Good Math, Bad Math

Deepak Chopra is an Idiot

As [PZ](http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2006/11/chopra_go_play_with_steve_irwi.php) pointed out, Deepak Chopra is back with *yet another* of his clueless, uninformed, idiotic rants. This time, he’s written [an article trying to "prove" that there is an afterlife](http://www.intentblog.com/archives/2006/11/what_happens_af.html). Normally, when PZ comments on something like this, I have nothing to add; he does such a good job fisking
credulous morons. But this time, I actually have something to add.


We’ll start with the trivial, and move on to the egregious:

>Thousands of patients have died, almost always from heart attacks, and then been resuscitated who
>experience some aspect of the afterlife. One Dutch study put the percentage at around 20% of all
>such cases. Amazingly, these patients were brain dead, showing no electrical activity in the cortex
>while they were dead. Yet they experienced sights and sounds, met deceased relatives, felt deep
>emotions, etc.

Yes, a whopping 1 in 5 people who’ve been “clinically dead” have had so-called “afterlife experiences”. If you’re trying to claim that we all have souls that continue to exist after our body dies, the fact that only 1 in 5 people who’ve *been* dead have experienced anything isn’t exactly compelling evidence for life after death. 1 in 5 people reporting an experience is a large enough number to say that people who have near-death incidents remember *some* sort of experience; but it’s *not* good evidence for the idea that the experience was what everyone goes through when they die – because the *vast* majority of people *didn’t* experience anything.

And people who are “brain dead” do not come back to life. If your cortex *dies*, meaning that the cells are dead, then you’re dead. You’re not going to come back because someone zapped you with a big electric shock, or anything else. And people whose hearts stop because of a heart attack *are not* brain dead; their brains *do not* show no electrical activity. When electrical activity in the brain stops is when they stop trying to bring you back. Chopra is an M.D.; it’s scary that he doesn’t know this.

Moving on…

>If consciousness is created by brain chemistry, there is little likelihood of
>a conscious afterlife. However, many intriguing experiments now exist to show that a person’s
>thoughts can move beyond the brain. Besides the various experiments
>in telepathy and ‘remote viewing,’ which are much more credible than
>skeptics will admit, there is a replicated study from the engineering
>department at Princeton in which ordinary people could will a computer
>to generate a certain pattern of numbers. They did this through thought
>alone, having no contact with the machine itself.

Yes, he’s citing *PEAR* as *evidence*. You know, PEAR, the idiots whose work I
[thoroughly](http://scienceblogs.com/goodmath/2006/07/pear_yet_again_the_theory_behi.php) [mocked](http://goodmath.blogspot.com/2006/05/repearing-bad-math.html) on [several](http://goodmath.blogspot.com/2006/04/bad-math-of-paranormal-research-pear.html) occasions for being sloppy, dreadful crap based on deliberately
invalid mathematical analysis? The guys who *admit* in their own papers that their
measurements are *not* statistically significant? Who do things like pick a supposed
time-stamp, and then go back and retrospectively *select* samples that match their
predetermined conclusions?

Yes, that’s what he considers a good study. And he even claims that it’s been replicated – which not even the PEAR folks are bold enough to claim!

And now for the crown jewel of his nonsense:

>In the area of information theory, a rising body of evidence suggests that Nature preserves data in
>the form of information fields. The most basic units of creation, such as quarks and gravity, may be
>interrelated through information that cannot be created or destroyed, only recombined into new
>patterns. If this is true, then it may be that what we call the soul is a complex package of
>information that survives death as well as precedes birth.

Remember how I always say “The worse math is no math”? This is a perfect example. Chopra *wants* to use information theory to support his argument. But his argument is gibberish – he absolutely
*can’t* express his claims in the actual mathematical language of information theory. But he
wants to claim the *credibility* that comes from the field of science and math that studies information. So he just randomly strings words together, and asserts a connection that he can’t actually make.

People like Steven Hawking *have* studied how things like elementary particles can be viewed in terms of information, and the properties of that information. [Hawkings had a long-standing bet concerning whether or not *information* can ever escape from a black hole.](http://www.hawking.org.uk/info/iindex.html) The difference between Hawking’s discussions
about information theory and quantum physics and Chopra’s babblings is: if
you go to Hawkings writings about the subject, you find *lots* of very careful math, setting out
exactly *what* information is carried by particles, what it means for that information to
be preserved or lost, what the implications of that are, etc. Hawkings *does the math*.

(Not to mention that Hawkings has the dignity to admit when he’s wrong. He *lost* that bet. But
when the *math* showed that he was wrong, he accepted it.)

Comments

  1. #1 Scott Belyea
    November 15, 2006

    Enjoy the blog, and the topology appends in particular have dredged up memories.

    But climb down off the fence … do you respect ol’ Deepak or not?? :-)

  2. #2 The Ridger
    November 15, 2006

    You know, there are many differences between Chopra and Hawking, but the grace and dignity to admit when they’re wrong may be one of the most fundamental. But then, I suppose Chopra never is…

  3. #3 Andrew Wade
    November 15, 2006

    Remember how I always say “The worse math is no math”? This is a perfect example. Chopra wants to use information theory to support his argument. But his argument is gibberish – he absolutely can’t express his claims in the actual mathematical language of information theory.

    Yes I see what you mean. Yup, after you die, your information will live on! So too will your atoms! Neither is likely to do you much good.

  4. #4 Joseph j7uy5
    November 15, 2006

    Well, people who’ve had near-death experiences often become delirious for a while. Delirious people have all kinds of strange experiences. All it proves is that their brains were not working properly. Perceptions that occur in delirium are not a valid source of evidence for anything.

  5. #5 Edmund
    November 16, 2006

    If you happen to be one who has ever consumed a psychedelic drug, you may have experienced something called time distortion. Events that last seconds might *seem* to last years; or you might even perceive events in a re-arranged sequence: for example, you might percieve arriving at a destination first, and then what *feels like* afterward, perceive traveling there! These are not uncommon experiences on hallucinogenic drugs like LSD, psilocybin, etc.

    This is important because it shows that our minds are subjective and imperfect record-keepers, especially when in an altered mode of function (I’d bet that almost dying causes all sorts of unusual activity in the brain).

    Just like with deja-vu, the hallmark of such near-death experiences is an unusual perception that doesn’t jive with reality. In deja-vu, the oddity is that it feels like something has happened before, when it actually hasn’t. In a near-death experience, the oddity is that it feels like something was experienced during a time when no brain activity was observed.

    That person tripping on acid doesn’t actually arrive at a destination before traveling to it. But it sure seemed like it to them! In fact, they know no different. That’s how it was perceived, and that’s how it will go down on record in their brain. I suspect a very similar sort of thing could happen in near-death experiences.

  6. #6 Torbjörn Larsson
    November 16, 2006

    Another reason for some of these unusual perceptions may be the mirror network of neurons that neuroscientists have found and are happily hypothesizing for all sorts of phenomena. AFAIK it is believed to be used to monitor behavior and help make a theory of the mind – latest support was that autists have less of them. If we have a whole subassembly of the brain devoted to monitoring ourselves it isn’t surprising that we get befuddled by pathological states in regards what we are really doing.

    I have myself had one short dejá vù during exhaustion. As for a few months of light heart arrhythmia it happened when I was growing and have never returned as an adult with a more fixed nerve network.

  7. #7 Ambitwistor
    November 16, 2006

    Not to mention that Hawkings has the dignity to admit when he’s wrong. He lost that bet.

    Actually, although Hawking conceded, the question is still generally regarded as open; Hawking’s arguments have holes that are commonly regarded as unresolved. (The major one is that he introduced a negative cosmological constant as a regulator, but didn’t address what happens when the regulator is removed. See here.)

  8. #8 Richard Margolin
    November 16, 2006

    “We’ll start with the trivial, and move on to the egregious:

    Yes, a whopping 1 in 5 people who’ve been “clinically dead” have had so-called “afterlife experiences”. If you’re trying to claim that we all have souls that continue to exist after our body dies, the fact that only 1 in 5 people who’ve been dead have experienced anything isn’t exactly compelling evidence for life after death.”

    Some scientifically minded folks tend to think that 20% of a sampling is actually a pretty substantial number.

    “1 in 5 people reporting an experience is a large enough number to say that people who have near-death incidents remember some sort of experience; but it’s not good evidence for the idea that the experience was what everyone goes through when they die – because the vast majority of people didn’t experience anything.”

    For someone about to make much of the “brain dead” aspect of his argument, you certainly expect an awful lot from these somewhat impaired individuals. I rarely remember even my dreams with the electrical activity in my cortex fully active. I’m sure such an exceptional being such as yourself doesn’t suffer from these common limitations, but sometimes I can’t find my keys or glasses while fully conscious, even though I just put them down moments ago.

