15. JazzMac251on 19 Jul 2008 at 2:33 am

    i suppose you’re right. Good point.

    also – i missed that little knock on materialists. I thought he was saying “materialists, scientists, and ordinary people” don’t understand, but he was saying “materialists, be they scientists or non-scientists” don’t understand.

    haha……ooooh that Deepak!

  16. Niels Kjaeron 19 Jul 2008 at 6:10 am

    Hmm, this makes me contemplate about the role of language.

    Somehow, I can make sense of what chopra is babbling about, if I change the meaning of his words quite a bit. I do make sense of what Steven Novella is saying with small linguistic corrections or filters if you like.

    This reminds me of famous mathematicians. India has produced quite a lot of them, and many were/are, ah well how do I put this politely, having intellects seemingly based in other spiritual universes. But still they mange to do good and useful mathematics.

    There is also a famous french mathematician, Alain Connes, who has developed a large part of the abstract von Neumann algebra. Connes needed at a certain moment to introduce a new precise word for the characteristic of a certain set of abstract objects. Connes wanted to describe if these objects were intelligible, measurable, and dually approachable in one word. So he used the french word “ame”, which formally does mean all of the above in french, and found the english translation and called the objects “amenable” or “non-amenable”. I don’t think Connes ever realized that “amenable” was introduced by Mahlon Day in group theory in 1949, apparently as a pun. After the introduction of “amenable”, few scientists ever dared enter the abstract realm of von Neumann algebra.

    Maybe it would be better if we use less precise language, as long as we say so. My own solution is that humanity needs to create English-English dictionaries we all can use. Sometimes I use wiki to do this, but this can also lead to problems once in a while. Try to look up “precision”, and you might figure out that it itself is not a precisely defined word. Mathematicians are used to that specific problem because they long ago realized that they don’t have a good theory for what “null” means.

    My own theory says that humanity is special because we developed an effective language, and human civilisation started when humans invented ways to write down their language. Finally, I expect human civilisation to become human, when we realize that most of our conflicts are due to misunderstandings originating in imprecise arcane languages and we move on by creating effective language-language dictionaries.

    In computer science, consciousness is too easy to understand, it is simply the Input/Output interface. But nowadays, who believes in computer scientists like von Neumann?

    I believe in experimenting, precise measurements of precise quantities, and philosophying about philosophy. Unfortunately, what I mostly do is just ranting.

  17. Steven Novellaon 19 Jul 2008 at 7:24 am

    Language is interesting. Regarding precision – you have to realize that many words have a very precise and specific meaning when used in a technical context, but may also have multiple colloquial meanings.

    Also – you are correct in that it may not be appropriate to use words that are too precise – meaning more precise than the facts allow (so-called false precision, like using too many digits to the right of the decimal place). For example, in medicine, I warn my students against using terms that are prematurely precise. The patient did not have a “seizure”, they had a “neurological episode.” We have to decide what kind of episode it was, and seizures are only one possibility.

  18. Steve Pageon 19 Jul 2008 at 7:32 am

    Language is interesting. Regarding precision – you have to realize that many words have a very precise and specific meaning when used in a technical context, but may also have multiple colloquial meanings.
    A perfect example of why so many people say, “Evolution is only a theory.”

  19. DevilsAdvocateon 19 Jul 2008 at 9:43 am

    OK, I’ve sterilized my hammer. Bring me CHOPRA.

  20. Fifion 19 Jul 2008 at 12:11 pm

    Thanks for this blog, great post. I must say, when I first heard people using “materialist” as a slur against people who happen to think that the universe exists within its own right irregardless of whether you or me (or Deepak Chopra) are looking and thinking about it, I just thought it was a new agey “you’re a consumerist” kind of insult. (I have no doubt it’s intended to be a slur that carries associations to the colloquial use of “materialist”, which denotes a greedy consumerist mindset that values objects more than people). When I realized it was meant to – superficially at least – denote a philosophy and someone who accepts the material nature of, well, nature and the universe, it just seemed incredibly simplistic and naive on the part of the accuser.