    “And people who are “brain dead” do not come back to life. If your cortex dies, meaning that the cells are dead, then you’re dead. You’re not going to come back because someone zapped you with a big electric shock, or anything else. And people whose hearts stop because of a heart attack are not brain dead; their brains do not show no electrical activity. When electrical activity in the brain stops is when they stop trying to bring you back. Chopra is an M.D.; it’s scary that he doesn’t know this.”

    Yes, Chopra is an M.D., and you are most certainly not. The termination of electrical activity in the brain is quite distinct from the cells themselves being dead. People have been resuscitated after being clinically dead for over an hour, with no brain damage, even after the supposed four-minute limi: “Almost everyone has heard of a boy drowning in cold water–then, after half an hour of submersion, being resuscitated with no ill effects and no brain damage. The Canadian Medical Association Journal documented such a drowning: After half an hour of complete submersion, a boy was rescued from the icy waters where he fell.3 He was resuscitated and, with proper medical treatment, had no lasting side effects. There was no cerebral damage, although his brain received no oxygen for over half an hour.
    Research has provided additional case study after case study of extended cold water submersion with no brain damage to resuscitated victims. Article after article, story after story, of people deprived of oxygen for up to an hour–with no ill effects or brain damage. What is it that protects the brain from damage in cases of oxygen deprivation over the four-minute limit?”- Jeffrey Dobken, “A Technique for delaying brain death.”

    Moving on…

    “If consciousness is created by brain chemistry, there is little likelihood of a conscious afterlife. However, many intriguing experiments now exist to show that a person’s thoughts can move beyond the brain. Besides the various experiments in telepathy and ‘remote viewing,’ which are much more credible than skeptics will admit, there is a replicated study from the engineering department at Princeton in which ordinary people could will a computer to generate a certain pattern of numbers. They did this through thought alone, having no contact with the machine itself.

    Yes, he’s citing PEAR as evidence. You know, PEAR, the idiots whose work I thoroughly mocked on several occasions for being sloppy, dreadful crap based on deliberately invalid mathematical analysis? The guys who admit in their own papers that their measurements are not statistically significant? Who do things like pick a supposed time-stamp, and then go back and retrospectively select samples that match their predetermined conclusions?

    Yes, that’s what he considers a good study. And he even claims that it’s been replicated – which not even the PEAR folks are bold enough to claim!”

    Well, you don’t like PEAR in general. That’s fine, but then please find this particular study and state specifically your criticisms of it. Or, do you believe that faulting other studies is conclusive proof of errors in all studies? But would that be very “scientific”?
    No.

    “And now for the crown jewel of his nonsense:

    In the area of information theory, a rising body of evidence suggests that Nature preserves data in the form of information fields. The most basic units of creation, such as quarks and gravity, may be interrelated through information that cannot be created or destroyed, only recombined into new patterns. If this is true, then it may be that what we call the soul is a complex package of information that survives death as well as precedes birth.

    Remember how I always say “The worse math is no math”? This is a perfect example. Chopra wants to use information theory to support his argument. But his argument is gibberish – he absolutely can’t express his claims in the actual mathematical language of information theory. But he wants to claim the credibility that comes from the field of science and math that studies information. So he just randomly strings words together, and asserts a connection that he can’t actually make.

    “‘Can’t’ and ‘doesn’t’ are two highly divergent concepts. Chopra is writing for a popular audience and is not about to inject a mathamatical proof into the proceedings. It is an admittedly unproven theory on his part and he says as much: “then it may be that what we call the soul…” He never “claims” mathematical certainty.

    I think you are far more conventional than you appreciate. In fact I think Einstein was perhaps speaking of folks such as yourself when he stated the following:

    “Few people are capable of expressing with equanimity opinions which differ from the prejudices of their social environment. Most people are even incapable of forming such opinions.”
    – Albert Einstein”

    As far as being willing to admit when one is wrong, let’s have some of your (presumable) heroes (although I doubt you acknowledge any greater than yourself) admit to being “idiots” before assuming Dr. Chopra owes anyone an apology.

    “The whole history of science has been the gradual realization that events do not happen in an arbitrary manner, but that they reflect a certain underlying order, which may or may not be divinely inspired.”
    – Stephen W. Hawking

    “All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force… We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent Mind. This Mind is the matrix of all matter.”
    – Max Planck

    “I want to know how God created this world. I am not interested in this or that phenomenon, in the spectrum of this or that element. I want to know His thoughts; the rest are details.”
    – Albert Einstein

  9. #9 Ambtwistor
    November 16, 2006

    Richard:

    Yes, Chopra is an M.D., and you are most certainly not. The termination of electrical activity in the brain is quite distinct from the cells themselves being dead. People have been resuscitated after being clinically dead for over an hour, with no brain damage, even after the supposed four-minute limit

    This is rather irrelevant to Mark’s argument. The point is that none of the people who have “died” and been resuscitated have actually had their brains die. “Life after death” experiences are nothing of the sort.

    Well, you don’t like PEAR in general. That’s fine, but then please find this particular study and state specifically your criticisms of it.

    Fine. Go here and search for the papers which discuss PEAR.

    Or, do you believe that faulting other studies is conclusive proof of errors in all studies? But would that be very “scientific”?

    Actually, yes, if a scientist reports obviously flawed work, that casts the rest of his/her work into doubt, particularly when it an error in the methodology common to all their work, i.e., statistical hypothesis testing.

    “‘Can’t’ and ‘doesn’t’ are two highly divergent concepts. Chopra is writing for a popular audience and is not about to inject a mathamatical proof into the proceedings. It is an admittedly unproven theory on his part and he says as much:

    You miss the point. There is NO support from within information theory that “patterns of information are conserved” beyond physical death. Chopra might as well say that aliens scan people’s brains when they die to preserve them; there would be equal support for that claim (i.e., none).

    In fact I think Einstein was perhaps speaking of folks such as yourself when he stated the following:

    Yawn. Pseudoscientists like to cite such quotes to “support” their views (which, by the way, earns you a number of points on the Crackpot Index). If you want to bandy quotes instead of making logically supported arguments, here’s one from Gould: “A man does not attain the status of Galileo merely because he is persecuted; he must also be right.”

    Incidentally, none of your quotes have anything to do with the existence of an afterlife.

  10. #10 Blake Stacey
    November 16, 2006

    Richard Margolin wrote:

    Well, you don’t like PEAR in general. That’s fine, but then please find this particular study and state specifically your criticisms of it.

    MarkCC doesn’t like PEAR because it is an abysmally bad travesty of the scientific method, propped up by misrepresentations and lies. Read the essays to which he linked, and then this viewpoint will be easy to appreciate. It doesn’t matter if Chopra was thinking about a different publication from the PEAR group than the specific ones MarkCC has fisked, because said fisking showed that the entire concept was bunk.

    Analogy: if I nibble on an egg and discover it is rotten, I don’t have to eat the whole egg to be sure. The same goes for fruit and PEAR in particular.

    And if you want to play Quotation War. . . .

    “It doesn’t seem to me that this fantastically marvelous universe, this tremendous range of time and space and different kinds of animals, and all the different planets, and all these atoms with all their motions, and so on, all this complicated thing can merely be a stage so that God can watch human beings struggle for good and evil — which is the view that religion has. The stage is too big for the drama.”
    — Richard Feynman

  11. #11 Bronze Dog
    November 16, 2006

    Well, you don’t like PEAR in general. That’s fine, but then please find this particular study and state specifically your criticisms of it. Or, do you believe that faulting other studies is conclusive proof of errors in all studies? But would that be very “scientific”?
    No.

    It involves inductive logic. If Mark looks at a lot of PEAR studies and finds them all fundamentally flawed, it’s not all that unreasonable for him to presume that they’ll all be similarly flawed. Know of any that don’t possess the flaws he’s seen so far?

    “‘Can’t’ and ‘doesn’t’ are two highly divergent concepts. Chopra is writing for a popular audience and is not about to inject a mathamatical proof into the proceedings. It is an admittedly unproven theory on his part and he says as much: “then it may be that what we call the soul…” He never “claims” mathematical certainty.

    Do you know of any place that Chopra does have that math available for public review?

  12. #12 Mark C. Chu-Carroll
    November 16, 2006

    Richard:

    Where to begin?

    WRT the “brain dead” nonsense:
    Electrical activity *does not* terminate in a living brain. The (admittedly interesting) cases of people whose *hearts* have stopped for extended periods of time in extremely cold conditions is irrelevant to the fundamental question: was there electrical activity in their brain? And the answer is *yes*.

    Chopra even goes so far as to refer to the the people with alleged afterlife experiences as “brain dead” – a term which is absolutely, undeniably incorrect. People who were revived after their hearts stopped as a result of heart attacks (which is the set of people Chopra is talking about) *were not* brain dead.

    WRT Pear: Chopra doesn’t specify exactly which PEAR work he’s citing; but the description precisely matches the gibberish that I tore apart in two of the posts that I provided links to. PEAR’s work is uniformly sloppy and dishonest stuff, built on sloppy methods and invalid math.