    Now, I do in many ways consider myself a materialist and have to wonder at people who hate the world and nature so much they’d like to imagine it’s not real! I love and value nature, the world and her creatures more than any vague, immaterial dogma/concept. I am fascinated by the stuff we’re made of and the wonder of the material world, I am both awed and humbled by the elegance and strangeness of the natural world. I am both awed and humbled by the objects of beauty and meaning that we humans create – I have no need to own them, this doesn’t increase my enjoyment and their intrinsic value is in their beauty and meaning not in their exclusivity or rarity. I’m certainly a materialist in that I value and appreciate the material of the world and have a deep love and respect for nature – I certainly DO think that the trees, the creatures of the fields and forests, the oceans and the mountains are all vastly more important than any dogma. One thing I find offensive about some new age types and creeds is how they USE (and abuse) the natural world – usually while trying to claim to be more connected with it or more “in harmony” or whatever. In this world dolphins stop being dolphins and become an aquatic version of My Little Pony; lizards become evil aliens; and each individual elevates themselves to being a god and above nature (while claiming to be “in tune”). And really, this is the central premise of new age, Secret sellers like Chopra and their believers – this idea that man is above nature (also shared by most major religions, which attribute the “good” to “god” and the “bad” to the devil/nature – and consider being naturally human as dangerous and innately “bad/evil”).

    Is there anything more full of hubris than imagining that the world merely exists because one does? That all of nature is an illusion woven from one’s own mind? (Of course one’s experience of reality is shaped by one’s own mind, one’s perceptions and the stories one tells oneself to explain the world – kind of the reverse of what new agers like to propose!) I am always amazed how many people will give up the joys and pleasures of life – and can’t appreciate the beauty and wonder of life, the universe and everything – in favor of a promise of some kind of eternal bliss once they’re dead (or unburdened of their belongings ;-) .

  21. Fifion 19 Jul 2008 at 12:56 pm

    “Then he says “God was natural in the medieval world…” using a different definition of “natural.”

    This is just inaccurate on so many levels it’s sad – no matter how the word “natural” is being used. God was not “natural” in the medieval world, the idea of god in medieval times was a cultural product – it doesn’t occur naturally but has to be learned. What makes proposing that “God was natural in the medieval world” even more silly is that god/religion often vilified nature and attributed all “evil” to nature (and proposed that natural sexual desires are “wicked” and so on). People who romanticize the past (outside of novels) do a great disservice to both history and the present day (and the future) since they devalue all three by turning them into some Disneyfied, gutless, hollow and ultimately lifeless facade. This robs both history and the present of substance, depth and ultimately meaning. The shallowness of people pretending to be deep is quite amazing – like Narcissus captivated by his own reflection, reality fades away as they fall in love with their own image only to lose their true self: for the love of the superficial image and it’s power to deny reality comes from hating, fearing and trying to escape their humanity and any true depth that being honestly and truly in the moment and the world would require).

  22. Fifion 19 Jul 2008 at 1:41 pm

    Last time I checked, miracles were not considered “natural” but as exceptional acts of the divine – this is what made them “miracles” not just shit that happens. Of course, a lot of shit that happens was attributed to the divine (or the devil) in days gone by – mainly because there weren’t better explanations at the time. Whatever church was dominant in a region would impose their version their official narrative about reality (which people would often ignore or subvert to align with the previously held narrative about reality). None of these “official narratives about reality” actually changed reality (the actions to impose and/or support these fictions did, of course). Many of the wars that have been fought have been fought as much over who’s official narrative about reality will dominate (god or allah? anamistic animal gods or an abstract god that is essentially human? And so on…) as they were/are over accumulating wealth and resources (both human workers/believers/soldiers and gold/jewels/land – all objects to be used by the corporation/church).

    As an outsider, it seems to me that the “official narrative” that frames reality in the US is actually one that denigrates science (though it elevates technology) and “reality based thinking” (as the current president and allies phrase it). If anything, the official narrative in the US seems to promote magical thinking and a denial of reality (not just reality based thinking but reality as a whole!). The American DreamTM is a fiction that few Americans seem able to awake from – and that is routinely reinforced by both the current administration and previous Democratic ones (except maybe Carter, and I suspect the population choosing Reagan over Carter had more to do with wanting to avoid reality by voting in a movie star with memory issues to lead the country!). Tony Blair led the way for the same devaluing of reality based thinking in the UK and the castration of the Labour Party (which historically dealt very much with real world issues).

    All nations have an official narrative – propaganda and patriotism are two expressions of these narratives. (Rather ironically, one of the official narratives or cultural myths about America is that of the rugged individualist, it’s subscribed to en masse!) Of course, anyone who has the ability to think critically sees through propaganda and nationalism quite quickly as the constructs they are – this is one reason that administrations and organizations that promote non-reality based thinking and beliefs have such a hate-on for science and there fight to get science out of schools is so passionate.