    WRT information theory: Yes, Chopra is writing for a popular audience, and there are definitely limits on how technical you can afford to get when writing for that kind of audience. But he *chooses* to invoke information theory in a vague way – and then handwaves his way past it. He wants to invoke the credibility of the mathematical study of information, but he doesn’t want to substantiate that link in any way.

    Compare it to the writings of some decent scientists writing for popular audiences. I recall reading an article by Brian Greene explaining the “information loss at a black whole” question, and doing an excellent job of explaining what the problem was, and what the implications of it were. He substantiated the links between the physics and the math of information theory, without losing the audience by being overly technical. If there *were* any substantiated way of linking the ideas of information science and consciousness, he *could* have said something about the linkage in one sentence; but he didn’t; he invoked information theory in a
    stupidly vague and fuzzy way that strongly suggests that he doesn’t have a clue of what it is, and then moved on to the next topic.

    WRT conventionality: when did I ever claim to be non-conventional? I’m a very straightforward computer science researcher; I never claimed to be anything else.

    WRT the quotes you include: what do they have to do with the topic of this post? The point of this is that Chopra is using sloppy reasoning to try to make his case; he’s trying to ride the coat-tails of real science and math without understanding any of the substance. The post isn’t saying that there is no life after death; it’s saying that *Chopra’s arguments for life after death are crap*. In fact, personally, I’m actually a religious Jew and a dualist. I *do* believe in the existence of souls, and I do think that
    there probably *is* something after death. But Chopra’s arguments in favor of that view are crap. And I don’t pretend to be able to do the science necessary to prove what I personally believe.

  13. #13 Richard Margolin
    November 16, 2006

    “Yawn. Pseudoscientists like to cite such quotes to “support” their views (which, by the way, earns you a number of points on the Crackpot Index).”

    RM: The whole thrust of these hysterical, bile-ridden “I’m-so-much-smarter-than-these-mystial-whackos” (“Crackpots”, if you prefer) diatribes has the (not very subtle) underlying message that anyone who believes in a soul, afterlife, God, etc., has to be an “idiot” who is incapable of thinking along strictly scientific lines. So, it is hardly surprising that such quotes are thrown into the mix. The fact that you don’t like them hardly changes the quite relevant implications of their existence. And they are, I believe, a useful corrective so the more innocent and naive among us do not take sheer arrogance for anything more meaningful.

    “Incidentally, none of your quotes have anything to do with the existence of an afterlife.”

    I’m not trying to prove anything. I think that “pearls before swine…” bit of advice is still pretty sage. I just find it irritating when sincere, intelligent individuals striving for something nobler than eating and shitting are made targets by the emotionally and intellectually challenged.

  14. #14 M
    November 16, 2006

    I am reminded of some medics in my family talking about working on wards where people who had suvived a heart attack were recuperating. A large proportion of them were at least temporarily knocked sideways in their thinking – terribly polite old men turning into guys who are raving and trying to attack the nurses with their drip stand. And that’s only mildly messing with the supplies to the brain compared to people who’ve been ‘suspended’.

    Near-death experiences: the unconscious exquivalent of hitting a nurse with a drip stand.

  15. #15 Nathan Urban
    November 16, 2006

    The whole thrust of these hysterical, bile-ridden “I’m-so-much-smarter-than-these-mystial-whackos” (“Crackpots”, if you prefer) diatribes has the (not very subtle) underlying message that anyone who believes in a soul, afterlife, God, etc., has to be an “idiot” who is incapable of thinking along strictly scientific lines.

    Wrong. The thrust of the argument is that there is no scientific evidence for any of these beliefs. This is not arrogance. Your ranting is misplaced.

    I just find it irritating when sincere, intelligent individuals striving for something nobler than eating and shitting are made targets by the emotionally and intellectually challenged.

    So pointing out that Chopra’s arguments are nonsense makes one emotionally and intellectually challenged, huh? Nice to see what side of rationality vs. ad hominem you come down on.

    I am also rather insulted by your implication that a belief in an afterlife somehow makes one nobler than a lack of such belief, or that someone who lacks such belief, or is uninterested in the question, is only concerned with the mundane details of life.

    Finally, I note that you have entirely retreated from defending Chopra, or rebutting Mark’s arguments, to merely insulting Mark (and possibly myself).

  16. #16 Blake Stacey
    November 16, 2006

    Richard Margolin wrote:

    I just find it irritating when sincere, intelligent individuals striving for something nobler than eating and shitting are made targets by the emotionally and intellectually challenged.

    Of the two biological activities you mention, the latter is the inevitable consequence of the former, and I’m not so sure the former is necessarily less than noble. What about Thanksgiving dinner, chocolate cake on your child’s birthday, milk and cookies on Christmas Eve? My examples are unabashedly suburban, middle-middle class things, but I think they still illustrate instances where food becomes something more than a way to satisfy biological need. Those cookies connect us with our fellow human beings; there’s a bit of nobility in each one, even though the recipe only calls for vanilla extract.

    I find it amusingly ironic that one can claim (presumably with a straight face) that Deepak Chopra has displayed anything like “noble” behavior, while castigating Mark Chu-Carroll for irrational infantility. Which one of these two men earns a living by preying upon people with genuine emotional needs, and which works his hardest to explain the achievements of the human intellect for the fun and the challenge of it?

  17. #17 Greco
    November 16, 2006

    And they are, I believe, a useful corrective so the more innocent and naive among us do not take sheer arrogance for anything more meaningful.

    Pot. Kettle. Black.

    I just find it irritating when sincere, intelligent individuals striving for something nobler than eating and shitting are made targets by the emotionally and intellectually challenged.

    So do I. Maybe you should consider therapy before targeting anyone else?

  18. #18 Jonathan Vos Post
    November 16, 2006

    To see Dr. Chopra in his native habitat, and others going deeper and deeper down that rabbit hole, see the bizarrely entertaining astonishingly wrong “documentary” film, as slammed in:

    What the Bleep Do We Know!? Wikipedia analysis.

    “What the Bleep Do We Know!? (also written What the #$*! Do We Know!?) is a controversial 2004 film that combines documentary interviews and a fictional narrative to posit a connection between science and spirituality based upon the teachings of JZ Knight/Ramtha. There is also an extended 2006 version, What the Bleep!?: Down the Rabbit Hole.[1]”

    “The topics discussed in What the Bleep Do We Know!? include neurology, quantum physics, psychology, epistemology, ontology, metaphysics, magical thinking and spirituality. The film features interviews with individuals presented as experts in science and spirituality, interspersed with the story of a deaf photographer as she struggles with her situation. Computer-animated graphics feature heavily in the film. The film has received widespread criticism from the scientific community. Physicists, in particular, claim that the film grossly misrepresents the meaning of various principles of quantum mechanics, and is in fact pseudoscience….”

    Finally saw this on an obscure cable channel at a weird time, while my wife and son, who’d seen it before, yelled at the screen.

    Then had fun discussing it at a party with a bunch of Physicist friends and, by chance, a film editor who recognized the scene of multiple basketballs as one he’s worked on in postproduction.

    Now, if only someone would make a film like this which is allegedly about Mathematics, we could all share in the fun! Don’t start me “A Beautiful Mind” (which John Forbes Nash, Jr., and his wife and son actually enjoyed), or “Goodwill Hunting” or “pi.”

  19. #19 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    November 16, 2006

    Richard Margolin: Could you please expend a little effort to improve the formatting of your trolling? It would be very helpful if you could master the tags for italics or blockquotes in order to set off the text you are quoting from your inane and insane responses. You may find the Preview button very helpful in this regard.

    Thank you.

  20. #20 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    November 16, 2006

    Richard Margolin quoted:

    “I want to know how God created this world. I am not interested in this or that phenomenon, in the spectrum of this or that element. I want to know His thoughts; the rest are details.”
    – Albert Einstein

    Einstein was sloppy in throwing around religious language that he did not mean to be taken literally. He also wrote:

    It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.

    I think it was inaccurate of him to say that he had expressed (his lack of belief) clearly, when he supplied numerous quotes of a similar nature to those you supplied. Nonetheless, it is clear that they should be taken metaphorically, and not used to support supernatural notions. Where Einstein said God, you should substitute the laws of nature.

  21. #21 assman
    November 16, 2006

    “Electrical activity *does not* terminate in a living brain. The (admittedly interesting) cases of people whose *hearts* have stopped for extended periods of time in extremely cold conditions is irrelevant to the fundamental question: was there electrical activity in their brain? And the answer is *yes*.”

    Actually the answer is *no*. From the Wikipedia:

    “Note that brain electrical activity can stop completely, or apparently completely (a “flat EEG”) for some time in deep anaesthesia or during cardiac arrest before being restored. Brain death refers only to the permanent cessation of electrical activity. Numerous people who have experienced such “flat line” experiences have reported near-death experiences, the nature of which is controversial.”

    Also the definition of braindeath is usually something along the following lines:

    “Brain death is defined as a complete and irreversible cessation of brain activity.”

    If Mark is right and brain death is just the cessation of electrical activity then the word irreversible is redundant.

  22. #22 loren
    November 16, 2006

    Richard Margolin: “I just find it irritating when sincere, intelligent individuals striving for something nobler than eating and shitting are made targets by the emotionally and intellectually challenged.”

    With Nathan (and presumably Mark, and many of the regulars here), I find it weird that so many of us are emotionally and intellectually challenged if we point out that someone’s striving for nobility is fundamentally muddleheaded.

  23. #23 dogscratcher
    November 16, 2006

    RM,
    I find it ironic that you cite “Jeffrey Dobken, “A Technique for delaying brain death,” while defending the notion that those revived are in fact “brain dead.”

  24. #24 Blake Stacey
    November 16, 2006

    At some point, I just give up and deploy Daniel Martin’s scienceblog killfile. It is not perfect, but it does prevent me from feeding trolls myself.

  25. #25 Koray
    November 16, 2006

    Deepak is not an idiot. He’s smart enough, but he’s a pathological liar.

  26. #26 tgibbs
    November 16, 2006

    WRT brain activity: Under normal conditions, electrical activity is essentially a measure of the health of the cells, because many types of neurons are spontaneously active. Similarly, the “4 minute” limit is simply a measure of the time it takes for large numbers of nerve cells to be irreversibly damaged under normal conditions. If brain electrical activity is shut down pharmacologically or by low temperature, the cells actually survive longer because much of the energy and oxygen demand is required to support electrical activity. Indeed, if neuronal activity continues while blood/oxygen supply is compromised, it contributes to neuronal damage. For example, many neuronal signaling mechanisms admit calcium into the cell. Calcium is an important intracellular signal, but it become toxic if it remains at high levels inside a cell for an extended period of time. The pumps responsible for removing calcium from the cytoplasm require energy (blood glucose + oxygen) to function.

    So bottom line: brain activity is a reasonable surrogate indicator of the health of neurons, which is valid at normal body temperature and in the absence of drugs that shut down activity. But shutting down activity doesn’t kill nerve cells, it actually preserves them under conditions where the blood or oxygen supply is compromised.

  27. #27 Orac
    November 17, 2006

    Richard should note what the PEAR and its Global Consciousness Project are being associated with now. ;-)

  28. #29 El Christador
    November 17, 2006

    Trivia: In J.D. Murray’s Mathematical Biology there is a discussion of common visual hallucinations seen under hallucinogens (and in near-death experiences, if I understand correctly) in terms of conformal mappings, with the mapping being between the visual cortex and the visual field. Different patterns of electrical waves in the excitable brain medium give rise to different characteristic hallucinations such as, for example, moving down a tunnel.

  29. #30 Mark Catan
    November 18, 2006

    I enjoyed reading your rant on Deepak Chopra’s thesis regarding afterlife experiences. At the end of your blog entry, you seem to suggest that one needs math to present information theory arguments. I don’t see why. One can describe how to reduce the information in a channel by compression without a single math symbol. Info theory has lots of interesting things to teach that do not depend on highly technical proofs or arguments. Demanding math can give the enemies of intellectuals a weapon by suggesting its elitism, or beyond the understanding of ordinary people. I’ve read your articles before and you don’t seem to be elitist, so I don’t think you were trying to be so.

  30. #31 Mark C. Chu-Carroll
    November 18, 2006

    Mark Catan:

    Information theory is a branch of mathematics. If you want to make an argument based on information theory you can’t avoid math!

    Making an argument about information theory that doesn’t involve any math is like making an argument about triginometry without using any math.

  31. #32 Mark Catan
    November 18, 2006

    To Mr. Chu Carroll: You want to argue semantics. I don’t. I’m plenty schooled in math and I love it so its nothing against math. Try to be polite.

  32. #33 Mark C. Chu-Carroll
    November 18, 2006

    Why am I arguing semantics? I’m pointing out a simple fact: information theory *is* math. You’re asking why I’m criticizing Chopra for not being mathematical in his attempt to invoke information theory to support his argument for life-after-death. I’m answering that he’s claiming that a branch of *math* supports him, without a word of *why*.

    I’m not saying he should have included equations in his article. Most of what I write on this blog is mathematical, but I rarely write equations. What I *am* saying is, if he wants to invoke “information theory” to support his idea about life-after-death, he needs to say *why* the mathematical theory of information has *anything* to do with his idea of mind/body duality.

    As I said in the article, Hawkings has done some great writing about what the basic problem is about black holes and information. Some of that has been written for laymen, and he does an *excellent* job of explaining what the problem is, and what information theory says about it – without needing to use any equations. He speaks informally but with mathematics about the mathematical theory of information, and its implications in quantum physics.

    If Chopra wants to use IT to support his claims, he should be doing the same kind of thing: using *informal* arguments, but arguments that include *enough* of the math that he’s invoking to show that there’s an actual connection.

  33. #34 William Pilk
    November 18, 2006

    Use math to *prove* the existence of the afterlife?

    How could anyone be insane enough to think there were such an approach in the first place?

  34. #35 Mark C. Chu-Carroll
    November 18, 2006

    William Pilk:

    To be entirely fair, Chopra wasn’t trying to use *just* math to prove the existence of an afterlife. What he was trying to do was to capitalize on the fact that quantum physics has used the math of information theory to produce some really interesting results about information preservation. He wants to take that result from quantum physics, and apply it to minds, to say that the information in our minds must be preserved.

    The problem is that the kind of information that quantum theory is talking about is *very* different from the intuitive concept of “information”. It’s very much the mathematical concept of information – which is quite different from *our* concept of the information in our minds. (The kinds of information that quantum theory wants preserved is things like spin direction, mass, and charge of quantum particles.)

    What I’ve been saying is that if Chopra wants to use the quantum theoretical information preservation results, he needs to *at least* justify that by showing how the information that makes up our minds is, in some way, equivalent to the information that quantum theory says is preserved. (One of the arguments that I’ve heard in quantum theory is that information can be “preserved” in a form which is useless – that is, that the information *does* exist in some form, but there’s absolutely no way that it can be recognized or identified.)

  35. #36 Daniel
    November 18, 2006

    We know very little
    so trying to criticize someone who is trying to understand it is just stupid. Let him go his way.

  36. #37 Mark C. Chu-Carroll
    November 18, 2006

    Daniel:

    He’s *not* trying to understand it. He’s trying to pretend that he knows something, and that scientific evidence supports him, as a method of making himself rich. He’s *not* an honest
    seeker of knowledge. He’s a manipulative liar who’s using a pose as a knowledgeable scientist to rip people off.

  37. #38 Reg Spyder
    November 18, 2006

    It’s absurdly easy to replicate NDEs, if you’ve a reasonably relaxed attitude to psychedelic drugs. Mix a small dose of LSD or psilocibin with a single lungful of nitrous oxide, and hold your breathe ’til you reach the edge of consciousness. You will experiene a mysical experience, your consciousness will feel seperate from your bosy and you will spiral in and out from what feels like an infinity. The experience, while only lastin 20 seconds or so, will have a subjective timescale that can feel like hours, but that temporal illusion is very temporary and highly subjective.

    Now I don’t for one second believe that a combination of psychoactive substances is bringing me nearer to god, but having experienced this hallucination first hand, it makes it very easy to see how such mystical experiences can be caused my comparitively small changes in brain chemistry.

  38. #39 Reg Spyder
    November 18, 2006

    with regards to my post above, and the poor spelling therin: Many of you may be tempted to blame the poor spelling on my (ab)use of drugs, but I do not use drugs very often at all. the poor spelling is down to a combination of typing too fast and drinking a couple of glasses of wine. Yes, I’m aware I should proof before hitting post.

  39. #40 Saul Good
    November 18, 2006

    Obviously Deepak Chopra is full of shit and could care less about the veracity of his arguments. They are designed to sell the books in which they are written. Even to the marginally intelligent this should be blatantly obvious. Are his gross abuses of logic and misappropriations of scientific terminology really even worth discussing?

    I’m far more fascinated in Deepak the Man. Clearly what makes him tick, like most marketing geniuses, is financial upside. But in exchange for his piles of cash, he must carry a huge guilt monkey on his back, a psychic burden that I for one do not envy. The guilt of bilking millions out of the most vulnerable, hapless members of our society, those of weak mind, must be staggering. The placebo effect that his books probably do have for some may provide some solace, but that can’t justify the plague of ignorance he has brought down upon the developed world.

    History shows us that there are really only way two ways humans get around this kind of guilt: a diligent program of self-guile or a drug addiction (the easy way out). Since Deepak looks a little too composed and relaxed in his tv appearances to be hiding an Oxy habit, we must conclude that he is truly one of the great contemporary masters of self-deceit. It must be very hard work, and I suspect that it does not get easier with time or age.