  23. theoon 19 Jul 2008 at 7:56 pm

    I think you hit the nail on the head in your introduction:

    What he actually demonstrates is his ability to twist and abuse language in an attempt to distract and confuse his reader. At this verbal deception Chopra is truly the master.

    If what you have to say is right, surely you want to express it as clearly as possible? Whereas if your position is completely vacuous…

    This is a quote about academic literature, but I think it’s apt in this case too. Stephen Murray-Smith, in his book Right Words: A Guide to English Usage in Australia is scathing in his definition of this particular form of gibberish:

    Academic English is a horrible corrupt dialect of the English language, used by teachers in tertiary institutions in order to sound cleverer than they really are and thus to win promotion, power and money.

    Slightly modified:

    Chopra’s prose is a horrible corrupt dialect of the English language, which he uses in order to sound cleverer than he really is; to promote himself and thus to win power and money.

  24. Roy Nileson 19 Jul 2008 at 9:27 pm

    It seems to me there has been too much emphases here on demonstrating that Chopra is wrong to the extent he knows he’s lying, when it’s more likely that he’s lying because he doesn’t know the extent to which he’s wrong.

    Showing one is a liar may only prove in the end that he doesn’t know or understand his subject, while showing that someone is simply or completely wrong in their beliefs can make the fact they are also lying to promote those beliefs somewhat less relevant.

  25. Mark Entelon 20 Jul 2008 at 1:58 am

    An interesting thought on Chopra’s statement that god(s) was natural in some prior time. I am not confident enough to make an empirical claim here, but it seems to me that the division of natural & supernatural is an artifact of the falsification of claims that are now termed ‘supernatural.’ When the overwhelming answer to questions of ‘what causes that?’ is ‘god(s),’ there is no need to distinguish between explanations that are merely believed & those that have been examined & tested for veracity.

    I would analogize to Dr. Novella’s constant statements re: CAM; namely, that there is medicine that works & medicine that doesn’t. Similarly, this shell game is played with the terms supernatural & paranormal to create a categorical shelter for discredited and/or suspect ideas.

  26. MBoazon 20 Jul 2008 at 3:39 am

    Oy vey. It’s scary that this guy made a career out of total gibberish.

  27. Niels Kjaeron 20 Jul 2008 at 1:00 pm

    “Language is interesting. Regarding precision – you have to realize that many words have a very precise and specific meaning when used in a technical context, but may also have multiple colloquial meanings. ”

    Why not make a new precise scientific language? I have already found one candidate, a computer language called MMIX created by the famous computer scientist Donald Knuth. Its only drawback is that it does not include any definition of “false-precise”. I have contacted Donald indirectly and asked him to include this additional feature, and hope naively that I will receive a check of 2.56$. A small upgrade of “MMIX” to “MMIX3″, would after my opinion result in the first complete, consistent and as close to perfect as a scientific language can be.

    “Also – you are correct in that it may not be appropriate to use words that are too precise – meaning more precise than the facts allow (so-called false precision, like using too many digits to the right of the decimal place). For example, in medicine, I warn my students against using terms that are prematurely precise. The patient did not have a “seizure”, they had a “neurological episode.” We have to decide what kind of episode it was, and seizures are only one possibility.”

    This feature is explicitly addressed by most modern statisticians, and many pharmaceutical companies are using the method in their clinical tests. However, a few other pharmaceutical companies, politicians, and the police are all seemingly uninterested in the concept of “false precision”. They normally say that “their method produces data that show that their method works correctly”. In experimental high energy physics, I taught my Ph.D. students to be careful, providing them with “baby Monte Carlos”, so that they themselves could see how one can create false precision. However when I introduced the same method to a more general scientific audience many people simply got upset…

    In medicine I could imagine having two languages: One scientific
    language as described above and one empirical language describing features not yet covered by any decent scientific theory. MMIX3 is a very powerful computer language and it could be used to create a “dictionary” between scientific and empirical languages of medicine. Such complementary
    approaches nearly always end up being nicknamed the “Copenhagen interpretation” and can be found in several sciences.