    The other truly superlative aspect of Deepak is his prolificness. Deepak is certainly not the first writer of watered down self help books couched in pseudoscientific skullduggery; not even his ardent followers, Those Who Have Helped Themselves, would call the guy particularly original. What sets Deepak apart from the pack is the sheer volume of recycled effluvium he consistently produces. After 25 books, how does this guy keep going? He is the J.S. Bach of the Waldenbooks front rackers. What’s left to solve? I suppose there are still those annoying hangnails. Help, Doc Chopra!

    The tobacco companies got nothing on this guy. If the mind is the seat of the soul (or is it the other way around?) then wouldn’t Deepak himself argue that poisoning minds is far worse than poisoning bodies? As I rank him amongst the Hubbards, Erhards, and Keiningers, I can’t decide what’s worse- making people believe in little green men or making them believe in a big, fuzzy grey cloud of wanting, a morass of vague self-actualization, whatever that word means.

    Some things just ain’t worth the dosh.

  40. #41 William Pilk
    November 18, 2006

    Whatever, Mr. Chu. You simply don’t like Chopra.

    Whatever his intentions, the ideas he brings to the table are still on the table. And if you want to take them off the table, please put something in its place.

  41. #42 Bronze Dog
    November 18, 2006

    Whatever, Mr. Chu. You simply don’t like Chopra.

    Whatever his intentions, the ideas he brings to the table are still on the table. And if you want to take them off the table, please put something in its place.

    You do realize that distortions, logical fallacies, and so forth are worse than at least admitting ignorance. Pretending you have answers when you don’t prevents us from getting around to the real thing.

    Mark is doing his part to clear obvious junk off the table to make way for real investigations. Chopra is simply getting in the way.

  42. #43 William Pilk
    November 19, 2006

    Hmmm, and this real investigation Chu is embarking on is…

  43. #44 AmkG
    November 19, 2006

    … not junk, William, you can be sure of that.

  44. #45 Mark C. Chu-Carroll
    November 19, 2006

    William:

    First of all, what’s so damned difficult about actually bothering to get my name right? I’ve never understood why it is that people look at the name “Mark C. Chu-Carroll”, and decide that my last name must be “Chu”. I’m sick to death of correcting people who just can’t grasp the idea that my last name is “Chu-Carroll”, and insist on cutting off part of it.

    Second: Chopra’s ideas are gibberish designed to make people buy his books. The invalidity of his arguments is a perfectly legitimate and valuable topic of discussion. Insisting that I can’t criticize his nonsense without proposing alternatives is just foolish.

    Let me steal a metaphor from my friend Orac. A lot of people getting chemotherapy for cancer are made quite sick by the medication. There are people out there who try to take advantage of them by selling “complimentary” medications that supposedly get rid of the side effects of the chemo. These medications are demonstrably ineffective, and at times even actively harmful. By your argument, I shouldn’t point out that those medications don’t (or even *can’t*) work unless I have an alternative way of reducing the side-effects of chemotherapy.

  45. #46 William Pilk
    November 19, 2006

    If you want to be anal about how I say your name, then let me be anal too.

    Please use simple language. You just said to me. (1) Say my name right. (2) Wiping the table clean is good by analogy of ideas to chemotherapy. Summed up pretty nicely eh?

    Just think about your analogy. We are debating philosophical ideas of the possible afterlife. You compare that to chemotherapy to cancer? How stupid is that? Just think about it. I’m not going to reason it out for you.

    I believe in debates in philosophy, you should always replace what you displace. Otherwise you leave a vacuum. How is that progress?

    If you can enlighten me to a better analogy, I’ll give you kudos.

  46. #47 Bronze Dog
    November 19, 2006

    Just think about your analogy. We are debating philosophical ideas of the possible afterlife. You compare that to chemotherapy to cancer? How stupid is that? Just think about it. I’m not going to reason it out for you.

    Science is science is science. There’s no magical line between one subject and another. There is no special pleading allowed.

    I believe in debates in philosophy, you should always replace what you displace. Otherwise you leave a vacuum. How is that progress?

    Do you seriously believe that being wrong and arriving to that wrongness through fallacious means is better than admitting ignorance?

    The beginning of wisdom is “I don’t know.”

  47. #48 William Pilk
    November 19, 2006

    The whole universe, our reality, our life is science, the study of reality. So the whole universe, our reality, and our life, deserves to be studied under the same methodology, the same microscope? Let’s just make it clear. Bronze Dog clearly believes so. I don’t think so.

    As for the second part, yes, kudos to you for saying what chu-carroll couldn’t catch on.

    But I still don’t think such a hazy discussion on the existence of the afterlife can be proven or disproven. I know you guys are all into the good math bad math thing, but this is not a math equation… This is in the realm of speculation. And when you guys approach it in the righteous matter that chopra does, by stating that reality should be the exact inverse of his argument; it is just as misleading.

    I think the ending of bronze dog’s post is very zen and valuable. It’d be the most appropriate ending to this discussion… unless chu-carroll wants to add another word to desperately wipe out this blemish on his blog?

  48. #49 loren
    November 19, 2006

    Since we’re talking philosophy now …

    William: “I believe in debates in philosophy, you should always replace what you displace.”

    Why do you believe this?

    Even if you had a convincing argument supporting your moral requirement of replacement (and supposing for the moment we even know precisely what you mean in the quoted passage above), why do you believe that the same person is required to both reveal errors in a problematic model and propose a new and improved model?

    Why not allow a division of labour where appropriate?

    “Otherwise you leave a vacuum. How is that progress?”

    For some cases, I’d think the vacuum you’re referring to really is progress. At the very least, you’d need to make the case that philosophical progress (supposing there is such a thing) requires the abolition of any and all conceptual vacuums.

  49. #50 William Pilk
    November 19, 2006

    Yes, Bronze dog just enlightened me to this point.

    But I can tell you. I’m sick of postmodernistic papers, where you constantly see examples of elaborate arguments deconstructed, and nothing erected in its place. That vacuum is a very uncomfortable silence.

    For this particular argument on the afterlife, like what Bronze Dog reminded me, it’s best to ‘not knowing’ than to think you know the least.

  50. #51 Jonathan Vos Post
    November 19, 2006

    The problem is with using science as metaphor, and then confusing the metaphor with an assertion as to fact. In Law, the distinction is made (for instance in Defamation) between Fact and Opinion.

    For instance, as to whether Math can be involved in determination of whether or not there is Life after Death.

    One can metaphorically point to scientific theories: (1) elementary particles in the universe can transform into each other in certain ways under certain conditions; (2) atoms are transmuted to other atoms in nucleosynthesis; (3) when stars go supernova (as only some stars can) the heavier elements are blasted out into space, and can assemble into new stars and planets; (4) Continental topographic features erode, and tectonic plates collide, break, assemble, and subduct; (5) there are conservations laws of mass-energy, linear momentum, angular momentum, charge, and so forth, related to symmetries.

    Now, one can make metaphorical connection between these and various afterlife theories:
    (1) Humans have souls which can change to some other form after death;
    (2) Souls can rise or fall according to laws of karma and rebirth;
    (3) Souls move about the universe, and form new combinations and configurations;
    (4) Just as the materials of our Earth recycle, so also do souls recycle;
    (5) Nothing is wasted in the universe, everything maintains a perfect balance, things are never destroyed but only changed and preserved, so also are souls conserved, not destroyed at death.

    There are all ananlogies that could be spun out into Chopra-esque (Deepaktual?) books. But none are, themselves, scientific or mathermatical, although they use the language and tropes of science.

    Such distinctions are certainly appropriate for scientists and mathematicians to point out, in the context of mass-market hucksters who betray a huge innumerate anti-science population in the USA, whose lame duck President calls budgetary facts “fuzzy math” and, like Reagan (who played an evolutionary psychologist in “Bedtime for Bonzo”) assert that “evolution is only a theory” and then reveal that they deeply misunderstand both evolution (by natural selection) and what scientists mean by “theory”.

  51. #52 william pilk
    November 19, 2006

    to sum up that last wall of text- some people mistake metaphors to science as the truth? (y/n)

    if yes, please explain the relevance to using math to disclaim these metaphors.

  52. #53 Torbjörn Larsson
    November 19, 2006

    Saul:
    I agree with the intent of your comment, but FYI there are people who are physiologically unable to feel guilt.

    Some groups are psychopaths ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychopat ) and sociopaths ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sociopath ), and are relatively common, psychopaths I believe especially in the more competitive parts of society. I can’t remember the source or if it was reliable, but IIRC I heard that the incidence of psychopathy raises between a few percent in general to more than twice or three times that among managers. And if so, perhaps at least that amount among con men as well.

  53. #54 Torbjörn Larsson
    November 19, 2006

    william:
    I think you are starting to understand the premises of this discussion.

    Yes, Chopra is a con man and even if you take his BS as metaphors others believe it is science and truth, which of course is Chopra’s goal. To debunk his pretenses or misuse of math, physics and biology, the idea of using math, physics and biology to debunk it comes to mind.

    As to why one may feel it necessary to debunk Chopra, I will let you make some guesses. Hint: It is already commented on.

  54. #55 loren
    November 19, 2006

    For what it’s worth William, I am not trying to enlighten you; I just want to be clear on the arguments. Personally, I would advise staying away from postmodern silliness, because I don’t think the exercises are properly philosophic, in either the attenuated modern analytic sense of the term (being clear on meanings and the technicalities of argument), or the more venerable sense of loving and pursuing wisdom (and hopefully finding some true knowledge and deep understanding along the way). I certainly don’t think Mark is ‘merely trashing’ in the same sense as, say, a Foucault or Derrida. It’s just that Chopra, and the transcendental meditation folks who are arguably fellow travellers, have an annoying tendency of trying to dress up really controversial metaphysical claims (about ‘pure’ consciousness as the fundamental ‘stuff’ of reality, for instance) with ideas and mathematical representations cherry-picked from modern mathematical physics. And that deserves some serious critical scrutiny, I think – quite aside from whether their metaphysics makes any sense.

  55. #56 Bronze Dog
    November 19, 2006

    So the whole universe, our reality, and our life, deserves to be studied under the same methodology, the same microscope? Let’s just make it clear. Bronze Dog clearly believes so. I don’t think so.

    Why not?

    But I still don’t think such a hazy discussion on the existence of the afterlife can be proven or disproven. I know you guys are all into the good math bad math thing, but this is not a math equation… This is in the realm of speculation. And when you guys approach it in the righteous matter that chopra does, by stating that reality should be the exact inverse of his argument; it is just as misleading.

    It should be moved beyond speculation. I’m not about to accept a brick wall for no reason. Chopra doesn’t approach it in a righteous manner: He uses logical fallacies. They’re a way of cheating your way past logic.

    I think the ending of bronze dog’s post is very zen and valuable. It’d be the most appropriate ending to this discussion… unless chu-carroll wants to add another word to desperately wipe out this blemish on his blog?

    You miss the point entirely. Feigning knowledge isn’t an answer. Do you suggest that it is?

  56. #57 William Pilk
    November 19, 2006

    Larrson + Loren:
    Clear the table it is then! I’m convinced. That was a great discussion.

    Dog:

    “why not?”
    Because reasoning is drawn from our feelings and experiences. Reason, while progressing social evolution and allowing us to feel the bliss of understanding the next second, is but a subset of the myriad of feelings we experience.

    “miss the point”
    I think you missed the point. I’m saying the table is cleared. I didn’t say feigning knowledge is the answer…

  57. #58 William Pilk
    November 19, 2006

    “move beyond speculation”

    Again, we come back to the initial debate.
    Use math to prove the existence of the afterlife? Just think about it dude.

  58. #59 Mark C. Chu-Carroll
    November 19, 2006

    William:

    I don’t see this as a blemish on my blog at all. I think that your demand that I can only criticize faulty sloppy reasoning if I can propose something to replace it is just silly.

    Playing outrage at the idea of comparing afterlife discussion and cancer is just a way of avoiding the point. In both cases, you have lying people using a facade of science to support a phony idea. Chopra is a fake, who uses the trappings of science to lend credibility to his ideas. I’m pointing out that he’s a fraud.

    You don’t like the cancer analogy, let’s try one without so much outrage potential. There’s a guy on the net by the name of Alex Chiu. Alex believes that he’s discovered a way to cure almost all medical problems and make people immortal using little magnet rings. He claims that the way we understand how our bodies work is wrong, and that his understanding of the true nature of the universe has allowed him to create this wonderful cure-all device. Alex’s ideas are clearly gibberish. But he’s used his ideas to propose solutions to mental illness, pollution, and depression, and to explain consciousness, the existence of the soul and the afterlife, and it’s all connected together with his explanation of why his magnet rings make people immortal.

    According to you, I shouldn’t criticize Alex Chiu’s immortality rings, or his crackpot science, unless I can
    propose an alternative explanation of consciousness to replace his.

    It’s idiotic. If someone is a liar, demonstrating that they’re a liar is a perfectly reasonable thing to do. If someone is promoting stupid nonsense under the guise of science, demonstrating that there’s nothing scientific
    about their nonsense is a perfectly reasonable thing to do. And if someone is bilking people out of their money by selling them stupid nonsense propped up by claims of scientific evidence, then pointing out that they’re a liar is not just reasonable, it’s the *right* thing to do.

    I *don’t* think that it makes any sense to try to invoke mathematics as a way of proving the existence of a soul or the existence of an afterlife. I think that that’s just a stupid idea. *Chopra* invokes the math of information theory to give his nonsense a gloss of credibility. My entire point, such as it is, is that doing that is stupid.

    I don’t pretend to have some grand insight on the nature of the universe that allows me to provide some explanation of the nature of consciousness, or the existence or non-existence of the afterlife. According to you, that means that I should not point out that Chopra is a liar who’s *pretending* that math and science support his lies.

    I would say that pointing out the fact that the man is a liar who is bilking people out of their money by selling them a bunch of unsupportable phoney gibberish is noy just an acceptable thing to do, but in fact is an actively beneficial thing to do.

  59. #60 loren
    November 19, 2006

    Mark: “*Chopra* invokes the math of information theory to give his nonsense a gloss of credibility. My entire point, such as it is, is that doing that is stupid.”

    In fairness, such invocation may be rather clever, from a marketing standpoint! I would say Chopra is either sincere and foolish on this point, or savvy and dishonest. Either way, I wouldn’t buy his books.

  60. #61 Willaim Pilk
    November 19, 2006

    Your points:

    1. I can debunk without proposing an alternative.

    Settled. Agreed on this issue. The table is cleared.

    2. Existence of afterlife == effective chemotherapy treatments

    I don’t think so. Your reasoning is this. Both are promoted by stupid people. Therefore, these two subjects are equivalent. Excuse me, let me get this straight. I’m not looking at the human being. I’m looking strictly at the idea. And while chemotherapy is a physical entity that may be scientifically tested for its efficacy, the existence of the afterlife is not.

    I don’t think your attempt to draw moral support warrants attention either. The belief of the existence of an afterlife does not kill people. But I digress. I’m looking at only the ideas, not its medium.

  61. #62 William Pilk
    November 19, 2006

    3. It is ridiculous to use math to prove existence of afterlife.

    Agreed.

  62. #63 loren
    November 19, 2006

    William: “Existence of afterlife == effective chemotherapy treatments. I don’t think so. Your reasoning is this. Both are promoted by stupid people. Therefore, these two subjects are equivalent.”

    That’s not really fair to Mark: he isn’t positing the equivalence you assert. The point is that “making money by misusing science to support a view about the afterlife” may well be (roughly) morally equivalent to “making money by misusing science to sell an ineffective treatment for chemotherapy side-effects.” These are, if not roughly equivalent, morally speaking, at the very least in the same ballpark. I’d say they’re both well within the infield, in fact.

  63. #64 Davis
    November 19, 2006

    And while chemotherapy is a physical entity that may be scientifically tested for its efficacy, the existence of the afterlife is not.

    I think it should be reiterated that the point of this post (and the ensuing discussion) was not to argue against the afterlife — if you read Mark’s comments you’ll note that he does believe in something after death.

    Ridiculous arguments which misuse science and math should be debunked, even if they support a position you agree with.

  64. #65 Bronze Dog
    November 19, 2006

    2. Existence of afterlife == effective chemotherapy treatments

    I don’t think so. Your reasoning is this. Both are promoted by stupid people. Therefore, these two subjects are equivalent. Excuse me, let me get this straight. I’m not looking at the human being. I’m looking strictly at the idea. And while chemotherapy is a physical entity that may be scientifically tested for its efficacy, the existence of the afterlife is not.

    William. Don’t make stuff up. They’re the same because they’re part of reality (if they exist). Science covers everything that has effects. Anything that has an effect is physical/material/whatever and thus subject to science. You can’t draw a line at an arbitrary location for no reason whatsoever.

    Science isn’t about a bunch of people with beakers, microscopes, laser scanners, and all that stuff. Science is about critical thinking.

  65. #66 William Pilk
    November 19, 2006

    Loren stated exactly what I said; that Mark and I are on different equations. Davis basically said, hey, but we weren’t arguing this in the first place. Leave Mark alone!

    Ok, I think we’re just going in circles now. But it’s been a fun exchange of thoughts here. And I discovered my misease at having no theories available for questioning. I think I can understand your perspectives a bit better. (Although this whole blog post still reeks of bitterness at chopra more than it does an earnest desire to know the truth of life after death.)