  28. Roy Nileson 20 Jul 2008 at 3:04 pm

    Human beings are adept at using deceptive means to promote beliefs that they believe would be accepted as true were it not for the deceptive practices of others who promote competing and thus necessarily false beliefs. Try finding a language precise enough in its definitions to preclude the use of such deception.

  29. Von 21 Jul 2008 at 10:42 am

    “I would analogize to Dr. Novella’s constant statements re: CAM; namely, that there is medicine that works & medicine that doesn’t. Similarly, this shell game is played with the terms supernatural & paranormal to create a categorical shelter for discredited and/or suspect ideas.”

    I think you are misinterpreting the term “supernatural” here. Supernatural events cannot have a “natural” or material explanation. They are outside the realm of testable hypotheses and cannot be discredited at all. So, there are things that we can tell are real, and things we can tell are not real. But we cannot tell anything about the supernatural.

  30. DevilsAdvocateon 21 Jul 2008 at 12:46 pm

    “Supernatural events cannot have a “natural” or material explanation.”

    I would submit that we cannot be aware of an actual supernatural event unless it has poked its nose into the material world, at which point it becomes subject to empirical inquiry.

    (I use the qualifier ‘actual’ to discriminate against reported events that are considered ‘supernatural’ by the report, that is, interpreted as such, perhaps through personal biases).

  31. DevilsAdvocateon 21 Jul 2008 at 12:47 pm

    (by the reportER, that is)

  32. clgoodon 21 Jul 2008 at 5:28 pm

    Roy wrote:

    “It seems to me there has been too much emphases here on demonstrating that Chopra is wrong to the extent he knows he’s lying, when it’s more likely that he’s lying because he doesn’t know the extent to which he’s wrong.”

    That’s a very charitable view but, as I understand it, the man has an M.D. That tells me he’s been exposed to enough actual science to know that what he’s peddling is flapdoodle. My opinion of him is much lower for knowing he’s betrayed his schooling.

  33. Blake Staceyon 21 Jul 2008 at 6:00 pm

    Chopra is borrowing a fact that scientist [sic] use to illuminate one aspect of nature at the atomic scale and then abusing it to confuse his readers and support his woo. What the emptiness of space at the atomic scale tells us about reality is that the everyday forces we feel from solid objects are not caused by actual physical matter touching, but rather by electromagnetic forces repelling each other.

    Well, you also have to take into account Pauli exclusion, but that doesn’t affect the point made here.

  34. Cerebroon 21 Jul 2008 at 9:08 pm

    “YOU CAN’T BE SERIOUS!”

    lulz

  35. Cerebroon 21 Jul 2008 at 9:16 pm

    Bottom line is this, Chopra believes in magic.

  36. Niels Kjaeron 21 Jul 2008 at 11:21 pm

    I gave up believing in atheism and agnosticism years ago.

    Beliefs are simply not doing me any good. Please don’t twist my words: I have a long list of ethics more complex than quantum mechanics.

    I now live in the present, understand the past, and experiment with the future. I trust other humans but don’t “believe” in them. “Trivial” things like how to cross-validate experiments I have developed myself. It is only in last couple of years statisticians have started realizing reality.

    In all facets of life I meet many humans who focus more on being like other humans, than finding out what “being” means. But I also nowadays see more and more humans who are trying to find out what “being” is. What surprised me years ago is the smallness of the correlation between human approach to thinking and their CV. Now, I understand why, but I still don’t understand why humans are seemingly uninterested in applying a tiny change to fix that problem. Would it be that humans are simply afraid of betraying the beliefs of their ancestors?

    Why can’t Skeptical Societies in the US be skeptical about themselves? This is how a small rotten country in the north called Denmark works. And yes, we are not proud about our immigration policy.

    Sure, Chopra is BS’ing, but why doesn’t mainstream medicine take a skeptical look in the mirror? Instead of wasting effort making useless lists of people like Chopra that one shouldn’t listen to.

    I used to ask: Why do medical people stop talking to non experts when vitamine D and oxytocin/vasopressin are mentioned? When I got an answer it would often be something like “We, the experts, are working on it and we have the experience!” This is what I call a “para-normal” answer. The experts have now been working more than 50 years on those two topics. Could it be that the answer is simply too simple and therefore embarrasing? And I am definitely not talking about para-normal answers. I think I do know a large part of the rather important answers to those two interesting topics and they are correlated, benign and slightly embarrasing. I think that you will know them as well within something like 18 months even if you don’t ask. And no, I cannot cross-validate “18 months” because that would violate causality and be “para-normal”. One can only cross-validate scientific methods, not data nor conclusions.