    Now I need to go study for my midterm :(.

  66. #67 Mark C. Chu-Carroll
    November 19, 2006

    William:

    I don’t seem to be able to get my main point through to you. My original post and my subsequent responses *shouldn’t* demonstrate “an earnest desire to know the truth about life after death”. Because that’s *not* what they’re about. My personal beliefs about the afterlife are irrelevant. The question of whether or not I *want* to know whether there is an afterlife is irrelevant. I’ve deliberately been avoiding my own personal beliefs in the discussion, because they simply *are not relevant*.

    What my original post discusses, and what my responses since that have consistently focused on, is the abuse of science and mathematics. Chopra constantly claims to have scientific support for his gibberish, but that’s a lie. And that’s what I’ve been talking about. Not beliefs in the afterlife, not whether or not it’s appropriate to use math to argue about the afterlife, not whether or not their is any equivalence between discussing the afterlife and discussing the side effects of chemotherapy: it’s about lying. The equivalence that I was trying to bring up with the chemotherapy metaphor had nothing to do with chemotherapy, but with the way that people use science to *lie*. All sorts of liars target scared people, and use the claims that they’re scientific to give their lies credibility. Whether it’s people saying they can reduce the side effects of chemotherapy, or people saying that they can make you immortal, or people saying that they can prove that your loved ones aren’t really gone, in the end, what they have in common is the lie that there is science supporting their nonsense.

  67. #68 thermocline
    November 19, 2006

    Thank you Mark for raising the subject of brain death, NDEs, etc. Although I prefer a respectful exchange of ideas over an exchange of insults and disparaging comments, this is a fascinating topic and feel compelled to respond.

    I am a biomedical engineer, and work with research scientists, doctors and patients. The best practices of the biomedical domain are necessarily evidence-based, however, some things defy understanding within the context of our current knowledge base. As such, I must challenge your contention

    “When electrical activity in the brain stops is when they stop trying to bring you back.”

    You’ve no doubt heard of Dr. Michael Sabom, a cardiologist who has studied the NDE phenomenon for over 20 years. His first book, “Recollections of Death”, describes his experience in trying to explain the NDE phenomenon in purely medical terms, i.e. as an artifact of the dying brain or manifestation of the subconscious. Contrary to his goal, Dr. Sabom instead concluded that NDEs *may* suggest that consciousness persists outside of the physical form. Anecdotal evidence is not proof, of course, so Sabom continued his research into the phenomenon.

    Sabom’s more recent book, “Light and Death”, highlights the results of The Atlanta Study, which extended his initial research by documenting the medical circumstances and physiological parameters associated with NDEs.

    Sabom cites one case where a woman was operated on for a large aneurysm of the basilar artery in the brain. She was wired with standard EEG electrodes, and her brain stem activity was tested by 100-decibel clicks emitted by speakers inserted into her ears. The clicks registered as spikes on the electrogram, indicating that the brain stem was intact and functional.

    The woman’s body temperature was lowered to 60 degrees, her heart was stopped and all blood was drained from her body. As the blood drained was from her head, her EEG completely flattened and the 100-decibel clicks no longer elicited a response from the brain stem–her brain was in total electrocerebral silence. From a purely clinical perspective, the woman was dead.

    The procedure was successful, and afterwards the woman related a profound near-death experience that included vivid, detailed descriptions of the procedures, equipment and conversations that occurred during the period of electrocerebral silence.

    Now, does this case scientifically prove that consciousness exists outside of the physical form? No. Only a controlled, double-blind study can do that. Was the woman actually dead? Well, no, because she lived.

    Although I am skeptical by profession, I think cases like this are extremely compelling, and I am therefore open to the possibility that consciousness persists outside of the brain.

    Sabom was initially very skeptical of NDE reports, yet his investigation lead to a complete reversal of opinion. Whether or not one agrees with his methods or conclusions, Sabom’s decision to challenge his assumptions and pursue a such controversial course of investigation–inviting personal and professional ridicule–took guts. I admire that.

    Conversely, I am puzzled as to why seemingly rational people so readily dismiss the NDE phenomenon in the face of such evidence, although I must respect their position. I will not, however, accept the contention that merely being open to the *possibility* that we are more than our physical selves is somehow naïve, self-delusional or ignorant. Indeed, being open to ideas that transcend our current level of understanding is how we advance–it’s how we evolve.

  68. #69 Mark C. Chu-Carroll
    November 19, 2006

    thermocline:

    As I keep saying, I don’t *know* if there is an afterlife; I don’t *know* if things like NDEs are real. For the purposes of this discussion, I don’t care. My intention here was to discuss the dishonest abuse of math and science by a charlatan.

    Not to mention the fact that “double blind” studies aren’t appropriate to this kind of thing. If you wanted to do a scientific study of NDEs, you could, but there’s absolutely no way that you could ethically conduct a double-blind. But that’s fine – you could still do a careful controlled study.

    I also have to say that I’m extremely skeptical of any claim about a procedure that removes all of the blood from someone’s body.

  69. #70 loren
    November 19, 2006

    thermocline: “Although I am skeptical by profession, I think cases like this are extremely compelling”

    I find this combination of brute empiricism and hopeful speculation to be a bit weird. I mean, when we find some data that challenges our hypothesis, I’d think we should critically reexamine our data, our apparatus, our theories and assumptions. But you seem to be suggesting that, in the face of weird anomalies, you find idle and imprecise metaphysical speculation “extremely compelling”?

    That’s a weird jump for me.

    Suppose the case you describe really is fundamentally anomalous. Or, better yet, suppose that we do a controlled experiment and find such a case. Now, I can see how you might get from such an anomalous finding to “the possibility that consciousness persists outside of the brain.” Yes, that clearly is a possibility that’s consistent with the (conjectured) finding. But we also cannot discard the possibility that we’re in the Matrix, ruled by sinister machine overlords as we live happily in vats.

    How do you get from mere possibility to “extremely compelling,” when you yourself admit there are insufficient controls in place to really say confidently that the case you mention is genuinely anomalous w.r.t. our current suspicions about the brain and consciousness?

    Or are you just saying that the possibility is exremely compelling? Even so, I’m still not sure it’s compelling, or extremely so. It’s a possibility – full stop.

    Me? I don’t even know what consciousness is, exactly (and I don’t think anyone else really does either).

    Given this lack of conceptual precision, I have no idea where consciousness can or cannot persist in principle, or even in practice (obviously I have some folk wisdom and scientific suspicions to fall back on here: I won’t likely find it in a lump of rock, or my Linux box on the desk here. But in a distributed information network in fifty or a hundred years? There I’m not so sure).

    So, even if your case is a genuine anomaly for what (we think) we know about the brain and consciousness, it wouldn’t lead me to find “extremely compelling” the ramblings of, say, Chopra or the high priests of Transcendental Meditation. Rather, it would lead me to confirm that I’m not the only one who isn’t really sure what, precisely, consciousness is.

  70. #71 thermocline
    November 19, 2006

    I understand that this thread has drifted from the original topic. In fact, I sympathize with your original point of contention. I’ll make this my last post on the subtopic of NDEs, and let you have the last word. It’s your blog, anyway.

    First, your characterization of my response to Sabom’s conclusions as being “hopeful” and “idle and imprecise metaphysical speculation” is neither fair nor accurate. My reaction is certainly not one born of hope–anyway, how could you know what I hope?–I am simply impressed by what Sabom reports. Nor is my reaction idle. I think my two responses here indicate that I’ve given–and continue to give–considerable thought to the question of consciousness.

    And imprecise? Well, the granularity of the “measurement” to which you refer is quite coarse: either you accept that the evidence suggests the *possibility* of conscious perception outside of the brain, or you don’t.

    I do. You don’t. There it is. No big whoop.

    But it really doesn’t matter, does it?, because I’m not trying to convince you or anyone else of anything–leave that to the evangelists. (I do, however, enjoy engaging others in thoughtful debate because it helps me further refine my p.o.v.) I’m just saying that, as a rational, thoughtful person, and as someone who works within the medical domain, that yeah, I’ve challenged my assumptions about consciousness based upon what I’ve read and heard over the years. In other words, my opinions are not limited to the laboratory.

    Anyway, back to the (sub)topic. WRT your skepticism of the surgical procedure, it was a combined neurological and carodiothoracic procedure. Search for “hypothermic cardiac arrest cerebral aneurysm” for details.

    I think a double-blind study would most certainly be appropriate to the autoscopic (out-of-body) component of NDEs. One could, for example, install automated devices with non-luminescent screens facing the ceiling in the upper corner of several ORs. The devices would be tamper-proof and positioned so that no one could possibly see the display, even on a ladder. The device would be programmed to either generate random, distinct images, recording the time that each image was displayed, or to generate nothing. Neither the OR staff, patient nor investigator would have any knowledge of which devices were installed in the ORs.

    Patients would be interviewed post-operatively using an objective, non-leading, non-suggestive script. Patients that report an NDE or autoscopic experience would be asked to give details of their experience. A “hit” would be defined as a unambiguous identification of an image that was displayed at the time of their procedure.

    Now, before you pick apart this approach, allow me to acknowledge that I am not a researcher, and concede that such an experiment could be subject to fraud or other contaminates, as most field experiments are. However, if conclusive results from such a study were replicatable, then I’d say we’re on to something. Wouldn’t you?

    (BTW, I believe a similar experiment has already been conducted with negative results. Admittedly, it would be a challenge to secure funding for such an endeavor, and it would take years to conduct properly, I think.)

    I guess my final thought for you, Mark, is that because I respect the integrity and skill of some of the researchers in the field, such as Dr. Sabom, I give serious consideration to their conclusions. And, yes, I am utterly fascinated by the implications of their research–perhaps that is what you perceive as “hope” and “idle and imprecise metaphysical speculation.” I assure you, it is none of those things.

    Thanks for the discussion.

  71. #72 Torbjörn Larsson
    November 20, 2006

    thermocline:
    I haven’t read Sabom’s studies of course, but I concur with loren that it is a peculiar position for any scientist to speculate about unparsimonious models and dualisms (mind outside physics).

    It is of course also an extraordinary claim that needs extraordinary evidence. Merely taking someone to a flatlined state and back again doesn’t suggest the possibility of conscious perception outside the brain. It can’t be done momentaneous and the events in between will confuse the brain in ways that we recognize from similar events – tunnel vision et cetera. Such experiments support the conclusion that NDE’s are natural outcomes of pathological states.

  72. #73 Jonathan Vos Post
    November 20, 2006

    I did have an out of body experience in a motorcyle accident on a Los Angeles freeway. But I do not accept that my mind truly left my body. Nor do I deny the possibility. In any case, I do not use Math to prove or disprove it. Oddly enough, my experience included seeing my entire life so far, but nor one- or two-dimensionally, as a timeline nor a film.

    I “saw” my life as a 4-dimensional sculpture. It was scratched and imperfect in spots, but I approved of the overall shape, and made my peace with leaving it behind. When I completed the several mid-air somersaults, after the car that signalled right and turned left into me, I hit the paving so relaxed that I rolled and was only lightly bruised.

    Another car stopped behind me, and kept me from being run over. I was puzzled, perhaps in shock, and experienced some difficulty in “getting back inside my body.”

    My life since then is, in some sense, a gift. My graduate school, publications, marriage, child, adjunct professorships, roughly 2300 publiations, presentations, and broadcasts — that came later.

    But my experience is not a theorem to be proved nor disproved.

    My helmet was split open like an eggshell. I prefer an open mind; not an open skull.

    “Of course my brain is my most important organ. But then I ask myself: who told me to say that?”
    — TV comic

    “The brain: my second-favorite organ.”
    — Woody Allen

  73. #74 Blake Stacey
    November 20, 2006

    I don’t recall having had any Near-Death Experiences, but I did have the privilege of experiencing an alien abduction on a semi-regular basis during my junior year of MIT. . . .

  74. #75 Bronze Dog
    November 20, 2006

    I once had an alien abduction experience. The fact that I was a black-haired woman during the experienced tipped me off that it was a dream, though.

  75. #76 James
    November 28, 2006

    Deepak Chopra is the smart one not you.
    Deepak is a multi-millionare and I am guessing you are not.
    Deepak has a $12,000,000 home on the cliffs of La Jolla and I am guessing you dont.
    Deepak has Playboy Playmates working for him and I am guessing you dont.
    Deepak is a genius and you are not (but neither am I).

  76. #77 Mark C. Chu-Carroll
    November 28, 2006

    James:

    If you define “smart” as “successful at making lots of money by deceiving people”, then you’re right.

    Personally, that’s not how I define intelligence or success. I’m not a multimillionaire, but I’m doing quite well financially. I’ve got a beautiful home in the hills of Westchester county, NY. I’m married to a wonderful woman,
    and I’ve got two great kids. I’ve got a job that I love doing, where I’m appreciated and respected. And I got all of that through a combination of luck, brains, and hard work. I’ll happily take my honest life over Chopra’s life as a millionaire liar.

  77. #78 dNeb
    March 15, 2007

    Blake Stacey,

    I’ve experienced a similiar sleep-paralisis state several times before. Do you know what the medical term for it is?

    The first time it happened, I was in the back seat of my grandmother’s car. I guess I had gone to sleep, because the next thing I remember was seeing straight into the back of front passenger seat, aware that I was seeing but completely unable to move any part of my body. Also, my skin tingled and my breathing was very shallow, as if I was suffocating (probably due to the fact that my body was still “asleep” and therefore my breathing rate was down). After about a couple of minutes, I body jerked “awake” and I regained sensation, movement and breathing.

    dNeb

  78. #79 dNeb
    March 15, 2007

    Blake Stacey,

    I’ve experienced a similiar sleep-paralisis state several times before. Do you know what the medical term for it is?

    The first time it happened, I was in the back seat of my grandmother’s car. I guess I had gone to sleep, because the next thing I remember was seeing straight into the back of front passenger seat, aware that I was seeing but completely unable to move any part of my body. Also, my skin tingled and my breathing was very shallow, as if I was suffocating (probably due to the fact that my body was still “asleep” and therefore my breathing rate was down). After about a couple of minutes, my body jerked “awake” and I regained sensation, movement and breathing.

    dNeb

  79. #80 dNeb
    March 15, 2007

    Oops. I just realized the last post is almost 5 months old :P

  80. #81 Blake Stacey
    March 15, 2007

    dNeb:

    I happened to notice your comment in the “most recent comments” list. The technical term for things which happen while falling asleep is hypnagogic, and for things which happen while waking up, hypnopompic. Thus, hearing voices while dozing off is an “auditory hypnagogic hallucination”. The general term sleep paralysis covers a loss of motor control in both circumstances; I don’t think there’s a more technical name for it.

  81. #82 Ray Waterman
    March 19, 2007

    Hi Mark,
    I’d just like to point out that Deepak is not an idiot. As you pointed out he’s an MD. He is aware of all the inaccuracies in his rantings. He’s a very clever and unscrupulous man who makes a lot of money out of idiots.

  82. #83 Norm Breyfogle
    September 9, 2007

    I agree that MCC serves a good function in critically analyzing Chopra’s arguments. By doing so, MCC is making blatant what Chopra often represses or subsumes or gets outright incorrect, or when Chopra fails to make clear that he’s being more metaphorical about the cutting-edge of science in his speculations rather than being strictly scientific in a hard sense.

    However, I’m familiar enough with Chopra’s ideas to think it’s a bit unfair to characterize him as merely a millionaire liar. Imo, Chopra is in reality a gifted popularizer of the pov of mystical wholeness, and most if not all of his scientific references are meant to be taken metaphorically, as is everything else, ultimately (which is a common tack from mystics with some scientific training).

    I don’t think Chopra is intentionally misleading; I think he’s involving himself in a problem which JVP described in one of his above posts: “The problem is with using science as metaphor, and then confusing the metaphor with an assertion as to fact.” To label Chopra as negatively as does MCC seems to me a bit mean-spirited, but anyone familiar with MCC’s “Good Math, Bad Math” tone shouldn’t be surprised by that.

  83. #84 Norm Breyfogle
    September 9, 2007

    And re this from Chopra, as an example used by MCC in his blog:

    “In the area of information theory, a rising body of evidence suggests that Nature preserves data in the form of information fields. The most basic units of creation, such as quarks and gravity, may be interrelated through information that cannot be created or destroyed, only recombined into new patterns. If this is true, then it may be that what we call the soul is a complex package of information that survives death as well as precedes birth.”

    Note, MCC, that Choppra used “suggests” and “*If* this is true,” and also the phrase “may be” twice at key points. This indicates clearly – to me, at least – that he’s speculating and/or metaphorizing in some sense.

  84. #85 Eric
    July 25, 2008

    So lets assume that Chopra is just telling people what they want to hear and there is no truth in what he is saying at all. By doing so, he has helped countless dying/suffering people to believe that they are not at the end and that they still have something to look forward to. There are many more important lies being told that are hurting people every day. Why don’t you all focus your time and energy on exposing them instead of persecuting someone who has eased the transition for so many?

  85. #86 kayla
    September 22, 2009

    i think the Mark C. Chu-Carroll is the idiot.

  86. #87 GOTCHA
    September 23, 2009

    ” I think the Mark C. Chu-Carroll is the idiot. ” says kayla.

    Not true!

    Mark C. Chu-Carroll, is an idiot.

    Thought need not be part of the picture.

    http://www.outersecrets.com/real/biblecode2.htm

The site is currently under maintenance and will be back shortly. New comments have been disabled during this time, please check back soon.