    The answers will quickly be verified using novel technologies like double-fMRI and 2-dimensional polarized near-infrared Raman spectroscopy. The most embarrasing about the answers will be that already in 1930′s humanity had both the technology and the theories to give the answers. But that is probably what life is about: Answers tend to come when they are needed.

  37. Roy Nileson 22 Jul 2008 at 5:29 am

    clgood,
    If I’ve been charitable to Chopra, it’s not out of charity. But what makes him appear such an idiot is not (in my view) as much chicanery as it is faith in the institutional idiocy that has formed his beliefs.
    He reportedly says that he has been influenced by the teachings of Vedanta and the Bhagavad Gita, as well as by Jiddu Krishnamurti (the “consciousness” guru). And he’s just one of many adherents of that ancient mess of flapdoodle that have also added the study of Western medicine and science to the mix.
    The published papers on the proper way to rationalize an acceptance of these conflicting world views are numerous among that crowd. (As they are among some of our own religious brethren.)
    So I doubt if he is consciously betraying his schooling any more than he felt he betrayed his religion by acquiring the schooling to begin with.
    And any lying he is doing, again in my view, is mostly to himself.
    Or, as I commented early on, lying for Krishna.

  38. wertyson 22 Jul 2008 at 8:21 am

    When an English philosopher (sorry can’t remember who) was reviewing Wittgenstein’s Tractatus he said “What can’t be said, can’t be said, and it can’t be whistled either”

    If Chopra and his buddies can’t be clear and understandable the problem is not likely to be that they can’t express their complex ideas. The likeliest explanation is that if the words can’t followed, the ideas are wrong.

  39. suszennnon 22 Jul 2008 at 8:02 pm

    back in the days when astrology was used with medicine every year when the sky lined up a certain way all these people would come down with a sickness….so they say the influance of the sky “astrology” the word Influenza was born…how about that……

  40. Eenymeenyon 28 Jul 2008 at 7:18 am

    Spot-on “dechoprification”.

    My only problem was that I felt genuinely sorry for your having to read this garbage in order to present us with such a masterly dissection of it :=)

    And I have a new favorite term: “magical thinking”.

    I can see that being useful in a truly vast number of contexts.

  41. fortruthon 23 Aug 2008 at 10:00 am

    “In the ultimate reality there is only pure consciousness”
    That is Deepak Chopra’s central point and that is the root of all his drivel. Ayn Rand called this the primacy of consciousness

    I quote

    “The basic metaphysical issue that lies at the root of any system of philosophy [is] the primacy of existence or the primacy of consciousness.

    The primacy of existence (of reality) is the axiom that existence exists, i.e., that the universe exists independent of consciousness (of any consciousness), that things are what they are, that they possess a specific nature, an identity. The epistemological corollary is the axiom that consciousness is the faculty of perceiving that which exists—and that man gains knowledge of reality by looking outward. The rejection of these axioms represents a reversal: the primacy of consciousness—the notion that the universe has no independent existence, that it is the product of a consciousness (either human or divine or both). The epistemological corollary is the notion that man gains knowledge of reality by looking inward (either at his own consciousness or at the revelations it receives from another, superior consciousness).

    The source of this reversal is the inability or unwillingness fully to grasp the difference between one’s inner state and the outer world, i.e., between the perceiver and the perceived (thus blending consciousness and existence into one indeterminate package-deal). This crucial distinction is not given to man automatically; it has to be learned. It is implicit in any awareness, but it has to be grasped conceptually and held as an absolute.”

  42. Roy Nileson 23 Aug 2008 at 5:13 pm

    Ayn Rand versus Deepak Chopra. What would you call that, a dichotomy of mutually exclusive falsity?

  43. pendens proditoron 04 Sep 2008 at 6:36 pm

    This is my new favorite Deepak Chopra critique.

    He came to my workplace a few months ago to hand out his book and give a motivational talk. He was described on the event flyers as “one of today’s leading philosophers.”

    I almost choked when I saw it. Philosophy is RIGOROUS and EXACTING. Chopra is almost the antithesis of a philosopher.

  44. [...] greater threat to science-based medicine that Dr. Chopra. That’s because Deepak Chopra, with his pseudoscientific nonsense, is so far off the deep end that very few in academia take him the least bit seriously. Andrew [...]

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